Not reaching our full potential is so damn frustrating. And seeing others reaching theirs makes it sometimes even worse. If I only had the discipline…
Well, as with many other things in life, discipline is an acquired skill. Something you can choose to get if you really want it.
Aspirations and goals are about as common in life as eating and sleeping. Everyone has dreams. It’s part our daily lives, and often looms in the horizon like a pretty picture we like to look at from time to time.
From our earliest memories, we’ve all had feelings and ideas of what we wanted in life. As a kid you may have wanted to be a fireman or a rock star, or a doctor or some other cool profession. As you got older, you probably refined those goals as you learned more about yourself and what interested you.
And as our journey through life continues, so does aspirations. Getting on the wrestling team or the debating team in school, getting that promotion at work or saving up to buy that first car. Or buying a home to raise your family in.
And the crux? Achieving any goals requires discipline. It’s just the way the world works. The concert pianist or Olympic-level athlete had to put in an amazing number of hours of practice to get as good as they are.
Most of us don’t have such lofty goals though. We typically don’t need to be the absolute best to be happy. Thank God…
However, any relatively serious goals that will bring us some happiness will require some amount of self-discipline.
The first step to achieving discipline is realizing why it’s so hard to acquire as a habit in the first place. If it weren’t difficult, we’d all have terrific amounts of self-discipline and be achieving everything we want out of life.
Sadly, that’s not the case, as discipline invariably requires sacrifice, and that is the trade-off that most of us don’t like. But do we really have a choice?
No, not really.
If your goal is to lose ten pounds, it means having a leaner meal than you would have otherwise preferred, and kissing dessert goodbye. When striving to make the football or soccer team, this will mean hitting the gym more often and playing practice games on a regular basis. Starting a home-based business will require some money and time commitment. This is money and time that could have been spent on your kids or towards a family holiday, instead of being used to build a better life for the future.
Self-discipline is not a skill you are born with. It is a habit. Simple as that. And as with any habit, you have to start practicing it regularly in order for it to become habitual. Start accepting the trade-off as the price you need to pay for success, and be absolutely certain it’s worth it many times over. Because it is.
Here’s a quick plan on how to get started, which helped me go from being quite lazy to being highly focused and driven.
Establish a clear plan. What is it that you want? Be very clear about it. You have no hope of achieving what you want if you haven’t first clearly worked out what it is you need to do.
For example, get the gym membership, decide which days to train and get a good program to follow. Rinse, repeat and turn it into a habit. Whatever goal you’re aiming for, make it a habit to map out the steps you’ll need to take to get there. Applies to any goals.
Get rid of negative influences. Easier said than done, but try not to listen to people who aren’t sharing your agenda, or are sympathetic towards your goals. You know what’s best for you, so just go with your instincts.
This could also be thought of as removing temptations. If your goal is to get fit, then having your fridge stocked with crap food is not a good idea. You know, having cup cakes and potato chips gleefully staring at you every time you enter the kitchen is…not very helpful, is it?
If social media is taking up too much of your time, make a conscious decision to put your phone down. Getting rid of distractions and negative influences makes it a hell of lot easier to get disciplined.
Keep the end goal in mind. Let’s go back to the previous goal of getting more fit. There must be a reason this is a goal of yours. Perhaps you just want to look your best, or perhaps it’s to fit into your favorite piece of clothing? Try hanging it on the inside of your bedroom door, so you see it every time you leave your room.
If you are starting a lifestyle business to gain time freedom and financial freedom, spend time thinking about what you’ll be doing with that time and money. Imagine what your life will be like when you no longer have to commute to the unfulfilling job you have, and money is no longer an issue. Even write it down, to paint a clearer picture.
Keeping your eye on the prize is a powerful motivator to do what’s needed to reach that prize, especially when the road to accomplishing it is filled with potholes.
Incrementally delay gratification. The desire for instant gratification is probably the biggest barrier to discipline. We want what we want, and we want it now. Can you relate?
Try to change this mindset by performing little acts of delayed gratification. If you desperately need a snack, try to resist the urge. At least for an hour or more. By doing so, you may find that your craving for the particular snack/sweet will go away altogether!
You could also look at this in reverse in terms of prolonging discomfort. For instance, when jogging or running on a treadmill, say for 20 minutes, try to make yourself go an extra couple of minutes. It doesn’t matter if it’s in the gym, work related or home chores. Go on for a little longer than planned, just to test your self discipline. You’ll be amazed at the willpower you actually possess.
Practicing the combination of delaying gratification and prolonging discomfort can train you to realize that you can endure displeasure in order to reach a goal that will bring you a higher level of pleasure in the long run. Works in any situation.
Why is this important?
Very good question. Studies have shown that people with more self-control are happier. How about that! Discovering that you have the ability to achieve the things that you felt were previously unattainable is nothing short of fantastic.
There is nothing quite as satisfying as reaching an objective that you’ve sacrificed and worked hard to achieve. The more sweat that goes into reaching something we’re aiming for, the sweeter the feeling of accomplishment is.
People with more discipline are spending more of their days working toward accomplishments they find fulfilling. And speaking from experience, I can attest to this being true. Once you become self disciplined, it changes everything.
What is fulfilling will of course be different for each person. Whether they are financial, educational, health, fitness, family, career or entrepreneurship goals, you need to realize that you have the power within yourself to reach them.
And if you find yourself in a position where it just seems too hard, then this final tip might help.
Draw strength from those with similar goals or motivations. Spend more time with like minded people. Start jogging or biking with a friend rather than using a piece of exercise equipment alone at home. This common purpose will help to energize you, and you can keep each other motivated.
Bottom line is this. Whatever your goals in life are, you will need the discipline to reach them. There is no way around that. But knowing it’s just a skill should help make the choices before you so much easier, and make any sacrifices required by your journey all the more endurable and perhaps even enjoyable.