How To Build A Disciplined Lifestyle
Everyone wants a more disciplined life. When we have goals and ambitions that consistently go unmet due to our flaws it eats away at our self-esteem, and we’re left thinking we don’t have what it takes.
But we do, we’re just making bad choices, and living with the wrong habits. We can achieve our goals and ambitions, we just have to get out of own way.
But this isn’t done through working harder, superhuman focus, or sheer force of will. It’s done by living smarter.
When you’re trying to build a disciplined life, there are certain things you can’t get wrong. These are your foundational habits that, when in place, make everything easier. But when they aren’t, everything becomes a lot harder.
Let’s start with the big one:
Yeah, I hate to break it to you but your parents were right all along. Staying up all night and sleeping in all day is a bad idea. Unless you’re naturally wired for that sort of thing (which is unlikely), you’re just going to mess us your hormones and any routine you’re trying to set in place.
Our bodies are wired for a certain rhythm of waking and sleeping. They also tend to prefer a certain amount of sleep in order to function properly. This basically translates to: go to bed around 10 pm and sleep for 8 hours.
Operating outside of this tends to make you perform worse. You become sluggish. Your hormones are poorly optimized. And if you aren’t getting enough sleep, you can cause lasting health problems down the line.
So shut up and get to bed by 10, and be up by 8:30 latest.
These are simple to achieve but will require discipline. Bad sleep habits are hard to fix, but once you’ve squared these away, you’ll be waking fresher and more in command of your willpower.
If you’re anything like me, then your mind pretty much does whatever it wants, whenever it wants. You want it to focus on something, sure. But it’s got its own plans.
Essay to finish? How about watching this Ninja Gaiden speed run instead?
Project to complete for work? How about one more episode of Game of Thrones?
Important admin to take care of? How about you gain a sudden interest in synthwave and start listening to whole albums.
(These are all things that I’ve actually done – yeah, I know).
Your brain will get swept up in all kinds of stupid desires that have nothing to do with what you actually want to do. This is going to make you waste hours on counterproductive things, get behind in your work, and eventually, start beating yourself up about being lazy.
The truth is, you’re not lazy, you just lack presence.
When we lack presence of mind we struggle to objectively view our thoughts and instead become attached to them. Instead of witnessing the desire to watch videos pass us by, we attach ourselves to it and start doing what that desire says.
Cue, hours of Saturday Night Live skits watched.
The easiest way to fix this is to start meditating as a daily practice. There are countless ways you can do this, and you can learn as simply as googling it – but to be honest, you just sit there for 15 minutes and try to keep your focus on your breath.
It’s not rocket science. The main thing is you’re consistent.
Oh, and if you’re still not convinced it’s a good idea. Just give the benefits of meditation a google.
When people think of focus, they usually conjure an image of a man with insane willpower, who could sit there in a hurricane and still have the mental strength to compose War and Peace.
The reality, however, is a little different.
As I’ve already stated, your brain kinda sucks. It’s not particularly reliable. It gets bored easily and always tries to preoccupy itself with useless, random activity.
Luckily for you, you can harness this boredom positivity. Here’s how you do it:
Put yourself in a room where there is nothing but a desk and whatever you need to do. Set a timer for 1 hour. Don’t leave the room until the timer is up. You can either work, or you can sit there bored as shit. It’s up to you.
Somedays, doing nothing will win out. That’s fine. Most days, however, the work will be far, far preferable to the boredom.
The environment we work in has a direct relation to our focus. When we give our brain nothing else to focus on except what we want to focus on, our odds of actually focusing on it go up exponentially.
No insane willpower. No incredible superhuman strength. Just working smarter.
If you try to change your entire work ethic in one fell swoop you will quickly burn out and fail. Huge changes always result in huge failures.
The reason for this is simple:
Over the course of your life, you have accumulated a literal lifetime of habits. Some good. Many bad. These habits have compounded in your brain to the point where you:
These aren’t easy to change. They take time, patience, and persistence. If you try to change them overnight, it’ll be like when a cartoon character tries to clean their room by stuffing everything inside the wardrobe. Eventually, the door explodes open, everything pours out, and the room is messier than it was at the start.
The moral here? Don’t take shortcuts.
This often happens in self-improvement. People watch some motivating Will Smith video on youtube, decide their life has changed from this moment forward, and start working like a psychopath for 1, maybe 2 days.
Then it all comes crashing down and it’s back to eating Doritos and playing Fortnite.
You have to build up to a disciplined life over a long period of time. You have to accumulate small changes and persist with them, otherwise, you will just be swept away by your overflowing mountain of pre-existing habits.
But where to start?
Well, aside from sleeping well, meditating, and sorting out your working environment (which, again, you can’t skip) there are some smart choices you can make right off the bat.
The first thing you have to understand is that burnout is a real thing. So dreaming of constantly working 60, 70, 80 hour weeks like Elon Musk isn’t realistic. Sure, you might get there eventually, but right now – you probably need to factor in a few breaks.
Weekends are there for a reason. Use them.
Next thing you want to do is differentiate between the importance of longterm goals and daily goals. Longterm goals are appealing because they’re typically tied to some kind of idea of success, but daily goals and practices are what’s going to actually get those long-term goals achieved.
This means loosely hang on to your long-term goals, but during work hours (i.e. 9-5), pay close attention to your behavioral practices and the goals you’re setting yourself. Make sure you have clear, achievable goals, and make sure you’re engaging with the kinds of practices that are going to keep you moving forward.
For example, if you consistently procrastinate and stay up late working til 1 am, this is probably a bad idea.
Keep it simple. Focus on a few things you want to achieve each day, and achieve them. And as a useful tip: If you’re lacking motivation – you can still work. Do the smallest, easiest part of the process first. Whether that’s setting up your desk, writing a to-do list, or just having a shower.
Just start. And see what happens.
If you want to build a disciplined life, you have to understand and manage your weak points. This is going to take a lot of self-awareness (again, meditate), and it’s going to require you to make intelligent choices.
Perhaps your weak point is that you struggle to focus for any long period of time. In which case, implementing a tool like the Pomodoro technique is probably a good idea. Maybe your weak point is that once you’ve gone on youtube, you can’t stop. In which case, installing a web-blocker would probably be a good idea.
You need to understand what your weak points are, accept that they exist, and put systems in place to work around them.
Where managing your external environment is about working in an empty room. This is managing your internal environment – and putting controls in place to stop the elements that are counterproductive.
Another way to use this is to try and apply your flaws productively. I.e. If you procrastinate all the time, try and procrastinate in a way that actually benefits you. Like reading a good book.
Until now, this article has covered logical techniques for building a disciplined life. But here’s the thing:
The reason you are or aren’t disciplined entirely comes down to the emotional motivations behind your choices.
Just as the habits that underpin your goals are more important than the goals themselves – the emotions that underpin your habits are even more important to understand.
Why are you procrastinating? Why aren’t you disciplined? What’s motivating you to be lazy?
Are you unhappy in some way about your life? Are you not getting fundamental needs met? What’s causing you to not act in the way you want to act?
Sometimes the answer is that you have bad habits. But in other cases, there are deep emotional reasons at the heart of these bad habits – and whether alone, or with a therapist, you need to figure these out.
Because when you do – building discipline becomes a piece of cake.
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About John Matich John is a writer from the UK who splits his time between travelling the world and trying to find unconventional solutions to dating and personal development. You can find more from him at www.lifeuncivilized.com.