There’s nothing worse than trying to do something, be it anything, when you don’t feel like it. Trying to get the motivation to start is like cranking a 30 year old lawnmower that hasn’t been serviced in 29 of those years – it’s impossible to get going. Let’s face it, you’d rather be eating a bag of Cheetos, and truth be told, watching Sherwin-Williams off-white paint dry than spending five minutes writing an important email. How to be a disciplined person is like solving a Rubik’s cube; you give up before you even start.
The lack of desire to do anything hits you even when it’s stuff you enjoy. Sometimes, all you really want to do is just sit on the couch, forget about life, and let Netflix take its inevitable course. Relax, shhh…don’t cancel that autoplay for the next episode. Well, look at that… you like to get lazy on (many) occasions.
But if you think life becomes easier when you’re filling your days with things you enjoy, take another step back. Yes, getting started on tasks related to stuff you’re passionate about helps without a doubt. But don’t be ignorant enough to believe doing the things you want, especially when it becomes your actual job, won’t lead you to a lot of moments where you don’t feel like doing it.
There’s a perfect word to describe your half-hearted attempt at doing things; it’s called lazy. You’ll expend more energy trying to find the easy way from point A to B than just applying yourself in the first place and diving in head-first.
Yes, you read that right. That’s because as humans, we absolutely love to take the path of least resistance. You’ve been blessed with the brains that make you the smartest living creature on this planet, so you’re always creating efficient ways to deal with life. You’ll study any way you can to take the easy path instead of action.
Without the desire or ability to create the proper system on how to be a disciplined person, you can’t execute and get shit done. You’re like a piece of burnt toast – slightly overdone and some people would still give you a chance, but most people will toss you aside for a better piece of toast.
So, want to learn some self-discipline? Here’s six ways to get better at it.
How To Be a Disciplined Person In Six Different Ways
1. Define What You Want Through Some Goals
It’s impossible to know what you’re supposed to do if you don’t know what you’re going towards. I think physics may have taught you something similar, something along the lines of an object in motion tends to stay in motion. If you start moving towards what you want, chances are you’ll keep moving towards it. If you don’t know what you want, you can’t really move towards it, so the motion flatlines.
Before you implement any kind of process, you need to have a goal or multiple goals. That would only make sense, right? You need to know what you’re trying to achieve before you can actually achieve it. But many people seem to screw up goal setting because it’s really not as easy as you think.
Let’s take losing weight as a popular goal many of you more than likely have. Common knowledge would have you think all you need to do is set a goal for something you want, i.e.
“I want to lose weight.”
Maybe at this point you understand that’s way too broad, so you tell yourself that’s fine, let’s be more specific and say
“I want to lose 10 pounds.”
A little better, and where a lot of people would stop, but you somehow know that’s still not good enough so you say
“I want to lose 10 pounds in the next three months.”
This is where 99% of people would cement the goal, but it’s still not far enough. That’s because you set a decent goal but you don’t really have a game plan for it. It’s not the end result that you should focus on but the actions that lead you there. How do you inevitably lose weight? You burn off more than you eat on a daily basis (science, folks), and the quickest way to do that without starving yourself with an 800 calorie a day allotment is to get to the gym or get moving. So maybe the goal should be
“For the next three months, I want to lift weights twice a week and go for a 20 minute run without stopping once a week.”
Much more concrete, actionable, and more importantly measurable.
Using this same methodology, think about wanting a promotion at work. “I want a promotion by year end” is definitely a goal, but it’s too broad and doesn’t go far enough because you don’t have an action plan. Focus on what you can do to get there. Take on extra projects? Aim to make two more calls a day? Whatever it is, your keyword will always be action.
Goal setting in itself is an art and a science wrapped in one, so make sure to check out the guide if you need help there.
