(Editor’s Note: Writer Isaac Peterson shares his thoughts on self-discipline and offers tips and ideas on how to make it work best for you and your goals. KT).
If you’ve been reading my on writing as a BEST website blog contributor for very long, you know I’m a big believer in self-care, as well as setting and achieving goals.
I’ve written about those subjects a few times, but I haven’t written much about a related subject: discipline. Without discipline, self-care and achieving goals are pretty difficult, if not impossible.
Get comfortable while I tell you stuff you already know.
We all know what discipline is: Discipline is drill sergeants rousing the troops at the crack of dawn and making them do all the exercises and drills and stuff that motivated me not to go into the military (remember those TV commercials for the U.S. Army, the ones that said, We do more by 9 am than most people do all day)?
I didn’t think I needed that much discipline; it would interfere with my plans to lounge around all day eating Cheetos.
Another idea on discipline: when your mom makes you practice piano when there were more fun things to do, which when you’re a kid is pretty much anything else.
These can be coercive kinds of discipline, the kind that come from someone outside of yourself.
The kind of discipline I’m talking about is self-discipline, the kind that comes from inside ourselves, the kind we really need while we’re recovering from a brain injury. You are the one making you go through the stuff that’s no fun and is really hard to do. Self-discipline is when you become your own inner drill sergeant and/or mom.
It’s something you’ll someday be glad you did, trust me.
Figuring out what you want to do in your self-care regimen and where you eventually want to be is important, but you also need to figure out exactly how to get there. Try to think of the consequences of not doing what you’ve decided to do for yourself, and do whatever it takes to avoid that outcome.
I think this is important: Decide in advance that you will stick with it and will not give up trying.
I’ve shared about breaking your goals down into bite sized pieces–you don’t want to bite off more than you can chew at one time. Start with small, easy to attain goals and gradually work up to more difficult to attain goals.
You know best what you need to do, how much of it you want to do, and how much of it you can do. Figure out when you can do that work and how often and build it into your routine. The important thing is to stick with it (I can’t say that often enough) and make yourself do it. Build it into your routine and soon it will become a habit. You may be going through some kind of therapy, like physical therapy, but if your experience is anything like mine, you can come up with your own therapy in addition, one that’s expressly for the individual that is you.
I encourage you to do that, but I recommend sticking with your regular therapy as well.
Write out your goals and make the commitment to yourself to do what you need to do, but revise it as you think you need to. If you need to, write your goals down every day until they’re burned into your brain and impossible to forget or ignore. Along the way, remember to celebrate your successes and build on those. The failures aren’t really failures if you learn from them and revise your self-care accordingly. Even a failure is a sort of success—failing means you tried and just need a different approach and keep at it; if something stops working for you, stop doing it. The only way to truly fail is to not try.
Celebrate each success, set yourself up to experience a series of small successes, and success will become a habit.
While you want to achieve goals, don’t push your limits too much at one time. Self-discipline doesn’t mean you have to be a workaholic about it.
If you start to dread doing what you need to do, try to find a way to make it fun. One thing that works for me is reward myself for getting through what I set out to do. If I keep in mind that if I get done doing something, I can do something more fun when I’m done, and that makes getting through it easier to do.
But just getting that thing done is what’s most important. When you meet your goal give yourself credit for accomplishing something big—reward yourself with something that is a big thing for you.
You worked for it and you deserve a big reward.
That boils down to being committed to the goal you set for yourself. Get it done no matter what. If you run into a circumstance where you just can’t get it done right now, get it done the next time you can fit it in. If you’re really committed, you’ll find a way to get it done.
Make sure your reason for not doing isn’t just procrastinating. Procrastinating doesn’t get you anywhere and just pushes achieving your goal further back. (I know that’s easy for me to say sitting here, but I’ve procrastinated plenty).
One more thing to remember is to have the discipline to build some down time into your routine. Life is about more than working hard, but the hard work will let you enjoy living more.
Isaac Peterson grew up on an Air Force base near Cheyenne, Wyoming. After graduating from the University of Wyoming, he embarked on a career as an award-winning investigative journalist and as a semi-professional musician in the Twin Cities, the place he called home on and off for 35 years. He also doesn’t mind it at all if someone offers to pick up his restaurant tab. Peterson also welcomes reader comments. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.