It’s the new year, which means its time to make some New Years Resolutions. I never really went in for them much before. I quit smoking a while ago (nearly 1000 days now), but it wasn’t the result of thinking the Gregorian calendar brings with it some magical sense of renewal. It was just time to do it.
Now I feel like its time to get rid of my motivation. In fact I have been thinking and doing this for a couple of months now. It’s amazing, liberating and completely satisfying. I want you to get rid of your motivation too. Motivation is cheap, situational, everywhere and above all fleeting. It just won’t stick around no matter what you do.
I have started with something so much more useful that motivation.
I have a bunch of motivational quotes in a few places that I spend a lot of time in. My desk at work and my desk at home primarily. I think I will take them down over writing this, and give them to you. You can do whatever you want with them. Here’s one to start you off.
“People pretend not to like grapes when the vines are too high for them to reach”
– Marguerite de Navarre
I’m already happier, my desk is less cluttered.
Discipline and Willpower are like any other muscle in the body. You have to exercise them to make it stronger. I want to share with you what has helped me and thousands of other people develop discipline. One of the revelations for me was when I found out humans do not in any way think strategically. In fact we are terrible at it.
If I am trying to lose weight, it takes a lot of effort to just not eat snacks. I see the cookie. I want the cookie. I figure out a reason to eat the cookie. That cookie is getting eaten. Future me is not happy about that. Future me who has to pay the cookie debt at the gym, or by not eating the cookie he can see. Zero strategy.
There are a number of methods in which to teach yourself discipline, and they all pretty much follow the same kind of model. I’m going to go over this model with you, so that you understand the skeleton of it all, and you can put whichever meat on it you want.
But first, let’s throw away another one of these quotes.
“Everybody pities the weak; jealousy you have to earn.”
– Arnold Schwarzenegger
So you want to get some discipline in your life? You want to lose 10 kilos? You want to learn that other language? You want to travel the world?
These are goals. These are not having discipline at all, these are things that having discipline leads to. You want to have the discipline to achieve these things, not just have them as a lofty goal that you aspire to. Having goals is, strangely, proven to make people less happy. Stop having goals.
It might sound counter-intuitive, and it did to me at first. What you actually want are systems. Systems will allow you to develop discipline, which will free you to achieve all these lofty goals. Some examples;
1) You want to lose 10 kilos? What you really need is a system of controlling your caloric intake, and making sure that you burn more than your maintenance quota each day. You need a system of going to the gym everyday. You need the discipline to go in the snow, or the rain, and get on the treadmill/rowing machine/cross trainer even if you arrive soaking wet, and pump out those kilometers.
2) You want to learn that other language? What you need is to have the discipline to sit down every day for 10-30 minutes and study. Making sure that you are not interrupted and that you repeat it day in, day out. You need to practice everyday.
3) You want to travel the world? You need the discipline to save money every day. Traveling the world is not free. You have to get the money from somewhere. You will need to think about your expenses every single day and develop a system of saving. Have the discipline to cut back on drinking and eating out with friends. Stop doing all the things that you like doing, and sacrifice them to do the one thing you really love to do.
I hope you are still with me. We are more than halfway through, and the last bit is perhaps the most important part. The framework for developing discipline. It’s actually really simple.
There are five main steps. We’ll go through them and then we can talk about ways to flesh them out, gamification of the systems etc. Let’s have one more quote before we dive in.
“Never put off till tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow”
– Mark Twain
This is just a fancy way of saying that you have to imagine yourself doing the thing that you will practice everyday, which will lead eventually to something you want. If you want to lose that weight, then you have to start by envisioning yourself sweating away on the treadmill, or the agony of passing up the cookie.
If you want to quit smoking, you have to think of the desire you feel burning inside you when you are at a bar and you have had a couple of drinks. You need to know what you are up against. Spoiler alert: You are only up against yourself.
Create a Plan
Start small! Make your discipline easy to acquire. Make it only 10 push-ups a day. Make it really easy! Make it easy to see how well you have done, or, how well you have not done. Know in advance that there will be days you miss, what is the plan for that? Double the next day? Are you going on holiday and there isn’t a gym? Have a plan to take your gym clothes.
Do The Thing
It’s time to execute! Exercise your willpower muscles! Every single time you do the thing, you are making your willpower and your discipline stronger. If it’s an easy thing to do, then there should be no problems. You can ramp up the difficulty later on, but for now you just need to stick with it. Habits form after 66 days doing something, and are lost after a similar amount of time not doing it. Keep it up for a while and you are golden!
Track Your Progress
You absolutely have to keep a record of what you have done. Seeing that one day where you didn’t do the thing will jump out at you and push you to keep up the discipline. It doesn’t matter if it is on paper, digital, sky writing, as long as you can use it at step 5.
Review and Modify
Having the ability to see back in time at what you did or did not do is crucial. I check up on what I am doing every week for some things, and every 4 days for others. One of my daily routines requires only checking in once a month. Everyone is different, so see how you go with small goals, and if you think you can ramp it up, then go for it! The worst thing that can happen is that you have to dial it back a little to where you were before. Where you were with all that discipline that you now have.
So that is the framework. There are a bunch of ways to envision your progress too.
One that worked very well for me is “The-X-Effect”. You get an index card, put 6 horizontal and 6 vertical lines on it giving you 49 squares. In each one you write a date, and get yourself a big fat marker pen ready. Every day you do the thing, you put a really big X right in the middle of that day.
This in of itself is a hugely cathartic experience. You did the thing. You made it through the day. Future you is thanking you right now. Past you is happy that you did the thing, because its efforts were not wasted getting you to this point.
Like I said before, habits and discipline start to form and cement themselves after 66 days. 49 Is damned close to that and after you have invested 49, you can be sure that you will want to put in the last measly 17 days.
You just have to tell yourself that you can’t have any more “Zero-Days”, i.e. days where you have made zero progress towards your life goals. Zero push-ups. Zero money saved. Zero foreign language words learned. Zero kilometers run. No more.
Don’t go around telling people “I am going to lose 10 kilos” either. If you have to tell people something, tell them what you have already acheived. This will help keep you focused on developing that discipline. “I have been at the gym running, no matter the weather, every day for a month.” is way better than telling people you dream about losing weight.
OK so were done here! I hope you go out and get yourself some discipline! It is so much better than having any kind of motivation. Tell me how it went for you. I want to know what kind of things you are doing to develop your own discipline. There are millions of resources out there for helping you decide what to do with your 8760 hours each year. Get disciplined, and make something awesome happen! Here are some links to get you started.
Here is one last quote, to play us out, and to get rid of all of the post-its from my desk at work. Cathartic.
“Always be readin’.”