Why Even Bother Staying Disciplined?

Woman exercising on ab-wheel

Photo: Jonathan Borba

You know how you always wish for a windfall? Something like a promotion, winning the lottery, or accidentally rubbing shoulders with an angel investor that suddenly sees fit to pour in two million dollars into your business?

These manifestations of luck sound sweet and all, but are you really ready for them?

Are you good enough at your job to handle the added expectations from an investor? Can you handle the extra digits in your bank account if you’re currently struggling with your personal budget?

What about your personality? Do you think you’ll be able to lead a team just because you got that swanky new promotion?

If I’ve managed to get you to think about said questions, perhaps you’ll let me take you one step further and furnish you with an unsoliciated metaphor.

Meta what

Let’s say you have a dog, and you let it do whatever it wants which, for the sake of this story, barks all day long. You do this for years, and suddenly, someone you want to impress decides to stop by.

Now you want your dog to be quiet, so you yell for it to shut up, but it won’t. Then you break out the treats, but that doesn’t help either. Finally, you brandish the cane and swish it a couple of times for effect. What do you think will happen?

I’ll give you a hint: nothing. That means more barks and an unimpressed guest.

What’s the moral of the story here? It’s that your mind is like a dog.

Did you really think you’d get it to stop barking just because you said so, especially after all those years of neglect? Similarly, do you think you’ll be able to perform as you should once an opportunity presents itself?

Or let’s put it another way. Will you be able to live up to your level-ups? Regardless of your answer, there’s only one way to make sure you do, and that’s by tapping into the power of discipline.

Discipline equals freedom

You know that salad you picked over a Happy Meal? The two hundred dollars you put into your savings account instead of on the bar tab? That time you picked exercise over sleeping in?

Turns out, those actions aren’t just good for their direct benefits—such as a thicker wallet or a thinner waistline—but they’re also ways of telling yourself that you can handle the unknown. And guess what that could lead to? A life that’s fortified against the curveballs that life can throw at you.

We often see discipline as something only reserved for the squares among us. It’s boring. It’s tedious. It’s unnecessary. But what we fail to see is that discipline is freedom.

The discomfort zone

Discipline is uncomfortable, and this is why the popular adage ‘get out of your comfort zone’ rings true till today.

It’s not because you’re conquering your fear of cockroaches or public speaking. It’s because you’re telling yourself that you have the chops to face your fears head on.

I don’t know how it feels to live a life free of my fears, but I am very familiar with how it feels to shrink away from my challenges. Didn’t dare confront someone who cut in line? Not willing to negotiate better working conditions for myself? Can’t tell the neighbour that their loud music isn’t welcome past midnight?

By avoiding these pains, I’m telling myself that I can’t handle life, and life is a very scary place to be when I can’t even handle what’s in front of me, let alone the scarier challenges lurking around the corner.

Man lying on couch with hand on his face

Oftentimes your biggest joys lie just outside your comfort zone. Photo: Annie Spratt

How to start

But life doesn’t need to always be so unpredictable. There is a way you can train your dog-mind, and as it turns out, there are some pretty simple techniques you can start doing today

And do note that by simple, I don’t mean easy (I know because I routinely fail too).

But if you’re interested in taking back control in your life, you can start by:

Waking up early

It takes a tremendous amount of willpower to leave your bed when it’s dark and a cold out. Add another factor like having your significant other beside you and the snooze button will look mighty tempting.

But we all know how badass we feel whenever we forgo the comforts of a warm blanket and wake up to face the day, because we’ve all done it before, right? The challenge is just doing it consistently.

Move that body

Next, you’ll want to find a way to get the blood flowing. After all, exercise is touted as the panacea to health for a reason. The trick is to find something that you enjoy.

My personal example would be finding the right equipment. For years I’ve used burpees as my form of cardio, and for years I’ve hated a particular part of my living room because that’s where I did said burpees.

That all changed once I got myself a kettlebell. I realised that I enjoyed moving weight around and having the option to do different exercises with just one piece of equipment. That’s changed my home-exercise life and now I don’t dread it so much when it comes time to break a sweat.

Eat well

You knew this was coming, didn’t you? Well that’s because these three habits alone have the power to make you feel better about yourself, especially when done together.

Besides, eating healthy doesn’t mean starving yourself. You could still have delicious oven-baked chicken thighs and broccoli and still feel as satiated as downing a cheeseburger and some fries.

