We waste our lives with a lack of self-discipline.
Self-discipline is a skill. It’s the ability to focus and overcome distractions. It involves acting according to what you know is right instead of how you feel in the moment (perhaps tired or lazy or uneasy). It typically requires sacrificing immediate pleasure and excitement for what matters most in life.
For example, I was feeling kind of down yesterday at lunchtime, so I wrote down a quick list of what was contributing to the funk I was in:
- Didn’t get enough sleep the night before
- Overwhelmed by a combination of family and business obligations
- Hadn’t exercised in a couple days
- Got in a small argument with Marc
- Feeling uncertainty and pain about COVID-19 and other current events
So, there were five factors contributing to my funk. And that’s actually quite a few distinct things to be dealing with at once. Initially it felt depressing to think about all the things I needed to focus on in order to feel better and move forward.
Of course, I knew I couldn’t focus on everything at once, so I just started with one tiny step. I meditated for a five minutes.
Then I took another step: I made a list of what I needed to do—I organized my obligations and prioritized them.
Another step: I went for a walk and got my body moving.
Then another step: I sat down with Marc, and I apologized first.
Suddenly, with these tiny steps, I started to feel better.
So, I moved on to the next tiny step and the next.
Then I took a break and spent a some time with my son, to play with him, and read to him.
I ate a healthy meal.
I reflected on my uncertainty and pain in a positive way, and stayed with my feelings as long as I could, with compassion and openness.
I went to bed early and got a good night’s sleep.
All just one step at a time.
And like I mentioned, I woke up this morning and really hit the ground running, because all of those tiny steps I took yesterday afternoon changed my mood and my trajectory.
The same can be true for you…
Tiny steps, taken one at a time, with presence and focus, can make all the difference in the world.
The concept of taking it one step at a time might seem ridiculously obvious, but when life gets hard we tend to lose our better judgement—we all get caught up in the moment and find ourselves yearning for instant gratification. We want what we want, and we want it now! And this yearning often tricks us into taking on too much too soon. Marc and I have seen this transpire hundreds of times over the years: a coaching client or course student wants to achieve a big goal or life change (or multiple big goals or life changes) all at once, and can’t choose just one or two daily rituals to begin focusing on, so nothing worthwhile ever gets done. Let this common mistake—this quick-fix mentality—be your reminder today.
You can’t lift a thousand pounds all at once, yet you can easily lift one pound a thousand times. Small, repeated, incremental efforts will get you closer to what you ultimately want. It doesn’t happen in an instant, but it does happen a lot faster than not getting there at all.
What do you do if your life is in complete disarray?
Seriously! What do you do if your life is in complete disarray, you have hardly any self-discipline or consistent routines, can’t stick to anything, procrastinate constantly, and feel completely out of control right now?
How do you get started with building a healthy ritual of self-discipline when you have so many changes to make?
Again, you start small. Very small.
If you don’t know where to start, let me suggest that you start by simply washing your dishes. Yes, I mean literally washing your dishes. It’s just one small step forward: When you eat your oatmeal, wash your bowl and spoon. When you finish drinking your morning coffee, rinse the coffee pot and your mug. Don’t leave any dirty dishes in the sink or on the counter for later. Wash them immediately.
Form this ritual one dish at a time, one day at a time. Once you do this consistently for a couple weeks, you can start making sure the sink has been wiped clean too. Then the counter. Then put your clothes where they belong when you take them off. Then start doing a few sit-ups every morning. Eat a few vegetables for dinner. And so forth.
Do one of these at a time, and you’ll start to build a healthy ritual of self-discipline, and finally know yourself to be capable of doing what must be done… and finishing what you start.
But, for right now, just wash your dishes. With focus and presence.
That is the path forward.