4 Tips to Dramatically Increase Your Self-Discipline
We live in a world with a lot of distractions (social media being one of the biggest ones), and even though technology has come a long way and theoretically that should make it easier to get stuff done, motivation is tricky – especially as entrepreneurs and creative business owners, since many of us work for ourselves.
Another reason this topic is so fascinating to me is because I tend to not have too much difficulty executing things I set out to do. Obviously, I’m not perfect, but for me, if I set my mind to something, I don’t have much trouble making it happen.
For example, I consider myself a runner. I have run a bunch of half-marathons, quite a few 5Ks, and I know I want to begin running full marathons in the next couple of years. Pretty much all non-runners think people who run are nuts. Why? Because they seem to enjoy doing something both mentally and physically exhausting. Like, why would someone ever be motivated to go out and run 26.2 miles? Yet hundreds of thousands of people do it all the time! For me, when I sign up to run a race, I create a running plan that includes a combination of several short runs and one long
run per week, and then I follow that plan. Once again, let me remind you – I’m not perfect and I do skip a run once in a while, but for the most part, once that plan is in place, it doesn’t take much to get me to throw my shoes on and head out the door to get my run in.
Another example from my past is starting a business. Many people dream of starting a business or say they want to start a business. They might take some of the first steps, but many never actually get it off the ground. Yet when I decided to start a wedding planning company after binge-watching “Whose Wedding Is It Anyway?,” I made a plan, and every week I executed several steps of that plan until I had a business and was planning weddings. I’m not saying it was completely effortless. There were hard days, and I often had to revise things as I went, but for the most part, I just followed the plan I created until I reached my goal.
If you have a goal that you want to achieve, why is it so hard for some people to actually execute on that goal while it comes quite easily to others? We are going to really dive into this and then I’m going to give you some actionable steps that you can use to better improve your own execution.
First, I want to explore a theory by author and speaker Mel Robbins. If you don’t know of her, she’s a motivational speaker and has an amazing book called The 5 Second Rule. She has done a ton of research on the brain and specifically on motivation and impact theory. One of the most profound things I have taken away from Mel’s teachings is that “motivation is garbage.” What she means by that is that the world is constantly telling us that you need to feel ready before you can do something or make a change. And that if you’ve got some big idea or dream, all you need is some motivation and, bam! you’re gonna make it happen.
Yet as humans, we don’t actually enjoy being uncomfortable. Change is uncomfortable, doing difficult tasks is uncomfortable, doing scary things is uncomfortable, so if you’re just waiting around to feel motivated and ready and comfortable, you’ll never accomplish what you’ve set out to do. Essentially, motivation is a load of crap and if you’re relying on motivation to execute on this big goals and dreams that you have, or even the small steps and
tasks that make up the plan for those big goals and dreams, you’re going to have a tough road ahead.
So if motivation is garbage, what is it that we need to have to become better executers? We need self-discipline. The people that have no trouble accomplishing things tend to be people that have a lot of natural self-discipline. Gretchen Rubin has done a lot of research on habits. People who have a lot of self-discipline are people that happen to have no trouble forming and sticking to habits. In Gretchen’s book, Better Than Before, she explores what she calls the Four Tendencies, which are essentially four different approaches to habits.
You have Upholders – who are people that respond easily to both outer and inner expectations. Questioners – who will question all expectations, but respond to those that make sense to them, meaning they will respond to inner expectations. Obligers – who respond very well to outside expectations, but resist inner expectations. And Rebels – who don’t respond well to either inner or outer expectations. Now you may have an idea of what category you fit in, but Gretchen actually has a free quiz you can take online to find out what you are and give you a more in-depth description about your tendency, so I highly suggest you check it out.
But, essentially, most people are Obligers, which means they need some sort of outside accountability or discipline to make stuff happen. If you haven’t guessed already, I am absolutely an Upholder. I respond to both inner and outer expectations, so if someone asks me or tells me to do something, I’ll easily do it. Or if I set an expectation for myself, I’ll do it.
That doesn’t mean it’s always easy for Upholders. One of the downsides to this tendency or having a lot of self-discipline is that I’m also very rigid and very hard on myself. So it’s not all sunshine and rainbows when you have a
lot of self-discipline. It can also be stressful. As I said earlier, I’m not perfect, and sometimes I just really don’t feel like doing something for no reason at all and so I don’t do it. I usually lose sleep about it after the fact, but it happens sometimes.
