“I could only achieve success in my life through self-discipline, and I applied it until my wish and my will became one.”

Nikola Tesla 

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.

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