Don’t Make Your Self-Discipline Work So Hard

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It was about 3:30 and I was at the bottom of the energy pit of my day. That’s usually not a problem, because I know when it’s going to happen, and I can plan for it. Today was different.

My rule is “Do the most important stuff first.” I hadn’t done it yet. I had to do my most important thing, late in the day when I was super tired.  That was going to take a lot of self-discipline.

Self-Discipline Is Easier If You’re Fit and Rested

Self-discipline is the ability to do what’s right, when other things are easier or more attractive. It’s hard work. Like any kind of hard work, it’s easier if you’re fit and rested.

That afternoon, I was fit but not so rested. I didn’t sleep well the night before. I was deeper in the energy pit than usual.

Too many of us sacrifice sleep so we can get more done. That doesn’t work. It’s better to sacrifice a little work time today to get a good night’s sleep. It’s even better to do that every day.

Rules and Tools

Mental tasks take mental energy. You have more energy for self-discipline if you reduce the amount of energy you need to spend on routine things.

Use the reminders on your phone instead of trying to remember things. Establish habits that help you do routine things automatically without spending a lot of mental energy. Automate what you can. Recruit partners to help you get routine things done or to remind you of things you must do.

Simple if/then rules can help you get important things done. One of my favorites is, “If it’s important, do it first.”

Let Your Self-Discipline Muscle Rest and Recover

Make sure your self-discipline muscle gets time to recover and rest. After you complete a task that requires self-discipline, do something easy.

Avoid Temptation, Don’t Fight It

Many people you think of as being very disciplined share a secret. They don’t fight temptation. They find ways to avoid it.

Jim knows that he shouldn’t be eating ice cream. He doesn’t buy it at the store. That way, it’s not there in the fridge to tempt him at 10:00 p.m. If he wants ice cream at 10:00 p.m., he must get dressed, get in his car, and go to the supermarket. That makes doing the wrong thing harder.

You can find ways to make those temptations just a little bit harder to do. And you can make doing the right things just a little bit easier.

Bottom Line

Self-discipline is the ability to do the right thing when other things are easier or more tempting. You’ll can be more self-disciplined if you stay fit and rested. Find simple ways to reduce your mental load, so more energy is available for self-discipline. Let your self-discipline muscle rest and recover after heavy use. And remember, it’s easier to avoid temptation than it is to overcome it.

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What People Are Saying

Eileen McDargh   |   18 Nov 2019   |   Reply

Great reminder for all of us. As I work on finishing up my next book, Burnout to Breakthrough: Building Resilience to Refuel, Recharge and Reclaim What Matters, the issue of rest rises so to the surface. At its magic level, burnout is first and foremost utter exhaustion. And the exhaustion is almost always prompted by our own insistence that we can do it all. Thanks, Wally for the reminder about self-disciplline

Wally Bock   |   18 Nov 2019   |   Reply

Thanks, Eileen. I agree everything is easier and you’re more effective when you’re fit and rested. Too many corporate cultures and personal belief statements seem to think otherwise.

Marilou Garcia   |   17 Jun 2020   |   Reply

Yes, you can be more focused at work when you are felling great of your self. Health is our wealth.