A Beginner's Guide to Self-Discipline
My relationship with Discipline has always been a turbulent one. Discipline is the lame party guest who stands in the corner, pointing at his watch and reminding me that I said I would be in bed two hours ago. He is the guy that shows up rather uninvited just to tell me that if I don’t turn the music down, he is going to call the cops. He is the Debbie Downer if there ever was one. I would rather continue dancing on tables, living life on a whim, than go over and engage him. I have stood with my arms crossed and back turned away from him, insisting that I am much too free-spirited to obey any of his commands.
Over the last couple of years, though, I have started to befriend my lame party guest. I started running and realized that you don’t become strong and fit and capable of completing half-marathons without Discipline running right alongside you. Once I realized that Discipline is not a bad hang, I started inviting him in to spruce up other areas of my life. Meal prepping, writing when I don’t feel like it, practicing guitar, journaling, keeping my living spaces pretty—all these things require the wisdom and care of Discipline. I have found that my creativity, free-spirit nature, and whimsical planning are only as good as the boundaries of self-discipline they are held within. Discipline is the foundation I must build my life and work on or I will always be dreaming but never doing.
If you are still in the process of befriending Discipline, I have compiled a list of thoughts and strategies I have developed over the last couple of years that may help you speak his language a little better.
1. Self-Discipline is Self-Care.
My often-chaotic thoughts feel so much clearer and more organized if I have organized spaces. If my room and bathroom are clean, I feel a deeper sense of stability than if they are not. I am, however, not gifted in this area. There are often clothes covering the floor in my room and bathroom because it is hard for me to find the motivation to do boring day-to-day things.
There is all kinds of advice saying that following the path of what we feel like doing is the highest form of self-care. You may think that you are caring for yourself well by obliging to your every whim. We live in a culture that prescribes a gallon of ice cream and Netflix binge for heartache and tells us that we deserve indulgence. This is a dangerous mindset to subscribe to all the time. From exercising to eating well to cleaning to work ethic, disciplining yourself to do the things that are good for you, even when you don’t want to do them, is the highest form of self-love. It’s like taking medicine. Even if it tastes a little gross going down, you are still caring for yourself by taking it.
2. Discipline begets discipline.
If you are having a hard time finding any sort of discipline in your life, start small. Go for a walk in the morning, write in a journal for 15 minutes, challenge yourself to eat a fruit or vegetable with every meal for a week. Discipline has a tendency to create a domino effect in your life, and once you introduce it in one area it starts spreading out to all the rest. If I start my morning by journaling, going for a run and making a good, healthy breakfast, I am much more likely to be productive with the rest of my day than I am if I were to turn on the TV and eat a donut the moment I woke up. Start cultivating small habits in your life that will snowball into a steady discipline mindset.
3. Find a rulebook (if you need one).
If hard and fast rules are helpful for you like they are helpful for me, there are some really great tools out there for you to utilize. If you are looking to be more disciplined in your eating habits, Whole 30 is a great guide to try out for a month. I started running by using the Couch to 5K app that lays out a very specific plan with very specific goals. Do some research and find a good program for you or create your own rulebook. Turn your ambiguous goals into specific guidelines that will make the follow through easier. I have started challenging myself to write 500 words a day and have found that is a much easier discipline to follow than if I were to say I just wanted to “write more.”
4. Get off social media.
I am sorry to say that the greatest inhibiter of your self-discipline is undoubtedly social media. Maybe you’re a special unicorn human who doesn’t get distracted by scrolling endlessly through Instagram or taking more pictures of your work than actually doing it. Congratulations, you can skip over this section and please, please shoot me an email detailing exactly how you do it.
If you are not a special unicorn human, you probably need to set some boundaries between you and social media. Maybe you keep your phone in a different room than the one you sleep in and don’t check it until after you’ve already written in a journal for an hour or made breakfast. Maybe you have certain work hours where you turn your phone off and put it away. I am a big advocate for days of social media fasting at a time, but I don’t think it’s necessary. You can set small rules during certain hours of the day to maximize productivity and accomplish goals.
5. Practice gratitude.
Just as discipline begets discipline I also believe that gratitude begets discipline. If we are not seeing the gifts in our lives, we have a tendency to become apathetic and sluggish, adapting a “woe is me” mentality. I adjusted to a new nannying job this fall, and until I was actively practicing gratitude every day, I just sat on the couch, watched daytime television and felt sorry for myself. If you find yourself unmotivated and lacking discipline, start writing a gratitude list every morning. Gratitude has a way of championing us in all aspects of our life, including inviting us to be more purposeful.
6. Extend grace.
Just like anything else in this life, you will not do self-discipline perfectly. The best way to fail at discipline is to put the expectation of perfection on it. When we expect to be perfect and then fail, it creates all kinds of shame in us. Shame says things like, “Why would you even try when you knew that you were going to fail?” Shame is really good at convincing us to not try again. Start small, set realistic goals, and extend grace to yourself when you are not perfectly disciplined. It is always about becoming stronger, braver and more purposeful; it is never about being perfect.
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