“I could only achieve success in my life through self-discipline, and I applied it until my wish and my will became one.”
Most people recognize motivation. They feel it before a new season, an exciting project or an important goal they have set for themselves. They know the inspiration and strength that accompanies a fully motivated mind. It’s an empowering feeling.
Yet, most people have also experienced the shortfalls of depending too heavily on motivation. It doesn’t last. It’s not constant. It can, as quickly as it appears, take away any drive or energy needed to start, continue or finish a project. After the burst of motivation is gone, we are left with some degree of discipline. Thus, when thinking about our involvement in long term projects, the question is not whether or not we are motivated enough, but rather how disciplined we are.
The simplest way to define discipline would be to put it in a context of groups. At work, school or anywhere requiring some form of governance, people follow a set of rules so that interactions and actions don’t become chaotic. There is a framework, implicitly understood or explicitly written, regulating the actions taken by a person in a group. Usually, this framework is drawn and limited for us. We don’t have to think about it. Naturally, when the time comes for us to create a set of rules for our own works and projects, we are not well-prepared. We often rely on feelings (such as motivation) rather than a learned skill (such as discipline) to start any enterprise.
If you know that you are lacking discipline or would like to improve your ability to create your own framework, here are 4 tips that can help you stay on track.
1- Search the reason why you want to commit to a change
Nietzsche wrote “If you know the why, you can live any how.” Your purpose, the reason why you started, will help create a routine to follow. In order to keep yourself disciplined, you need to know why you even started. Your “why” is going to be the ultimate and most important reason of your success.
Sometimes, you might think that you know your “why”. You have gathered the reasons and they make sense. Here are a few examples: Losing weight to “look better”, joining a company to “make more money”, or the opposite, leaving a company and starting a business “to be independent”, moving away “to start from scratch”, etc. You might recognize some of those reasons. Make sure that you dig deeper to fully understand your own reasoning until what’s left feels purposeful. What does “look better”, “more money” or “independent” actually mean? Your why doesn’t need to be shared with anyone, however it needs to be significant enough to help you continue your journey on the best and worst days.
Your “why” is the partner you love and won’t leave after fights. Make sure you choose it wisely.
2- Eliminate the reasons that could prevent you from succeeding
We all have distractions preventing us from focusing on a task or project. At home or at work, they not only divert us from our goal, but they can even influence us to not commit to a change. Acknowledging those as disruptive work conditions is essential before creating any framework for ourselves. For example, somebody who is committing to weight loss can have more excuses not to do a workout, eat healthy, or organize in advance than actually committing to the change. Factually so, humans don’t like change and an established routine is always much easier to follow than a new one.
Therefore, in order to be successful in establishing a working routine, every excuse needs to be countered with a solution, giving the mind no opportunity to find a reason not to take action. For instance, following the same example, workout clothes can be prepared in advance, unhealthy snacks should not be available at home, ingredients for pre-planned meals can be purchased a few days before they are needed, alarms need to be set at a realistic time, etc. Excuses should not exist in the framework you create. As they come and disturb your progress, think of new solutions.
3- Follow the rules you create
Unlike the rules that have been created for us at work, school or other social settings, we create our own rules when it comes to personal projects. Even though they remain rules, they are easier to follow when they make sense to us. Similarly to the second point, in order to stay on track with a routine, the rules you create for yourself should be purposeful and possible to follow in the long run.
The rules must be purposeful in the sense that they have a reason to exist. Creating a very rigid framework for a project with a bundle of senseless rules won’t lead to successful results. Instead, imagine a cycle of habits that would help you save time, have more energy, and simplify your work routine. By having a purpose, each rule will help you reach your goal.
Rules must also be possible to follow. When thinking about your framework, keep in mind what works best for you based on your personality, social circumstances and past experiences. While some of us are more productive in the morning, others prefer working in the evening. The same applies with social interactions, energy levels, and preferred activities. There is no right or wrong way to be disciplined, but there’s certainly one that works better for you.
4- Have someone hold you accountable
Some people prefer to skip this step. Being accountable can create more anxiety than necessary. If that’s the case, consider someone who you trust, who won’t be judgmental when you hit an obstacle on your way.
Your accountability buddy is the person who will listen to you during your progress but also during your disappointing moments. This person doesn’t need to understand all the details of your project, instead his/her purpose is to listen with an open mind to cheer you on and support you. Ultimately, sharing your journey with someone can help you get more rooted and stay on track.
Throughout the course of your project, you will, without a doubt, find yourself highly motivated. Tasks will seem easier to execute and energy levels will be higher. But as it all fades away, it will be your level of discipline towards your projects that will lead you to success.
“The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.”
Without any warning, the year 2020 unfolded and disrupted life as we knew it. It is undeniable that we were all affected by the pandemic and the changes that followed. To some degree, restrictions seem to have become the new normal. Although it is clear that the impact has been experienced differently among individuals, 2020 forced all of us to change. At least, on the outside.
