7 Powerful Ideas to Boost Your Self-Discipline at Home

How to get everything done during self-isolation

Joxen
Joxen
Apr 22, 2020 · 8 min read
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A Photo by 🇨🇭 Claudio Schwarz | @purzlbaum on Unsplash

he easiest part of goal setting is setting the goal itself. We know this. But what we miss is that once the goal is set, we always tend to experience a drop in our motivation and desire to complete it.

Why?

Because we’re more excited by the thought of the goal than the hard work it takes to reach it.

Building self-discipline is difficult and requires discipline in the first place. Dr. Robert Sapolsky discovered this in his work on behaviour and rewards. As did Burrhus Fredric Skinner, the famous psychologist known for his work on behaviour and conditioning.

Goal setting creates a spike in anticipation. This is down to dopamine; the neurotransmitter which influences how we respond to certain rewards. It’s also a precursor to the strength of our discipline and how we feel about short and long-term rewards.

We generally prefer immediate rewards, known as short-term gratification. Because getting the reward quickly is more pleasurable than having to wait — of course — This why most of us struggle to build self-discipline. This is especially true when it comes to long-term goals.

For example, this self-isolation period has given you the opportunity of time. You have the time to plan, set and complete any long-term goal you want. Doing so creates the need for delayed gratification. To be awarded your goal, you must dedicate time to earning it. Or you could instead do nothing, put your feet up and relax. Which to you sounds better?

(You probably see now why delayed gratification or self-discipline is a challenge.)

Whichever you prefer depends on your conditioning over the years. It’s ultimately your choice. But either option will show you whether your mind has a stronger relationship with immediate gratification or delayed gratification.

However, this time has never been better for you — if you’re healthy and able — to train your discipline and boost your productivity while at home. As you’re reading this, you probably want to improve your discipline to some degree. So here are the best ideas I found to improve that.

1. You Don’t Learn Anything Without Practice.

Your goal, no matter what it is, is useless without action.

In my own story. When I started content writing, my method was to spend all my time reading, listening to podcasts and browsing countless videos to learn everything I could before starting to write. I ignored the advice to practice out of doubt for my readiness to create meaningful work. What did I find out?

I was wasting time and being stupid.

I should’ve been creating various forms of written content so it could be critiqued and refined, learned and applied what I was watching to build my experience and portfolio of results. But I didn’t.

For a while.

The first step to completing goal-setting — imagining and setting it — should be much shorter than I thought. It’s the easiest thing to think of your goal and get excited about it. But it’s very hard to act on it every day, without having a good level of discipline.

How to build it? Follow these steps:

  1. Read, listen and learn about your goal in easy chunks.
  2. Practice and test what you’ve learned.
  3. Analyse the result, build on it and refine it.
  4. When you are happy with it, or it meets a good standard, repeat step one.

It’s important to avoid “perfection”, whatever that is. Instead, holding yourself to a daily, high-quality standard will benefit you much more in meeting your requirements each day and build upon what you already know.

Remember that everyone’s first attempt at a new goal sucks. Even those who are now world-class. We forget that at one time, for example, Elon Musk, Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos all sucked at what they were doing in the very beginning. But what did they do compared to others? Ignored any negativity and criticism and carried on. They relentlessly refined and revised their work by striving to be better. Yes, they were talented, but they didn’t sit there telling themselves that all day. They acted on their talents and pushed it. That takes discipline.

I encourage you to focus on the same.

Discipline is about showing up, doing the work and learning how to improve. Followed by repeating that, every day, especially on the days when you don’t want to.

2. Reward Yourself for Your Efforts.

Don’t be so hard on yourself during your goal. Give yourself rewards, or “reinforcement” for doing the right thing.

We focus so much on the end-goal that we forget to learn how to make the middle part more pleasant.

To build behaviours that stick, you needed to be rewarded for your efforts (sounds good, right?). It doesn’t need to be made difficult on purpose.

For example, setting a target of five days of strict dieting with two “cheat days” is much more sustainable than seven days of a strict diet. The former won’t slow you down from reaching your goal either.

B.F Skinner’s work highlighted the effectiveness of rewards. He used operant conditioning to modify behaviour and improve discipline. It’s a learning process through which you use rewards (reinforcement) or “punishment” to establish a certain behaviour.

Following my example before, the cheat days act as your “reward” which encourages you to keep working hard. Whereas the “punishment” would be to remove a cheat day in exchange for another day of dieting. I know, the dieting day is not meant to be punishment, but you get the idea. Punishment shouldn’t be a painful experience. It can be anything you want, but it has to help you avoid steering off-track.

