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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 September 20, 2018

    8 Ways to Train Your Brain to Learn Faster and Remember More

    8 Ways to Train Your Brain to Learn Faster and Remember More

    You go to the gym to train your muscles. You run outside or go for hikes to train your endurance. Or, maybe you do neither of those, but still wish you exercised more.

    Well, here is how to train one of the most important parts of your body: your brain.

    When you train your brain, you will:

    • Avoid embarrassing situations. You remember his face, but what was his name?
    • Be a faster learner in all sorts of different skills. No problem for you to pick up a new language or new management skill.
    • Avoid diseases that hit as you get older. Alzheimer’s will not be affecting you.

    So how to train your brain and improve your cognitive skills?

    1. Work your memory

    Twyla Tharp, a NYC-based renowned choreographer has come up with the following memory workout:

    When she watches one of her performances, she tries to remember the first twelve to fourteen corrections she wants to discuss with her cast without writing them down.

    If you think this is anything less than a feat, then think again. In her book The Creative Habit she says that most people cannot remember more than three.

    The practice of both remembering events or things and then discussing them with others has actually been supported by brain fitness studies.

    Memory activities that engage all levels of brain operation—receiving, remembering and thinking—help to improve the function of the brain.

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    Now, you may not have dancers to correct, but you may be required to give feedback on a presentation, or your friends may ask you what interesting things you saw at the museum. These are great opportunities to practically train your brain by flexing your memory muscles.

    What is the simplest way to help yourself remember what you see? Repetition.

    For example, say you just met someone new:

    “Hi, my name is George”

    Don’t just respond with, “Nice to meet you”. Instead, say, “Nice to meet you George.”

    Got it? Good.

    2. Do something different repeatedly

    By actually doing something new over and over again, your brain wires new pathways that help you do this new thing better and faster.

    Think back to when you were three years old. You surely were strong enough to hold a knife and a fork just fine. Yet, when you were eating all by yourself, you were creating a mess.

    It was not a matter of strength, you see. It was a matter of cultivating more and better neural pathways that would help you eat by yourself just like an adult does.

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    And guess what? With enough repetition you made that happen!

    But how does this apply to your life right now?

    Say you are a procrastinator. The more you don’t procrastinate, the more you teach your brain not to wait for the last minute to make things happen.

    Now, you might be thinking “Duh, if only not procrastinating could be that easy!”

    Well, it can be. By doing something really small, that you wouldn’t normally do, but is in the direction of getting that task done, you will start creating those new precious neural pathways.

    So if you have been postponing organizing your desk, just take one paper and put in its right place. Or, you can go even smaller. Look at one piece of paper and decide where to put it: Trash? Right cabinet? Another room? Give it to someone?

    You don’t actually need to clean up that paper; you only need to decide what you need to do with it.

    That’s how small you can start. And yet, those neural pathways are still being built. Gradually, you will transform yourself from a procrastinator to an in-the-moment action taker.

    3. Learn something new

    It might sound obvious, but the more you use your brain, the better its going to perform for you.

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    For example, learning a new instrument improves your skill of translating something you see (sheet music) to something you actually do (playing the instrument).

    Learning a new language exposes your brain to a different way of thinking, a different way of expressing yourself.

    You can even literally take it a step further, and learn how to dance. Studies indicate that learning to dance helps seniors avoid Alzheimer’s. Not bad, huh?

    4. Follow a brain training program

    The Internet world can help you improve your brain function while lazily sitting on your couch. A clinically proven program like BrainHQ can help you improve your memory, or think faster, by just following their brain training exercises.

    5. Work your body

    You knew this one was coming didn’t you? Yes indeed, exercise does not just work your body; it also improves the fitness of your brain.

    Even briefly exercising for 20 minutes facilitates information processing and memory functions. But it’s not just that–exercise actually helps your brain create those new neural connections faster. You will learn faster, your alertness level will increase, and you get all that by moving your body.

    Now, if you are not already a regular exerciser, and already feel guilty that you are not helping your brain by exercising more, try a brain training exercise program like Exercise Bliss.

    Remember, just like we discussed in #2, by training your brain to do something new repeatedly, you are actually changing yourself permanently.

    6. Spend time with your loved ones

    If you want optimal cognitive abilities, then you’ve got to have meaningful relationships in your life.  Talking with others and engaging with your loved ones helps you think more clearly, and it can also lift your mood.

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    If you are an extrovert, this holds even more weight for you. At a class at Stanford University, I learned that extroverts actually use talking to other people as a way to understand and process their own thoughts.

    I remember that the teacher told us that after a personality test said she was an extrovert, she was surprised. She had always thought of herself as an introvert. But then, she realized how much talking to others helped her frame her own thoughts, so she accepted her new-found status as an extrovert.

    7. Avoid crossword puzzles

    Many of us, when we think of brain fitness, think of crossword puzzles. And it’s true–crossword puzzles do improve our fluency, yet studies show they are not enough by themselves.

    Are they fun? Yes. Do they sharpen your brain? Not really.

    Of course, if you are doing this for fun, then by all means go ahead. If you are doing it for brain fitness, then you might want to choose another activity

    8. Eat right – and make sure dark chocolate is included

    Foods like fish, fruits, and vegetables help your brain perform optimally. Yet, you might not know that dark chocolate gives your brain a good boost as well.

    When you eat chocolate, your brain produces dopamine. And dopamine helps you learn faster and remember better. Not to mention, chocolate contains flavonols, antioxidants, which also improve your brain functions.

    So next time you have something difficult to do, make sure you grab a bite or two of dark chocolate!

    The bottom line

    Now that you know how to train your brain, it’s actually time to start doing.

    Don’t just consume this content and then go on with your life as if nothing has changed. Put this knowledge into action and become smarter than ever!

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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