Do you lack self-discipline? When you consider your daily initiative and personal success, do you often compare it against others and tell yourself that you just don’t stack up?
If you’re constantly getting down on yourself because you believe your self-discipline to be substandard, rest easy. Believe it or not, you may have far more self-discipline than you think!
Today, we’re going to be discussing the connection between confidence and discipline—more specifically, how to find the discipline necessary to accomplish what matters most to you and stick with your progress.
This topic came up recently while I was working with a client who doesn’t think he can get things done. He says that he’s never been the type to make himself go to the gym, meet new people, or even engage in activities outside of work. Generally speaking, he prefers to go home and hide himself away after a long day at the office.
He knows that he’s not creating the life that he wants, but he’s also finding it very hard to put in the work necessary to make that happen. Does that mean he’s doomed to live in dissatisfaction forever?
First thing’s first: discipline is NOT always the answer.
Part of our culture as Americans is to believe that we should always be doing more—dreaming bigger, working harder, accomplishing further. The problem is that this mindset is not always helpful.
Life is about balance. Sometimes you need to push, and sometimes you need a break. I like to think of it in terms of a great metaphor that I learned about from Brian Johnson: your life is like a river that flows between two banks—structure and spontaneity.
Sometimes, the river can flow too strongly toward structure. This results in stress, anxiety, and exhaustion. Conversely, when we flow too strongly toward spontaneity, we lose our spark, sink into malaise, and end up feeling dissatisfied with life.
The idea here is that you want to maintain an even flow between both banks.
How do we find that balance?
Step one is to do a little self-inventory: do you tend toward one bank over the other?
Consider all areas of your life as you do this. Often, we can go so hard at work that we completely ignore our social lives; equally as unhealthy is the urge to play so hard off the clock that we never reach any satisfying goals in our professional lives. Maybe at work, we’re taking on so much that it’s difficult to be structured about getting it all done; maybe at home, you’re so structured that you can’t ever just relax and take a breath.
Self-inventory is necessary to know whether we’re expecting too much of ourselves.
So, do that inventory and ask yourself if the flow of your river needs a change. In the case of my client mentioned above, it seems as though he’s probably burning the candle too hard at work and not leaving any structure for his social life. So, yes, he does in fact need a bit more structure (even though he could stand to let up on it a bit at work).
Step two: introduce that structure into your routine . . . but how do we do that?
Most of us, when confronted with something we should do (exercise, eat healthy, stop procrastinating), just grit our teeth and joylessly force it to happen.
How does that work out? Not so well!
When we force these things upon ourselves, we usually make it through one day or one week of the new behavior, but then it’s a drag to stick with it. Then, we blame ourselves for not being able to follow through: “I suck; I never stick with anything; I have no discipline.”
When our intentions are not the driving force behind our actions, we will inevitably fail . . . and then we can’t help but make that failure a part of our identity.
At that point, we’re not likely to ever try anything tough again because we believe we’re the kind of person who doesn’t follow through and finish what he or she starts.
So, let’s consider the case of my client mentioned above. He asserts that he’s not the type to force himself to go to the gym—he says he just doesn’t have it in him. In fact, he often asks me how I make myself run so much.
The short answer? I don’t.
I LOVE TO RUN. Truly. For me, it’s not a thing I have to force—I love the feeling it gives me; I love sensing the smell of the air; I love the peace it brings; I love the personal time it gives me to listen to music or a book on tape. My urge to run is based on something I want: those feelings and experiences.
Therefore, in trying to figure this out, I asked my client what he would do if he weren’t holed up in his lair after work. Immediately, he started to rattle of a list of “should-dos”: I should go to the gym; I should date more; I should be more social.”
Does that sound like things he really wants to do? No.
Each of us has an underlying want—an impulse to achieve something uniquely special to us.
Now, some of you may be saying, “Yeah, but all I want to do is Netflix and chill with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s—that doesn’t sound very productive.”
Ok, that’s fair . . . but think about it: if you really let yourself do that, you’re maybe going to make it through a few days—a week, TOPS—before you lose your mind with boredom and dissatisfaction.
The trick is to go beneath that superficial “want,” and dig deep to find that hidden impulse that will truly drive your happiness.
Even while sitting there with my client, describing how I feel about running, he mentioned that it sounded exactly how he feels about swimming. So, maybe what he needs to do to jumpstart his satisfaction with his social life is to get into a swimming regimen.
It’s the same for all of us: once we begin to practice the thing we want, we get excited about it, and it makes us want it even more.
It’s no longer about having to slog through another “should”—it’s about getting a chance to take some time for ourselves and do that thing we love.
What is it that you truly want? What sounds fun to you? Let your intuition guide you, and then get out of the way!
So often, we end up sabotaging our success because we believe that our impulse is not enough. Maybe you like to walk or hike, for instance, but you don’t think it’s intense enough—so, instead, you drag yourself to the gym and hop on an elliptical machine; you surround yourself with televisions and sweaty gym-bods, rather than the beauty of nature.
That’s the last thing you need.
There’s a natural part of you that wants to be healthy, wants to be socially connected, and knows you deserve love. The problem is that it’s often shrouded in “should-dos” and false beliefs.
Let’s consider my client once more: maybe one night he gets home and, instead of following his usual habit of zoning out, he asks himself what he actually wants and decides he wants to talk to an old friend. Who cares if he’s not going out and being a social butterfly—at least he’s connecting with someone.
Now, from this one wonderful and fulfilling conversation, maybe his heart feels so full that he is reminded of the fact that there are people in the world who love him and want him in their lives; maybe he decides to push himself to jump right into another want; maybe he feels encouraged to put himself out there more; maybe his recharged confidence inspires him to interact with the people in his life differently the next day.
You don’t have to have your entire life mapped out to reach your goals.
Sure, discipline can be a great tool to help you reach your goals . . . but it’s just as important to listen to your instincts when they’re leading you down a different—and sometimes unexpected—path.
True happiness almost always includes an element of balance, and that is what you may have been missing all along.
So, if you’ve done your self-inventory and decide that you need some more discipline, access it by connecting it to a deep-seated want. Anticipate the amazing feelings and experiences that pursuing that want will bring you.
No matter what, listen to your gut, respect your wants, and move toward them without hesitation.
You may find, when you pursue your goals from a place of joy, that you stick with them more enthusiastically and pick up a few fringe benefits in the process.
As always, I ask that you please share your thoughts and questions below! Do you flow toward structure or spontaneity? How can you bring more of one or the other into your life? What is it that you really want from your newfound structure or spontaneity? I love to hear from each of you and watch you grow as you transform your lives.
Until we speak again, may you have the courage to be who you are and to know on a deep level that you’re awesome.