The essence of self-discipline is being able to do what needs to be done, regardless of whether or not you feel like doing it.
The odds of me “feeling like” eating 5,000 calories every single day (during certain periods), or getting to the gym 6 days a week, or sitting down to write every day, is very slim. I’m just not going to feel like doing it all the time.
But I have to, if I want to make consistent progress on goals that are important to me.
And this is one of the crucial mindset shifts that you’ll have to make if you want to become more disciplined in your daily life. The good news though, as I’ve said many times in other places, is that it’s accessible by us all.
To that end, here are just a few key ideas that will be helpful:
1) Shut Down Your Mind
A lot of the time, we only know that we don’t feel like doing something if our mind tells us that we don’t feel like doing it. We let our self-talk influence us by giving in to its demands. We’ll let ourselves talk ourselves out of doing what we know we need to do in order to achieve our goals. It’s by giving in to the mind that we lose our power for action.
So the best way to counteract this tendency is to shut down the mechanism by which we can talk ourselves out of productivity.
It’s pretty much the only time EVER that I’ll tell you not to think critically.
There are a few ways to shut down an overactive mind, but my favorite is meditation. You don’t even have to “clear your monkey mind” or “meditate on inherent existence”, or “become centered”.
You can use those New Age-ish terms if you’d like, but there’s nothing mystical about focusing on your breath, taming your mind, and getting focused by using meditation.
I think it’s by turning it into some sort of spacey, weird, mystical thing that some people get turned off. I do it to become more productive and happy.
If you’re focusing on your breathing, or the object of your meditation, you won’t be able to listen to your mind telling you that you don’t feel like doing something and that you’d rather give in to laziness. You won’t even hear it.
2) Dive In
This is kind of an extension of the last point. We out-think ourselves and tend to stop ourselves from working before we even get started.
So a good way to counteract this, and it doesn’t depend on how you’re feeling, is just to dive in. You can even start a timer for 1 minute, and tell yourself that at the end of this 1 minute, that you can go back to doing whatever it is you were doing.
Most of us can start something for 1 minute (or even 1 second), and if you’re anything like me, at the end of that 1 minute you’re just going to want to keep going. And again, it doesn’t matter whether or not you feel like doing it!
3) Think About How To Start
Keeping with our theme, we’re not going to think about deciding whether or not we feel like doing something. It just won’t factor into our equations concerning our next disciplined actions.
So, instead of deciding whether or not you feel like doing something, think about how to start if you WERE to get started. If you were to take action right now, how might you do it?
This presupposes the answer to the first question, namely, whether you will get started or not. In general, people don’t need more information, they need to be able to translate their knowledge into action. This is one of your secret weapons in that fight.
You’re going to totally ignore the question of whether or not you have to energy or the motivation to get started, and you’re just going to think about the best way to start.
A typical instance of this would be instead of asking yourself if you feel like going for run, you think about what you would need to wear in order to step out your front door.
4) Shape The Path
Alright, last up. When we don’t feel like doing something, we need to make it easier on ourselves to take the action that we want to take. That means “shaping the path”, by setting ourselves up for success.
What do I mean? Well, you’re going to make it to the gym more often if you don’t have to go searching for your gym clothes every time. So if you keep them by the door, then you’re going to know where they are, be able to pick them up easily, and be out the door without the additional hassle.
It’s all about making the undesirable actions harder by setting up more “roadblocks”, and making the virtuous actions desirable by eliminating as many extra steps as possible.
You can come up with numerous examples on your own, and that will fit your situation. For me, I get most of my food for the week cooked at once. I have the outlines of my articles and books ready so that I just need to sit down and write. And I keep my gym clothes at the door!
5) Get a Good Role Model
C.T. Fletcher is one scary individual, and if he was my trainer, I wouldn’t even THINK about trying to come up with an excuse for why I was going to miss our session. I know what he’s about, and I admire him for his self-discipline. Bruce Lee was another insanely disciplined guy.
There just wasn’t any question of whether these guys felt like doing it. They DID it, and then signed up for more.
They’re all garbage.
Not the people, the excuses.
A good role model will save you from all that, by showing you that the only way out is through. Get someone disciplined like C.T. Fletcher, or Bruce Lee, or Muhammad Ali, or anyone else you admire.
Use what they are, what they said, what they became, in order to fuel your own success.
*Clear your mind, using meditation or anything else that works for you
*Set a timer for 1 minute (or however long you think you can focus), and just dive in
*Think about what you would do if you were to get started, and then do that
*Set up your day and environment so that it’s easier to do the stuff that will help you achieve your goals, and harder to do the things that will slow you down
*Get yourself a good role model to follow, and let their self-discipline become your new way of life
Total Time For Implementation: 25 Minutes Per Day
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Strong, disciplined people don’t even ask themselves whether or not they feel like doing something. They just do it. You can become one of those people, but you need some strategies to help you.
As always, the price of discipline is way less than the price of regret. You are alive right now, walking this beautiful earth, and you have this one chance to make it work. What we do now echoes in eternity, and what you feel like doing doesn’t matter in the conquest of happiness.
All the best,
Matt Karamazov is a human rights activist, boxer, and writer who reads about 200 books per year and throws precisely 300 punches per minute. His website, Godlike Discipline, is dedicated to raising money for causes like Doctors Without Borders, and Human Rights Watch, among others. It’s also dedicated to helping people tackle their biggest willpower challenges. He also like death metal, and so, consequently doesn’t get many second dates. Here he is on a horse.