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Maintaining Your Discipline

I thought discipline was a dirty word. It’s what happened when I did the wrong thing as a kid ‘when you get disciplined’ and told off… Ugh… It seemed hard to stick at things sometimes (ok, so I used to think it was hard to stick at things all the time!). I had bad habits, things that I did that were unhealthy in my relationship, in my career and in my health. I’d overthink them and tell myself that I would change them tomorrow, next week, Monday. Anytime but now. 

I would decide to eat well, go to a local health group, start running, seemingly doing all the right things and then it would get too busy at work, or it would get cold or rainy or too hot or I just couldn’t be bothered and all my good work toward being healthy would get undone. I would get frustrated and start thinking that maybe it just wasn’t for me. Maybe I just can’t stick to what it is I need to do to be healthy.

The same thing would happen in my relationship. When I was in a relationship I’d do everything I could to look after my partner but at the expense of my own feelings and what I wanted to do. I’d get upset and retreat into myself. Another less than healthy habit. When I was single I would go on a date, it wouldn’t be ‘perfect’ so I’d make excuses not to go on another one, to stop looking for a partner. 

Career was an area that was ok, I knew what to do and because I didn’t want to let anyone down I would maintain the discipline of going to work on time, doing what I had to and going home. But the problem with that was, it felt meaningless.

Discipline is one of the keys to long term success. How to change a habit over time.

Our day, our life is a series of habits, habitual actions that we do without thinking.Things like brushing your teeth, tying up your shoelaces, having a shower etc. These are seemingly ‘easy’ because we’ve done them time and time and time again so that now we don’t need to ‘consciously’ think about them, these are habit’s we don’t need to ‘make ourselves’ do, they seem to just happen. 

Habits are said to be formed from when we are very very young. Sociologist Morris Massey referred to the years between 0-7 as the ‘imprint period’. This is when we develop our core habits and behaviours, if you think about the things that you do ‘automatically’ or ‘subconsciously’ when did you learn them? Think about it now, most of the things I do most ‘naturally’ I learned between 0-7years old. Tying my shoelaces, brushing my teeth, what times to eat, how to walk, communicating in the language I am most familiar with.

Many of these habits work for us and we don’t have a reason to change them. But what about the habits we have that don’t work? How do we change something that we have been doing for a long time? It’s going to take discipline, it’s also going to take a big enough reason to change. 

Do you want help with Sadness, Procrastination, Self-Sabotage, Confidence or Motivation?

I was talking to a friend recently who asked me how they can get up earlier in the morning. He said that he hit the snooze button a lot each morning and doesn’t want to. I get it, sometimes I don’t want to get up and I used to have this idea ‘If only I could bounce out of bed in the morning’. If I had enough sleep I could jump out of bed and get so much more done in the day! It wasn’t enough to just say it to myself, and it doesn’t help necessarily to get upset at yourself for not doing it. I explained to my friend that there are some keys to help us change our behaviours over time. 

Why is it that some behaviours change immediately, you hear of people that decided to stop smoking, decided to exercise, decided to get a relationship and went and did it. That might be you, if so you may find below the reason why you are successful at changing your behaviours, if you find that you have some habits that haven’t stuck and are looking for the keys, the discipline and the easy way to change then this may help.

I’ve learned that there are some keys to changing behaviours.

Have A Big Enough ‘Why’

Take my friend. He wants to get up earlier in the morning. I asked him Why? What’s going to motivate you to go from a comfy warm bed that you’ve been sleeping in, to getting up? 

I asked ‘Why get out of bed earlier?’

His response ‘To exercise, to read more, to fit more into the day’ 

‘Awesome’, I said. Then I asked him to get even more specific. For example, I only started exercising when I had a big enough Why/reason to exercise. It wasn’t enough to say ‘I want to exercise more’. More than what? More than who? When I got specific that I wanted to get to a certain level in health, for me it was losing 5kg, I managed to get up each morning and exercise.

