When was the last time you failed at a goal? Seriously. Think about it. Everyone has failed before. More importantly: WHY did you fail? Was it circumstances? Was it because of someone else? Or, if you’re honest, did you fail due to your choices and the fact that you lacked self-discipline in those moments?
While it’s sometimes overrated, self-discipline is an admittedly hard thing to master. But, as I’ve mentioned before on this blog – I genuinely believe, in my heart of hearts, that self-discipline and “follow-through” are skills that anyone can learn and find great value in! And to prove it, I’ll offer up 4 surefire steps that will hopefully guide you on the path to doing so.
Step 1: Disprove Negative Things You Associate with Self-Discipline
Discipline has some nasty connotations to it. And the fact that it does makes sense because we were all “disciplined” as children (hopefully, anyway).
Well, fortunately, we’re not children anymore – and you can redefine your associations with it by redefining what it leads to.
Think about it, in the past – discipline led to your favorite thing being taken away, a spanking, early bedtimes, and parent-induced early-onset withdrawal symptoms. There was no perceived upside to the discipline you were receiving when you were younger because kids want immediate satisfaction.
But now? Well, now you understand that delayed satisfaction is ok for a worthwhile end-result. Examples include things like:
Your favorite cheat meal for 5 prior days of disciplined eating.
Buying something nice because you’ve saved up enough money to do so.
Being in the best shape of your life due to continued effort over time.
You can reward yourself however you’d like based on your decision(s) to show some restraint and wait to “cash things in” (so to speak). You can
Step 2: Realize that Discipline is a Choice of “Future Benefits vs. Current Distractions”
Each of us is human with baser instincts we’d prefer to satisfy. Yet in a world of consequences and limited-resources (like “time”) – some have learned to “override” those urges, and those who have this knowledge often go the path of composed and thoughtful consideration. As superhuman (or “inhuman” depending on who you ask) as that appears to be when done consistently, they’re still humans CHOOSING to be focused instead on a delayed benefit.
No one is set to automatically operate in a state of self-control. High performers and successful-types the world over regularly forgo more immediately-pleasing options in order to accomplish tasks that better align with their future goal(s), regardless of their age or profession. Everyone from YouTube stars -to- professional athletes -to- titans of industry have learned to make disciplined choices to “handle their business” before seeking relaxation because they understand the benefits of doing so.
If I had to guess what’s motivating that decision each time, I’d say it’s their ability to see beyond “right now”. It has become clear to them that when you want to accomplish anything – no matter how grand – you can’t let every little thing distract you. The future benefit you’re seeking to gain has to outweigh the current distraction that could take your time, energy, skill, and other invaluable resources.
Steps 3: Acknowledge Personal Value & A Pressing Need
Once the first two steps are clear, we have to internalize (at least partially) the value of self-discipline and what it means to us on a personal level. What have you seen disciplined people accomplish that you wish you could do? What has a lack of discipline in your choices cost you in the past?
Establishing what’s at stake for you regarding your future desires comes next. What will you miss out on if you don’t approach your decisions with a little more discipline? What requires more discipline and focus than normal to be accomplished?
I have always felt like Will Smith does a good job of summarizing those things abstractly when he rants sometimes…
Step 4: Reward Yourself for Milestones and then Repeat
While many of our past and future personal failures in life can (and will) be traced back to a momentary lapse in judgment or an entire lacking of anything remotely resembling “self-control” in our decision-making, everything doesn’t have to be. Part of how you help increase the likelihood that you’ll succeed at something difficult is to make it fun and interesting along the way.
These are your personal goals, so you get to make the rules.
If you’re trying to save the money to make a down payment on a house, maybe treat yourself to a fun experience each time you pass 1/4 of your goal’s completion?
If you’re attempting to pay off your student loans, maybe get a tattoo when you pay down a certain amount or finish making payments entirely (that’s what I did)?
If you’re trying to learn the lines to an upcoming play that you’re performing in, maybe treat yourself to a nice meal once you’ve learned your parts & then do something else a little more extravagant once you’ve successfully run through your lines a set amount of times?
You get to set the finish line and the major markers leading up to it, sure. But you also get to choose whether or not you celebrate yourself and your achievement each time you surpass a key point along the way due to your self-discipline. I would encourage you to pause at times and enjoy the fact that you’re on the right path to getting something you really care about done! Doing so not only keeps things from being boring, but it’s also a nice reminder that what you’re doing doesn’t have to be all about misery and torturous self-denial.
We all share in the poetically beautiful human experience of sometimes having to sacrifice (unless you’re filthy stinking rich and well-connected), but those decisions to go without something for a moment don’t have to be drudgery. It is nice to have reassured ourselves along the way that there are benefits and future gains at the end of the tunnel.
Take time at these milestone points to breathe, relax, evaluate, and reassess. And if you still value the end goal – push forward passionately and with purpose by cycling through these steps again.
That’s all that I have for you on this one. I hope I didn’t rant too much, and I’m curious what your thoughts are about this topic as a whole. What would you add? What else do you feel needs to be emphasized about having a little self-discipline? Do you have any stories to share about when your own self-discipline paid off in a big way for you? Share your thoughts in the comment section below!