Do you make a plan and fail to stick to it? Or do you start with a goal and give up soon after?
You might be cursing yourself for not having the self discipline to pursue what you began. I had the same problem myself. I would aim for a target, start full of energy, and lose motivation soon after.
In this article, I will cover:
- The reasons why you lack self discipline
- Tips on how to build self discipline to chase your goals
This is how the flow of events occur when you lack the self discipline to finish what you have started.
You believe you fail because you’re lazy. But the reason why you lack discipline can be different.
- The reasons why you lack self discipline
- How to build self discipline
The reasons why you lack self discipline
1. Misalignment of goals
If you’re chasing goals that you care little about, you will lose steam in no time. When the effort taken to achieve your target takes a toll on you, you feel like resorting back to the comfort zone. What you consider laziness is actually a lack of interest in achieving the goal itself.
Often, we chase goals that appear cool or those that society has made a big deal out of. Buying a house, driving a fancy car, reaching an executive position in a well-known organization are a few examples.
Because people around you attach pride to such targets, you get into a rat race of achieving what others care about. You do not even know why you’re aiming for the goal in the first place.
If you do not intend to achieve a goal strongly enough when you begin, the chances of giving your best effort are quite slim. Whichever goal you chase, you must know why you want the result you desire. If you do not have a clear purpose, you will lack the self discipline required somewhere down the road.
You can answer these three questions to help you gain clarity about your long term goals.
2. Low self-confidence
Sometimes we chase goals knowing we will never achieve them. For example, millions of people want to start their business, but somewhere deep within their hearts, they know they will never muster the courage to quit their job.
The reasons for low confidence vary from person to person. You might think the goal is too hard to achieve. You might assume you lack the skills to make your dream come true. In some cases, you might fear failure so much that you give up before you even begin.
Whatever the reason is, your low confidence stems from some kind of insecurity within you. Identifying the fear which is pulling you down will help you find answers to face it head-on.
How to build self discipline
1. Reduce the number of goals you’re aiming for:
If you assume you lack self discipline as a person, you’re mistaken. Given the right target, every single person will move heaven and earth to achieve it.
- A music enthusiast will lack the self discipline to earn a promotion
- A travel fanatic will lack the motivation to achieve any sales target thrown at him
- A person with an entrepreneurship spirit will be least bothered about taking up a high paying job
Your goals have to align with your happiness. If they don’t, you will end up disappointed even after pulling off a massive goal. If you have too many things you’re planning to achieve, you are chasing goals you care little about. The more goals you pursue, the lesser your chances of accomplishing any of them.
Every person cares about only a few things. The other goals you assume are yours are only things which are nice to have. They appear shiny on the surface, but once you achieve them, you don’t feel proud of yourself for accomplishing what you did.
2. Start small
If you want to begin something you’ve never done before, do not make the mistake of going all guns blazing. People tend to introduce drastic changes in their lives out of nowhere. For example
- A person who has never worked out aims to hit the gym an hour a day for 5 days a week
- A person who has no clue about entrepreneurship decides to quit and begin
- A person who has never spoken on stage before tries to speak in front of a hundred people.
The more abrupt the change, the harder your mind, and body will find accepting it. Allow yourself time to get used to the change.
- If you want to workout, start 15 min a day for three days a week
- If you want to become an entrepreneur, research and talk to other businessmen before typing your resignation letter
- If you want to improve your public speaking, try speaking in front of a small group of known people first
Small changes serve two purposes. One, it allows you enough time to digest what you’re going through. Two, it gives you a first-hand experience of reality. It can help you realize if you’d enjoy chasing the goal at all.
3. Consider time, energy and mindset overlap
If you are trying to cultivate many habits at the same time, make sure they do not interfere with one another in terms of time, energy, or mindset. If they have an overlap, targeting one habit at a time is most effective.
Let’s say you decide to work out and learn to play the guitar. Working out takes 1 hour for 4 days a week, and learning to play the guitar needs 30 minutes of practice every day for the best results.
If you try to cultivate both these habits simultaneously, you suddenly need an extra 1.5 hours of free time. Due to lack of time, chances are you will stop working out and playing the guitar.
Let us say you plan to begin working out and eating healthy food. Working out seems hard at first. And if you are used to eating anything you like, eating healthy seems like a massive change.
If you try to build both these habits together, your mind cannot adapt quickly. Not only will the habit of working out irritate you, but you will also feel worse when you cannot even eat the food that you like.
I understand that working out needs healthy food for the best result. But there is no point if you try to do them both and stop altogether a month later. A better combination is working out and trying to reduce sugar. This way, you can at least eat some of the dishes you like.
Let us say you try to work out and wake up early. When you work out, you need more rest because you tire your muscles. If you try to wake up early without changing the time you go to bed, you will go through your day with the energy of a person who just climbed 500 stairs.
A better combination is cultivating the habit of working out and reducing phone usage at night. This way, you can sleep early and get more rest. As a result, your body shows better results from the workout too.
