Discipline through Deadlines

This is the fifth 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.


So you’re a procrastinator. Welcome to the club.

This isn’t generally a cause to celebrate. Epic procrastination sessions are more likely to land you in the hospital than garner a standing ovation for productivity and accomplishment. And since procrastination is an incurable disease, it’s best to just stop fighting against it and learn how to work with it from the hospital bed instead.

Us procrastinators have it the worst. It’s not that we want to be lazy. We just physically can’t get anything done until the last minute. However, this can be worked to your advantage to get things done by setting real deadlines that are out of your hands.

Setting deadlines for yourself doesn’t work because in this situation you’re ultimately only responsible to yourself, and any good procrastinator knows he is perfectly happy to let himself down.

The trick is to create deadlines that are beyond your control. This means giving other people control over when you must finish a project.

Idea starters

  • Project: Organize your living room (vacuum, pick the Cheetos out of the sofa, etc.)
  • Deadline: Invite friends over to watch a movie in the evening
  • Project: Post to your blog weekly
  • Deadline: Write something in the header like, “updated weekly” or “new posts every Monday.”
  • Project: Be a better runner
  • Deadline: Put good money down in a non-refundable 5K race
  • Project: Wash the car
  • Deadline: Get yourself a date for Friday night
  • Project: Get out of bed in the morning
  • Deadline: Lock your alarm in a box and give your neighbor the key
  • Project: Finish A Clockwork Orange
  • Deadline: Join a book club with some English blokes
  • Project: ____your project here______
  • Deadline: _____your deadline in the hands of others here­_____

Forget taking charge. Let others take charge for you, and reap the benefits!

Now that’s a good motto for us procrastinators. I think I’ll bring it up at our next meeting, whenever that happens. Come to think of it, we’ve never had a first meeting. We might have to invite a few non-procrastinators to join the club so we can finally get around to getting together…

IMG_6344Project: Publish an English instruction book Deadline idea: Maybe think about hiring an English speaking editor…


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

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.


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


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 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.


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:

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.


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.


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