I’ve struggled with self-discipline for years and years. To give myself credit, I accomplish a lot in my life, but deep down I know that I could do so much more if I had more solid self-discipline. I dip into projects. Make plans here and there, but rarely stick to it long and hard enough to see it through. My inconsistent actions led to inconsistent results.
I am well on my way to rebuilding my self-discipline though. I have been keeping up with my morning routine tasks for the last 23 days (personal record breaking for me). I’ve been productive with my work and my business venture for the most part, and I think all this is due to a mini mental breakthrough I had recently.
After reading everything I can find on personal productivity, I heard people saying “Self-discipline is about showing up even when you don’t feel like it”. Some people say “Self-discipline is not about motivating yourself to do tasks, it’s about building a habit one bit at a time”. Some people say “To build self-discipline, start with a morning ritual”. You probably have read lots of productivity blogs, and can come up with a few bits of advice yourself.
To me, all the above statements are absolutely right, but they are just bits and pieces of what self-discipline really is. I realize that self-discipline is propelled by a large collection of beliefs and habits. And self-discipline is a complex skill set that requires multiple muscle memories, mindsets, and practices, much like playing soccer or playing a piano. All the pieces must be present and aligned in order for one to create a sustainable disciplined life.
For example, let’s say you totally believe it when someone said “if you want to build disciplines for work, you should break down tasks to small pieces and handle them one by one”. And let’s say you’re of the opinion this is a fair technique to not feel overwhelmed by your goals. However, there’s another piece to the puzzle: you have to have a habit of getting started — because if you do not get started on your tasks often enough, you won’t get things done either. The tips that tell you to “break down the task” is somewhat useless if you rarely get started with your tasks at all. Moreover, even if you have knowledge of both (1) break down the tasks, (2) get started as often as possible, you might still not notice any shift in your results. Because there are many other pieces that need to be there. For example, you need to “have enough confidence” in the plan to stick to it long-term or you need to “have a grand vision” of where the tiny action you take now is going to lead to a rewarding life.
There are probably hundreds of beliefs and habits that a self-disciplined person has, to allow them to do all difficult tasks with forceful determination and to succeed in what they do. It’s not only that the person has to have knowledge of all those chunks, he has to internalize the beliefs, practice the actions, and build habits of adopting those actions in different situations. It’s a time-consuming and difficult training process.
So next time you read “5 tips to auto-magically build self-discipline”, follow some of their advice for a while, then thought you have “tried everything” and it didn’t work, please be aware that everything you read is just a part of the whole story. There are much more details in the journey. It’s like expecting yourself to perform Symphony No. 5 on stage after reading a few tips from musicians who have played it. It doesn’t work that way. You have to patiently collect these pieces, bit by bit, accept it, and practice it, to have the whole puzzle solved.