There are countless platitudes extolling the virtues of discipline. So why is it so hard to stay on track with achieving your goals?
Self-control waxes and wanes for various reasons, not all of which are about discipline (and lack thereof). So, don’t punish yourself for not being able to get things done — instead, try looking at the root causes of the inclination for procrastination.
Out of Control
The urge to become more disciplined usually isn’t the problem. It’s what follows: the audit of the task at hand. Perceived load is a top reason why you don’t follow through on self-commitments.
When an undertaking seems insurmountable, you are likely to procrastinate, delaying it further and further until the deadline looms uncomfortably close or not doing it at all.
Plus, there’s a phenomenon known as ego-depletion that factors in, although not how you might think. In 1998, theorists surmised we have a limited daily supply of mental capacity, and self-control can swiftly drain it. Hence, willpower goes out the window.
That sounds good in theory, but multiple meta-analyses, including new research, have disproved it. Still, the idea persists, and research by growth mindset guru Carol Dweck and colleagues shows that if a person believes willpower is a limited resource, it is.
This leads us to a third major factor and key to why the ego-depletion theory was debunked: motivation. Sometimes you’re simply not motivated to stay disciplined.
Motivation is not like fuel in a tank at all. It’s more like a story we tell ourselves about why we do what we do. Change the story, and you can change the behavior.
Now that you know why self-discipline is challenging, how do you get shit done?
Whip Yourself Into Shape
Perceived load is easy to tackle — just break the daunting task into smaller chunks. For example, over at the Further community Well + Wealthy, we’re doing a 108-Day Meditation Challenge. Committing to 108 days can be overwhelming; instead, we’re taking it one week at a time, one day at a time, and just 10 minutes per day — much more manageable.
Since ego-depletion is all in your mind, that’s where to tackle it. As you strategically plan your day, prioritize things you’re inclined to do and give yourself space to take on more challenging tasks.
Finally, get to the why of your goal. Motivation flows more freely when you’re jazzed about making a change. Combine all these strategies, and you’ll find that discipline isn’t really necessary to get cracking on your goals.