Here’s a new one called “The tree stump.” I love Saturdays.
This is the fourth installment in a seven-part series on being disciplined. We all would like to be able to think a little clearer, feel a little better and enjoy the things we need to do in life a little more. No matter where you are when it comes to being disciplined, these thoughts can help you better achieve your goals and continue along your path of being disciplined.
If you take a look at the publish date below this post, you’ll see it arrived four days later than promised. Taking it day by day, it turns out, means, “Not this day.”
How often have you too heard yourself saying that? “Oh, not today. I’ll do it tomorrow.” The problem with promising yourself you’ll do it tomorrow is that you can ignore your project indefinitely while technically keeping your promise. There will always be a tomorrow.
Discipline is a despairing thought. It’s despairing because it’s painful and we’ve already looked at working through pain sessions. But it’s further depressing because being disciplined is a continuous state. This means you’re going to be suffering for an indefinite period of time. And that is a sucky thought your brain is going to make an effort to keep as deeply buried as possible, somewhere, maybe, next to that 15-year-old memory of accidentally farting next to Amber J. on the bus ride back from the science museum. Or some other equally as vague and hypothetical repressed memory.
So leave those thoughts be and try this one instead:
You don’t need to be disciplined forever. You just need to be disciplined until the end of today.
Discipline is not about the finished product. It’s not the castle; it’s the laying of stones. It’s not the article; it’s jotting some words in a notebook. It’s not your English lesson for tomorrow, it’s a clarifying objective.
|You don’t need to learn all of the Russian language.||You just need to study one hour today.|
|You don’t need to lose 50 lbs.||You just need to eat healthier and eat less today.|
|You don’t need to write a 20 page paper.||You just need to get to the library this afternoon and check out some books on your topic.|
Don’t try to stuff the whole castle in your head—it will quickly fill with the enormity of it all until it pops and your brains ooze down you shoulders rendering you useless to lay even a single stone.
T.E.A.M. up with Today
Here’s a look at what I call “T.E.A.M.ing up with Today.”
This is a three step thinking process to help you coordinate what you can accomplish before your head hits the pillow.
|It’s based on your:|
Time and today’s discipline
If the paper is due tomorrow and you haven’t started writing it yet, you need to limit what you’re able to do based on time. You don’t have time to read 2 books, take notes, write a rough draft, run it by your professor and then write a final copy. It would be nice if you could do that, but you’ve found yourself in the situation you’re in today so you have to approach it as it is.
Count the minutes or hours. Now mark off a relative amount of work you can expect to accomplish in that time frame.
Energy and today’s discipline
Like our friend “PP” in the previous post on Doing the Minimum, you don’t have unlimited energy levels. How much sleep did you get last night? What time do you need to go to bed tonight so that you can have the energy to do another day’s work tomorrow?
If your energy level is currently lower than normal, it’s going to take you longer to complete the task ahead of you. You may need more breaks. You may need to cut back the scope of what you think you can accomplish.
Make sure you consider your current energy level when scribbling down the long list of things you think you can accomplish today.
Motivation and today’s discipline
Finally you need to consider your motivation. “But I already took my motivation out back and shot it!” I hear you saying.
Then good! You learned something!
You just need to make it today
Remember that it’s just one day that you’re doing this. And then when tomorrow comes, it’s just one day again. The great thing about thinking day by day is that it is always today! You always have the opportunity to get part of your project finished—to lay a stone. You don’t need to buckle down and stay disciplined forever. You just need to make it through today.
And then one day, before your head even hits the pillow—you’ll discover, ah! the project is finished! The castle is built. The day is done. And there’s still tomorrow.
This is the third installment in a seven-part series on being disciplined. You can read each of the posts by clicking below:
- How to be disciplined: Defeating deception
- How to be disciplined: Do the minimum
- How to be disciplined: Do things you hate
- How to be disciplined: Day by day
- How to be disciplined: Deadlines
- How to be disciplined: Descriptive self-talk
- How to be disciplined: Desire
This is the third installment in a seven-part series on being disciplined. We all would like to be able to think a little clearer, feel a little better and enjoy the things we need to do in life a little more. No matter where you are when it comes to being disciplined, these thoughts can help you better achieve your goals and continue along your path of being disciplined.