When I had something I specifically wanted to learn, a book I really wanted to read, I would get up early or stay up late. I had a desire to learn. As soon as I had a big enough why to be in a relationship I would make the time to go on dates, to meet people, to go out to social gatherings. Until I created a picture of what I wanted I would come up with excuses not to do it.

How To Create A Picture Of What You Want

Our mind loves pictures, it loves them so much that for every thought that we have a picture is created subconsciously. It is part of the process for our mind to recognise what we want and help us to get it. Have you ever noticed that when you decide on a car that you’d like that you start seeing it everywhere, whereas previously you hadn’t seen many at all. Your subconscious mind is bringing your desire to your conscious awareness.

When you create a reason, or a why, for changing a behaviour, take one behaviour and think about what you want, what you really want and create a picture – draw it, write it down, describe it in detail and apply emotion to it. What will it feel like to have this picture in your reality? What will it mean to you, to your family? Imagine yourself having achieved the picture, having this behaviour as a normal part of your everyday life.

Put the picture on the wall and this can be your Why.

I have a reminder next to my bed when I wake up of the reason I want to get out of bed with my alarm, I have my health goal right there.

What Motivates You?

We have two ways of being motivated and getting out of bed is something that we all do and can give an insight into how you are mostly motivated.

Moving Towards Motivated – this is when we want something and will move toward getting it. When a person is moving towards motivated, they may think of all the things they are looking forward to that day or how great it will feel to be moving or exercising. Many people have heard the donkey metaphor about the carrot and the stick. The carrot is on the end of a stick hanging ahead of the donkey enticing it to move forward. If the donkey is hungry he may be more motivated toward eating the carrot.

Moving Away From Motivated – this is when we don’t want something, we will be motivated to action away from the consequences of not doing. When a person is moving away motivated, they may get out of bed because they don’t want to be late for work. Or if I don’t get up I’ll waste the day. Motivated by what we will miss out on, motivated to not get in trouble at work, to not be late for a meeting or a date, motivated to avoid the negative outcome if you don’t do something.

You are the best person to know your motivation structure, and it is likely that you have some of both. Think about when you go on a date – is it because you want to share the experiences of life with someone and love having company around. Or is it because you don’t want to be single, don’t want to be alone, don’t want to miss out and so on.

Your Why + Motivation Creates Action

Discipline is action repeated over and over again. It’s on you to create discipline, no-one can do it for you and there isn’t a magic trick to make it easier.

In the beginning it will take conscious effort to create the discipline of repetition. Looking at your Why, picturing it, making it feel real, thinking of the outcome if you don’t achieve it, will all help with motivation to take the action and discipline. There are two things that I’ve found really help create the discipline of sticking to my goals, and creating new habits (or changing old habits). 

1. Realising that it won’t necessarily be easy but that it will be worth it. Those small actions add up over time to develop long term change. I remember the little things I’ve done in the past that have stuck and worked for me that now I take for granted (sometimes that’s remembering that I once learned to tie my shoelaces!) and that if I can do that then I can do this.

2. Celebrate when I’ve done a new behaviour. I give myself credit for any action towards establishing a new behaviour, sometimes it may be something small, like getting up 5 minutes earlier than the day before, running an additional 5 minutes or drinking a glass of water before a meal. I celebrate by smiling to myself, genuinely congratulating myself for a positive behaviour (sometimes out loud). When we were little many parents encouraged their children to take their first steps, say their first words, to do positive behaviours. How did they celebrate? They clapped, laughed, gave cuddles, celebrated the achievement! What if we did this for our own achievements, no matter the size or perceived importance?

I used to be undisciplined, and now I make changes, small changes over time and when I look back over the last year, 5 years or 10 years, those little changes have developed into a number of much healthier behaviours and I still notice things that I’d like to improve so I find a big enough why, motivate myself, and celebrate the little progresses along the way. What you focus on increases. Focussing on the positive progress helps to keep it moving in the direction you want it to, to keep going. My friend has come up with a Why and a plan to get up earlier, but instead of getting up an hour earlier, he’s starting small. 5 minutes earlier for the next month and reading a chapter from a book he’s excited about. In a month he may decide to get up 10 minutes earlier each day. Every little bit helps.