If you are someone who sets New Years Resolutions at the end of each year, do you find that you meet your goals? Or do you have to set the same goals every year because you let them slip out of your hands each time? Perhaps you go into the year full of motivation to reach those goals, but as the novelty and freshness wears off, you lose interest. Even if you do truly want to reach those goals, something is lacking in your ability to make them happen.
When your kids are small, you have to remind them and keep them motivated to do every little thing. You may ask your four-year-old to get ready for kindy, but find that he needs to be directed to put on his shoes, then reminded to brush his teeth and wash his face, and so on. Because of his young age, he has not yet developed the self discipline to direct and motivate himself into action (and at times his memory is a bit questionable, too) even if the goal is clear.
You’re not at the mercy of magical motivation.
People often have the idea that just setting a goal is enough. If you really want to reach this goal, you’ll naturally be motivated to get it done. The problem is that motivation is not a magic spell, something that drops down out of the sky, something that some people just spontaneously have a lot of and some do not. If you don’t ‘feel’ motivated, this does not mean that you’re powerless to achieve anything.
The most successful people have high expectations of themselves. Sometimes the least successful people do, too. The difference between the two is that successful people practice, hone and continually strengthen their self discipline.
What exactly is meant by self discipline?
I think of self discipline as the various acquired strengths of the mind. These include self control, diligence, commitment, honesty, fortitude, patience, courage and so on. They are acquired strengths because we’re not necessarily born with them. Life circumstances and significant people in our lives give us the beginnings, the seeds, of these disciplines, and we then grow and strengthen them either with intention and awareness or through circumstance and necessity.
Why do we need to build our discipline?
Well, when you consider what the disciplines are, the answer is fairly obvious. These disciplines effect every area of our lives. From our relationships, to how we do our work, to how we care for ourselves, to how we take care of our surroundings, to how we care for the vulnerable, all things require some level of self discipline. Success in each area is generally greatly enhanced when self discipline is balanced and strong.
How do we begin to intentionally strengthen our self discipline?
- Continue to have high expectations of yourself. The discomfort you feel because of the disparity between your expectations and your ‘motivation’ is what will help to drive this change. Having high expectations means you are looking for the big picture, you know that it’s there somewhere, and you know that it depends on your intentional, directed effort to make it happen.
- Create a clear vision of your future. You can not move forward unless you have a clear direction in which to move. Clarifying your big goals in life helps you to pare away what is unnecessary so that you can focus all of your effort into clearing roadblocks and moving forward.
- Take responsibility for your own weaknesses. This does not mean you are going to beat yourself up about them, but you need to allow yourself to take ownership and face them full on so that you can overcome them. Awareness of your weaknesses means you can proactively take them on in a focused manner. If you can do this, rather than continuing to deny weaknesses or pass the buck, you’re well on your way.
- Actively look for and overcome your personal roadblocks. Sometimes these are the weaknesses we just discussed in item three, sometimes they’re external roadblocks like lack of time or money. Again, if you’re aware and proactive, you can find ways to clear these roadblocks so that you are free to continue on your path.
- Push yourself out of your comfort zone a little. Strengthening discipline is like strengthening any other ‘muscle’. It can be difficult at first. It can make you tired. Sometimes you will feel like ‘exercising’, other times you will not. Expect more from yourself, don’t let yourself down. Take a deep breath, and forge your way through.
- Don’t let fear push you off the track. Healthy fear helps to keep us alive, but it often likes to try to take over. Unhealthy fear can totally stall your progress. Determine to stop making fear-based decisions. This requires being very honest with yourself. When confronted with a situation that you want to run away from or avoid, ask yourself if you’re making decisions based on fear. Remind yourself that you made a promise not to do that any more, and then assess your situation again. If there’s no true danger, take that situation head on. Be brave!
- Come to the table over and over again until it becomes second nature. This may well be the single most important step here. You may stumble many times in your attempts to build self discipline, but you only fail if you give up. Get up again and again and again. I promise you that if you do this, you will soon be standing and moving forward much more than you are fallen.
- Let your current strengths support you in building up your weaknesses. Just as the other muscles support you and help you to move on leg day, when focusing on building one discipline the others are being strengthened too. All the self disciplines work together to some degree. For example, when you’re building commitment, don’t forget to practice diligence to keep yourself showing up to the table, and patience with yourself. None of the disciplines work in isolation, they all help to build each other up when coupled with awareness and intention.
Self discipline is the difference between a dreamer and a doer.