Discipline is no fun. Discipline sucks. It hurts. It’s boring. It’s excruciating at times. When facing a difficult project or task, recognize that. Call it for the crappiness that it is and don’t try to coat it in sugary motivational statements to try and trick yourself into thinking you’re going to enjoy it. Because as soon as you get past that first thin layer of excitement, you find that you’re just chewing on…well, I’ll spare you the graphic details.
Sweet deception and how it works against discipline
Feeling good is better than feeling bad. We’re programmed to avoid pain and to seek gratification. This is made easier by the seemingly unending ways in which gratification can be found instantaneously. Every year our world seems to make it easier and easier to think that not only do you need instant gratification but you deserve instant gratification. “Hungry? Grab a Snickers.” And why don’t you grab diabetes and heart disease while you’re at it.
It’s a lot of painful work to walk to the fridge, open the door, take out some potatoes and chicken and make yourself a hearty soup. You have to spend time and energy. You have to move. You have to wait for it to cook. You have to clean the dishes when you’re done. And when it’s cooked it may not even taste as good as that snickers you could have had an hour ago. There’s very little pay off in the thick of discipline.
The road to your goals no longer passes through peppermint forest and over gumdrop mountain. You’re an adult now. The time for skipping through candy land has ended. Your new road is lined with missing-the-new-episode canyon, sleepless desert and sore-muscle valley and you’re in for very few rewards before arriving at Well-Disciplined Castle.
It’s hard. It’s hard for us to imagine that anything we do is supposed to be uncool, not fun, painful and boring.
How often have you heard, “Find what you love and do that.” Or, “When your job no longer feels like work, that’s when you’ve found your calling.” This is BS. No journey to anything worthwhile has ever been smooth and easy. Even when you’re in a profession you legitimately enjoy, there are all kinds of detail tasks and responsibilities that are as a rule unpleasant. You can’t enjoy top levels of performance unless you also work through the parts you don’t like.
Ok. So we’ve established that discipline is no fun and that it’s not supposed to be. How do we make this practical? How can you apply this? Let’s take a look at some things to avoid and some things to practice.
What not to think about when working on discipline
Disciplined hippies and other oxymorons
Whoever said, “It’s not about the destination, but about the journey” is an idiot. A delusional daisy chain hippie. When it comes to getting anything accomplished in life, it’s all about the destination. What are your results? What have you accomplished?
It’s not all sour-faced work. There can be small rewards along the way like the endorphin high at the end of a workout, or in enjoying more savings in your bank account.
But what you’re ultimately working towards is where you should fix your gaze because if you focus on the steps, you’re going to wonder why this “goal” (a single step) isn’t any fun. The truth is the steps themselves aren’t the goal and so you can allow yourself to dislike the step knowing that the goal is where you’ll experience the reward.
Why motivation can take a flying leap
It’s not motivation that teaches. It’s discipline. Motivation can be taken out back and shot. Seriously. Load your gun right now and shoot it. If you allow motivation to determine when and where you’re going to work on your goals, you’re going to settle into a nice retired life in Candy Land and never make it to Well-Disciplined Castle.
Nothing big was ever accomplished through motivation. Discipline is the hero. Ask any disciplined person and they will tell you it’s the hours spent that got them to where they are today.
Practice discipline through “pain sessions”
Now that you’ve prepared yourself mentally, let’s look at some concrete steps you can take to practice the art of discipline through doing things you hate.
Activity 1 (10-15 minutes)
- Make a list of 5-7 tasks around your house or apartment that you really dislike doing
- Rank those tasks in order from least worst to absolute worst
- After you’ve identified the worst one, circle it
- Congratulations, here’s your new task!
- Choose an half-hour or so of time today or tomorrow when you’ll be home for the next activity
Activity 2 (30 minutes)
- When your half-hour starts, use the first ten minutes to read back over the highlights of the above post
- Take 1-2 minutes for self talk. Remind yourself that you’re dreading this task for good reason. Allow yourself to think about how much you dislike it and how little enjoyment you’re going to draw from working on it.
