Forget about talent.
Forget about creativity.
Forget about intelligence.
Discipline is all that counts.
Discipline is the great differentiator.
Discipline is the unsung hero of success.
Discipline is the bridge between ambition and achievement.
Discipline doesn’t mean disrespecting yourself.
Discipline doesn’t mean adding more stress to your day.
Discipline doesn’t mean over-regimenting every minute of your life.
The secret is disciplining yourself without destroying yourself.
1. Get the faucet flowing. Here’s how I start every day of my life: Wake up early. Shower. Clock in. Sit down at my computer. Open a blank document. Puke out three-pages of stream of consciousness free writing. Recite my incantation. Get to work.
That’s how I get the creative faucets flowing. That’s how I fuel my discipline. And the advantage to writing morning pages is, according to Artist’s Way pioneer, Julia Cameron:
“It’s a time out. A ritual of reflection. A morning meditation. Your first check-in of the day. And your gripe session for working out grudges.”
Your challenge is to create a similar ritual to help get the faucet flowing. What you’ll discover is that discipline significantly easier if you have a trigger to activate the process. What’s yours?
2. Start small. Discipline is a gradual process. You can’t jump into the deep end on day one. Otherwise your lungs will fill with water before you learn how to swim.
My suggestion is to tackle small challenges that are close your limit – but not past. This stretches your capacity and rewards you with small victories to bolster your confidence.
For example, when I wrote my first book in 2001, I disciplined myself to write for fifteen minutes a day. That’s it. A mere 1/1000th of my day.
Nine years later, I now write between four and seven hours a day. Sometimes more. All because I started small and patiently grew it big. Are you willing to make gradual progress with your discipline?
3. Enter the cycle. If you want to discipline yourself to do something you’re not especially fond of – working out every morning, for example – consider this cycle.
First you hate it, mainly because you suck at. But then you start doing it for while. Which means you get better at it. And then you like it more. Which means you want to do it more. And then you do start to do it more. Then you get better at it. Then you like it more.
And then the cycle repeats itself. Forever.
The best part is, your discipline grows stronger with every revolution. What are you willing to wait to get good at?
4. Trust the process. Whatever you’re currently disciplining yourself to do, there comes a point where you have to affirm:
“Look, I might not like doing this right now. But I have great faith. I honor and trust the process. And I know it’s going to pay dividends. And sure, I might not know what those dividends are yet. Or when they’re going to surface. But when they do, I’ll know that the wait was well worth it.”
It’s a kind of like giving birth: “You can’t fight the contractions – you just have to trust the process.”
At least, that’s what I’m assuming. I’ve never actually given birth. Although I did used to work at Applebee’s, where I was once forced to clean up the remains of a customer whose water broke at the table. Swear to God.
Anyway, when you do this, you allow your primal self to do what it needs to do and lead you in the right direction. Learn to surrender to the process. Let it have its way with you. Are you willing to let process take over?
5. Lower the threat level. Discipline breeds discipline. Just ask any high school basketball coach: Students who play on a team tend to achieve higher academic scores than those who don’t. Why? Because their discipline multiplies.
For example, practicing free throws in the afternoon makes it easier to practice calculus equations later that evening. After all, their minds are already conditioned for consistency – all they have to do is change gears.
I’m not suggesting you pick up basketball as a means to accomplishing your professional goals. Instead, consider disciplining yourself elsewhere first – preferably in a smaller, less threatening venues where the consistency and stick-to-itiveness requirements are lower – you make it easier for yourself to win.
It’s kind of a side door approach, but it works. Personally, I used my nametag to lower the threat level. I first began disciplining myself to wear it every day ten years ago. Over time, it helped paved the way for more difficult daily disciplines like writing, meditation and exercise.
But only because I started small first. What awaits you in the refining fire of discipline?
6. Dare to be a beginner. “Never too late, never too old, never too bad and never too sick to do this yoga and start from scratch again.” That’s the mantra of yoga legend, Bikram Choudhury.
Interestingly, the word “discipline” comes from the Latin discipulus, which means, “student.” This suggests a few things.
First: Declare your incompetence. Admit what you know you don’t know.
