Have you ever searched “how to stay motivated” in a desperate attempt to push yourself to do that thing you’ve been meaning to do for weeks? Or maybe you’ve been working on the thing for a few days, but your desire to keep doing it is starting to fade? Do you struggle to finish things once you start them? The issue isn’t motivation; it’s discipline. Motivation is what gets you started, but discipline is what keeps you going to the end. Motivation is fickle. It won’t be there to push you to the gym at 6:30 a.m. when it’s 10 degrees outside, even after you kept up the habit during the fall. Motivation won’t force you to find 10 minutes in your Very Busy Day to meditate. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against motivation. It is still important. Consciously identifying your motivations for wanting to accomplish something will set you off on the right path and help keep you there when you’re wondering why you’re slogging through that giant pile of papers that stacked up on your kitchen table, ignored for weeks.
But motivation is not the answer. Anything you’ve ever wanted to do, be it lose 100 pounds, run a 10k, finally get your house in order, become a morning person, actually start flossing every day, or learn to play the harp, can be accomplished with self discipline. Self discipline, or just discipline, as I’ll typically call it, will change your life. All you have to do is learn to be disciplined, and you can do any other thing you’ve ever wanted to do. Well, maybe not quite. You can’t discipline your way to being the first person on Mars. But you get my point. So how do we develop self discipline? Like everything else in life, self discipline is a skill that one must learn.
According to good ol’ Merriam-Webster, discipline means “self-control”, or “control gained by enforcing obedience or order”, among some other definitions. So what does that mean for you? What defines a disciplined person? When I think of discipline, I think of my dad. For as long as I can remember, he’s been getting up at the ass-crack of dawn to head to work at 6:30 so he can be done at 2:30, go swim laps, and return home by late afternoon to be there for his children. He then goes to bed around 9. He maintains a healthy weight, exercises regularly and has for years, flosses daily, keeps his space clean and organized, gets a full night’s sleep most nights, is responsible with his money, and reads often. It’s impressive, honestly. He has tried to instill self discipline in me since I was young, but there’s only so much you can teach a 5 year old about discipline, and the way that a man in his 50s approaches discipline isn’t the same way that a teenager approaches discipline.
Despite my dad’s best efforts, I had no self discipline as a teacher. I got up 10 minutes before the bus came, went to school in sweatpants nearly every day, ate as much as I could fit in my stomach when I got home (so. many. carbs.), stayed up til 3 a.m. scrolling through the internet, never exercised, never studied, never cleaned my room, and frequently did my homework in a frenzy the hour before it was due. I wasn’t accomplishing much, and I wasn’t all that happy with my life. My life was dictated by whatever I wanted to do at that moment. Half way through my sophomore year of college, all of that changed. I went through a really hard breakup (s/o to Nick) and came out of it with a different outlook on life. I wanted to control the outcome of my life, rather than being thrown around in the ocean, just letting the current take me where it wanted. In the end, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and I taught myself to be disciplined. It took some trial and error, but in the last 3 years, I’ve taken the reins on my life and turned it into something that I am immensely proud of. I’ve made my life something I’m excited to live.
Through teaching myself to be disciplined, I’ve become a new person. I graduated college phi beta kappa and summa cum laude with degrees in Studio Art and Computer Science. I landed a job that pays enough to support myself and my partner. My new self meditates regularly, flosses daily, works out 5-6 times per week, gets up on time, goes to bed early, maintains a very happy and very healthy relationship with her wonderful fiancé, eats the recommended amount of vegetables, keeps her apartment clean, and is a conscious and thoughtful driver of her life and its direction. I am who I want to be.
I taught myself to be disciplined as a regular millennial living in 2019. The way I learned self discipline and what works for me are definitely different from the way my dad taught himself to be disciplined, but what worked for me may work for you. Are you smart but lazy? Do you start things but never finish them? Do you know that your unfathomably messy room is bad for your mental health and yet can never manage to clean it, let alone keep it clean? If you had asked me a few years ago, I would’ve said yes to all of those questions. But not anymore. And I’m here to coach you along this journey as well.