Why You Should Keep Yourself In Check Before You Actually Need To

Two rows of karate students sitting in kneeling pose

Self-discipline is tough for many reasons. Sometimes, the task itself is a challenge. Other times, it’s our life circumstances. But one way we can make things better is through preparations, and there’s no better way to prep than by examining our failures.

I’m sure you’ve heard the quote about sharpening your axe for hours so that the actual tree chopping will take less time.

Yes, you could venture off into the forest, wielding a rusty axe, not knowing what wood you’re looking for, and still come home with some timber, but wouldn’t it be better to know how much wood you need, where to get it, and how, before even stepping out the door?

More importantly, wouldn’t you rather do that before the task rather than wing it when you stumble upon the task?

And thus is our topic for the day. Enter the world of front-loading your self-discipline.

What is front-loading?

In its simplest terms, front-loading involves doing the work upfront so you can lessen the burden of the actual task.

Some examples include:

  • Prepping your day by planning the night before
  • Removing all paraphernalia from your house before you quit smoking
  • Having your meals prepared so you don’t have to order takeout after a tiring day

It may seem that front-loading is just a fancy term for ‘preparing in advance’, but it’s more than that. There’s one major benefit to this practice, and that’s its function as a guiding star for when you’re feeling lost.

My own disciplinary issues

There’ve been a couple of life transitions this month, most of which I’ll share in upcoming posts. But one major change that’s happened was me not having time to cook my meals anymore. Mainly because I’m not based at home anymore and don’t have access to my kitchen.

But I still want to eat healthy. So I’ve needed to take a cold, hard look at my life and see how I can shape good eating habits around my new schedule.

What I’ve found is that I tend to pick the easy option when I’m tired. After a long day at work, the last thing I want to do is to pick a healthy meal. Instead, I end up choosing the easy way out: ordering whatever sounds good on GrabFood.

That has resulted in a few days of gorging on food I’m not too proud about. And the thing about unhealthy food is that the more you consume, the more you want to consume. And then I end up falling down this never-ending spiral of stale noodles and sugary cream sauce.

This is where front-loading comes in. I cannot rely on Tired Stu to make good decisions for myself. Instead, I now leave that to Responsible Stu on the weekends. So every Saturday, I buy the groceries, prep my food, and lay out my menu for the week.

More importantly, I’ve told myself that this is what I’m eating after I come home from work. I know that my mind will be hankering for something else, but I’ve already made my decision. It’s all front-loaded.

That way, all Tired Stu needs to do is to follow the plan.

Potential pitfalls

But just because you’ve made a deal with yourself doesn’t mean future you is automatically going to fall in line.

Life happens. Or you might feel differently when the time comes (more on this later). Or perhaps someone enters the office with a bottle of 12-year-old bourbon the day you decide to quit drinking.

This is why you’ll need to include a few other factors in your front-loaded tasks:

  • A why that you can refer to in moments of weakness
  • Potential moments of said weakness so that you won’t be taken by surprise when they do arrive
  • Alternative action you can take instead of the weak actions, like going for a walk to curb irrational cravings

You can plan as much as you like, but life is always going to have a surprise or two waiting just around the corner. And if you’ve found your preparations lacking, don’t beat yourself up too hard, because this experience can be added to your future front-loading plans.

Just don’t expect to discipline your way out of everything though. Which brings me to my next point.

We can’t rely on discipline

Throughout my self-improvement journey, I’ve learned how similar discipline is to motivation: there will be times when it spikes, and times when it wanes. And no matter what time it is, we shouldn’t rely on those feelings to make our decisions.

I’ve studied a ton of successful individuals in hopes of absorbing some of their self-discipline, and I’ve learned that most of them function best on auto-pilot mode.

That means no ifs, ands, or buts. If they planned to run after waking up, they do it, regardless of the weather. If they promised themselves they’d write 1,000 words every day, they write those 1,000 words.

Sounds dreadful? Maybe. But sometimes, this lack of freedom is what sets you free. It’s why morning- and evening-routines are so popular. Because they free up mental bandwidth through the use of front-loaded preparations.

That’s why we need to stop thinking we can make the best decisions all the time, and make them when we’re in a better state.

Make your hard decisions before you need to make them

Thus we come to the main point of the post: to decide on your actions long before you do them.

It’s like Minority Report in a way. But instead of looking for potential crimes, you’ll need to constantly consult your Precogs for the different ways you might break your promises to yourself.