2. Find The Motivation Through A Different Means
How is a fire capable of burning for hours on end? Part of it is a steady source of fuel it can burn, such as logs of wood. But to really get it going and kick it up a notch once in awhile, it needs some form of lighter fluid. Think of your goal (like losing weight or getting a promotion) as the fire, and your discipline as the wood. You want a slow, continuous burn to keep you on track with whatever you defined as your goal(s). But to hit the booster once in awhile, you need lighter fluid — that’s motivation. All three (a goal, discipline, and motivation) are necessary in your quest on how to be a disciplined person.
What then, is your motivation?
There’s two ways to get motivated. The first is obvious: the material things or feelings you want as a result of obtaining your goals. Becoming CEO, owning your own business, driving a Ferrari, owning a big house, all the things you think you wanted growing up and more.
On the flip side of motivation is the material things or feelings you don’t want in life. Like, for example, your less-than-ideal current life; driving a beat up 1995 Honda Civic on its last legs which will force you to buy another shitty car after, or living with two roommates and the possibility of three if you don’t get your act together. You no longer want these things and you fear you’ll continue having them if you don’t whip yourself into shape.
Taking the two forms of motivation (wanting things vs no longer wanting things) into consideration, the best form of motivation is the latter; thinking about all the things you probably won’t achieve or don’t want anymore if you fail to implement how to be a disciplined person.
That’s because it produces a lot more internal emotion than dreaming about the car you could be driving one day. It’s gut wrenching and nauseating to think about the shortcomings sometimes if you really focus on them. It’s also more realistic and upsetting to think about the car you would be driving if you don’t get your act together.
3. Setup a System To Help When You Lack The Desire or Motivation
Inevitably, you’ll run into a wall and you’ll run into them on a pretty regular basis. At its core, it’s about doing things when you don’t always feel like doing them. That is ultimately what defines self-discipline and sets it apart from just doing things when they’re convenient. There’s no formula to it, you just have to do it.
But if you lack the motivation and you lack the desire to accomplish your goals, setup a system to get things going. If you know it’ll take you under two minutes to complete, just get it done (made famous by the book Getting Things Done by David Allen).
If you know doing something feels like pulling out your teeth, setup a reward system to give yourself a little gift at the end of it. Start associating a reward with a habit of doing the important things, made famous by Charles Duhigg in The Power of Habit. Is it a piece of chocolate, an hour of Netflix, or reading a book? Seeing the light at the end of the tunnel in the form of a reward can help get you going. And knowing you can only get the reward if you do the not-so-fun-thing first, you tend to do the not-so-fun thing.
And if something will need your focus for a bit longer than a few minutes, find ways to stay focused even if you don’t feel like it because surprise, you probably won’t feel like it. The Pomodoro technique is a good way to make yourself stay in the zone. Give yourself 20 minutes of distraction-free work, and then give yourself a little break. Repeat as many times as you want in order to make progress.
By the same token, try blocking out all social media or distracting websites for a short time while you focus in on the task at hand. Turn off the TV even if it’s just background noise. Put on your headphones and dial in. Remind yourself of what you probably won’t achieve if you keep procrastinating harder than you did in your college sophomore final exams.
4. Don’t Hate Yourself When You Don’t Have Motivation
First off, take a deep breath; relax for a second. Ease up on the self-hate. Take a moment and tell yourself something nice for a change.
You will, on a constant basis, not be able to achieve every last thing you set out to do that day, that week, that month, or that year. Maybe it’s because you switched gears and went a different direction, or maybe it’s because you didn’t find whatever it was as a good fit for your current goals.
The more time you spend hating yourself or your lack of motivation in the moment, the more time you’re wasting not improving yourself. You aren’t a machine and you aren’t likely to check off a list of tasks on a consistent basis. You’re a human being who has emotions, problems, feelings, and random things that pull you in every which direction at any given time. That’s just how life works and knowing it (and understanding it) will help you a ton in the long run.
But you can pick up where you left off, no matter how derailed you get, for it’s the beauty of how life is. You’re never truly “stuck”, even if you tell yourself otherwise.
