Why do you struggle with discipline? The concept is easy enough to understand: do one thing and stick with it, even when you don’t want to. And yet, so many people run into issues. They give up on their health plan. They abandon their goals.
Well-intentioned, their aspirations come crashing down. If only they were more disciplined.
Things that make discipline harder than it needs to be
In actuality, discipline is easy. At least, when you’re getting results. But it’s near impossible when you’re not. And therein lies the problem with being disciplined: unless you get results (and fast), you’re likely to quit.
With each passing day of having nothing to show for your sacrifice, your chance of giving up grows that much greater.
So really, the problem isn’t with discipline itself, but with sustaining that discipline. With being able to stay in the game long enough to achieve what you’re after. That said, here are five things that make being disciplined harder than it needs to be (and what you can do about it).
1. Not knowing why you’re doing something
You visit the doctor for your annual physical. After a battery of tests, she says that you’re slightly overweight and that you need to do something about it. Her prescription: exercise.
You get home and vow to run every single day from now on. The first week is easy, you’re disciplined. The subsequent weeks are harder though. Not seeing any change in weight, you begin to feel frustrated. After a month of no change, you give up running altogether.
Your discipline has dried up and you’ve quit.
Understand what you’re doing and why you’re doing it
When you do something without understanding why you should do it, you lack one critical aspect: buy-in. Unless you understand why you’re doing something and what to expect from your efforts, you’ll cave at the first sign of indifference.
Instead, before taking on any challenge, recognize why you are going to do that thing. Have a reason why you’re doing that one thing and why that one thing is the right thing for you.
Speaking of which…
2. Doing the wrong thing
You set a goal to read two books a month. Your reason: to help you become more educated. You hop on Amazon and order a slew of books. They arrive the next day and you immediately get to reading them. After one hour, you’ve already finished your first book!
After the second hour, you’ve finished a second! I’m a genius! you think to yourself.
The next day you read three more books. And yet, something feels off. You’re far exceeding your goal, but you don’t feel any smarter. In fact, you don’t feel like you’ve learned anything at all.
You’ve been “reading” coloring books.
Determine what is best
You may have the most work ethic and discipline of anyone in the world, but if you apply it to the wrong thing, you will only end up frustrated. Instead, you need to be diligent in uncovering what the most important thing is for you to do.
Not just what you think is right, but what is actually right. You can learn this through several means:
- Ask advice from people that have achieved what you’re after;
- Read highly regarded books on the topic;
- Or practice good ol’ trial and error.
3. Not building up to challenges
Today is the day. You’re going to complete a triathlon. Composed of extended bouts of cycling, swimming, and running, you can’t wait to get started. Sure, you’ve never run a marathon before, let alone done so on a bike or in the water, but you don’t care.
You have the willpower and discipline to finish what you start. Nothing can stop you.
Alas, something stops you. Your discipline quickly fades as you nearly drown in the ocean and forget how to ride a bike (I thought they said you can’t forget something like that!). Defeated, you return home with your head drooped in disappointment.
Ease out of your comfort zone
When embarking on new ventures, particularly daunting ones, discipline will only get you so far. It will help you stay in the game longer than you would without it, but it has a finite limit.
Instead of solely relying on resolve to get you across the finish line, you need to ease into challenges. You need to move gradually out of your comfort zone and into more difficult arenas. For example, train for the triathlon before actually competing in it.
That way you will be prepared for the undertaking and have the discipline to push through the pain.
4. Not giving yourself breaks
I’m so excited! You’ve finally taken the plunge and created your very own YouTube channel. Radiating optimism, you can’t wait to become the next big thing. You decide to set a goal to publish one new video each day for the foreseeable future.
You have the drive and discipline to achieve the impossible so this should be easy!
The first week goes as planned – one new video each day. The second week, you’re a little tired but still manage to get a new daily video published. The third week starts slow. You ultimately end up publishing five videos.
I need to push harder!
Week four begins with a surge but ends up falling flat. You publish three videos and decide to hold off on YouTube for the time being.
Plan for breaks
Discipline can get you through the ups and downs, but only if you give yourself a chance to breathe.
Instead of going full-speed ahead, build breaks into your plan. Either in your literal schedule for the day or in the goal itself.
For instance, instead of publishing one new video each day, you can aim to publish at least three videos each week. In that case, you have plenty of time to rest. Plus, by saying at least you give yourself the option to do more if you feel so inclined.
5. Doing things for the wrong reason
Smiling to yourself, you can already picture the faces of those poor suckers. They don’t even know what’s coming. They said you couldn’t keep a plant alive for a full year, that you don’t have “what it takes to raise a plant.”
Ha! I’ll show them!
Getting home from the plant nursery, you set up your new green friend by the window and research watering schedules. Twice a week? Ok, I can do that.
After three months of feeling tied to the plant, stuck to a constant watering schedule, all to show off to your friends that they were wrong, you’ve had enough. You toss the plant in the trash and pretend like the whole thing never happened.
Fulfillment over ego
When you do things for the wrong reason, your discipline won’t last long at all. The egoistic reasoning you set out with won’t stay with you through the various obstacles you’re sure to face.
And when that reasoning falls apart, so will your follow-through.
Instead, do things that add fulfillment to your life. If you want to get a plant, by all means, do so, but because you want to. Not because you want to brag or show off. When you do things for the right reason, discipline will be that much easier to maintain.
Moving forward with discipline
Being disciplined is easy. Staying disciplined though can be challenging. Especially when you find yourself committing one of the five missteps mentioned in this article.
Avoid them in the future and stay evermore disciplined by:
- Understanding why you’re doing what you’re doing;
- Figuring out the most important action to take;
- Gradually easing out of your comfort zone;
- Taking breaks;
- And doing things in the pursuit of personal fulfillment.
You got this!