I have been thinking a lot about discipline lately. Everyone knows you can’t succeed without it, yet few people seem to possess it.
“Can you make yourself do something you don’t want to do in order to get a result you really want?” That’s a question my friend Andy Andrews likes to ask. And if you can answer yes, then you are disciplined—at least in that area. But what’s the key?
It’s focusing on a result you really want. In this sense, the key to discipline is goal-setting.
Over the years, I have found that I can become disciplined in any area of my life by taking five specific steps. Whether it is trying to get in shape, maintain a blog, or develop a great marriage, the psychology is the same.
Step 1: Determine Your Goal
Notice in Andy’s definition that the key is in knowing what you really want. If you are going to succeed, you must be specific. You must be able to see it. Write it down and—while you are at it—add a “by when” date.
Here’s an example: I will lose 10 pounds of by December 31, 2016. I’ll use this example for the rest of the post so you can see how the steps relate.
Step 2: List Your Reasons
This is often the missing piece in both goal-setting and discipline. You have to ask, “Why is this goal important? What is at stake in my achieving it?” I list both the positive reasons and the negative.
- I want more energy.
- I want to lower my cholesterol.
- I don’t want to put myself at risk for heart disease.
- I want to look more trim, especially on video.
- I want to demonstrate that I can lead myself.
- I want to be a good example to my family.
Step 3: Identify Likely Obstacles
As soon as you start swimming against the current, you will start feeling resistance. It’s as if the universe conspires to keep you from succeeding. That’s why you have to anticipate these obstacles and build strategies to overcome them.
- Obstacle: Mindlessly eating for lunch what I always eat. Strategy: Plan my lunch before I leave the house—where and what I will eat.
- Obstacle: Inability to work out on the road. Strategy: Make sure the hotel has a workout room before I book it. Also, pack my workout clothes and shoes.
- Obstacle: Eating more calories than I intend. Strategy: Record everything in LoseIt, thus educating myself about the calorie-count of various foods.
Researchers call these strategies implementation intentions. And they work.
Step 4: Develop New Behaviors
This is where you should focus. What are the positive, new behaviors you want to develop to replace the old, negative behaviors.
- Drink two-and-a-half liters of water a day to stay hydrated.
- Eat healthy snacks like raw almonds, celery, carrots, and so on.
- Share entrees with Gail when we eat out, so that I eat half the normal serving.
- Chose simple grilled fish or chicken, rather than beef.
Step 5: Stay Focused
Read your goals daily, review your reasons why, anticipate obstacles, and work on your new behaviors. If you get off-track, don’t beat yourself up. Sometimes it’s three steps forward and two steps back. The trick is to shake it off and re-lock on your goal.
You might also consider changing your strategy to get there. My daughter, and our company COO, Megan Hyatt Miller wrote about that here.
- If I injure my ankle and can’t run, I could switch to swimming.
- If I hit a weight-loss plateau, I can change up my diet or my exercise routine.
- If I can’t get traction on my own, I’ll research and hire a personal trainer.
Discipline is not really about will power so much as focusing on what you really want. If you get clear on that, it suddenly becomes much easier.