When your Self-Discipline switch is broken

5 easy ways to train your self-control and determination daily.

“I wish I could do that”.

When it comes to self-discipline and determination, a lot of people think you either have it or you don’t.
This is partly a convenient way to not take responsibility, partly the asymmetry between physical and mental growth. If you get your body in better shape, you can see it in the mirror. People compliment you. You can even stand on a bathroom scale, which is going to give you a score. Well done, you. But when it comes to mental capacities, it is a lot harder to notice.

The two aren’t that different though. Just like you need to train your body (and keep training it if you want to maintain your performance), getting your mind in a better shape is a matter of training too. And, just like when you start going to the gym or running at the weekend, it’s important to not overdo it the first time.

So here are the rules to your workout:

1- Start small

I see a lot of people seeing discipline as a switch. It’s either on or off. You either have it or you don’t. The truth is, like most things in life, discipline is a spectrum, and has many different degrees and manifestations. Like going to the gym, it takes training.

So start small and be patient. All that matters is that you make progress towards big, permanent results. If you improve 1% every day, by the end of the year you’ll have improved 3800% thanks to the compound effect.
But if you try to go straight for a 100% improvement, it’s likely that by the end of the year it will be 0%, and you’ll have made up a bunch of excuse to rationalise why it can never happen.

2- Minimise willpower usage

Our willpower is very limited. Again, this can be trained and improved, but we tend to grossly overestimate our capacities anyway.

Rig the game in your favour by creating an environment that fosters discipline, rather than temptation. Don’t work in the same space where you play video games, watch TV, or chill. That will ruin all of those activities, and you’ll have to resist the impulse to play all the time. Set out your clothes in the evening. If you want to go to the gym in the morning, having your shoes in the hallway will make it a lot easier to put them on and go out. Because it’s the default option.

Change your environment, so you don’t have to rely on willpower.

3- Learn to do things right away

Whenever there’s a big task ahead, or a scary challenge, we usually spend a lot of time in our heads. We ask questions, we make up stories, we tell ourselves why we should or should not do something. Usually we shouldn’t. Because it’s stupid. Or maybe we shouldn’t do it right now, and put it off for a while. Do emails instead.

Train yourself to not accept any bullsh*t from your brain.
Challenge yourself constantly. Be uncomfortable. Take ice cold showers in the morning. Don’t think about it. Learn to enjoy them. Buy a coffee to someone queueing behind you. Just come up with something fun.

Learn to do it, don’t think about it.

4- Don’t feed yourself crap

Whether it’s food or information, we think of ourselves as a funnel: stuff comes in, we process it, and it goes out. What we don’t appreciate is that most stuff stays in.
When it comes to your body, every 7 years all the cells in your body (except the brain) are replaced. So what you eat today is what you’re made of tomorrow.
Same with information. If you read, watch, and listen to negative sources and negative people, that’s what your thoughts will be made of tomorrow.

Look after yourself, and it’ll be a lot easier to make great decisions.

It’s also a way to train your discipline in itself, and appreciate the positive effects.

5- Surround yourself with disciplined people

As humans, we are wonderfully tribal.

Think of yourself stranded on an Island for the next 10 years. Depending on the local fauna, you’ll likely either be eaten or go cuckoo.
This is because we can’t really survive on our own. Yes, humans may arguably be one of the most powerful and dangerous species, but as individuals we are pretty fragile.

Because we are wired to be so reliant on a group or tribe, we have a natural tendency to mirror the group’s behaviour and adapt. Remember, if you’re out, you’re eaten. 
And any tribe can’t allow too much diversity: you either conform to your peer group, or you’ll be kept at a distance.
The people you surround yourself with shape your personality, your desires, your language, your choices, the way you see and interpret the world.

So if you want to become more disciplined, surround yourself with disciplined people, and the tribe effect will help you become more disciplined with little effort. You’ll also have great examples to imitate.

On the other hand, stick around disruptive people and…

Good luck.

– Matt


If you’re tired of endless todos that don’t bring you anywhere, and want to be effective and create change in your life, check out my upcoming free email course Busy to Productive.