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Discipline Day by Day

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.

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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.

Daily despair

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:
T ime
E nergy
A nd
M otivation

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.

IMG_4099One step at a time

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This is the third installment in a seven-part series on being disciplined. You can read each of the posts by clicking below:

 

Why writing about writing is stupid

E-mail is great. It’s like this worldwide network of virtual mailboxes where you can send and receive electronic letters from your very own little box—right in the palm of your hand. Actually, it’s exactly that.

In my magic little box I can sign up to be on the mailing lists of all kinds of different publications, for free. Heck, I even get sent thousands of letters a month from places I wouldn’t even have thought about for absolutely no charge. Add two inches, guaranteed! I’m a pretty lucky guy.

I get little electronic “howdy-s” from my boss at work. I get sparsely punctuated and over capitalized hand-typed messages from my mom. I even receive a weekly e-newsletter from the Professional Disc Golf Association, and it’s probably the best 4 minutes of my week.

Of all the mailing lists I’ve willingly submitted to, the strangest e-mails I get are from websites that are wholly dedicated to writing about writing. They’re vigorously set on talking the heck out of a subject without ever doing it—hell bent on a journey that will never reach its destination.

I’ve been receiving these e-mails about writing for months. By this point I’ve read a couple hundred articles. I always thought that these were my ticket to writing success.

After all, the best way to learn is to study. Except reading about writing about writing is one of the worst things you can do to learn how to write. (And now I’m writing about reading about writing about writing. Which, I suppose is one step better than what I was doing 15 minutes ago which was lying in my bed thinking about writing about reading about writing about writing.)

Hell—at the very least, just slash all of those steps except for the last one. Just write.

The proverbial writer’s…ball

Writing about writing is sort of like taking a basketball to the gym and then continually shooting baskets at your gym bag. You’re going through the motions. You’re just continually aiming for the wrong goal. Writing is supposed to be something, not just conversational chat about it.

Don’t get me wrong. These sites have been very inspirational. Inspiring and encouraging in the way your grandmother encourages you by liking every single one of your Facebook posts, no matter if they come at the hands of a less than lucid Friday night or a neatly cropped caffeine-infused selfie session.

Or think of it like going to flight school, taking a seat in the cockpit and instead of telling you how to turn the plane on, the instructors repeatedly bombard you with placards of motivational statements. You can do it! You’re a pilot! You just need to do pilot things!

You need something a lot more than just encouragement to put type on a page. Just because you write doesn’t mean you’re going to be any good. Just because you’ve developed a unique voice doesn’t mean it’s pleasant to listen to.

Picasso wasn’t good just because he painted and was different. Picasso was good because he knew what he was doing. It helped immensely that it was original and exciting. But it was first incredibly high quality work accomplished through years of study and practice.

The write way (ah—see what I did there?)

Here’s a better idea than reading writing about writing: read a ton of actual books. Pick a subject and read everything you can get your hands on. Read every day. You can even read your e-mail as long as you avoid ones about writing about writing.

You need to study the art and craft of writing, not have your ego stroked. When looking for instruction on how to write, find material that chooses real pieces of writing and analyzes it. If you need to dabble in writing about writing, say for a school project or something, write about the craft.

Don’t just publish article after article that says, “I’m writing about writing. I’m writing about writing. I’m writing about writing—see? Look! I’m writing! And if it’s this easy, you can do it too! Hurray for winners!”

A mouthful on writing

I read this stuff. I consumed it like regularly spaced meals. It left me with the feeling that I knew how to write, but when it came to sitting in front of the blank page I realized I had no substantial energy to even know where to get started.

I had dozens of little phrases telling me how to motivate myself to do my best work, but I had no idea what that work was to be. I had gorged myself on the shiny plastic fruit sitting in the middle of the writer’s desk and never developed physically as a writer.

If you want to develop as a writer, focus on your passion, your cause, your reason for writing. Create a subject matter that you truly care about and focus all your efforts there. Then find help with the craft of writing.

Just steer clear of the stuff on writing about writing. Which means if you’ve made it this far, you might just want to mark this article for the trash too.

Happy learning and writing. Now get to work.

Discipline through doing things you hate

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.

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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.

IMG_6596

Ouch

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.

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This is the third installment in a seven-part series on being disciplined. You can read each of the posts by clicking below:

Discipline through Doing the Minimum

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.

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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.

  1. Having a big enough block of time to complete an entire project
  2. Waiting for the moment to “feel right”
  3. 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.

IMG_6513Eh…good enough

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.

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This is the second installment in a seven-part series on being disciplined. You can read each of the posts by clicking below:

Discipline through Defeating Deception

This is the first 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.

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What lies have you told yourself today?

Stop for a few minutes and think about it—in what ways today have you told yourself things that aren’t true?

Maybe this is a difficult exercise. The ways in which we lie to ourselves aren’t usually immediately apparent. In fact, you’ve probably gotten so good at lying that you are seeing these lies as truth.

This is the basis for “Misbelief Therapy” championed in the book Telling Yourself the Truth by William Backus and Marie Chapian. This form of therapy helps you identify the lies you tell yourself and to replace them with the truth. It’s an incredibly helpful book and I’ve gone through it four times in the last eight years.

