Why you’re more disciplined than you think

In this week’s episode of Let It Be, Brooke and I explored the concept of ‘discipline’. It was an interesting conversation because I’m someone whose always been credited with having lots of it while Brooke laughingly admitted it’s a label that’s never been attached to her.

Which I found hilarious given Brooke’s written two books, blogged on a weekly basis for years and currently puts out three podcast episodes a week in addition to running a business.

Which got me wondering – what do people think discipline actually is? Who better to ask than the committed self-improvers in the Straight and Curly Facebook group.

Here’s a selection of their responses:

  • Someone with follow through regardless of interruptions, obstacles or temptations.
  • Consistent, even about things they don’t enjoy doing. Do tasks in a measured way – not a last-minute rush.
  • Does not procrastinate. Sets goals and follows through. Stays the course even when they feel like crap or have had enough. Sees things through to the end.
  • Persistent, focused, a Gretchen Rubin ‘Upholder’.
  • Someone who makes the hard choices. One who doesn’t let their actions be dictated by their feelings.

And now we start to get a clearer picture about why people don’t consider themselves disciplined. It’s because our definition of discipline is something unattainable. Also, we seem to think it’s something we’ve either got, or not.

As someone who other people consider to be a disciplined person, let me tell you:

  • I procrastinate. A lot.
  • I really struggle to maintain focus because I just cannot seem to break the terrible habit of multi-tasking. (While writing this post I’ve seen the little ‘You’ve got mail’ icon appear in the bottom corner of my screen no less than ten times … and I’ve gone to see what that email is every single time.)
  • I seldom do tasks until they are urgent and have to be done.

As for being consistent about things I don’t enjoy doing? That only applies in situations where there is a strong ‘why’ around it.

  • Do I enjoy getting out of bed at 4.15am? Nope! But I do enjoy having quiet time to myself to write and exercise.
  • Do I enjoy heading out for a run when it’s cold and dark? No, I don’t. But I do enjoy being able to run a fast time at Parkrun.
  • Do I enjoy keeping an eye on household spending? No, but I do enjoy financial security.

Discipline is not gets me out of bed in the morning, or out the door for a run; it’s the routines and habits I’ve created along with a strong understanding of ‘Why’ I do things.

Tell me this:

  • Do you ‘show up’ every day for something? (For work, your kids, your friends?)
  • Do you make things happen on a consistent basis? (Submit a monthly report to your boss, blog once a week, meet a friend for a walk?)
  • Are you making incremental changes on a regular basis towards a long-term goal? (Saving for a holiday, training for a triathlon, writing a book?)

Then, great news! You’re disciplined!

Just because you’re not disciplined in every area of your life …

Just because doing the things above isn’t easy …

Just because you’re disciplined for a while but then let things slip …

This doesn’t mean you lack discipline.

It’s more likely to mean you’re not sure what your priorities are, or that you lack the energy you need to stay on top of things.

So the next time you’re inclined to use ‘I’m just not that disciplined’ as a reason for not getting something done, change up the conversation you’re having with yourself.

  • Check whether that thing is actually as important to you as you think it is.
  • Check you’ve got the right energy levels to tackle that thing.

But most importantly, be kind to yourself. Because the definition we all have in our heads of what ‘discipline’ is? No one in the world actually fits the bill.

Do you consider yourself to be a disciplined person?