5. Continually Reflect on Your Progress
What works and what doesn’t is an individual process, unique to each person and catered just for you. Sure, there are methods out there that exist to accelerate discipline and progress because they probably work (many New York Times bestsellers have tackled discipline), and at some point it’s crucial to get that assistance. You should try to use different systems out there and see what fits for you.
There’s a thousand and one hacks and techniques on how to be a disciplined person; a few of them, like the Pomodoro technique and habit/reward system are listed above. Spend some time trying a new system and then see if it’s working for you. What one person considers a life-changing method may have you scratching your head and leaving you with more questions than answers.
You may be wondering how you know if a particular system is working for you and it’s worth pursuing more instead of switching to something else. Luckily, this one’s straightforward: if you have to constantly ask yourself if it’s working, then it’s probably not. When something does work, it becomes immediately apparent that’s something to explore further and stick with.
The question isn’t whether a technique works (because it does for a lot of people), it’s whether it fits for you in your life. Try things out, and if you aren’t feeling it, try something else. But it’s important to give something a solid two weeks (not a half-assed two weeks) before you decide whether to drop it or not. Don’t expect miracles in a few days here. See how it’s helping you achieve your goals, and then make the proper adjustments from there.
6. Reassess What You Want in Life
While it’s easy to beat yourself up, you should give yourself a little breathing room if you don’t accomplish something you thought you would in that time you thought you’d do it, because life is full of twists and turns and any number of things could’ve happened that prevented it. From the possibility you may have switched directions or goals to something else in your life coming up in the moment which needed to be addressed first.
That thing about switching directions or goals? Let’s focus in on that for a second. It’s vitally important that you continually reassess your hopes, dreams, goals and desires on a regular basis in order to stay on track, while also making sure you’re achieving the things you set out to achieve. “Regular basis” can vary, but it’s a safe bet you should see which direction you’re traveling at least every few months and adjust accordingly.
There’s a particular reason why you should regularly see if the directions you’re going lines up with your goals, and it has to do with the disconnect between achievement and mindset. Let’s say you set up a couple longer term goals revolving around a complete career switch. You have a current job you aren’t really happy with, but hey in a twist of ironic fate, you’re pretty good at it. So in the next few months, work picks up and you kick ass and get recognized for the hard work and consequently promoted.
But there’s a small problem: you didn’t have a chance to work towards your real dream, which is a career change. At all.
You’ll naturally be upset with yourself because while you’re achieving things (a promotion), your mindset was trying to go in a different direction. In the process of working hard at your current job, you let go of your goals. But you still knocked out a serious achievement or two.
Take a deep breath, realize life is life, and reassess where you stand. Do you still want that career change now with the promotion? Did things change for you because of it? How do you feel about it? Still fantasize about quitting every day? Probably, but it’s important to weigh it against where you currently stand.
Developing Self-Discipline is a Circular Process
Improving and developing self-discipline is somewhat of a circular process – you define what you want, the motivation you need to achieve it, the processes you implement to accomplish it, and then reassess or redefine what you want in order to start the process over.
Whether the reassess/redefine stage happens because you accomplished a goal or because you want to switch directions, it’s still a crucial step that allows you to keep your momentum going forward and instilling the habits necessary for how to be a disciplined person.
Here’s another conundrum – developing self-discipline is a lifelong battle you’ll constantly wage. You’ll always be at war. You can make it somewhat of a habit, but don’t believe anyone who says you can easily develop self-discipline and put it on autopilot because that’s a load of trash. It can become easier, yes, but it won’t be as easy as tying your shoe. Nor should it be, because life rewards those who work extra hard. And tying your shoe isn’t too hard.
Here’s the good news, though – if you want to develop self-discipline or sustain it at a high level (which should both be a resounding yes), then there are a few practical and simple notions you can follow to make it a reality.