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:

Don’t complain, take the pain

One of my favorite little scenes from The Simpsons is when Marge and Homer leave the kids in the care of Abe, the grandpa, to go out on a date. In the few hours they are gone, CPS stops by to discover “horrid” living conditions due to a series of unfortunate events and takes the kids. When Marge arrives home and discovers this, she confronts Grandpa:

Marge: We leave you the kids for three hours and the county takes them away?!

Grandpa: Oh, bitch, bitch, bitch!

Marge had quite the legitimate reason to bitch, if her words can be called that. Much more often I find myself bitching and moaning and nagging and complaining about the circumstances that surround me with very little reason to do so. I do it because I’ve been slighted or because things aren’t going my way, or because I’m upset by the ways things in Kyrgyzstan operate differently than I’m used to.

The truth is, there’s always a better way out than bitching about it.

Complaining is very little in the way of constructive progress. It might be ok for a moment or two, and it can even work as a good stress reliever if done in a safe environment, for example to a close friend who knows it’s his or her purpose for a short while to listen, or to a notebook which will except every expletive and take the punctuated abuse with grace and unwavering support. (Thank you, sweet pages.)

The better way is to bounce back and push in a new direction, to open a yet untried door. If you’ve arrived at a point where you’ve encountered enough trouble and opposition where you’re constantly complaining, it probably means that you’re going the wrong direction.

For me, I’ve often found that that direction is the path of least resistance. I want things to come to me. I want the world to roll on, straight and true without me having to put in a lot of work and commitment. So when I find things not going my way, I complain about it.

image Grumpiness is apparently not a very flattering look

Life is full of all kinds of things that are unpleasant, yet must be done. In the Peace Corps it could be trying to get a counterpart to adapt a particular teaching methodology, or washing all your laundry by hand, or attending to a long list of e-mails that have piled up while you were off the grid for a week. These are some of mine, and each person is going to have his or her own painful tasks that simply must be done yet get put off indefinitely until the pain eats away at enough of your joy where your hollow shell of a body somehow kicks into gear and does a half-ass job.


A recent “tool” I’ve discovered is the strategy put forth by Phil Stutz and Barry Michels in their appropriately titled book The Tools. For this particular tool, instead of fleeing from the pain of diligent work, you embrace it. As you think about the difficult task ahead, you silently scream, “Bring on the pain!” Then, as you begin to work, answer an e-mail, make a phone call or whatever it is, you silently scream, “I love pain!” Then, as you are pushing through the task you quietly shout at the top of your lungs, “Pain sets me free!”

No, it’s not some kind of self-flagellation. It’s a straight shooting acknowledgement of the truth. Self-discipline, like any discipline, is inherently painful. It’s no fun to have to do stuff you don’t want to do. Your body is going to resist it and will tell you it’s in agony over being forced to do something it doesn’t want.

This tool very helpful when facing an undesirable task or when in an undesirable position. You learn to recognize it for what it is, as undesirable and inherently painful, and then go into it with eyes wide open knowing you’re not going to like it. But then, something strange happens. As your body gets to work, suddenly you find that you like getting things accomplished. That the knowledge of completing the undesirable task feels so much better than all the brooding and avoiding you were doing before you started. And then, when you break free on the other side, you find that the pain has set you free indeed.

So I give you my word, dear tumblr readers, I’m going to curb the complaints and instead invest that energy into trying new strategies. (Sorry sweet pages of my journal—you’re not off the hook.)