4. Track progress
Find a way to track the progress you’re making. You do not always have to put a number to what you’re chasing. But, if you do not track your progress, you will remain stagnant forever.
As human beings, we are visual animals. We like to look at and feel things. A habit becomes easier to develop when you associate a real-life visible thing to it. I used pebbles to build a reading habit. After reading a book for 15 min, I would move one stone from one glass to another. I had a daily target of moving 4 pebbles to motivate myself to read for an hour.
You can use similar visual indicators like :
- sticky notes which say day 1, day 2, etc
- circling a calendar
- a simple excel sheet
- using an app which tells you how long you have quit smoking
- a chart paper on the wall with one tick per day you worked out
Heck, you can even invent your own visual indicator.
Create and use your visual reminders to help you track how long you have stayed on track.
5. Use time blocking
No matter how your schedule is, you will have some chores to handle. For example, you will have to return calls, respond to chat messages, fill up some forms, order groceries, and do whatnot.
Set time aside for such tasks. When you try completing them between your other important tasks, you lose attention again and again. Do not try to multitask between tasks that matter and other shallow work. Apply your multitasking skills only during your distracted work slot.
Similarly, allocate time blocks for working towards your long term goals. If you plan to work on your dreams when your schedule allows, you will hardly make any progress. Force yourself to make time for your dreams, even if it means working an hour every day.
I ensure I begin my day with writing content for my blog. Only after I have finished writing 1000 words do I proceed to other tasks.
6. Sleep enough and eat well
I have tried to make more time by sleeping fewer hours. Though I had more time in the day, my productivity and mood were only lukewarm.
If you’re not well-rested, your brain will struggle to make the right decisions. Poor eating habits will lead to the same outcome. When you fill yourself with junk food at irregular intervals, you feel sluggish about getting things done because your body is expending energy digesting what you’ve stuffed yourself with.
Maintain a timely eating and sleeping schedule. Undereating and overeating will hamper your daily actions, just like poor and excess sleep will.
7. Introduce friction for distractions
James Clear suggested the method of introducing friction for bad habits in his book Atomic Habits. Your mind loves reacting to distractions. The practice of turning on the TV and checking the refrigerator is a sneaky way your brain uses to avoid work.
The technique suggests adding an extra step between you and the distraction. By making the distraction harder, your decrease your chances of wasting time.
Let me explain with an example. When you sit on the couch, you pick up the remote and turn on the TV. Your brain has wired such actions into your behavior. You act without applying any thought.
To break such unconscious action, you must introduce an additional step. If you unplug the TV or leave the remote in the kitchen, you cannot turn on the TV the next time. You must get your ass off the couch to turn the TV on or walk to the kitchen to fetch the remote. Your brain isn’t prepared for such friction.
You will avoid such distractions by breaking the loop of your habits. Since your brain loves any act of laziness, one way to tackle the problem is to make procrastination itself harder to achieve.
8. Begin now
If you set a future date for starting your effort, you’re only lying to yourself. The most common time where people make a vow to chase their real goals is during the new year. Do you know how many people meet their new year resolutions? A mere 8%, which is about 1 in 10 people. Over 80% of the people give up on their plans for the year by the end of January.
Attaching a change to a date leads to pressure. If you fail in your effort, you give up entirely within a snap of your fingers and go back to your old self.
If you intend to improve, each day is the start of a new year. The calendar might show a random date but you still have a year ahead whenever you choose to begin.
9. Use the 2 second rule
The 2 second rule helps you become more mindful of the little actions you do.
All you need to do to apply this rule is pause for a moment to gather your thoughts before taking any action. What you do during the pause depends on the situation and your personality. Here are 2 options to try out during your pause:
- Ask yourself if you’re doing the right thing
- Think of the consequences of your actions
Here is how you can put it into action:
- When you feel like watching Netflix, ask yourself if you could do something useful instead
- When you feel like skipping the workout, remind yourself that you are aiming for that toned body
- When you feel like postponing the little action towards your long term goal, think of how life would be if you achieved your target
Your brain has the ability to make or break your motivation. All you need is 2 seconds to set it on the right track.
Nobody in the world lacks self discipline as a person. If we chase the wrong target, all of us will fall short on discipline. Aim for the right goal, and you will spring into action without anyone needing to remind you.
We all have a fire that burns within us. Just that the flame requires a different fuel for each person. It can be music, entrepreneurship, singing, sports, racing, and whatnot. If you try to lit up the fire in your belly with somebody else’s fuel, you will never get the engine started.
Find your calling, and you’ll spring out of bed each morning.
Maxim Dsouza has spent over a decade experimenting and finding various time management techniques to improve his productivity. He strongly understands the fact that time is a limited commodity and tries to make every second count. He has extensive experience in leadership in startups, small businesses, and large corporations.
He has helped people of different professions and age groups gain clarity on their goals, improve focus, revise their time management skills and develop an awareness of their psychological cognitive biases.