After a while, move onto variable rewards. This is where you randomise the frequency of that reward. Rather than scheduling two cheat days a week, you or your coach must vary the frequency. Such as one cheat day a week, then three, then none. So you have more unpredictability. Not knowing when the reward will come will increase your excitement for it. But by that time, you’ll be disciplined enough to not rely on a reward anyway.

3. Write About Your Journey and Be Honest.

Journaling your story throughout is a powerful technique to remind you about how your journey is going. It helps track what’s been going well and what you could do or have done to change it.

We tend to forget after a while why we are on our journeys in the first place. We get so overwhelmed by the challenges and problems with building discipline that we lose our way a little bit.

Journaling is a fantastic way to write your story about your route to building discipline and what internal and external factors are helping along the way.

I used to hate journaling and writing down what I’ve done. It just made me look back at my work and think about how bad it is. After a while, I forced myself to put my pride on the bench and start with writing about one thing. Which turned out to be my dreams. It’s all about building the habit after all. Eventually, writing things down gave me a reason to become more accountable for getting daily work done. I could tick off the steps I made towards stronger discipline and my goal.

While you’re at home, give it a try. Journaling can be done on your phone or paper. It’s up to you. But once your goal is reached, you’ll be happy you wrote about it. Believe me.

4. Analyse and Manage Your Habits.

You don’t build discipline by watching others all the time. It happens when you look at yourself, analyse your strengths and weaknesses, then taking active steps to change them.

While you can look to others for motivation, inspiration, and advice, you ultimately need to use what you see in a way that works best for you.

I realised that to become a better writer, I needed to become “a new person”. I had to “change old myself in exchange for my new self” by committing to new ways of thinking and being. For example, if I ever had a negative thought come up towards a person or situation, I would say to myself “stop right there, say something nice about this right now”. Forcing myself to manage my behaviour and be more accountable for what I said and did, built my discipline the most I’d say.

It takes time to change a habit. The commitment I made to being a more positive individual and managing my stress better was made several months ago. Even today, I still struggle with it. But I’m not in it for the short-term. I’m in it for the long run.

5. Track Your Progress.

What gets measured gets managed.

Tracking your progress should go without saying. Similarly with writing things down. We often blindly fall into a goal because we’re struck by the desire to achieve it. Without knowing how near or far we are from it in the first place.

Like I said at the beginning, the easiest thing about goal setting is setting your goal. Imagining the goal tends to take up more time than it should. This can be detrimental to how long it then takes for the goal to be achieved.

The best way to manage your progress is to challenge yourself to do so. This, in turn, builds discipline. If you say “My goal is to do 30 pushups,” don’t just write it down. Write down how you move closer towards that goal. For example, note that you will do one pushup a day, then two, then three and so on. Or that you will do 10, then 20. You could also keep track of this by giving yourself a daily standard to uphold and a deadline.

6. Zoom Out and Look at the Bigger Picture.

We can be so overwhelmed by the bad moments of a goal that we forget to look out and realise how small the bump in our hypothetical road it is.

A graph signifying the how failure looks in the bigger picture
A graph signifying the how failure looks in the bigger picture
Credit: Jack Butcher (Twitter)

Instead of worrying about the bad days or even weeks, take a step back and look at the impact of this in the future. Will, it still be a problem months or years down the line? If not, you probably shouldn’t worry about it.

7. Stop Worrying About Failure.

Practising discipline means you need to stop caring about failure. Failure should be expected. It happens to everyone. Those who have been in a similar path to your goal know that failure is part of the package deal you accept when it comes to reaching a big goal.

This was the case for me. Before I had started my journey to work online, I had considered myself quite a big failure. I had no idea where I was going next or what I should do with myself. And it’s safe to say it was a pretty low moment. But I learned to enjoy reading. Because of that, I discovered the world of careers you can do online and it helped me to figure out the passion I turned out to have for writing online.

If I hadn’t learned how to accept failure, there’s no way I’d even be sat here for the past three months, writing piece after piece knowing they won’t be anything compared to my work next year. But I don’t care. This daily action I do has helped me to construct a great level of discipline I never expected to have. All these steps I learned in just six months will pay off massively in the long run, and I hope they will do the same for you.

The Ascent

A community of storytellers documenting the journey to happiness and fulfillment.

Joxen

Written by

Joxen

BSc Sports Science | Copywriter and Writer | Exploring how to think, move, and live well. Subscribe to Self-Mastery for deeper insight: joxen.substack.com

The Ascent

A community of storytellers documenting the journey to happiness & fulfillment. Join thousands of others making the climb on Medium.

Joxen

Written by

Joxen

BSc Sports Science | Copywriter and Writer | Exploring how to think, move, and live well. Subscribe to Self-Mastery for deeper insight: joxen.substack.com

The Ascent

A community of storytellers documenting the journey to happiness & fulfillment. Join thousands of others making the climb on Medium.

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