Second: Learn to love mistakes. After all, a mistake ceases to become a mistake the moment you learn from it.
Third: Try not to be too hard on yourself. Let go of the self-criticisms that make discipline a big bite to swallow.
Fourth: Be patient. Every great chess player was once a beginner.
Remember: If the road to victory were smooth, everyone would already be there. Are you prepared to zero out your board?
7. Ritualize your process. First of all, turning something into ritual prevents you from saying, “Why the hell am I doing this?” Secondly, whether you say a prayer, light some candles or lock yourself in your Trans-Am and blast Whitesnake at full volume, rituals excite you about the discipline process. They create a sacred space for you to think about what you’re about to do.
Thirdly, although rituals only last for a few seconds – or a few minutes – the simple act of ritualizing your process turns into a discipline victory itself.
Finally, rituals, when practiced regularly over time, become the invoking force. Even if you don’t look forward to the act itself – you always look forward to the ritual. How do you ritualize your discipline?
8. Evolve behaviors into non-negotiatiables. The best way to discipline yourself to do something is to make it a non-negotiable. A non-thought. Here’s how the timeline goes:
First you never do it.
Then you sometimes do it.
Then it starts to become a habit.
Then it becomes something you’re disciplined to.
And eventually, after months (sometimes years!) of work, it morphs into a non-negotiable.
And that’s when you’re golden. That’s when you’re unstoppable. Because you no longer think about – it’s just something you do. And if you don’t, your whole day goes to hell.
That’s the point: To achieve self-sustaining momentum and make yourself positively addicted to do the process. How could you set yourself up so you never have to discipline yourself again?
9. Desire is irrelevant. Of course you don’t want to go to the gym. But you will anyway. Because you know your body will thank you tomorrow. And of course you don’t want to come in an hour earlier. But you will anyway. Because you know the people who matter will notice.
Easier said than done. Unfortunately, delayed gratification isn’t exactly your strong suit. Especially in a society that gives you everything you want in six seconds.
The challenge is making sure your lack of desire to do something is outweighed by the benefit of doing it. My suggestion: Use visual reinforcements to keep that ratio in check. Surround yourself with pictures, images and other reminders of the positive outcome of your discipline.
This will help inspire a vision of the future and, most likely, annoy your spouse to no end. Good. Maybe this will inspire him to drag his lazy carcass to gym too. Have you learned to love what’s good for you?
10. Make a public commitment. My friend Andy once said, “The best way finish your next book is to sell a thousand copies of it first.”
This paints you into an accountable corner. You wouldn’t want to let your readers down, would you? Second, by building a deadline into your schedule, you put healthy pressure on yourself to execute. You wouldn’t want to let yourself down, would you?
Finally, by illuminating the light at the end of the tunnel, you discipline yourself to work backwards. This prevents misallocation of energy. Ultimately, when you add these three attributes together – then multiply them with the coefficient of public declaration, you’ll have no choice by to discipline yourself.
Otherwise you risk pissing off the people who count – including you. To whom are you communicating your commitment?
11. Fuel your discipline with a firm why. People always have time for what’s important to them. Or, if they don’t have the time, they make the time.
As such, the best way to discipline yourself to do something is to take full ownership of – and visually remind yourself of – your reason for doing it. Otherwise your motivation drops off the face of the earth like Brian Dunkleman.
For example, on the wall above my desk is an email I received years ago from one of my readers:
“Dear Scott. My name is Rose. I’m seventy years old. And for the past few years, I’ve been having a very difficult time moving my bowels. Fortunately, since I started reading your blog each morning, I am now regular. Apparently, daily, hysterical laughter is exactly what I needed to get things going. Thanks!”
That’s right – I change lives. And I look at this letter every day. Because it reinforces why I do what I do: To help old ladies poop.
That’s your challenge: To firm up your why. Because when you do, it’s a million times easier to slog through something if you’ve convinced yourself that that something matters. Have you aligned energy with priority?
REMEMBER: Discipline doesn’t just make the man – it makes the man money.
Even if you start small.
Even if you start slowly.
Even if you start scared.