We all know people who seem to be able to do it all. They manage to run a few miles, meditate, make a healthy breakfast, get their family ready, and arrive to work looking flawless. They excel at their jobs and always seem to be on top of everything. They've mastered self-discipline.
The good news is that like other life habits, self-discipline is something that can be taught. While we all know it won't happen overnight, I can tell you that there are methods to making it easier. Here are some lessons I've learned that can help you build your self-discipline muscle so you can become your own superhero.
1. The 'Five-Second Rule'
Our brains are wired to keep us alive, hence fight or flight mode. We usually have a small window to do something that makes us uncomfortable before our brain reads our hesitation as danger and tries to 'save us.' Your brain may start convincing you to move away from the danger by giving you reasons why you shouldn't do it.
This can hinder us. In her book, The 5 Second Rule, Mel Robbins talks about how we need to physically push ourselves to move in the direction of our goal before our brain takes over. You can do this by counting backward from five. Once you reach one, force yourself to move.
For instance, I found that when I'm having trouble concentrating on my work, I count backwards, starting from five. When I reach one, I stand up and stretch for a few seconds. Then I sit down and push myself to do 30 minutes of quality work. This little reset trick not only works, it makes me more productive.
2. Start small
When you first start trying to build your self-discipline muscle, start with one habit at a time. Trying to do too much at once will not only overwhelm you, it will lower your chances for success. Too much too soon isn't sustainable.
One of my goals of this past year was to get started on work earlier so I could set up my social media posts and catch up on news. I set my alarm to wake me up five minutes earlier each day for a few weeks until I was naturally waking up 30 minutes earlier. Those 30 minutes have made a world of a difference and wasn't too difficult to do.
3. Make a to-do list with the power of three
Write down three things you want to accomplish that day but only keep one connected to your overall self-discipline goal. While three might not seem significant, they are much more attainable. Once you've accomplished those three, you'll feel motivated to keep going.
This may sound simple but it's so easy to get sidetracked or discouraged. I've had to reevaluate my strategy numerous times. I found that three goals is the magic number. It's not overwhelming but still gives you something to work towards.
4. Practice delayed gratification
Being patient is one of the most important ways to build self-discipline, especially while living in a world of 'now.' We want our problems to go away now. We want to be successful now. The problem is that when things aren't going our way, we want to abandon it. This is known as the instant gratification trap and is the death of self-discipline.
Instant gratification is when you sacrifice your long-term goals for a temptation that gives you short-term pleasure.
It's tempting to log onto social media while working. Before I know it, I've wasted plenty of valuable time. When I find myself falling into this trap, I use the five-second rule mentioned above and commit to focusing.
Admittedly, this is one of the harder habits to break. I often have to remind myself of the bigger picture instead of settling for what's conveniently in front of me. I've found that treating yourself for hitting a milestone helps.
My travel credit card helped me hone in on my willpower, learn delayed gratification, and treat myself. With it, I've committed to budgeting and being reasonable with my finances. I then use the cards to transfer points and miles for upgrades, treating myself but still waiting to accumulate those perks.
My personal favorite way to practice delayed gratification is when I'm traveling. I sometimes opt out of taking a plane in favor of other reliable and pleasurable forms of transportation. It helps me reset and reminds me of the merits of having patience.
At the end of the day, the goal is to be productive. I found time tracker apps that take random screenshots and recorded my keystrokes to be helpful in understanding my work habits better. Find the ways that work for you. Having self-discipline will likely make you happier and less stressed out.