I responded recently to someone in one of my Facebook groups who was asking about how to develop personal discipline to Get. Things. Done.
Of course, I couldn't resist applying how I think about the brain to that question.
I thought I would just share the question and my thoughts with you, in case you're searching for some discipline in this period of New Beginnings. :-)
Q: In a podcast a while back, Charlie Gilkey mentioned that he found people who had experience in cultures that required discipline (i.e. those in the military, or athletes) were often better at developing discipline in other areas of their life.
The question: What suggestions do you have for those like me who do not have that in their background and who struggle with discipline? How does a complete newbie to discipline, develop it? (Note: I have long aspired to and/or was envious of those whose careers/life was marked by discipline inducing structures, but frequently find myself in cultures that do nothing to foster or reinforce being disciplined.)
My Answer: I totally understand - I have often envied those super-disciplined types :-)
But here's the thing from a brain perspective:
Brains do what we ask them to do. They build skills through practice.
For example, if we ask them to practice "multi-tasking" by switching our attention from work project to phone to texts to project to .... [insert endlessly bouncing list] ...we are asking our brain to learn to do rapid-change, surface-skimming, "work".
If we do things that require more extended single-focus tasks, then we are asking our brain to learn to do just that...focus on one thing for a longer time.
Applied to discipline, that means all those disciplined-culture people didn't necessarily start out with great discipline, they asked their brain to do that because of the demands of that culture (i.e., the coach, the fees paid, the military requirements, peer pressure, etc.). So we can also develop that skill if we set it up so it's required by our own environment or by asking our brain to practice that skill.
How to do that without belonging to such a culture? What if you work alone most of the time?
Here are some ideas to mix and match:
- Join or create such a culture (e.g., a mastermind group). FWIW, this never worked for me apart from being in workplaces with high pressure and short deadlines ;-)
- Borrow other people's energy: This could include working in a group - like meeting in a cafe to work "together" or putting yourself someplace you can't escape from (airplanes, and buses are common, but I'm sure there are better places as well).
- Use mini steps to give you something easily achievable and so "stupid small" that you can't make an excuse not to get it done (e.g., exercise - one pushup or change into gear or walk 10 steps...) and then do it religiously. Expand as possible.
- For me this year, it's having one non-negotiable on my daily list (my personal key area of resistance is all about me telling Me what to do... so We are working on getting over this. It's not a "stupid-small" step, but it's a small Just. One.Thing.
- Craft your environment to require it - don't have access to something until you've completed X; don't open the email until you've done Y; pair changing clothes with a stupid-small exercise goal...
Any other ideas these might have sparked for you?
It WILL be uncomfortable in the beginning (but so are sports and military training, the pinnacles of self-discipline training).
The idea is to set the discomfort to a manageable level, remind yourself that you are skill-building/helping your brain to learn a new skill-set, and then practice, practice, practice.
Of course, there's always the different solution that works with the brain's existing tendencies instead of building new ones. Either one is good - I love solutions that work with our brain's natural tendencies and I also love the opportunity to develop new brain skills and ward off dementia ;-).
A New York Times article on The Only Way to Keep Your Resolutions takes this approach:
"What these findings show is that pride, gratitude and compassion, whether we consciously realize it or not, reduce the human mind’s tendency to discount the value of the future. In so doing, they push us not only to cooperate with other people but also to help our own future selves. Feeling pride or compassion has been shown to increase perseverance on difficult tasks by over 30 percent. Likewise, gratitude and compassion have been tied to better academic performance, a greater willingness to exercise and eat healthily, and lower levels of consumerism, impulsivity and tobacco and alcohol use."
Hope these might help ... I'm in there with you. Let me know what you're going to try and how it goes!