We all admire disciplined people.
Because whatever you want to achieve – from writing a novel to learning a new langiage – self-discipline is often the key factor.
But many of us think that disciplined people are disciplined because of their genetics. Like it’s some sort of fixed personality trait.
In my experience, everyone has the capability of being disciplined, but it’s bad habits that get in the way.
Despite what you’re led to believe, most people don’t lack the desire or motivation to be disciplined in their lives.
But they lack an understanding of what the right habits are to become a disciplined person.
So today, we’re going to focus on what disciplined people don’t do.
If you find yourself doing some of these things, then you may discover why you’re not as disciplined as you wish you were.
1. Relying on willpower
People with a lot of self-discipline realize that willpower should only be used as a last resort.
This is surprising to a lot of people because many of us believe that disciplined people have more willpower.
But willpower should never be a primary strategy for accomplishing difficult things.
It should only be used as a backup plan.
James Clear in his book Atomic Habits said that research has found that disciplined are just better at structuring their lives to not rely on willpower:
“When scientists analyze people who appear to have tremendous self-control, it turns out those individuals aren’t all that different from those who are struggling. Instead, “disciplined” people are better at structuring their lives in a way that does not require heroic willpower and self-control. In other words, they spend less time in tempting situations.”
Self-disciplined people know that there are much better strategies for staying committed to their tasks and goals.
For example, self-disciplined people design their environment to be more conducive to completing a goal.
If they have to study hard for an exam, instead of trying to focus at home where they’re countless distractions around them, they go to the library, leave their phone at home and find a space without distractions to study.
Rather than using your willpower to resist temptations, why not remove them in the first place?
If you really want to be more disciplined, ask yourself:
How can I achieve my goal by using the most limited amount of willpower possible?
2. Waiting around for motivation
Disciplined people also know that they can’t rely on motivation.
Like anything, motivation comes and goes. It’s a bonus when it’s there, but it’s impossible for it to always be there.
Many people believe that to complete difficult tasks we need to be motivated in the first place.
Self-disciplined people don’t wait for inspiration to strike.
They understand that taking action in the first place will actually lead to more motivation in the long run.
Sure, feeling good helps you do hard things, but doing hard things makes you feel good.
Self-disciplined people focus on taking action first.
They know that motivation comes when you start to make progress, so it’s more important to take small actions daily no matter how motivated you are.
According to James Clear in Atomic Habits, it’s your actions that reveal your motivations.
“Your actions reveal how badly you want something. If you keep saying something is a priority but you never act on it, then you don’t really want it. It’s time to have an honest conversation with yourself. Your actions reveal your true motivations.”
In other words:
Stop waiting around for motivation and build it yourself through action.
3. Trust their feelings
Self-disciplined people don’t trust their feelings.
They listen to their feelings and they’re very aware of them, but they don’t let those feelings rule them.
If you want to be disciplined, then you need to realize you can’t always trust your emotions.
Emotions are your mind’s guesses about how you should act.
You don’t want to ignore them, but you also don’t want to follow them blindly.
For example, you may want to exercise for 30 minutes every morning when you wake up, but your emotions will want you to stay in bed.
Your emotions will also want you to have that extra serving of ice cream after dinner.
Self-disciplined are more skeptical of their emotions. They don’t always trust them.
Yes, you should listen to your emotions, but you shouldn’t take orders from them.
4. Worrying about outcomes
Disciplined people focus on what they can control.
They work steadily towards their goal, but they don’t worry too much about the outcome.
A disciplined person understands that they can’t actually control the outcomes. They can only control their actions, which if done consistently over time, will lead to the desired goal or outcome.
They can’t control whether a novel gets written, but they can control writing 1000 words per day.
Spending too much time thinking about your goals and not taking action is a waste of time.
Disciplined people “set it and forget it”.
Yes, you need to plan your goals and actions initially, and it’s nice to reward yourself once in a while when you’re making progress, but your main focus should be on the small actions you can take right now.
5. Coming up with the perfect plan
While having a plan is important, the need to have the perfect plan is actually detrimental to achieving success.
Disciplined people focus on developing a plan that is “good enough” and then start taking action.
Trying to come up with the perfect plan sets you up for analysis paralysis.
The amount of decision-making and information you need to consider to create the perfect plan leads people to feel paralyzed by indecisions and unable to take any real action.
Disciplined people know that the perfect plan probably doesn’t exist anyway.
You can’t predict how every step will go, and how the external world will react to the actions you take.
Disciplined people realize that you don’t need the perfect plan to achieve your goals. All you need to do is keeping taking the next step.
James Clear says it well:
“It is easy to get bogged down trying to find the optimal plan for change: the fastest way to lose weight, the best program to build muscle, the perfect idea for a side hustle. We are so focused on figuring out the best approach that we never get around to taking action. As Voltaire once wrote, “The best is the enemy of the good.”
6. Thinking small changes don’t add up
Many of us think that it takes massive action in order to achieve our big goals.
But achieving big goals rarely happens quickly, nor does it take massive effort to achieve it.
Disciplined people that take action every day realize that you achieve your big goals by getting slowly better every single day.
If you want to eventually read 100 pages of a book a day, you’re going to struggle to keep up with that habit initially. It’s too big if you’re not used to reading every day.
But if you slowly work yourself up to it by reading 10 pages for one month, then 20 pages for the next month, and then 30 pages, etc…the habit is much more likely to stick.
And keeping up with that habit is really the key here.
Reading 12 books a year sounds like a big goal, but if you change the goal to reading 10 pages a day (which leads to reading 12 books a year) then it doesn’t sound so difficult.
Small habits every day lead to significant results.
It might not seem big at the time, but a small positive habit repeated enough times can lead to something special.
James Clear explains the math behind how consistent tiny improvements lead to success:
“Meanwhile, improving by 1 percent isn’t particularly notable—sometimes it isn’t even noticeable—but it can be far more meaningful, especially in the long run. The difference a tiny improvement can make over time is astounding. Here’s how the math works out: if you can get 1 percent better each day for one year, you’ll end up thirty-seven times better by the time you’re done. Conversely, if you get 1 percent worse each day for one year, you’ll decline nearly down to zero. What starts as a small win or a minor setback accumulates into something much more.”
7. Start too big too soon
Disciplined people understand that it’s hard to implement a new habit in your life if it is too big to start with.
According to Dr. Magda Osman, Professor of experimental psychology at Queen Mary University, when we face the reality of how difficult a new habit is, “the effort is too much and we give up”
“Getting up early to exercise for a new healthy lifestyle might seem like a good choice, but once your alarm goes off on a cold January morning, the rewards aren’t enough to get you up and out of bed.”
We all have hopes and dreams (if you don’t, then you’re probably not the type of person who would read this article).
It’s great to have a sense of direction of where you want to go, but because our desires are so strong it can easily lure us into biting off more than we can chew.
If your goal is to lose 30 pounds, it’s not going to happen with one big massive effort.
If you’re serious about making change, then it’s about starting small and slowly making improvements.
Want to do 50 pushups per day? Start with 10 and work your way up.
Want to start meditating? Start with one minute every morning for a week and then do 2 minutes every morning the next week.
When something is easier to do, it also makes it easier to implement in your life.
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