Change cannot be forced upon any of us. Temporary rules can modify our routine, restrictions can take away a certain freedom, but ultimately, true change happens within. Self-development starts when we realize that the way we used to think and behave no longer corresponds to the way we want to live. When we understand and accept this idea, a part of us has already shifted outside of our comfort zone. For many of us, 2020 has opened the door to welcome the change we needed. Will we walk through it?
Last year, we realized that life can certainly be lived differently when our routine is reconfigured. We may be able to work remotely, we can benefit from a deeper connection with nature, and healthy boundaries appear more essential than they had been in the past. 2020 has been the year where we focused on a disease. We focused on death, restrictions, and cures. We also worked on getting things back to normal as we kept waiting for our old life to make its come back. Things did change, but did we take the time to focus on us and how we adapted to those changes? Did 2020 challenge us positively? Here are 3 ideas that can transform the way we think and connect with others.
1. Gratitude matters a great deal.
The concept of feeling grateful seems to have gained some momentum over the last few years. Yet, gratitude is not a trend nor an abstract philosophical idea. Being grateful encourages us to observe life through a different lens. When we decide that what we have is enough to become our best self, we no longer look for more things to want, but rather for ways to be at peace with who we are. Life appears worthwhile as every obstacle is seen as an opportunity to learn and grow. Gratitude turns our focus from the external world to our very own potential.
Gratitude is an activity in which all family members can engage. It might not come naturally at first, but as we learn to appreciate everything that surrounds us, we will definitely engage in it more instinctively. Many studies have shown that gratitude changes the way our brain processes information. The more grateful we are, the more we realize that our gratitude list could be endless. The more sufficient we feel, the more we want to give back to our community. Although I cannot list all the things for which I am personally grateful, I wanted to take the next few lines to share things that made life easier last year despite the countless difficulties.
- The internet. Without it, it would have been impossible to work remotely, see family members, host virtual parties or simply engage in activities that were nonexistent in person (online classes, movie watching, museum tours, etc.).
- The writers, researchers, scientists, professors, and other academic intellectuals who wrote, explored, tested, and shared their knowledge on everything that happened in 2020 from healthcare to politics. They helped me understand the events that were taking place and shaped the next course of action.
- The people around me (friends and family members) who helped me keep my interactions alive. When the lockdowns hit all of us, those were the people who managed to make my life enjoyable, from near or far.
2. Reorganizing our priorities can lead to a happier life.
Many people were forced to reorganize their year because of layoffs, plan cancellations, travel restrictions, significant health issues, etc. When our goals cannot be achieved due to external factors, we are compelled to rethink our projects and sometimes reevaluate our priorities. When most of our life aspects have turned into a routine, it is generally more difficult to change those old habits. It takes a dash of motivation combined with some serious discipline to create a meaningful difference.
Last year, external changes happened without our need to think about it. We needed to alter our habits for health purposes. This new routine was imposed on us. But at some point, it’s important to take the time and reflect on the way our life has changed and genuinely think about our priorities. What really matters the most? Are there things that we were prioritizing in the past which appeared to be less important in the course of the year? Are there things that we didn’t have or paid attention to that mattered much more than we thought? Those are the questions that we need to ask ourselves to redesign our path to a more meaningful life.
Ultimately, the definition of a happier life is subjective. We decide what happy means. We decide what matters and what doesn’t matter to us. Last year forced us to reconsider our routine. Perhaps, it has also sent us a message to reconsider our priorities and redefine happiness.
3. Healthy connections with other beings are essential to survive.
Humans are interconnected. They can’t survive alone, as they thrive around other beings. Some might feel the need to connect with animals while others might search for human contact. 2020 has truly addressed the issue of being isolated and the desire to interact with someone in order to feel alive.
Therefore, because connections are so important, they not only need to exist but to also be healthy. They need to help us become kinder and more empathetic. They need to provide as much support and love when we feel sad as excitement and passion when we want to share good news. Connections with others are part of our mental health. They are also part of our success. They provide a good description of the way we see ourselves and the world that surrounds us.
Last year inherently reminded us of the essential people in our life. In parallel, it has also brought light on new ones whether they were online connections, distant family members or older friends. Our attitude towards those individuals, our ability to reach out and be kind in chaotic times is fundamentally the direction we want to take when considering change. In 2020, did we connect with the people who mattered most to us? Did we feel lonely and unable to make contact with anyone? Why? By answering those questions, we will be able to better understand the kind of relationships we have and the extent to which we would like to change them in the future.
Change starts when we take a break from our routine and look around. Growth takes place when we understand our responsibility behind every choice we make and every behavior we adopt. So, as we welcome 2021, let’s all take a deep breath and accept our past experiences. Let’s consider ways to improve our life not by changing what’s on the outside (our weight, our house or car) but by deeply transforming our path to happiness by addressing chronic dissatisfaction, wrong priorities and isolation.