Now let’s go back to the fact that, according to Gretchen, the largest habit tendency is an Obliger, so someone that responds well to outside expectations or discipline. If you find yourself in that category or in any category and just struggling to create discipline (not motivation, remember), I want to go through some tips and tricks that I’ve used over the years to help.
1. Map out a plan
You knew I was going to start with this one, right? Often you can make something way less overwhelming by just planning it out. When I decide to sign up for a half-marathon or I decide to launch something new, like this podcast, for example, I sit down and write out all the steps and I reverse-engineer how I’m going to reach my goal. In running, that
means creating a training plan.
I don’t just go out and one random day run 8 miles and then a week later run 10. That would be insane and I’d surely injure myself. Just like you wouldn’t just sit down and say, “I’m going to create and launch a new product this week and figure it out as I go.” You’re going to get overwhelmed really quickly. Instead, I start with the small steps, like running 2 miles or 3 miles a few times a week, and I work my way up to longer runs on the weekends. Each weekend, I increase my long run goal by a mile until I’m I’m ready and able to run 13 miles.
Once you break down a goal into manageable steps, you’ll immediately feel more ready and mentally prepared to accomplish it and that will help bring some discipline to what you’re trying to do.
2. Set up accountability systems
In our business world, there are a LOT of options for accountability at your disposal. Let’s break down some of those options to try and figure out what might be best for you.
First, you could get a coach. If I were trying to tackle a really serious running goal like running a marathon in under 3.5 hours, I’d highly consider getting a running coach because not only would they provide knowledge and expertise that I don’t have, but they understand the goal I’m trying to reach better than anyone and could provide accountability and support.
You could also find an accountability partner or group. This is where mastermind groups can be an amazing opportunity because, again, you are surrounded by people that understand your journey and your goal, but they will also hold you accountable and help you in staying the course.
Keep in mind, though, that when it comes to accountability, the more skin the game you have, the more likely you are to follow through. This is why personal fitness coaches can often be a great investment for someone trying to lose weight but unable to on their own. Often it’s not the coach itself that’s motivating you, but the large financial investment you made in the coaching that’s keeping you accountable. So if you know that you really some help in this area, make sure you have enough skin in the game, so to speak – financial or otherwise – to actually follow through.
3. Create a reward system
Now this one isn’t my favorite because people often reward themselves with things that are counter-productive to their goal. Like if your goal is to lose 40 pounds, you really shouldn’t reward yourself for losing the first 10 with a trip to
the all-you-can-eat buffet. That’s not setting yourself up well to continue with your goal. But it can be okay to reward yourself with something that helps you continue on your goal.
For example, if your goal was to create 50 videos for your YouTube channel this year, you might reward yourself with a new camera or microphone that you’ve had your eye on once you hit 30 videos. That way, you’re more likely to continue along your path to your final goal.
4. Tie one habit to another that you already do well.
This works really well when we’re dealing with small goals or tasks. For example, if you had a goal to engage more with your following on Instagram, and specially you wanted to do a live video every day, you might tie that task to another task or habit that you already do such everyday such as checking your Instagram feed. As soon as you scroll through your feed, you hop on live. After doing this again and again, it will begin to feel easier and more natural and you’ll be less likely to find excuses such as “I have nothing to talk about” or “I don’t feel like it.”
This last step is more for those who still might be struggling with discipline – no matter what you do, you can’t seem to make any headway on this goal that you’ve set. Examine why you can’t seem to make progress or execute. Is it because you aren’t really as invested as you thought in your goal? Or maybe you are scared of what might happen if you try and you fail? Or even if you try and you succeed? Success often means change, which is scary for some people (myself included sometimes). Maybe you set out to accomplish this goal for the wrong reasons which is why you’re struggling. There might be some underlying issue that is actually preventing you from finding that discipline that you need to spend some time working through.
Thank you so much again, friends, for reading! Always remember – progress, not perfection, consistency is key, and also maybe have a little faith that you will reach those goals that you set for yourself. I hope you have a fabulous week, friends. Talk to you soon!