Why do I have such difficulty disciplining myself?

Coaching of 24 September 2016 delivered by: Robert Martin
Adapted from: Instant Analysis, by David Liebermann

Whether it is losing weight, starting an exercise program, becoming organized, writing the great American novel, or anything else, it is always the same old story. I know what needs to be done, and I do it for a while, but I do not put in the effort and attention to keep going. It get less and less motivated and soon lose interest. I tell myself that I never really wanted it or it is really not worth it, and then I give up. “Maybe I’ll try again another time” is the phrase that I sell myself, as I have so many times before.

You look around at other people, admiring them for their tenacity and fortitude. “How on earth do they get themselves out of bed every morning to go jogging?” is the question that you continually ponder. You wonder if perhaps you just lack discipline, as if it were an inborn trait. But discipline is not something you’re born with; it’s an ability that is cultivated. It takes much more than a passing want or desire to bring on the power of discipline. Discipline is a matter of training the mind. When the alarm goes off in the morning and you pull the covers over your head, you train your mind to be lax. When you need to finish an assignment but decide to watch a little TV to unwind, you train your mind to be lax. In the evening when you decide to have a second helping of dessert even though you know it might upset your stomach, you train your mind to be lax. Then, when it comes time for you to follow a regimen, what happens? you offer up a host of explanations as to why it would be best if you just skipped today.

Make discipline a game: Discipline reflects a conditioned mind. You can’t expect yourself suddenly to become disciplined. It’s not something that can be turned on and off. Discipline is a mental muscle. It needs to be worked on so when you need it, you are strong. Work out a reward/penalty system that motivates you to live up to your commitment, no matter what the behavior is. Enlist the support of a friend or loved one to make sure you live up to it. if hopping out of bed in the morning has been a struggle for you, agree with your husband beforehand that if you do not get out of bed within five minutes of the alarm going off, you will take a cold shower that morning. I predict that one “polar freeze” will be all it takes – either you will quickly learn to hop out of bed the moment the buzzer goes off or you will quickly learn to like freezing cold showers, and it’s time to try a different strategy. Maybe your next penalty could be paying $1 into a “pizza jar” every time you fail to get up and treating the entire office to lunch once you’ve accumulated the price of three large-dish pizzas, anchovies included. Of course, if you do this frequently enough, maybe you’ll become so popular that they won’t mind if you show up late!

Work the other side of the fence too. Get your mate’s commitment that if you rise on time for at least two weeks, the two of you can treat yourselves to a romantic night out. The point is to break out of the same old routine and use the instilling of discipline to add spice to your live.

Don’t use failure as an excuse to drop discipline; get right back on track immediately: Discipline isn’t a one-time thing; it consists of all your decisions and actions, big and small, that take place on an ongoing basis. So don’t expect yourself to be perfect. Sometimes you will let discipline slide. What matters is what you do in the aftermath. Do you get discouraged and give up or do you pick up the pieces and continue? Discipline is the single most important trait for success, so whatever you do, make sure you build it consistently.

Often discipline is just a matter of ensuring that you have adequate structure in your life. Simplify and prioritize as necessary; avoid the feeling of being overwhelmed by deciding what is the one thing you absolutely need to get done today and focus your energies on that.  If you can accomplish other things today, too, so much the better, but if not, don’t beat yourself up. Make your number-one priority the backbone that supports your entire day and act accordingly. Once you have a clear goal in mind, with a minimum of distraction, then discipline is easy.

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