Cultivating Discipline, the Habit of Champions

What word comes to mind when you think of an Olympic athlete like Suni Lee or Ryan Crouser? One of the words that always come to my mind is discipline. Their ability to discipline themselves is what makes these athletes able to perform at such a high level.  

When asked, most people will admit to wanting more discipline than they have. So why do so many people fail to develop the type of discipline that will help them perform at a higher level or develop better habits? It’s because discipline requires dealing with discomfort, which we all instinctively avoid.

Here’s the thing. Everything you want to have or achieve will require developing at least a little discipline. You see, without discipline, you have to depend on luck. While it’s great to be lucky, it’s not a great strategy.

The good news is that discipline is a skill anybody can learn and developing it will give you a tremendous advantage as you go through life.

Use these techniques to cultivate discipline and create a passion fueled life:

1.     Be okay with feeling uncomfortable.

Discipline is uncomfortable. This is because you’re either working on something that you don’t feel like doing right now or you’re not doing something that you’re tempted to do right now. Neither of these is as enjoyable, right now, as following your impulses.

You can use mindfulness to help you locate the discomfort you’re experiencing in your body. Take a few deep breaths and then think about this uncomfortable sensation. Describe it to yourself. What does it feel like? Continue objectively observing it until it goes away. It will always go away.

2.     Shine a light on your excuses.

The reason most people don’t do the things they should is because they create reasons, better known as excuses, for their behaviors. What excuses are you giving yourself for eating that big bag of chips, watching TV until 1 AM, not going to the gym, or procrastinating on that project that’s due in a few weeks? How do you defend your lack of discipline to yourself? Write down what you find.

3.     Choose goals that motivate you.

One of the things I teach in Mindful Mastery is the importance of setting goals that really matter, goals that drive you to get out of bed in the morning. A highly meaningful goal will motivate you do a lot more than one you only feel so-so about.

This is the importance of figuring out what’s important to you because you’ll do more and endure more to achieve things that matter to you. Life is way too short to work on anything less than goals that drive you to get up every morning and keep you motivated throughout the day.

4.     Practice every day.

Discipline isn’t something you can just summon up when you need it. Like any skill, to become good at being disciplined you have to practice each and every day.

You can make yourself practice deep breathing for 5 minutes. When you find yourself slouching at work, make yourself sit up straight. Make a goal to not check your email or phone for 30 minutes and then set a timer on your phone to make you stick to it. When the opportunities come up to practice being disciplined, take them, and build your discipline muscles!

5.     Reward your successes.

When you successfully practice discipline, give yourself a reward that doesn’t break the bank or cause you to eat lots of non-essential calories.

6.     Practice earlier in the day.

Think of discipline as a set of muscles. It takes time to build your discipline up.   Like all muscles, you  discipline muscles are strongest in the morning. Use this knowledge to your advantage when you can.

7.     Develop a plan A, B and C.

Robert Burns wrote in his poem, “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”  So true. No matter how well you plan there will be times when your plan falls apart. This is why you need plans B and C.

What will you do when your discipline starts to slip? What is your plan when you have the urge to order a nacho fries, call your ex, or buy that pair of shoes that is “on sale”?

  • Will you call a friend?
  • Go to the gym?
  • Eat a celery stick?
  • Meditate?
  • Listen to your favorite song?

You need to plan in advance what you are going to do when things come up.

8.     Inch by inch is a cinch.

Making a little bit of progress each day is always enough. Unless you  are facing a life or death challenge, big changes rarely stick. Celebrate your step-by-step progress.

9.     Focus on what you can do rather than your desired outcome.

While it’s important to keep track of your results, it’s more important to take the daily actions you need to achieve the result you want.

For example, when you decide to go on a health plan, the scale matters. However, it’s even more important to follow your diet and exercise plan day in and day out. The same goes for financial goals. It’s more important to save a part of every paycheck than to have a specific bank balance.

By keeping your focus on the actions you need to take, your results are nearly guaranteed.

A Disciplined Life is Within Your Reach

We admire people like Suni Lee or Ryan Crouser and other elite people that demonstrate high levels of discipline, but most people can learn to have just as much discipline. Remember that discipline is a skill where you have decided to choose the future you desire over the thing you desire in this moment.

Your level of discipline will impact the rest of your life. Will you begin to train your mind and body to be disciplined to give up short-term pleasures for long-term success? Make the commitment and you can create the life of your dreams.

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