- Start the task and continue doing it for 15 minutes*
- Stop and think for awhile. How do you feel? On a scale of 1-10, one being pretty crappy and ten being pretty great, give yourself a number. If it’s low, ok. If it’s high, congratulations, you’ve just achieved nirvana, or something.
Activity 3 (ongoing throughout the week)
- These are what we’ll call “pain sessions”
- They’re like 1 & 2 above but focused on one particular goal
- Choose something that you’ve been putting off for awhile, or an area where you’ve been lacking in the discipline department
- Schedule in 3-5 fifteen-minute blocks throughout this week for your “pain sessions”
- Before beginning each pain session, take 1-2 minutes to prepare yourself mentally
- After 15 minutes of doing it, mark down your “crappiness” level on a scale of 1-10. If it’s still low, ok. If it’s high—you’ve probably turned into a masochist.
Activity 4 (ongoing)
- Continue on like activity 3
- Try to crank the rack a few notches to 20 minutes or even an half-hour
*Moan and complain to yourself the whole time if you need to. That’s fine. (Just please moan to yourself silently. No one else wants to hear that, nor do they want to listen to you talk about how great a martyr you are.)
Are we disciplined yet? Are we disciplined yet? Are we disciplined yet?
No, it doesn’t get easier. At best you will develop calluses on your pain receptors that keep the misery from going as deep. What will improve, however, is the speed and frequency at which you’ll arrive at your desired destinations. This is good news! (Finally.)
Those who are well disciplined are simply good at dealing with pain. Those who are disciplined have accepted the fact that waking up at 5:30am to go for a jog in December is not enjoyable and they’re willing to hurt for a short while.
So there you have it! Allow yourself to hate the things that aren’t any fun. Try a few pain sessions. Then see if that doesn’t just change your world.
This is the third installment in a seven-part series on being disciplined. You can read each of the posts by clicking below:
This is the second installment in a seven-part series on being disciplined. We all would like to be able to think a little clearer, feel a little better and enjoy the things we need to do in life a little more. No matter where you are when it comes to being disciplined, these thoughts can help you better achieve your goals and continue along your path of being disciplined.
Of all the things that get in the way of discipline, the biggest is procrastination. Procrastination is one of those things that really isn’t fixable with a pithy statement or motivational poster. (Plus, you probably still haven’t even hung that poster up yet, have you?)
If procrastination is first, a close second is perfectionism. Combine these two and you have a force that can’t be beat by the best of intentions mixed with positive thinking piled on top of Jillian Michaels screaming in your face.
There are three things here working against the perfectionist-procrastinator. (From here on we’ll refer to him as “PP”.) I’ll list them here and then we’ll take a look at them one by one.
- Having a big enough block of time to complete an entire project
- Waiting for the moment to “feel right”
- Having the energy to “do your best”
Perfect, from start to finish
PP will only start working on a job if he can foresee it being completed perfectly within an unbroken, solid chunk of time.
This means everyday tasks like brushing his teeth or putting food in his body or driving to the store are no problem. PP can envision the amount of time it takes and visually see himself arriving at the store within that modest time frame and successfully finding a parking space. Perfect.
But give PP a task that in reality should take several days of focused work and PP will immediately grab a Pop Tart, open up his Netflix account, and curl up in the fetal position.
How does PP break out of his tough, candied shell? He must lie to himself about the scope of the project.
If PP focuses on reality, his perfectionistic side is not going to allow him to get started, so what he must do instead is create several small fantasies.
At this point PP asks himself, “What is the very minimum I could do on this project right now?” Let’s look at a few examples:
|Project||The very minimum|
|Write a 10 page history paper||Get in the car and drive to the library|
|Clean the house||Take the vacuum cleaner out of the closet|
|Type, collate and send a report to your boss||Open your e-mail|
Most big projects are impossible to complete in one uninterrupted swoop. Not only that, but as PP works on his big project, he is going to be interrupted by his kids, the phone, another e-mail, a request from his boss, having to eat lunch, and a million other little things. Thus, he’s required to begin again and again.
This is terrible news to PP because even thinking about getting started on a big project just once causes him to turn into a pool of sweat and seep into the floorboards.
This is where tricking himself into thinking about the minimum allows PP to finish short bursts of the project in between interruptions.