I wish you all a meaningful 2021, may it take you where you need to go.
“I had three chairs in my house; one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society.”
Henry David Thoreau
It has taken me a few days to gather my thoughts in order to write something that wouldn’t look like an outpour of angry feelings. I needed to share the words embedded in my mind about how I feel, perhaps inspiring people to reflect in their own way, with their own words.
I am a white woman in my early thirties. I live in a suburban city where most of my neighbors are middle-class working Americans, with impeccable looking front yards and flags hanging by their windows. In the 10 years that I have lived in the United States, a cop has stopped me only once. In that instance, I happened to be in a grocery store parking lot very late at night, needing to buy medication. The officer wanted to make sure that I felt safe coming out of the store by myself and waited until I sat in my car before wishing me a good night. I have rarely felt unsafe going out by myself. However the few times that I have, it had nothing to do with my race but rather with my gender.
That’s my reality. That’s my PRIVILEDGED reality and maybe that’s yours too. I haven’t chosen this kind of life. In a lot of ways, I am extremely lucky and blessed to be carefree about my interactions in society. Although racism exists, I don’t remember ever experiencing it myself. I would be lying if I wrote that I think about it on a daily basis or that I’m a front line activist. The underlying reason is certainly my lack of direct exposure to it. I, as a white woman living in the United States, do not feel threatened because of the color of my skin.
The last few years have been overwhelmingly eye opening for me. After each senseless act of racism that would cost someone’s life, I would be left questioning my role in society as a privileged person. It seems that communities have been fighting racism for hundreds of years yet the conflict is far from over. Is the problem so rooted that it can no longer be fixed? As I watch the news and read about the actions of hundreds of communities across the country, I realize an important reality: Being human comes with many responsibilities and protecting the ones in need is at the top of the list.
If we consider ourselves privileged enough to be on Earth, then we all must act accordingly. We have a responsibility toward our fellow humans to be caring and respectful. After all, we all share the same space. I ignore the reason as to why my road was paved with fewer holes and rocks than those of colors. But in my privileged reality, I have to be responsible. It would be destructive to the human race if I weren’t. We cannot be white and believe that racism exists only far away from us. We can no longer witness it with binoculars from our porch and pretend that it doesn’t directly concern us. Racism affects all of humanity. As the importance of human connection has been the subject of abundant research, it becomes clearer that when a part of society is hurting, we are all hurting. When social or economical issues touch a part of the population, we all face difficulties moving forward. When egocentrism is more important than cultural diversity and community togetherness, love and care among individuals can’t reach its full potential. Consequently, we all hurt.
Keeping this in mind, the time has come for us to reevaluate our involvement with racism. We are an embarrassing society if we can go to space but can’t listen to each other on Earth. It’s a shame to have a racist friend and be afraid to confront him about it because it could be uncomfortable for one or both parties. It’s a disgrace to join a march after a tragedy but remain neutral on a daily basis when the crowds are gone.
It is undeniable that we are all hurting one way or another. Whether it’s because of social injustice, the loss of a loved one to violence, fear of the future or inability to accurately put feelings into words, the situation can no longer be ignored. Regardless, this is not the time to have an individualistic mindset. This is not the time to take things personally in hopes that we can redirect the focus on something more comfortable. Truthfully, this is not the time to blame black people for violence, when we can barely address the violence used against them.
This is all uncontestably very painful but it would be wrong to try to make ourselves feel better by saying things like “I’m not racist, I’m completely against violence no matter the race” or “it’s just a bunch of bad apples”, “all lives should matter equally.” I am sure that you have read some of these sentences online or heard them through friends or family. None of those are wrong, but when we use this sort of rhetoric, unconsciously or not, we run from responsibilities. We hide behind a passive approach that simply doesn’t bring change. In fact, we contribute to accepting and sharing the status quo.
Racism won’t be defeated passively. It will need activeefforts from all of us. That means if we are not racist, we need to educate someone who is. Good cops need to stand by their communities, and interact positively with the people who have become terrified of them. If we know or work with “bad apples”, we need to educate them and hold them accountable for their behavior. If we rightly believe that all lives matter, then we need to show it by standing next to the ones whose lives clearly haven’t mattered equally. We need to join local communities, interact with minorities, become their voice when they need one, vote even at the lowest levels, take part of the social justice reform, and understand the issues. The “It’s not me, it’s them” mentality doesn’t help because it doesn’t bring change. Instead, it contributes to the continuation of the problem.
When Martin Luther King Jr. said in his “March on Washington” speech that “we cannot walk alone”, he explicitly acknowledged that white people are needed in the fight against racism because “their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.” Racism is an issue that needs to be fought by all men, for all of mankind.
Being white has never excluded us from the problem. It’s quite the opposite. The time has come to realize that we are as responsible as anyone else in planting seeds of love and care to preserve our communities. Without all of us working together, all lives can’t matter.