How To Build Your Discipline Muscle

As I’m writing this, the italian weather (just like most countries’) is changing. Hot and sunny days get replaced by the autumnal windy climate that’s going to accompany the whole country in the next couple of months.

All of a sudden, staying under the covers seems (and actually is) way more appealing than just hitting the snooze button and get out of bed.

All of a sudden, we feel like we’re forced to do things that we’ve been doing effortlessly all along.

All of a sudden, we feel no energy whatsoever, no will, no control.

No, you’ve not aged (or maybe yes, but not that much). 
And if you’re not Superman, ups and downs are pretty normal. 

But what if we’re about to go through an intense stretch that requires our best self? What if we are so much demanding of ourselves that we couldn’t afford too much time off?
While I don’t know how and to what degree that abrupt change takes place within every human being, what I do know is that whenever we find ourselves physically challenged, our mind must step up. 
As Tim Grover said:

“Get your mind strong, so your body can follow. 
Physical dominance can make you great. Mental dominance is what ultimately makes you unstoppable.”

As Grover himself notices, there can’t be physical dominance if your mind is not there in the first place. And whilst that principle mostly refers to the sports world, it can be applied to life as well. 
Disciplining yourself is what makes the difference between a subpar project and an excellent one; it is the difference between a good job and a great job, and ultimately, it is the first step towards the attainment of a better future for yourself.
When it comes to discipline, there’s tons and tons of “best-practices”; having often failed to use them myself (I’m still failing, by the way), I know they’re way too many. However, beside being all effective mind-based techniques, the ones that I’m going to list below are definitely the ones that are both easily practicable and could become an integral part of your routine without, at the same time, breaking your efficiency rate:

  1. Schedule your breaks. 
    Before starting anything, make clear to yourself the times in which you’ll take small breaks. Among the many benefits they guarantee there’s more creativity and motivation, less stress, and improved learning capacity
    If you do schedule them in advance with the help of your phone, you’ll make the job even easier. 
    According to an experiment published in the March issue of Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, not giving your mind time to rest can result in rigid thinking. As reported: 

    “Participants who didn’t step away from a task at regular intervals were more likely to write “new” ideas that were very similar to the last one they had written. While they might have felt that they were on a roll, the reality was that, without the breaks afforded by continual task switching, their actual progress was limited.”

    Our minds are not robotic, and although the sense of satisfaction coming from the thought that we “worked hard” is appealing, that’s not the right way to go about doing things, especially if what we’re looking for is efficiency.
  2. Visualize the finish line.
    The struggle you’re in today might seem a useless toiling towards no meaningful end, but if you think about the bigger picture and contextualize everything you’re doing now as small, baby steps that will get you somewhere moving further, the toil will certainly become more sustainable. 
    Visualize yourself in the position you’re working to get to, with all the benefits associated to that. 
    Get 5,10,20 years into the future and see the person you are, how you interact with others, and how beautiful your life will be, all because of your willingness to put in the effort today. When you do that, you’ll probably briefly get away from the daily grind, but the return on investment, in terms of energy and discipline surplus, will be more than worth it.
  3. Remove deadly temptations.
    How in the world do you stop eating ice creams if you keep buying them?

    It is well known that, as humans, we always take the path of least resistance. 
    No matter how good our intentions might be, if our environment is not set up for us to succeed, we’ll fall back to old habits and practices. 
    The process of removing temptations is articulated into two, uncomplicated steps:

     — Start off by recognizing the temptation: the ice cream, your telephone, whatever.

     — Then, proceed to remove the temptation from your surrounding, and do it consistently.

    In a nutshell, you stop buying ice creams. 

    After the initial, predictable struggle, the lack of external distractions will allow you to speed up your productivity and get more done, all without leaving you with the intrinsic desire to go back to the thing that tempted you in the first place.
  4. Adopt one habit at the time.
    I know you’re eager to change your life all at once. You plan on going to the gym, start eating healthy, enrolling into dance courses, reading books, and more. 
    And that’s why the so-called “New year resolutions” seldomly work. 
    They give you that sense of busyness and they trap you into the mindset that “you either change or you don’t”. 
    Well, change doesn’t happen overnight (unlike those resolutions), and most importantly, change is not volatile:

    Change is the result of properly built habits, and habits are built with patience and consistency.

    You can’t shortcut the process
    Therefore, start out by adopting one habit, just one. 
    Once the habit finds its way into your routine and harmonically fits in there, you start out with another one. 
    And so on. 
    You’ll soon understand that discipline is not something you’re born with, but rather a muscle that needs constant use and development, especially when you’re introducing new patterns and ways of doing things into your daily life.
  5. Reward yourself, every now and then.
    Fill your calendar with positive, exciting events that you’ll be looking forward to when times get tough and you feel like your discipline tank is near empty. 
    We learn by either reward or punishment. If our hard work is followed by a proper reward, at the end of the day, we’re more likely to repeat that behavior. That’s why recompensing yourself is one of the best discipline-booster there is. 

    Regardless of the type of reward you choose, it’s important to keep some guidelines in mind. Specifically:

    Don’t do something that stands in contradiction with what you’ve just accomplished, especially if you plan on pursuing very similar goals further down the line. 

    In more practical terms, buying an expensive car after finally getting out of debt might not be a great idea. But it’s up to you. 

     — The reward should be proportionate to the effort you put into reaching the goal. 

    Be wise and realistic. Don’t give yourself too much nor not enough credit. When the reward is appropriate to the amount of effort deployed on your part, you’ll feel the motivation to do more (and to enjoy the prize more) the next time around.

Did you like/hate this article? Why? I’ll take any type of constructive feedback in the comment section below, trying to discipline myself to do better moving forward. You can also write me through DM on Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/anthonymartin279/). Thanks.