Work on yourself

You know what’s great about these habits? It’s that you can do them every day, which means that you have ample opportunities to improve yourself.

Do that enough and you might just gain the belief to take on harder challenges, like learning something new, or saving more money.

There’s just one caveat though, and that’s not having the guarantee that all your training will amount to anything.

You could, after all, go through your entire life having eaten nothing but organic whole foods, and still get diagnosed with cancer in the end.

But in the end, it’s all about making sure you’re ready for all things—bad and good—in life. And ultimately, the only person you should impress in life is yourself, and that’s worth pushing yourself for, isn’t it?

41 thoughts on “Why Even Bother Staying Disciplined?

  1. Yes, our brains are not so different from a dogs. Once, when I went to a training class for my dog, the trainer said she used the same techniques to train dogs (and their people) that are used to teach babies. Someone in the group got offended. The next week, the offended person arrived with her “baby” book. On the first page, the PhD author said, teaching babies is like training your dog.

    • Lol, in the end, the best way I learn is through repetition, and I’ll be damned if that’s not similar to training a dog.

      Great story from your end though. Loved it!

  2. Thanks Stu! Can always count on you to call out the tough stuff, like discipline and how necessary it is to, as you say, help us “…gain the belief to take on harder challenges…” Another great reminder. Bravo!

    • Really appreciate your constant support, Kelvin.

      I like to talk a big game, but to be honest, I’m one of the most undisciplined people I know. Great to have comments like yours though, because it keeps me accountable for the crap I put online :P

    • Getting out of our own way is such an important thing to do, but it’s also a hard thing to imagine, because how do we even get in our own way?

      In many ways, I’ve learned. Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing!

    • Oh yeah, exercise really does take on a different tone once you start doing it for the internal accomplishment instead of the external, doesn’t it?

      Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing these wonderful thoughts!

    • Heya Emily! Thanks so much for your kind words! Am super honoured that you’d say that.

      On a separate note, did you fill up the form on my page recently (saw your name)? Because I tried emailing you back and couldn’t reach you.

      • Okay, Stuart. Let me be honest,
        I lied. I lied bad. I’m not an adult. I’m a twelve year old.
        And as you can imagine (or can’t), my idea of fun is playing practical jokes with chatbots, except you’re not a bot.
        I haven’t written a book. I don’t need to edit one. I stumbled upon the contact form on your site and got a terrible idea.
        I feel like I’ve sinned right now. You have no idea how bad it feels to trick a fair human like you, Stuart.
        This has shown me how evil I am.
        That said, ignore the offer. Ignore the pseudynom. Let’s just all have a good laugh and consider me an undercover agent for once.
        Sorry once again. All I can do to repay you is to support your blog and spread your name.
        Forgive me. Now I need to go pee.

      • You have no ides how much I panicked yesterday. I ran the options over in my head:
        -Stuart is going to report my WordPress account
        -I’m going to get exposed in front of the world and Twitter will never stop laughing at me
        And a bunch of other tragic soap opera plotlines that were going to happen.
        But I must say your calmness with the situation surprised me! Will never stop supporting your blog now I know you’re so kind :))
        Thank you!

  3. I’m a proponent of going through the motions. I find it tides me over, during the times when I feel nothing and have no motivation, until I feel better again. Breaking the chain of habits can mean never mending it up again. Discipline hurts though for someone as lazy as I am.

    • Hey, going through the motions takes discipline too, and after a while it kinda becomes autopilot, and that’s what I’m banking on.

      But I totally get that because I too am one of the biggest haters of doing what I need to do over what I want to do. Thanks so much for stopping by, Hetty!

  4. Ha, love the dog parable! It really hits home for me since I had a dog who I thought I wanted to bark, but once he started he wouldn’t stop. 🐕

    It really does pay to build up the skills that you need to handle a goal before actually reaching it. I know I’m not ready for a leadership role in my job yet, but I’m trying to start training myself by working on my assertiveness and other skills I admire in the leaders I like. It’s uncomfortable, like you say, but I know bite-sized discomfort now is way better than wild panic if I somehow get promoted and then don’t have a clue how to do anything. 😅

    • Oh yeah, this is the exact train of thought that i have every time I need to do something ‘painful’.

      I’ll ask myself what would happen once the day comes when I’ll have to take on more responsibility. Can I take it? And that usually gives me the strength to take the steps I need to.

      Thanks so much for sharing your perspective!

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