“Observe the ant, you sluggard! Consider her ways and be wise, which having no captain,
overseer, or ruler, provides her supplies in the summer, and gathers her food in the harvest.”
Discipline is hard work. Whether it’s starting a new diet, getting up at 5am to begin a new gym routine, or saving money for a major purchase, discipline takes effort. We typcially try to avoid things that will cause us pain, and discipline is very painful in the beginning! Few people want to get up at 5am to go to that spin class. Even fewer want to save $500 rather than purchasing that brand new watch. So, how do we get ourselves to practice the habit of exercising greater discipline in our lives?
For years, psychologists have studied discipline in the form of self-control and self-regulation theory. This is our ability to control emotions and behaviors in the face of temptations and impulses. Some of the research in this area suggests that self-control is a cognitive process that is necessary for regulating one’s behavior in order to achieve goals. So, if we have a goal to achieve, researchers suggest that we are more likely to demonstrate greater self-control and discipline in the attainment of that objective. However, this does not account for the many, many people who set goals (e.g., New Year’s resolutions) and never develop the habits needed to implement their plans. It also doesn’t address why some people have little trouble sticking with their plan during periods of adversity, while others crumble under the pressures of life and give up on their desired outcomes.
So, how can you improve your discipline? What is the best way to start a goal and stick with a plan for it’s attainment? Here are three simple steps you can take to begin practicing more discipline in your life.
- Be Specific with Your Goal: Set a goal that is specific and measurable. For example, saying, “I want to lose 20lbs” vs “I want to lose weight” has an enormous impact on our psychology. We will strive much harder for the goal that is distinct and quantifiable. Also, set a goal that is attainable. Trying to start a new business in one month might be unrealistic. However, researching how to start a business might be a smaller step that can be achieved within a one month timeframe. Lastly, goals need to be time-bound. That means giving yourself a clearly defined period of time when you must attain that specific goal. This enables us to begin demonstrating accountability towards the outcome.
- Get an Accountability Partner: As I mentioned earlier, discipline is hard work! It takes a special person to cultivate it day-in and day-out. Getting and using an accountability partner makes this much easier. Your accountability partner should keep you honest and focused on putting in the daily work that is needed to get you to your desired outcome. Pick someone that cares about you and your goals/objectives, but isn’t afraid to give you that tough love when it is needed. We all need that extra push from time-to-time, so find an accountability partner that will help you exercise greater levels of discipline as time progresses.
- Prioritize and Work Your Plan: Prioritization is everything. As Stephen R. Covey put it, “put first things first.” That means it is critical to prioritize the daily activities that are most important to us. For example, if your goal is to lose twenty pounds, starting your day with a workout might be important. Putting it off until the end of the day, when you might be tired or drained, will impact your long-term ability to stick with the gym. As you prioritize your most important activities, it is also important to stick to the plan you outlined. This means using your accountability partner to work the plan. It also means being flexible enough to make changes along the way that will help you achieve your goal.
Remember, discipline takes time, focus, and effort. Practicing the behaviors above will help you achieve your goals and live the best life possible.