Having Self-Discipline is Like Eating An Elephant.
Do you have self-discipline? If the answer is no, or maybe, you are letting all the good stuff pass you by- your precious time and potential.
Self-discipline is learned by intentionally focusing on something despite attractive distractions.
Self-discipline is learned by intentionally focusing on something despite attractive distractions. People will often commit to something that sounds exciting or interesting at the moment, but then over time, doing the work isn’t fun anymore. When things aren’t fun or enjoyable, self-discipline comes into play. Long after the mood of committing passes, self-discipline is crucial to get us through our laziness. The best example is going on a ‘diet.’ When we think about our future self, living a healthier and nutritious lifestyle, we often crave it! So we commit to starting and sticking with it! But Monday afternoon comes along, and there are cookies on the office counter. We look down at our smartwatch, telling us our steps are low, and we need to walk after work. It would be easy to say “ah forget it! Grab the cookie and munch along with the rest of our co-workers.” But self-discipline is pushing through. It’s letting the temptation and pleasure of that cookie and instant gratification pass us by, instead of the long term healthy lifestyle. We know that we will be happy if we stick to our commitment, but at the moment, it requires sacrifice, strength, and even sometimes solitude.
Sometimes, self-discipline’s biggest rival is the F word. No, not what you are thinking!
FOCUS. It’s so easy to feel focused but then lack follow through and get distracted. It’s natural to have ‘shiny object syndrome’ with all the distractions in life. “Look over here! Look over there! What’s going on with them?” Don’t worry. You’re not alone when it comes to shiny object syndrome. It happens to me, too. And when it does, I do my best to acknowledge that it is or did happen and let it go. Being disappointed in myself or mad at myself is never going to get me back on track. Instead, I ask myself, “what was it that was worth breaking my commitment?” When I can honestly answer this question, it helps me get right back on the wagon and begin again. Facing the situation head-on allows me to get back to what matters to me, and so I do my best not to ignore any issues. One great way to face the situation is to write down what is going on.
For example, if we go back to that diet analogy and give in to the temptation, I might write down:
- It smelled good!
- Everyone else was eating the cookies, so I didn’t want to be left out.
- Feeling sluggish.
- I got into a disagreement with my business partner.
- Feeling stressed about COVID-19 and the news.
It was easy to think of five reasons right off the bat as to why I would break the commitment to my new healthy diet. Writing it down helps to see the WHAT behind the behavior. At first, looking at the list might make it feel even harder to have self-discipline. But you’ll also find writing it down BEFORE quitting, following through, or losing focus will help you build self-discipline into a habit that doesn’t take as much work down the road.
NO one said being disciplined is easy. It’s a skill that takes time and effort to master.
I know you might be thinking that this is much work! I’m here to say, “you’re right!”. NO one said being disciplined is easy. It’s a skill that takes time and effort to master. With that said, there’s even more work to do. After addressing what caused you or tempted you to lose focus, write down an action plan. Write down your commitments and things you want to stay focused on (in order of importance). Then write down three things you can do to stack on track. For example, if getting healthier is top on the list, maybe the list reads, “go for a walk 5x week, bring prepared lunch to work, and skip the sugar in my coffee.” Sounds simple right? Easy to do and easy NOT to do. You decide. You’ll notice you feel more in control just from writing it down!
After the week is over, take notice if you followed through with what you wrote down. Did you make time to walk? How about lunch? Did preparing ahead of time help stay on track? I bet that coffee was hard to drink day 1, but by day five didn’t seem so bad after all! All these check-ins will help boost your mood and morale, and result in long term self-discipline.
You can apply this to all aspects of your personal AND professional life. Whether business-related, family-oriented, or personal goals. It is up to you.
The saying goes, “you can eat an elephant if you take it one bite at a time.” No, I’m not suggesting eating elephants! haha. (My wife would kill me, she loves elephants.). But what I am saying is something that seems big and daunting at first, can be tackled if you just take the time to be present and focus on it every day.
We live in a world where everything is NOW.
The idea of eating an elephant one bite at a time may seem obvious, but trust me, I need to remind myself of this all the time. I’m talking to myself here too. Life tends to sneak up on you and get in the way. Good intentions quickly fall flat as you soon see swinging in an attractive shiny object. We live in a world where everything is NOW. From Veruca Salt’s “I want it NOW!” tantrums to Amazon Prime, to instant downloads and having almost everything at our fingertips. The ability to resist the urge and stay focused is a skill that takes much work to develop.
One excellent way to stay on track is to only focus on one or two goals at a time. Trying to squeeze in a lifetime of changes in 90 days will only set yourself up for failure. I see it all the time with friends, family, employees, and people I’ve consulted over the years. If you take too big of a bite, you won’t be able to chew! Once you master one commitment’s self-discipline, move onto the next course. Soon you’ll see you’re making a big dent in your goals and obligations!
Do you think Arnold Schwarzenegger just started benching 400lbs? Nope. He slowly added weights to the exercise bar. He lifted, practiced, and let time go by as his strength built up. You can flex that same self-discipline muscle! Small efforts compounded over time will make a difference, and you will see progress like never before!
Although I’ve used two analogies about health/fitness, I hope you see that I’m relating it to business and relationships. It’s much harder when the progress is within and not as noticeable to others on a surface level. Co-workers aren’t likely to stop you at the water cooler and comment on your self-discipline muscles and how they notice you’re much more productive! But they might say if they saw you just shed 10lbs. How do you stay on track when the change is within, and positive reinforcement from others isn’t at your fingertips?
Start with a small change you want to make.
Write down your progress.
Write down your observations.
Stop looking for others to dictate your success.
As you slowly make changes, over time, your character will build and grow. And people will notice! It just might take a little more time.
What do you do if your life is a complete mess?
Where to begin? That’s the tough question!
One habit that is great to start with (don’t laugh) is making your bed. There’s even a book called “Make Your Bed” by Admiral William H. McRaven. It starts from the moment you wake up. If you begin with productivity, you’re more likely to follow through with other things that require focus. I highly recommend this book if you haven’t read it yet. Thank me later.
From one habit, allow another to grow. So once you start making the bed every day, maybe you get into washing the sheets on a regular schedule too. Perhaps you start vacuuming the bedroom floor every day. Allow habits to compound, and soon, you’ll be the best version of you, Mr or Ms. Self-Discipline, at your best!
Can you believe the key to self-discipline is committing, writing down the roadblocks, writing down a plan, and staying focused by making your bed? Haha.
I know it sounds almost too easy to work. But have a little trust in me! I am giving you this challenge this week:
Do you want to be self-discipline with something in your life right now?
Let’s see how small changes over time will drive you into automatic self-discipline. Don’t let another moment pass you. You are talented, able to develop new skills, and deserve more than ever before!
I’d love to hear your testimonial!
Originally published at https://aaronbouren.com on July 26, 2020.