Your scumbag brain is always looking for ways to conserve energy. It’s not its fault, really. That’s just the brain’s way of surviving. But what that also means is that it’ll always choose the path of least resistance.

Which is why I’m imploring you to make the tough choices now. Not when you’re up early and wishing to go back to bed. Not when you’re hungry and standing outside Dunkin’ Donuts. And certainly not when you’re angry and equipped with a scathing retort to your partner’s casual remark on your waistline.

And while we’re on the subject of spare tyres, check that you have a spare tyre before you set out on that long journey of yours. Now go out there and have a road trip of your life.

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54 thoughts on “Why You Should Keep Yourself In Check Before You Actually Need To

  1. I like the idea of front-loading. Preparing our axes so we can make it easier to cut the trees is important. We can save ourselves countless troubles that way. Great post.


  2. This is such an insightful post Stuart. I do similar things with meal prep. I am on a fairly regimented diet which requires a lot of prep-work which can be time consuming. As we know, and I think maybe we’ve discussed, time is the most precious commodity so anything I can do to maximize the time I have available to do the things I want to do is a priority in my book. On weekends, after grocery shopping, I will often divide up my protein portions for the week as well as cut up my veggies. This way, each morning lunches are easily put together before work.

    I also front load my workday by creating a to-do list. I’m always amazed at how much more efficiently I can work if I have list of things that need to be done. When I don’t have a list I find that I have no real guidance through my day and I find myself drifting to less important tasks.


    • Likewise, this is such an insightful comment! I do the same thing with my protein. Buy four chicken breasts at one go and cook them for the week. Am experimenting with different fasting hours these days though, so there’s still a lot that’s up in the air.

      And the to-do list really helps, doesn’t it? Helps focus my scrambled thoughts. Thanks for sharing btw!


  3. That is so so true! I realised some time ago that I can’t rely on self-discipline in the evenings for things that are tiring (studying, working out), so now I just do things on auto-pilot, and it works wonders! As a highly indecisive person, not giving myself any other option is, as you say, really freeing! Thanks for sharing your thought on this!


    • The best habits I have are the ones I’ve honed into autopilot mode. I don’t think I can ever sustain actual habits if it were sheer willpower. But dang if I don’t feel like working out every morning. I guess it never gets easier despite being a habit, lol. Always great to see you!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. OR, you can forgive yourself for occasionally falling off the healthy wagon (we all do, Stuey) and know that you’ll get back on. Spring is starting to show herself here (finally!) so I’m craving lighter foods as the weather warms. Lunch today? Apple walnut spinach salad with fresh ciabatta bread. Dessert? Oh yeah – the other half of the chocolate eclair I treated myself to last night (only a few times a year so I don’t feel guilty about it). Iced coffee instead of hot for midday snack and breakfast was fresh hot pork potstickers with hot black tea. Yum.

    And I didn’t plan any of it. (Like I do during the week for work because it’s easy and convenient and keeps me on a schedule.)


    • Work does require a certain amount of scheduling, doesn’t it? I find that to better focus at work, the rest of my life needs to be in order, and for that to happen, I’ll need to prep my days well. I’ve been experimenting with alternate-day fasting, but have found that I’d much prefer a steady day-to-day routine. Gotta keep fine-tuning it as always!


      • Still a little leary of living part of your life without a safety net, eh? Work may require some scheduling but, as with everything else, plans change and we have to adapt.

        Spontaneity is good for the soul…try it sometime….for a whole day…and report back.


  5. “The thing about unhealthy food is that the more you consume, the more you want to consume.” That is so true.

    In my life I use another term for front-loading. I call it “self-care”. I’m always preaching about self-care and I want to get better at it. For this reason, the tough decisions and preparations I have to make I reframe them as self-care.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I remember Stephen King saying in an interview that the reason he’s able to publish books so frequently is that he writes 6 pages every morning. It has become a sort of an “autopilot” thing for him over the years, because now it’s something that he simply does every single day without putting so much thought into. Man, isn’t that just something to aspire to…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah I don’t care how successful a writer is, but as long as they write regularly, they automatically get my respect. RL Stine is a great example too. I really aspire to 2,000 words a day! Thanks for bringing some inspiration to me today!