Feel good, feely feelings
PP is a feeler. He goes with his gut. And his gut usually says, “Not quite yet—I’m not feeling it right now. Maybe I’ll feel motivated after this bag of chips and season of Friends.”
The problem with feeling like the moment’s right is that the moment never comes. It sucks to be disciplined. It’s awful. It’s no fun. PP’s body is not going to willingly subject him to the torture of getting things done.
So what’s PP to do? Know that it’s yucky and icky and that he’s not going to like it. (We’ll further explore this with PP in a future post. Stay tuned!) There’s no use waiting for a particular feeling.
Always give 110%…
You know what’s weird about this motivational statement? It’s impossible.
It’s like saying, “Want to fly? Just flap your arms really hard! What?! You fell on your face? That’s because you’re only flapping at 100%! I said 110! ONE HUNDRED AND TEN!!”
The truth is, PP’s tuckered out. He’s already done a lot today and has been interrupted a dozen times.
His daily energy bundle only goes so high. Everything he does from showering to getting the kids off to school to taking the dog for a walk is a subtraction from this energy. When PP finally gets around to working on his project, he only has a certain limited amount of energy left.
If this level doesn’t happen to be above PP’s “start-my-project” threshold, he will never get started.
He will almost never be at the optimal energy level, but that’s ok. 110% doesn’t exist anyway. It’s ok for PP to work in a lower range of energy.
The magnifying glass approach
The perfectionist-procrastinator wants to see a project finished, and see it finished well. This is a laudable sentiment, but unfortunately it simply doesn’t align with reality. There’s almost never enough uninterrupted time and energy to “do a project.”
This is where identifying the minimum is helpful. Zoom in on a small part of the project, define the minimum, do that, and then see what happens. It’s not a miracle worker, but you will find yourself having completed more than our good friend PP, curled up on the couch, knee deep in Season 3 and Pop Tart wrappers.
This is the second installment in a seven-part series on being disciplined. You can read each of the posts by clicking below:
I’m a cash-strapped Peace Corps Volunteer. A lot of it is due to my monthly salary of around $250. But a lot of it too is on my extravagant spending: a weekend by the lake. A $15 meal and a trip to the capital. Hours of phone calls to the states and in-country friends. A new shirt or hat or bag or a couple beers at the end of the day. The money never seems to fit my budget, or more honestly, my budget never seems to fit the money.
I found myself running especially low this month. But a surprise trip to the capital for medical leave gave me per diem to get through. And then just when I thought maybe my $6 a day wasn’t going to cut it, a reimbursement for underpaid housing payments appeared in my bank account.
A couple days later, Akmoor and I went to see a movie. It was the new historical film about Kurmanjan Datka, a queen of some Kyrgyz tribes around the turn of the 19th century. We were standing in line hoping to get tickets for a later showing so we could first go get something to eat. The line was several people long but what made it longer were the couple of people who cut in to buy tickets ahead of everyone else.
I complained loudly in Kyrgyz—the man who cut in said he needed a ticket for an earlier showing. I told him we were all in a hurry and he should have come earlier. He just laughed. His wife asked where I was from and I said, “I’m from an offended country!” She didn’t think that was funny. When the line moved on and the guy who had been right in front of us bought his tickets, he turned and handed us his change. It was 500 som, or $10, almost 2 days worth of per diem for me living in the city. He mumbled something about me speaking Kyrgyz, handed Akmoor the money, and walked away. It was exceedingly generous and very humbling.
So we got to see the movie and eat dinner for free.
These were awesome reminders of the way God provides. And then suddenly I was flooded with reminders of all the ways he takes care of me: A family back in the states who has helped me come home. A host father who slips me small pieces of wisdom and a host mother who always makes sure there’s food on the table, even when she’s not around. Peace Corps doctors who mediate health treatments and rally to my side. Friends who provide emotional support and reach out with community and humor. Locals so willing to host and cheer on and be resilient in the face of adversity.
These are all blessings that God rains down so abundantly and so generously. In our lives God provides for us. He provides for our joy. And in the end, he provides a place for us with him, forever. And in that place of golden streets and crystal sea, I think my salary for serving in God’s kingdom is going to be enough.