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The Reality of Self-Discipline

Self-discipline is a myth. Ok, now I’ve got people’s attention.


Maybe not so much a myth as an end result. You hear people saying “you have to be disciplined” but that’s like saying “make a cake”, but you have no idea of the ingredients, the process or the tools you need. Self-discipline is an end result of a few smaller steps. If someone says “have some self-discipline” and you have no idea of the steps in the process it’s just useless verbiage. You’re really no better off than before they said it.


Self-discipline comes down to one basic thing. Making a choice over and over, that moves you towards a goal, even when you don’t feel like making the choice. The more you make the choices that move you forward, the easier it is to acquire the habit of doing it. Of course there will always be times when you really would rather be doing something else. This is where we have to take control of our thinking and consciously make the choice to do what we know we need to be doing.


The bigger the reasons you want to achieve your goal the easier the choices are. This is where the problem creeps in. People are generally not well enough connected the reasons why they set a goal or want to achieve something. At that point a goal stops being a goal and becomes just a nice idea.



People also focus too much on the reasons why they want something. I have worked in sales for a long time at all levels. As a sales manager I worked out early that high base salaries and commission don’t necessarily motivate sales people to perform. Sure, there are some who work well in this situation, but if a sales person is financially comfortable then they will only work as hard as they want to work. On the other hand, commission only sales people are always motivated to perform. They know that if they don’t perform they can’t put food on the table or keep the lights on at home. This also applies to people who work for themselves. "Away from" motivators just weigh more than toward motivators.


The point being, people will run away from negatives far more powerfully than they will be attracted to positives. It’s like running down a hill. It’s easier to run and run fast the bigger the hill behind you pushing you. Another example. You realise that you’re overweight and could do with losing a few kilos. If you just one day look at yourself and think, “hmmmmm, I could do with losing weight, I’m really not happy with myself”, you could be somewhat motivated to make some good choices for a while. Losing weight would be a nice idea. If your doctor said to you, “if you don’t lose 10kg you will die”, I think it becomes more than just a nice idea. So, the “away from” motivator os a huge contributor if you’re stuck finding self-discipline.



So, what do we do when most of us don’t live in a world where the negative Write a list of all the things you get from achieving your goal, whatever area of life it’s in. The positives. Then, write a list of all the negatives reasons you need to make changes. Make it a big list. Add details. The more vivid the list the more powerful. Humans are generally “away from” creatures so you will get more push from negatives than you will pull from positives. Think of it like you’re running down a hill. The bigger the hill behind you the easier it is to run down. The bigger the things you don’t want and the clearer they are in your head, the easier it is to move towards a goal.


It’s said that it’s not that people don’t have big enough goals. They don’t have big enough reasons. Staying focused on the reasons will make the choices easier until the actions become a habit.

But, at the end of the day there is no escaping one thing. It is 100% your responsibility. Make the right choice or don't. It’s all on you.


How badly do you want that goal and why? When you’re struggling to make that choice, bring yourself back to why you need to achieve your goal. When it’s all front of mind it’s far harder to justify why it’s ok to be slack or to give yourself a pass. It’s good to feel guilty for not making the choice you know you should make.