  7. Great post, Stuart. I’ve said it before but it bears repeating: you could/should be a life coach. Though it’s easy to think about my personal triumphs (few) and failures (many) regarding food, the first thing I actually thought of relates to our cats. Instead of putting their dry food in a bowl, we have these little “puzzle feeders” that look like mice with a narrow slot through which you put food and out of which they get the food (by flicking the mice around). Every morning we have nine mice to fill up, which is more time consuming than just flinging kibble into a bowl. When we force our tired selves to fill the mice at night before bed, the mornings are much smoother and cat-feeding so much quicker. It’s a small thing, really, but we really notice the difference when we do it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow that’s a super self-aware thing, to notice your feelings from these little tasks. I imagine filling mice-looking contraptions is harder than it sounds though. And to be fair, even the tiniest things can be a chore for me when it comes to doing it under crunch time. Finding and wearing my running clothes, for example.

      Not too sure about the life coach thing, but I’ll try not to disappoint and at least give it a go!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Today’s Saturday, which is the day I not only change the cats’ litterbox, but also clean the whole mudroom that it’s in. As such, I always give myself a break from the mice on Saturday morning and just give them their dry food out of bowls. Maybe that’s another key to success: giving yourself a regular, built-in break from the things you know are important but that are a chore. Obviously this wouldn’t be smart in every situation, but it’s a tiny little reward that helps me get through litterbox changing (one of the grosser aspects of my week). :)


  8. Sighhh..,this is such a timely reminder for me as I struggle with discipline, especially when it comes to writing, rewriting, editing….pretty much everything actually! LOL!! Like this month as I told myself I have to work on some long-neglected rewrites but spend more time instead surfing Netflix. Bother. Anyway thanks again Stu for telling it true and telling it hard. Living a discipline life is the true key to unlocking creativity in all of us. Now as for not cooking anymore in your kitchen and other life changes you’re now undergoing, well can’t wait to read more about them soon pal! Meantime, onward!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I totally get that. My manuscript’s been in edit mode forever. For some reason, my mind always has more ’urgent’ things to do, even though they won’t seem that way in retrospect.

      I’ve changed my reading pattern to adapt to less cooking, and that, for one, has been pretty interesting, lol. I should share that soon. Thanks as always for stopping by!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I love your line, “Your scumbag brain is always looking for ways to conserve energy. ” What a great post. Whichever Stu is in the kitchen, you have clearly front-loaded this post with a lot of great strategies and examples. Thanks, Stuart!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I’m thankful we live too far out for Uber eats etc. we still fall prey to the ‘tired brain’ syndrome. I’m loving the term ‘front loading’ future me is thankful for reading this today.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think this saying somewhat relates to ‘better to be a warrior in a garden than a gardener in a war’. Front-loading may involve the hypothetical sometimes, but that’s better than not being ready for action when needed. Thanks for your comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Hi Stuart,

    I appreciate your perspective my friend because I am experiencing a few similar circumstances in my life now as far as making tired decisions, paying the price and yep, definitely making hard decisions early. If I skip out on making the uncomfortable decisions now I know darn well what happens later. The scumbag brain soothes one into making easy, comfortable decisions now and I slam into all types of fears, struggles and frustration later.

    I enjoy great freedom and fun. But a few areas of my life have nagged at me for decades solely because I put off making hard decisions early, coasted, and slammed into rough, rough situations down the road.

    For me, mind training has opened my eyes to see how the ego voice ruled areas of my life and I unconsciously decided to tune out the intuition. Slowly, I am getting there.

    Thanks for your always genuine, helpful, wise perspective.


    Liked by 2 people

    • Yeah, I’ve always chose the path of least resistance and blamed my brain for it, but now I realise it’s just trying its best to keep me alive. That’s why it’s so important to always be mindful of how we’re living. Only now do I realise the importance.

      I love how you put it, mind training. It’s the most important type of training, in my opinion, because it’ll come in handy regardless of our physical state. Still very much a learning process for me.

      Thanks so much for your very thoughtful comment, Ryan!


  12. It’s so easy to fall into bad habits when you’re tired if you don’t have a plan. Planning, or front-loading, definitely increases the chances that you’ll make the right choice. Those who study behavioural economics and choice architecture says it’s human nature to want to do the right thing (i.e. eating healthy), and we might intend to do the right thing (i.e. order a salad) but, in the moment when faced with the choice, we cave and order the burger and fries. Planning in advance, and pre-ordering or pre-making your salad, sets you up to resist temptation.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh yeah. This is why it’s so important to have goals in the first place, because without them, what would we even prepare for, amirite?

      Meal prep is quite the important thing for me, because once it’s done, it becomes the easier option. All I need to do is take out the Tupperware from the fridge. That works with other areas of my life too, such as preparing a specific workout the day before, and leaving my clothes out and ready.

      Love your thoughts, Michelle. Thanks for sharing!

