While I’m not a fan of trying to be disciplined every moment of the day, there’s no doubt most of us could use a little more discipline in our lives.
We procrastinate, we waste time with online distractions, we go an entire day without getting done what we really wanted to get done.
How do we overcome this?
With training. Practice small, effective habits, and practice some more. Don’t expect yourself to be perfect at skills if you don’t repeatedly, deliberately practice.
If you want to get good at these skills, don’t worry about not being motivated. Just enjoy the joy of practicing something that you can get good at. It’s amazing when you’re learning something new, and that wonderful feeling is what can motivate you.
What should you practice? Three simple skills that can be turned into habits with repeated practice.
The 3 Small Discipline Habits
The habits that work for me are all about talking to myself:
1. Tell yourself, “This is what I’m going to do next.”. Instead of having a long to-do list of things you want to do today, have just one thing you want to do right now. Instead of saying you’re going to do this important task sometime, say you’re going to do it right now. Instead of allowing yourself to randomly open websites that give you distraction, deliberately figure out what you want to work on next. Pick one thing. It doesn’t matter what it is, but try for things that are important in your life.
2. Ask yourself, “What is the smallest step I can do?”. Most of us look at something on our (mental or digital or paper) list and subconsciously think, “That’s too hard.” So we put it off. But that’s because we’re thinking about an entire project, which has many tasks. You can’t do a project right now, you can only do a task. Instead of saying, “I’m going to write that paper that’s due,” you should say, “I’m going to write 3 things in the outline of the paper.” If the smallest task stills seems too hard, say you’re just going to do 5 minutes of that small task right now. Or just two minutes. Make it ridiculously easy.
3. Ask yourself, “What is stopping me from focusing on that small step?. Even if you figured out a task to focus on, and you’ve broken it into the smallest step, there will still be distractions or resistance. If you’re not immediately doing the smallest step of the next task, ask yourself why. What’s stopping you? Can you resolve this issue, close all browser tabs, shut off your phone, ask co-workers or roommates or family members to give you 30 minutes of focused time? Can you ask for help, get some accountability? The easiest solution is usually to close all distractions. Then get moving on the smallest step.
Once you’ve done that, repeat this process two more times, taking a few minutes’ break between each round. Then take 20 minutes off as a reward. That’s your training session. If you can do several training sessions a day, you’ll get good at this in no time. And as you get good, the cost of doing anything will begin to seem miniscule.