How to Become More Disciplined
He's a young man about to enter college. Growing up with his only parent - his mother - and his younger sister, he's had a difficult life.
To cope with his adversities, he’s lived an unhealthy life of routine partying, drinking, and smoking. One day, his mother got quite sick and was rushed to the emergency. The most important person in his life - his rock through all the difficult times - was on the verge of death. She put up a good fight but unfortunately passed and Lucas became the man of the house. Not only did he have to take care of himself but his sister as well.
Summer break had arrived and so Lucas immediately took on a full time job as a janitor. He had to provide for himself and his younger sister.
His only goal was to go to work each day and clean. Day-in and day out he went. He took on every opportunity at extra shifts. His discipline in working was unwavering. He used the money to buy himself and his sister some food for dinner every night.
He didn’t want to tell his friends he was working as a janitor so when they asked if he wanted to go out in the evenings and party he decided that he would tell them that he had to tutor his little sister and cook her dinner. Lucas fell into the flow of going to work everyday and eventually got used to it. It wasn’t a chore for him anymore. He decided to stop buying junk food for himself and his sister, and decided that he would cook them a healthy dinner after work each day. After cooking dinner, he prepared a breakfast for the next day.
He kept this routine up. Working, and then cooking. Working, and then cooking.
Finally, school time rolled around and Lucas had to attend classes. He was juggling a lot at once now so he rolled his hours back to part time. Every day he attended class, so he didn’t fall behind. Regardless of how he felt, he went every single day. He went to class, came home, worked, and then cooked dinner and breakfast. Lucas kept this up for the whole time in college. He was able to put himself through college and graduate with honors.
He landed a good paying job upon graduation, and maintained his good habits. Eventually, he was able to put his younger sister through college as well. He got married. Eventually, so did his sister. They remained best friends throughout life and they reminisced on how happy their mother would have been of Lucas. He turned his life around and went from lazy and out of control, to in control of his destiny and the true king of his fate. He became disciplined but how did he do it?
How to Develop Self-Discipline
The first big thing for Lucas was his strong reason WHY. When his mother passed he had a North Star, to become the man of the house and take care of his younger sister. It was literally do or die. Studies show that a strong motivating reason why allows people to tap into willpower reserves that they might otherwise not have been able to. This reminds me of those movies where you see the boxer down to his last bits of energy in the final round, but then he has a flashback, a powerful memory of why he’s doing this.
Studies also show that a strong motivating reason why may only act as a buffer or a temporary solution to increase willpower and that willpower still does have a finite limit.
In our example, Lucas had a strong motivating reason for why he was trying to become more responsible but that doesn’t mean that reason can motivate him to do an infinite amount of things for an infinite amount of time. Say he tried to work a part time job, take care of his sister, try to get a perfect 4.0 GPA, and learn to play the guitar all at once. It would be difficult if not impossible, regardless of how strong his motivating reason why was. But, in our case, Lucas started by focusing on one task only: work. He went to work every day. Once that became a habit, he directed his willpower and self-discipline onto another SINGULAR activity which was cooking, followed by school and thats the key. To be wise with how we spend our self-discipline and to use it on singular activities and turn them into habits before moving onto another activity. The first habit could’ve been as simple as drinking water every day or making his bed every morning. When an activity becomes a habit, it drains a lot less willpower.
Lucas also faced a dilemma that many people trying to be disciplined encounter: peer pressure. His friends represented a temptation into his old life. An easier life requiring a lot less responsibility. There were two reasons Lucas was able to overcome this dilemma: he had a strong reason why and he planned for temptation. In fact, he used a very specific technique known as the if-then technique. He had planned that IF his friends asked him to go out and party THEN he would tell them that he had to tutor his sister and cook dinner. This was a pre-planned decision of self-control and avoided him having to exercise willpower to resist the temptation.
This is a great strategy to use when we anticipate that there will be times when temptations will arise and our willpower might be low. It’s an automatic and pre-planned response to a temptation.
Studies show that practicing self-discipline increases self-discipline in subsequent acts. It’s like a muscle. By finding his strong reason why, developing his discipline through singular activities, and pre-planning for temptations, Lucas was able to become more disciplined and overcome his adversities.