Let’s say you haven’t been doing something which you’ve wanted to for a long time, like running or dieting. You’re arguing in your head that one day you’ll start, and all you need is some motivation. Wrong – what you need to be doing is building better discipline. Here’s how.
If you want to get anything done, there’s two simple ways that you can approach it. The first is to try to motivate yourself. Put on some pumped up music, take a deep breath, and just get started. The second, more unpopular choice is to start building discipline. Both are about acting, but only one will ensure that you’ll be able to take action again and again.
Clash of the Titans
Motivation is a fickle beast. One day it’s there, and the next it isn’t. it acts on the assumption that you need to be in a specific state of mind to be able to do something. Maybe it’ll hit you when you’re on the couch, or when you’re in bed telling yourself that tomorrow you’ll finally make a change. You throw everything at once at the problem, until the motivation is gone and you’re back at where you started.
Discipline, on the other hand, separates that doing part from your moods and feelings. It focuses on building up to the task bit-by-bit, until you can perform it on autopilot. To put it in different words, you don’t wait until you’re in marathon shape. You train to be in marathon shape. It sounds easy enough on paper, but we know that reality is different. You want to be building better discipline, but why is it so damn hard?
Fighting Our Basic Instincts – For 30 Days
Motivation is based on a reward-based learning process called feedback loop. We put our minds on doing the thing, and then our brains say ‘yay, we did the thing!’ and it feels good – for a while.
The dopamine from being motivated to do something fades, and you go back to your standard habits. This process repeats, and we don’t learn anything new. But, instead of fighting our brain every time, we learned to do something new and get curious?
Matt Cutts, in his 2011 TED talk, explains how he followed a program towards building better discipline. The program is simple: all you need to do is follow something for 30 days.
It turns out that 30 days is just about the right amount of time to build or get rid of a habit. It started off easy. He simply took a picture every day, for a month. But over time, the challenges grew harder and harder – growing his self-confidence, and telling a hell of a story. It’s about just breaking something down, and approaching it piece by piece. We mentioned training for a marathon, but the example could extend to writing a 50,000-page novel. All you’d have to do is just write 1,667 words a day.
So, don’t rely on just your motivation. Motivation is a counterproductive attitude. Telling yourself you’ll do something in the future based on what your brain is telling you right now isn’t the way to do it. You need to build momentum – trying something for a bit, and building discipline as you go.
* Zachary Ceulemans is the founder and blog writer at PicoMedia.