How To Develop Self-Discipline
We start something new with the best intentions. We have great aspirations and a clear vision. We feel inspired. How could we fail?
And yet, we do. Over and over.
Things don’t go the way we planned. We get discouraged. Maybe things are even going well, but somehow we just run out of steam. We try again, and even if we manage to avoid the old obstacles, new ones take their place. We end up where we started.
What’s happening here?
A Bumpy Road
We will always encounter obstacles in anything new that we do.
Some people imagine that if they could only overcome the obstacle they are currently facing, things will go smoothly from that point onward.
These people are bound for disappointment. Another obstacle is always around the corner.
These people should stop trying to externalize the problem; blaming the obstacles won’t help. Instead, they should develop their personal ability to overcome obstacles at a systemic level. When this is accomplished, perpetual obstacles can be perpetually overcome.
We may have an image in our mind of something that we would like to be or do. Whether we are prepared for the long road ahead is another question.
Our vision won’t come true right away. If we are really determined, we need to be ready and even eager to make mistakes.
Mistakes are, as everybody knows, one of the most important parts of the learning process. Even so, many people forget this. They see the mistakes as a threat to their value as human beings. They judge themselves as incompetent before there is any opportunity to develop true competence. They are impatient with themselves.
Those who are unwilling to make mistakes cannot learn. They will never develop skills, and their sense of self-worth will sink even lower.
Eventually, they quit.
These people need to reconsider their conception of failure. Mistakes (even large-scale ones) are not failures. Failure is only possible when potential is squandered. If we feel defeated and make an emotional decision to give up, only then has potential been lost.
It is possible to quit without giving up. We may make a realistic appraisal of our talents and decide that our potential lies elsewhere. In this case, there is no potential to be lost.
But there is a fine line. Don’t make excuses.
What about when things do go well? What about when we are getting results, and mistakes are not part of the problem? Why then do our efforts sometimes fizzle out?
This phenomenon is a product of short-sighted thinking. When we begin our new endeavor, we do so without really being committed to it.
Maybe we’re not fully convinced that it’s necessary. Maybe we think we can get away with less. Maybe the results of our efforts make us complacent, and so we lose our sense of urgency.
In all these cases, we can see that we were fighting ourselves all along, trying to force ourselves into something we don’t enjoy.
Why, then, were we trying to do this thing in the first place?
Living Up To Expectations
Perhaps we were motivated by insecurity. We may be working to meet someone else’s standards or expectations. On the other hand, we may face criticism from others, causing us to become ashamed of our efforts.
The answer, simply, is to target the insecurity itself. Pushing ourselves into an activity that we don’t like doesn’t solve the real problem. The problem will only emerge later in some other form.
Instead of trying to meet the external standards of others, choose to meet the internal standards of yourself. The need to do this unwanted task will subside.
A Rock And A Hard Place
Another possibility is that we are faced with a dilemma. We have a problem, and we don’t like the solution. But even if we don’t enjoy the solution to our problems, the problem doesn’t go away.
The answer is to adapt the solution, and explore the variety of options available. In the event that we have no options at all, we must adapt ourselves.
If we are unwilling to make any adaptations, we must be prepared to accept the consequences of the problems we choose not to fix.
Often, a direct awareness of the potential consequences will inspire a durable change in people. This is why it is critical to confront the dilemma without rationalizing it away.
Our emotions send us messages that are often contradictory and counterintuitive.
One moment, we’re motivated and take action. The next, we crash, and we allow things to slip away.
But long-term commitments don’t run on short-term emotionality. They are fueled by a long-term sense of resolve.
The ability to make sustainable resolutions is determined by emotional stability. Emotions are capricious; if we allow them to make our decisions for us, we will constantly flip-flop.
Commitments that stand the test of time are often made quite calmly and unemotionally, without any burst of inspiration to act as a catalyst.
The Broader Picture
Developing enough emotional stability to abide by our commitments is entirely its own journey.
It involves self-esteem and self-actualization. It requires that our life circumstances be relatively developed. It requires us to cultivate positive habits and positive thinking.
In short, learning self-discipline is part of a holistic process. Committing yourself to this broader process will require you to be self disciplined at the same time as it teaches you to be self disciplined.
So if you’re setting out to improve your life, why not start with self-discipline? You’ll be needing it.