      Liked by 1 person

  13. What if Tired Stu takes over during those challenging times and Responsible Stu is nowhere to be found :)? Asking for another tired friend..Very wise advice and an excellent way to be motivated to prep in advance.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I guess that’s my secret. It’s always Tired Stu that’s around, lol. Responsible Stu rarely makes an appearance. Which is why I tend not to leave Tired Stu to his own devices. The Tired Stu of today will have a checklist for Tired Stu of tomorrow to follow. Much better than winging it, to be sure!

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Life has always stirred me towards a difficult turn but thank God my friends and family have always been there to motivate me, scold me, irritate me, and tolerate me. ✌️

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Great post! I really appreciate your explanation of front-loading and how it can benefit self-discipline. I especially related to your example of prepping meals in advance to avoid unhealthy takeout options. My question is, do you have any tips for staying motivated to stick to the plan, even when life throws unexpected challenges our way?

    MR. W


    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s my secret. I’m never motivated. So I might as well choose the healthier option, lol. It helps that I don’t mind eating anything, or eating the same thing every day. Had the same lunch every day for years. Sorry I couldn’t be of more help!


  16. I also like the term front-loading. I’m one of those people who wants a combination of routines with a sprinkle of spontaneity to keep life interesting. The problem is those spontaneous moments are the times that can get us in trouble. Example—I was self-disciplined about everything I ate all week, and then a good friend unexpectedly came into town and suggested we get together for dinner and drinks. One night blew it all.😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lol, it’s never a total loss as long as you get back on the horse is what I say. I personally find I can grow much better if I do something consistently, so having an unpredictable schedule can be detrimental for me specifically. Appreciate your comment as always, Pete!

      Liked by 1 person

  17. I’m reading this on my way home from work. I’m tired and it’s been a horrible day, topped off with some ‘bad’ news. It feels like the perfect time to read your message and remind myself I have actually planned dinner and don’t need to order via JustEat. Thanks for getting me back on track. 😁

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hey, when life happens, it happens, amirite? These are the moments you should be kinder on self. But the fact that you stuck to your guns makes it even more awesome. Thanks so much for sharing this. I’ve benefited from it!

      Liked by 1 person

  18. I think “Tired Stu” has a friend…”Tired Vicki” — the me who scarfs down what’s easy when I’ve failed to front-load my meal planning. Thank you for all the wisdom along with actionable alternatives, Stuart, better choices if only we devote a little time, siphon off some energy to think ahead. I love your ‘front loading’ phrase so much more than “plan ahead” or “organize”. It sounds smart and strategic – just like you! 😎

    Liked by 2 people

  19. I read in a book about a similar idea called “one more thing,” meaning that before you leave the house or go to bed, do one more thing to make your life easier when you return. Basically, front-loading on a smaller scale. It really makes a lot of sense. Add making a to-do list to front-loading and a person could be very, very dangerously productive.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Dangerously productive. Ha. I like that. I think that’ll be my new goal in life. But doing one more thing? That’s genius. I will actually adopt that to my daily life too. Might need to check out that book now. Thanks, Hetty!

      Liked by 1 person

  20. Failure is not the end of the road for those who refuse to give up. Persistence and perseverance are the guiding lights that illuminate the path to success. It’s a well-known fact that many successful people have stumbled and fallen on their journey, yet they never gave up. They rose again, dusted off their failures, and continued to push forward with unrelenting determination.

    Indeed, failure can be a stern and unforgiving teacher, but it also holds within its grasp invaluable lessons and insights that can help individuals grow and develop. With every failure comes an opportunity to learn, adapt, and refine one’s skills and strategies. By doing so, individuals can transform themselves into formidable forces, capable of overcoming any challenge that lies ahead.

    Of course, it’s important to recognize that some failures may be beyond an individual’s control, and in those instances, one must be willing to acknowledge the limits of their abilities. However, as long as one keeps trying, they will continue to grow and thrive, even amidst the chaos and uncertainty of life. So, let us not be discouraged by failure, but rather embrace it as a catalyst for growth and an opportunity to shine.

    Liked by 4 people

    • If we can’t laugh at our failures, we’ll never truly appreciate our successes! But in all seriousness, your comment hits the nail on the head when it comes to the importance of persistence and perseverance. Failure may be a tough teacher, but it’s often the one that teaches us the most valuable lessons. So here’s to stumbling, falling, and getting back up again, stronger and wiser each time!

      Truly appreciate you taking the time to write such a substantial comment. You rock, Thomas!

      Liked by 1 person

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