#4: Thinking too much about your goals
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio
A lot of people think discipline is about what you do:
Tough it out
Boost your willpower
I’d like to suggest an alternative:
The best way to be more disciplined is to do less, not more.
If you’re doing something hard, trying to apply even more effort is likely to fail because you’re already tired and spent. What if you took a totally different approach…
What if you looked for things that were interfering with your ability to be more disciplined and focused on removing those?
If you’ve struggled for a long time to be more disciplined without much success, working to identify and eliminate these four habits that interfere with discipline might be a much more helpul strategy.
1. Using self-criticism for motivation
A lot of us grow up believing that unless we’re hard on ourselves we won’t succeed. And if we don’t succeed, we won’t be worthwhile or valuable.
So early on in life, we develop mental habits of self-judgment and self-criticism…
We tell ourselves that it’s “silly” that we feel nervous about the upcoming presentation we have to give.
We comment to ourselves about how “lazy” we are anytime we find ourselves procrastinating.
We berate ourselves for getting distracted and losing focus any time we’re not being as productive as we think we should be.
And yet, we are still successful to some degree: We get good grades, go to a good school, get a good job, etc.
Now, here’s the critical part…
Because our habit of self-criticism is associated with our relative success, we assume it caused it.
But as anyone who’s taken statistics 101 has heard, correlation does not mean causation.
For example: I drank my coffee an hour later than usual this morning and the price of Bitcoin fell by 5%. Obviously, my altered coffee routine had nothing to do with the price of Bitcoin.
My point is that just because you’ve always relied on self-criticism to motivate yourself doesn’t mean that self-criticism was actually motivating you or helping you succeed, stay motivated, and get results.
In fact, in years of working with people who are extremely hard on themselves and also extremely successful and productive, I’ve noticed something surprising…
Most people are productive despite their self-criticism, not because of it.
And in fact, when they learn to let go of their habit of self-criticism and judgment, they are actually able to be more productive and self-disciplined!
At the end of the day, self-criticism just leads to a lot of shame, anxiety, and low self-esteem — all of which interfere with your ability to be more disciplined.
On the other hand, self-discipline comes relatively naturally when you treat yourself with compassion and understanding.
So do yourself a favor and try a little experiment: Whatever area you’d like to be more disciplined in — whether it’s your diet, exercise regimen, personal growth goals, or work tasks, take a week and try to practice self-compassion rather than self-judgment and see what happens to your levels of discipline.
After all, you can always go back to being mean to yourself. But suspect you won’t want to 🙂
“We are all failures — at least the best of us are.”
― J.M. Barrie
2. Coping with distractions
There’s a strange tendency I’ve noticed among people who think they’re not disciplined enough: They using coping as their primary approach to managing distractions…
They look for ways to focus harder
Get more willpower
As if distractions were this totally inevitable force over which they had no control whatsoever.
But here’s the thing:
While some distractions are inevitable and must be dealt with, a large percentage of distractions could simply be avoided in the first place.
For example: One of the areas of my life where I am pretty disciplined is with my writing. I try to write for an hour or two every morning.
Of course, with the internet at my fingertips, it’s incredibly easy to get distracted, especially by my phone which has all my favorite apps installed on it. In fact, just seeing my phone lying on my desk next to me often leads to getting distracted from writing, procrastinating on social media, and then feeling bad about myself for getting distracted.
And while I could try harder to resist the temptation of checking my phone during my writing time, you know what works way better? Not getting distracted by it in the first place!c