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Self-Discipline: The Foundation of Productive Living

Self-Discipline: The Foundation of Productive Living
Dumbell

    The productivity industry is awash with tips, tricks, systems, and hacks to help you get more done in less time. Yet many who read books and blogs on this topic for the purpose of getting things done say they have trouble implementing these tools and becoming more productive.

    No system for keeping your email under control will help you on its own. No tips and tricks for budgeting will ever help you on their own. The main problem for those who struggle with pure productivity is not being able to understand and learn systems, but a lack of self-discipline to begin with.

    Self-discipline is often described as a muscle, something that becomes stronger the more you work with it. In essence, having self-discipline from a productivity point of view is having the ability and motivation to just do it.

    For different fields, having self-discipline means different things; personal development fans consider it the ability to change habits and refrain from practising old, ingrained ones. Musicians consider it the ability to get up and practice each day, every day, so they never fall behind in their level of skill and muscle memory.

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    One angle I like to look at self-discipline from, while not entirely encompassing the concept and all that it entails, can certainly be helpful: self-discipline is the power to act on ideas. It is the ability to take things from thoughts and realize them through actions and tangible results.

    Learning or creating a perfect system for processing, acting on and organizing email efficiently is not going to be worth a damn until you can force yourself to do it whenever you check your email.

    Knowledge itself is only part of the path. Knowledge is not productivity. It’s not efficiency. It’s a necessary step, and the first step towards those things, but implementation is the step that makes it worth the time and effort spent learning.

    Start Small, Work Up to Big

    If you haven’t been able to implement ideas in real life on a small scale, then the chances that you can do something big this week, such as kick a ten-year smoking habit, are pretty small. It can and has been done, but good luck trying. There are exceptions to every rule.

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    This is where the comparison of self-discipline to the use of a muscle is important, because if you keep trying to tackle the big problems in your life from the get-go, you set yourself up to fail again and again. The more you fail on the big things, the more motivation you lose and the more it looks like the problems are too big to be beaten.

    Start developing your self-discipline skills by conquering small problems; if you find yourself drinking excessively and want to handle it, then start your first drink after everyone else has finished their first couple of rounds. It’s a small change, but your success will set you up to succeed in the next stage, which may be cutting out one night of drinking per weekend altogether.

    Gradually, the strength of your self-discipline increases, and the greater your success will be in tackling problems and implementing new changes.

    If you want to create a habit rather than defeat it, it’s a very similar process. For instance, if you find yourself constantly unable to maintain a new email processing system, start by making an end-of-week appointment every week that you force yourself to keep. Process all your messages and clear out your inbox during that session, and continue this until it is second nature. You can then trial it on a more regular basis.

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    Don’t start out expecting unused muscles to be strong.

    Accountability, the Remedial Therapy of Self-Discipline

    When a person has, for some reason or another, allowed muscles to atrophy to the point where they literally can’t use them, they go through a long process of therapy, gradually rebuilding the strength in those muscles until they can use them without assistance.

    It’s not impossible for this to happen with self-discipline; someone who once possessed plenty of it can allow it to atrophy by failing to use restraint and letting bad habits commandeer their life. I know this happened to me, and it wasn’t easy to fix.

    There is a point where you let your self-discipline weaken so much that it’s impossible to get it back without outside assistance. That point is where accountability comes into play; having someone to push you and force you to do what you can’t force yourself to do. They keep you accountable for each action, and not only give you an irritated stare when you fail, but ensure you don’t fail in the first place.

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    The key is to find someone who’s going to be present in your day-to-day life enough to help you. If you’re working on a new habit for your work life, then they only need to present at work. More complicated are habits that encompass your entire life, in work and at home. For instance, if you want to quit smoking then you’ll probably need to organize someone to keep you accountable at home, such as your partner or family, and someone at work (probably a colleague, as nobody needs more whining from their boss!).

    Nine times out of ten, those who’ve talked to me about their inability to get things done and implement systems they’ve memorized inside and out, only have a problem with this one aspect of life. It’s a simple one, but by no means any less difficult to deal with.