Misbelief Therapy applies to all aspects of your life and particularly to your self worth as a person. If you struggle with this, I encourage you to get professional help! I’ve met with a few different psychologists and therapists over the course of my life and they’ve been so good at helping me get on the path to better thinking and better living.

Here we are going to look at how this therapy applies to being disciplined. Many other topics are addressed in Backus and Chapian’s book, and you can read at length there if you’re interested.

Lies lie in the absolutes

Let’s go back to thinking about identifying the lies we tell ourselves. Lies are easier to spot when you think about the superlatives you tell yourself:

  • “I’m never going to be able to finish this assignment.”
  • “I simply can’t get out of bed.”
  • “I’m never going to amount to anything.”
  • “My boss is going to kill me if I don’t show up on Saturday.”
  • “If I can’t finish this paper, it’s going to be the worst thing ever.”

These statements aren’t true. They can’t be. For most of them, you’ve already proved them lies again and again. Yet you keep telling them to yourself and worse, continue to believe them.

The first thing you need to do on the path to discipline is to defeat deception. Try this for the next week: Listen for your self talk. Each time you catch yourself using one of these absolute terms, write the entire comment down. Don’t worry about correcting it yet. Before you start arguing against the lies, you need to know what you’re up against.

After a week of this, look over your list. What kinds of absolutes are you telling yourself? Are you often using the word “never?” Or maybe they’re things like, “I would just die if…”

Following the trail of lies

The next step is to think about each of these statements, one by one. Let’s look at one of the statements above—“I simply can’t get out of bed.”

Have you gotten out of bed before? How many times have you successfully gotten out of bed in your life? Are you going to get out of bed in the future? After all, you’ll eventually need to go to the bathroom. It’s simply not true that can’t get out of bed.

“But, I’ll skip work, that’s the worst!” You might answer. “It’s not about getting out of bed, but about what I’m trying to avoid!”

What are you telling yourself about what you’re trying to avoid? Is skipping work “the worst?” Is it really the worst thing you can imagine happening to a person in his or her lifetime?

“If I don’t finish the project today, my boss is going to kill me!”

Is your boss really going to kill you? Do you think he’s waiting at the office, standing in front of his collection of torture devices, trying to decide between the two-handed sword or the piano wire?

And maybe he will really be angry. Maybe he’ll yell and swear. Maybe he’ll fire you. But he’s not going to kill you.

IMG_5314I can’t go out. I’m just going to stay indoors, next to this warm pot of food all day.

Discerning what’s horrible and what’s only unpleasant

Yeah, it’s going to sting a bit, listening to your boss’ angry words. But it’s only unpleasant. It’s not unbearable. You’ve had people yell at you in the past and you’ve survived. You’re still alive, reading this, so it must be true.

When we’re lacking in discipline, we’re often blowing things way out of proportion in our use of absolutes.

  • “I can’t turn in this paper unless it’s perfect.”
  • “I’m always late for everything.”
  • “If I can’t present myself as a perfect person today, I might as well not go outside.”

The truth is, there are very few things in life that are absolute, and there are very few consequences in life that are the absolute worst. The vast majority of your decisions and actions do not fall into this category. The things you think might kill you in reality will probably only sting. Sure, it’ll hurt a little. Getting a D on that paper is not going to be pleasant. But it’s not the worst thing ever and you will survive and have chances to write papers again.

Replacing deception with the truth

Now you have a list of the lies you’ve been telling yourself. This is a big step in shedding the weight of all the untruths that have been pressing down on your and wrecking havoc in your life. When you believe a lie instead of the truth, you learn to act and behave as if that lie were true. If you tell yourself you’re no good at cleaning the bathroom and that it’s icky and gross and you’re going to contract an unknown-to-medical-science disease, it’s going to be pretty easy to avoid cleaning the bathroom.

Instead, recognize this as a lie and replace it with the truth.

  • “It’s icky and unpleasant to clean the bathroom. But I’m not going to die. I do have a pair of gloves and I can wear them.”
  • “It’s ok if this paper is not perfect. Perfect doesn’t exist, anyway. I’ve put a few hours into it and that’s good enough. I can be happy that I finished a project.”
  • “I’ve amounted to a lot already. I have family and friends who care about me. I’ve had a couple different jobs already and those bosses decided to hire me so I do have desirable skills. Someone even liked one of my facebook posts yesterday, so I accomplished something. And even if no one does recognize me, I still like what I do and I can enjoy the work.”

After you’ve practiced writing out truth statements for each of the lies you collected throughout the week, try combining these steps. Over the next week, each time you hear yourself lying about a situation, recognize it, identify the lie, and then replace it by telling yourself the truth.

This is not an easy thing to all of a sudden start to do. You need time through lots of truth telling to work out of the habit of telling yourself all the lies you’ve been listening to for so long. But with small steps, you’re on the path to thinking truthfully about your life and the areas where you want to have more discipline.

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This is the first installment in a seven-part series on being disciplined. You can read each of the posts by clicking below: