The elusive self-discipline: if you had it, you’d get everything you want. If you were just focused or hard-working enough, you’d have the life you crave. Too bad this is not how it works.
Self-discipline is not a given trait. Self-discipline is built. It’s a mindset, a skill, even.
You develop it to forge the life you’re after. For better or for worse, it is the prerequisite to getting the things you want in life.
Everything worth having is going to take work to get, and self-discipline is the vehicle that will help drive you there.
These are a few of the things I’ve picked up on to build self-discipline in my own life that you can use too.
Set Strict Rules for Yourself
When I say strict, I mean strict.
It is a myth that rules inhibit creativity; it’s the exact opposite. Limitations enable creativity. This is when your best work comes out, when you are forced to adapt to your new environment and still produce great work.
Counter-intuitive, I know. But here’s how I know:
I have a ton of freedom. I technically work when I want to. I have most of my days wide open.
But when I used to wake up and watch videos or play games or lounge around, I was aimless.
I had no direction or purpose. I had to create structure for myself to get work done.
Now, I wake up and start writing immediately. I don’t give myself the chance to get lost in the day.
I used to try to start working in the middle of the day because I’m “not a morning person”. That was a bad excuse. I’d come back to my desk with zero motivation and no sense of direction.
I force myself to write first thing in the morning and sometimes I will write late at night as an option.
Is this my favorite thing to do? Not necessarily, but I know that if I sit down and write, I will have another article written, feel proud of myself, and be a hint closer to becoming a full-time writer.
I also have to decide what the topic will be the night before. I classically stress myself out and get scatter-brained when I look at my never-ending list of article ideas. I can’t afford to look at that thing the morning of writing and expect to get anything meaningful done, so I remove that choice.
Be specific with these rules. As humans, we all do our best to take the path of least resistance. It’s not laziness, it’s just an attempt at conserving energy.
But now that you’re aware of this, you have to counteract it by being ultra-specific.
One rule that I used recently was ‘I do not get to eat a late night snack until I finish this email, no exceptions.’ Finish the work for good, then have your reward.
Simplify Your Life to an Extreme
Simplifying is still an underrated and under-utilized tool in today’s world. Most people are thinking in terms of what more they can add to their life to improve it, when the answer might very well be to remove certain things.
For me, this involved removing excess decisions from my life that only drained me throughout the day and clarifying what is important to me.
To keep it simple, I decided my physical health and finances were of the utmost importance to me.
That means eating quality food, exercising daily, and getting outside for my health. For my finances, that meant working more instead of killing time, not buying anything unnecessary, and cooking at home instead of eating out.
To combine the first and second points of this article, I established a rule for myself not long ago that has proved to lower my stress and save me money.
I had to be strict and a bit creative with this one but it has helped me out a lot. I had a problem of buying clothes whenever I was in stores that I liked and it was started to cost me too much money.
On top of that, I have been trying to slim down my wardrobe for a while and adding clothes to it is obviously the last thing I need to be doing. This just increased my stress and decision-making fatigue.
But, since I’ve implemented my new rule, I have a strict guideline to follow that doesn’t allow for any wiggle room which makes it easy on me.
. . .
Try to eliminate the areas of your life that are not contributing to a better future for you. By eliminating these, you will by default be working on your more important tasks.
I have struggled spending too much time watching YouTube videos when I could be writing or learning. So another example rule I implemented was:
By taking away from one area, I can contribute to more important areas. As mentioned above, this means more time and energy goes to my writing, fitness, and general productive tasks.
Take Away the Chance for Options or Distractions
As alluded to earlier, options are distractions. If something is working well enough, don’t try to fix it. This just creates more decision-making for you to do over things that won’t change the course of your life.
The best example of this is the wardrobe example. If you have 10 pairs of pants and 15 shirts to choose from, getting ready becomes a bit of a chore. Streamline the process by removing excess options that don’t serve much of a purpose and you will be gliding through tasks with ease.
Another great example I like to use is the grocery store.
If you need to buy peanut butter and you are at a large store, you’ll normally find yourself looking at a wall of options. It’s crazy that there can be so many options of peanut butter but somehow there are.
There’s creamy, crunchy, organic, all natural, no sugar added, stir-it-yourself, and many more combinations of these existing options at different price points.
So how do you get the right one for you without much hassle? Identify the most important thing you’re looking for, find it, and think no more of it.
Metaphorically, this is your life. There are a lot of job options to pursue, workout programs to try, social events to attend, but if you entertain all of these options, you’ll go crazy.
You won’t get to enjoy any one thing because you’ll be so worried about what you’re missing out on.
Find what works for you and run with it. In a world full of options, it’s too easy to get caught up in minutiae that won’t help you get where you need to be.
You may have noticed that these points all build upon each other. This is the purpose.
You have the potential for great self-discipline, as long as you set some rules, simplify your life, and remove unnecessary distractions, you’ll be on your way.
Excess freedom and options sound like the ultimate goal, but without any structure or specificity, it’s easy to get carried away in unimportant things.
The key is learning how to manage this abundance. The self-discipline you will develop can keep you on your path while still enjoying the fruits of your actions.
This post was previously published on Change Becomes You.
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