I get a lot of questions from people about how to improve daily self-discipline. It comes in various forms, but most often it’s someone who’s got the two-punch combo: they’re really lazy and really desperate. They want a quick fix. They want tips. And they’re hoping one of them will be the game-changer they’ve been missing their entire life. Quora’s a great place to see this in action. It goes something like this:
Question: Hi, what is the one tip (seriously guys, one tip) you’d give to help develop my self-discipline?
Answers: Sir/Ma’am, I got your one tip right here, but first let me lay out 10 other random tips for you. *insert a list of 10 tips that aren’t even useful, from someone that isn’t even great at self-discipline*
It’s all about the one tip that will change your life, and turn you from your local drug dealer into Warren Buffet. You probably don’t peddle drugs, but it’s an extreme example. You want the smoking gun, but then again, don’t we all? Desperation reeks, I get it. But all you end up with is severe disappointment when you realize there really is no short-term solution. You wanted the get-rich-quick scheme to satisfy your ego, and instead you got a five-year business plan with no money up front. Ouch.
By now, you’re probably wondering where the title of this article comes from.
Let’s take a common disdain for some of the most hated vegetables planet Earth has blessed us with, the one you thought was disgusting as a kid and probably still wretch at the thought of today. I studied over a few classic lists of the most hated vegetables here, here, and here. If you click on them, you’ll see some obvious trends; there was a clear winner: Brussels sprouts. And for the record, it’s Brussels, not Brussel.
At first I thought broccoli was a good choice, because it has a pretty unsatisfying taste a lot of people can’t stomach too well. It’s almost like eating hard clumps of grass. Eventually though, it was clear it needed to be Brussels sprouts. Why? Even though they’ve gotten pretty trendy lately through the fine art of frying, shaving into thin pieces, and adding a bunch of sauces and parmesan to them…they’re still Brussels sprouts. And remember, for purposes of this article, I’m talking about the raw vegetable itself. Sans any delicious additions. Because really, any vegetable you find disgusting can be tasty enough with the addition of 48 spices and three sauces.
So, for illustrative purposes here, we’ll use Brussels sprouts; slightly undercooked (still crunchy, how delicious), and completely unsalted. This is mother nature’s gift to humanity. Enjoy, mother fuckers.
How Brussel Sprouts Relate To Self-Discipline
Suppose I said the following: if you ate a plate full of Brussels sprouts every day, you could live to the ripe age of 120, minimum. All it took was a plateful a day. But there’s a big as dilemma: you hate Brussels sprouts. You look at the people who enjoy them with an evil eye rivaled only by the likes of Jack Torrance. The leafy cabbage vegetable is pure vile horror in your eyes. I get it, it’s not like you can snap your fingers and love the deliciously rusty taste of crunchy clumps. So you have a problem: you can successfully live to 120, but you have to eat something you don’t want to eat. Every. damn. day.
The idea of daily self-discipline follows the exact same logic. We know getting good at self-discipline means we’ll find success in various ways. But the problem is, you don’t want to sit down and do the work necessary. You really don’t care to improve your self-discipline. Actually, let me reword that. You do care about improving it, but you hate the idea of forcing yourself to sit down and work diligently on your goals when you don’t want to, day after day, year after year. It’s not like you can snap your fingers and suddenly like it. Just like you can’t snap your fingers and find Brussels sprouts delicious. Sad face.
But you really want to love Brussels sprouts. So off you go, trying to read online about how to successfully ingest it without a gag reflex. You hop on Quora and ask, “how can I become addicted to Brussels sprouts?”, or “what are the best Brussels sprouts eating tips?”. You get no shortage of people’s opinions, all of which have nothing to do with loving Brussels sprouts. In fact, they’re probably top 10 lists which don’t even answer the fucking question but instead go off on a tangent aimed at getting the author some exposure. But hey, Quora’s full of experts. Side note: don’t let me scare you away from Quora. There are some amazing people on there who provide legitimate answers.
So off you go, trying your hardest to soak in the knowledge bestowed upon you by Quorans. It doesn’t work. You still loathe Brussels sprouts as much as Billy, your 5th grade class clown.
“Impossible”, you think. “There has to be a way to want to sit down and eat a plate full of Brussels sprouts.”
Your mind races at 150 mph, cranking out perceived solutions left and right. One minute a light bulb, the next just a bunch of silence. Nothing sticks. But you really want to love Brussels sprouts. You’re on the ropes; your hopes are becoming dashed and you feel stuck.
Until one day, you say fuck it. You decide to sit down and stomach it. Face your fears head on, they say. This may not be Fear Factor, but to you it’s pretty close. Your stomach wretches as you stare at one of mother nature’s healthiest delicacies. You decide to eat a bite. Maybe not a plate full, but a piece. You start small. You continue eating a piece every day for a couple of weeks. It’s not enjoyable, and you may have a slight gag reflex, but down go the Brussels sprouts.
Eventually, you get the bare minimum hang of it, so you add a bit more every day. It never really gets better going down, but you can handle it. In the meantime, you’re hoping you somehow fall in love for it, but you don’t.
“Oh well”, you think, “I’ll just continue what I’m doing.”
Then one day in the future, you sit down again before realizing you’re eating a plate full of the sprouts, the vegetable you still hate and don’t wish upon your worst enemies. But it’s become second nature to eat it. You don’t think twice about it. You just do it. Because living to 120 is slightly more delicious than Brussels sprouts.
There’s No Shortcut For Daily Self-Discipline
The story of Brussels sprouts, or your worst vegetable you’d never eat if given the choice, is exactly how daily self-discipline works.
No one really enjoys eating putrid veggies. Everyone thinks they’ve got the secrets on how to enjoy it. Add 48 spices. Douse it in three different sauces. Maybe add a fourth because fuck it, you can. Then maybe it’ll be palatable. And sure, for this one time, you might be able to stomach it. Those 48 spices are like the little tips and tricks, while the three (or four) sauces are like dashes of motivation. Temporary goodness, but guess what…you still don’t (and won’t) like Brussels sprouts. Ever.
But you spend your entire existence finding ways to love it. You try 435 different tips recommended by Quora writers, from books you’ve picked up on the subject, or from people you personally know.
At tip #436, you come to the realization you still don’t enjoy working on your self-discipline. So you give up.
Wrong mindset. Self-discipline isn’t about finding ways to enjoy it because frankly, you won’t. Our brains are hardwired to enjoy things that feel good and that provide instant gratification. Sitting down to work in your free time doesn’t exactly feel good, and it doesn’t exactly provide any sort of instant gratification. It’s a lose-lose situation. So you try to trick yourself, but you come to the realization you can only outsmart the human mind so much before it fights back. Trying to trick it into enjoying mundane, crappy tasks is basically impossible.
So you just need to understand one thing: it’s about sitting down and doing everything you need to do that you don’t want to do. You have to want it badly enough. Just like you know Brussels sprouts provides you an easy chance to live to 120 if you eat a plate full of them every day. Therefore, you find a way to ingest it. Every damn day.
Just like you know self-discipline is good for you and provides a better future, you find a way to ingest it daily. You’re wasting your time and effort finding ways to enjoy something that’s obviously not fun.
You never have to enjoy working on your self-discipline. No one does. It’s just good for you, like a plate full of slightly undercooked, unsalted Brussels sprouts.