    Self-discipline is certainly one thing missing from productivity today.

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    Last Updated on December 17, 2018

    Read this and stop feeling overwhelmed…for good!

    Read this and stop feeling overwhelmed…for good!

    We live in a time of productivity overload.

    Everywhere you turn are articles and books about how to be more productive, how to squeeze 27 hours of work out of every 24, how to double your work pace, how to do more and more all in the name of someday getting out of the rat race. Well this is about the side effects of those ideas. If we aren’t multitasking, we feel lazy. If we aren’t doing everything, we feel like we’re slacking. We compare ourselves to others who we think are doing more, having more, getting more and achieving more, and it’s driving us crazy. We feel overwhelmed when we think we have too much to do, too much is expected of us, or that a stressor is too much for us to handle. And we respond by lashing out with emotions of anger, irritability, anxiety, doubt and helplessness.

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    This season especially is the most stressful time of year. Between the holidays, final exams, family gatherings and general feelings of guilt that it’s the end of the year, it’s easy to get overwhelmed thinking of all the things you still need to get done. But if you use these tips, not only will you get the important stuff done, you’ll keep your sanity while doing it!

      Is this you?

      Change your thought pattern-stop thinking negatively

      When you feel overwhelmed, the first thing you do is start thinking negatively or begin to resent why it’s your responsibility in the first place! The first thing you have to do is to stop! Stop thinking negatively immediately. Instead, focus on the positive. If you’re stuck in traffic, think of how great it is to have some time to yourself. If you’re rushing trying to get things done by a deadline, think how lucky you are to have a purpose and to be working towards it. If you’re stressing about a final exam, think of how fortunate you are to be given the opportunity of higher education. After you’ve changed your thought patterns, you must then say to yourself “I can do this.” Keep saying it until you believe it and you’re more than halfway to ending feeling overwhelmed.

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      Take a deep breath/change your body posture

      When you’re stressed certain things happen to your body. You start to breath shallowly, you hunch over, you immediately tense up and all that tension drives your feelings of stress even more. Relax! Straighten your posture and take at least ten deep, cleansing, breaths. Force yourself to smile and do something to change your state. It could be as simple as giving yourself a hug or as silly as clapping your hands three times, throwing them up in the air and shouting “I GOT THIS!” Think to yourself, how would I sit/stand if I had perfect confidence and control of the situation?

      Focus on right now

      Now that you are in a better state of mind and are no longer thinking negatively, you need to focus on the here and now. Ask yourself this question: What is the most important thing I have control of and can act on right now? Keep asking yourself this until you have a concrete next step.

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      Take Action

      Now that you know what’s most important and what to do about it, do it! Start with the first step and focus on getting that done. Don’t worry about anything else right now, just on what your first step is and how to get it done. Once that’s done with, determine the next most important step and get that done.

      Let go of what you can’t control (the gambler’s theory)

      Seasoned gamblers understand the importance of due diligence and knowing when to let go. The Gambler’s Theory is that once your bet is placed there is nothing you can do, so you might as well relax and enjoy the process. The time to worry is when you’re figuring out the best odds and making the decision of what to bet when you can actually take action. I used this one a lot in college. After an exam, there is absolutely no point in stressing about it. There’s nothing you can do. And the same goes for feeling overwhelmed. If you can do something about your situation, do it, focus and take action. But if you’ve done what you could and now are just waiting, or if you’re worried about something you have no control over, realize that there’s no point. You might as well relax and enjoy the moment.

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      yoga-422196_1280
        Relax and enjoy the moment

        Stop feeling guilty

        Finally, stop comparing yourself to others. If you are at your wits end trying to keep up with what you think you should be doing, you aren’t being fair to yourself. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t strive for improvement, just don’t go overboard because you feel like you have to. Only you know what’s really important to you, and your personal success journey so focus on what your top priorities are, not someone else’s.

        Everyone feels overwhelmed sometimes. The important thing is to realize it’s normal and that you can do something about it by taking focused and deliberate action. Happy Holidays!

        Featured photo credit: Stress Therapy via flickr.com

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