I have never been great with self-discipline. It could be a university assignment, studying for the big exam, or finishing that next blog post, procrastination comes naturally to me. It’s hard to say where this came from, but one guess is that I learned it at an early age. My parents are extremely loving people, but they are awful at following through with punishments. I discovered that I could skip my chores, avoid my homework, and instead play video games with little consequences. I do recall one time my Dad set up parental controls on the family computer. Give any curious and determined kid enough time and they will find a way to cheat your parental controls.
Throughout school, procrastination followed by a last-minute oh shit burst of motivation was my standard solution. The best time for cleaning my entire apartment was the night right before a big exam. I resorted to just about anything to get my mind off what stressed me out and needed to be done, I guess it’s a form of escape. I never felt good about it, but it got me through university.
This is why self-discipline is important. You can’t wait for motivation to strike and carry you through. You need to create your own motivation by just doing. Although self-discipline never came naturally to me, it can be trained. Although I’m not perfect, I am proud of how much I have improved throughout university and my career.
I doubt that I’m alone here, the world is fascinating and filled with distraction. Here are three things that have helped me improve my self-discipline. As a result, I have improved my productivity, reliability, all while having more free time.
Self-discipline and running go together in two important ways.
- Running, especially distance running, is a mental game. You will have runs where every single step you take, your mind is begging you to stop, saying that you have done enough and can take a break. You stop. Later you think back about that run earlier in the day. Why did you stop? Were your legs about to collapse? Were you gasping for air? No, you stopped because your mind gave you an excuse to stop. You didn’t have the self-discipline to keep going.
- The most common mistake for beginner runners is going too hard, too quickly. You will want to see immediate improvement, running faster and faster every run. You will want to skip your rest days because you’re so excited to get out there and set a new personal record. Unfortunately for you, improvement in running will come when you gain the self-discipline to slow down, give your body some rest, and take it easy. You run faster by learning to run slower and longer. You run longer by learning to give your body the rest that it needs.
This is why I love running. Running has taught me to become comfortable with being uncomfortable. To keep going until my mind taps out, and then continue forward knowing that I can do it. Finally, it has taught me to listen to my body and give it the time it needs to rest, even when every inch of me is dying to go out for another run.
Meditation is like exercise for the mind. I started by meditating five minutes every day, and have slowly increased to 20-60 minutes. Meditation has helped me become more mindful of my thoughts and feelings. It has allowed me to better understand myself, and recognize early on when I’m trending in a negative direction.
Like running, meditation takes discipline to keep going. Sometimes going into a session, I want to do anything but meditation. I will feel fidgety, and my mind will be buzzing with ideas of other things to go do. These moments of restlessness are also when I have made the biggest gains. Take a step back and relax your mind.
Since I started meditating, I have also noticed an improvement in my running. I tend to feel more relaxed and in bliss during a long run, where previously I always needed something to entertain my mind.
The Daily Highlight
Finally, the daily highlight is something that has helped me think about and focus on the things that matter most to me each day. The idea is taken from the book Make Time by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky. I recommend it if you find yourself wishing you had more time for the things that matter to you in life.
The idea is simple. Each day in the morning I sit down and think about one thing I really want to complete that day. It could be something related to work, a personal project, or even something simple like making the time to take a relaxing bath and read. Next, I make sure that I find the time to accomplish it.
Keep in mind that this isn’t a set in stone task where you need to complete the highlight on that day or feel bad about it. There will be days when something comes up and you don’t get to the task. It’s also completely fine to change your daily highlight partway through the day as priorities change. The important part is becoming mindful of your own time and priorities.
Since doing this regularly, I find that I accomplish more of what I want to accomplish each day, feeling a sense of pride when I complete my highlight. In the evening each day, I take time to reflect on how my day went and the highlight I set for myself. It is a good way to wind down, clear your mind, and think again about how you spent your time.
Tying it together
It takes time to get better at self-discipline. You need to be patient with yourself and accept that not every day will be perfect. Although these activities have helped me, they likely won’t work for everyone. Experiment with different things and reflect on what works for you and what doesn’t. Remember, hard work and discipline trumps waiting on motivation any day.