Taking the hard way out:
cultivating self-discipline when no one is watching
And just like that, another year flashes before our eyes! It's hard to believe my last blog post was a little over a year ago, but then again time has a funny way of slipping through our fingers the harder we try to hold on to it. This past year has been a whirlwind of activity both in and out of the shop. I can't say it's been easy fanning the meager flames of a growing business, but it has grown none the less. I can confidently say however, that most, if not all of that growth can be attributed to one thing: developing self-discipline. That and the endless stream of support from my ever so patient wife...but that's a topic for another blog post.
Whether it's losing those last 5 lbs or meeting the deadline for a big project, most of us know that self-discipline is what pushes us that extra mile to get us where we want to be. The problem arises when we're given the choice between actually doing something difficult, tedious, time consuming, or...not doing it. Most of us, at one time or another, will choose the latter. It's just human nature; we have a strong tendency to take the easy way out because, well it's easy.
In my case, I was a hopeful newlywed in my mid twenties, tired of my office job when I made the decision to take my then fledgling hobby of woodworking and turn it into a full time career. You can almost smell the naivety. It didn't help that I was suffering from a life-long case of CPS (Chronic Procrastination Syndrome), commonly referred to as "Your average lazy, unmotivated guy". It wasn't long before the sparkle of owning my own business wore off and I realized just how hard the "business" side of things were. Not to mention I was now working from home, with no boss lurking over my shoulder, and tons of distractions at my fingertips. What's the worst that could happen right??? Well, as the bills piled up and the savings account dwindled, I found myself facing a tough decision - either I dive into this endeavor head first or I drown in the fear of impending failure.
At a time like this self-discipline becomes a necessity if you want to succeed. The first step in acquiring such an important quality is to understand how it fits into your situation. What do you need it to do for you? What does accomplishing your goals mean to you? While doing some research on the subject, I found an excellent definition of self-discipline by Brian Tracy that really helped to put things into perspective for me. He concisely describes self-discipline as: "The ability to do what you know you should do, whether you feel like it or not." Having this attitude towards your goals, whether they are secular, personal, spiritual, etc. will help you to stay focused and follow through on the menial, frustrating, or boring tasks that inevitably accompany anything that's worth doing. When it comes to woodworking, I could easily spend hours whittling away at some intricate hand-cut joinery (see what I did there..."whittling"...get it? Do ya?) and be perfectly content. Yet, the moment I need to balance my checking account or calculate material costs for a big project my eyes just glaze over and my brain checks out. This is where the next step comes into play.
Now that you've established what self-discipline means to you and what you want out of it, you can begin to break it down into its basic components and tackle each one piece by piece. This may vary for some of you, but I have found that there are two key components to achieving a balanced sense of discipline: productivity and motivation. Let's start with:
This can be a very elusive and misunderstood quality. Most people equate productivity with simply completing tasks, or "getting things done". I would often have this mentality when making my to-do lists; they would have 20-30 tasks set out for the day but only a few (really only about 2-3 on average) were important tasks that got me closer to achieving my goals. So by the end of the day I'd have maybe 15 items crossed off my list and feel like I accomplished a lot that day. In reality, what needed to get done just kept getting put off. Real productivity comes from weeding out all nonessential tasks and focusing your energy on a few tasks that have a direct impact on the goals that you've set out. So while when working from home "doing laundry" or "working out" is important, they are of no value when it comes to reaching your business goals. Focusing on those few critical tasks each day limits brain-clutter or distractions during your work day and you can use all of that energy to be truly productive!
Furthermore, you can apply this method to any time scale you like. Write out your main tasks for the day, the week, the month, the year , etc. This way you can clearly see how your short-term goals will eventually lead to successfully completing the often daunting long-term goals. Not to mention the satisfaction of knowing that you've completed important tasks and are inching closer to your goals everyday can boost your morale and help to keep you motivated...which just so happens to be the second key to developing your self-discipline. Man, what a transition!
In its most basic form, motivation stems from two sources: pain or pleasure. Don't worry, before you start thinking "oh man, this blog is getting real weird, real quick"...it's gonna be ok! I'm talking about psychological pain/pleasure. Easy, enjoyable tasks (watching tv, using your favorite handplane to take whisper thin shavings...I know, I have problems) usually give us mental pleasure. Difficult, frustrating tasks (weeding the yard, slogging through a year's worth of receipts for taxes) give us, you guessed it, mental pain. This is why we tend to stay away from or put off doing these tasks. So when you find yourself faced with a mentally unpleasant task getting in the way of accomplishing your goals, how do you convince yourself to do it?
It's all about finding out what your brain best responds to. Do you look forward to all of the fun things you can do once you finish doing something boring? You might just have a high pleasure response. Do you dread the thought of what will happen if you don't complete a difficult task? Guess what? You respond strongly to mental pain. You masochist. Granted, we may not be 100% pain or pleasure driven, but with time and careful observation you may start to see a pattern in yourself. That's the hard part! Once you understand what kind of motivation you best respond to, you can start implementing it. Are you pleasure driven? Setup an online wishlist and allow yourself to buy one item as a reward once you've successfully completed a week's or a month's worth of important goal-oriented tasks. More of a pain person? Have your friend change the password to your Netflix account and only give it to you once you reach a short term goal...I'll never understand you pain people.
Now these are just generic examples but you know yourself best and so you'll be able to determine the best stimulus to keep you motivated. What's most important is that you be honest with yourself. Don't set goals that are beyond your limitations and don't coast, challenge yourself! Also, hold yourself accountable. If you messed up, you messed up. Don't wallow in your misery, own up to your mistakes and keep moving forward!
"Finally! I thought this blog would never end!" Hey, that hurts. I put a lot of effort into this! Anywho, this self-discipline can be a tricky thing to get a good hold on. Trust me. I'm just barely scratching the surface, but I'm proud of what I've accomplished so far and I look forward to what the future holds. If you just started a small business or have any serious goals, don't shy away from going for it. You'll be surprised at what you can accomplish and what you learn about yourself along the way will only help you to grow into a better, smarter, and wiser person. So, that's all for now folks. Thank you so much for taking the time to peek into the inner workings of my brain, and be on the lookout for my next blog : "Punting the sweet fantastic - An underdog story".
PS- If you're interested in learning more on the subject of Self-discipline here are some great informative articles!