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How To Maintain Discipline: Play The Long Game

“Shouldn’t the challenges we encounter as we practice finally go away? That’s like asking, Shouldn’t it finally stop snowing some winter? Maybe those challenges will vanish; but until then, we must keep plowing the roads and making our way through the snow.” – Eric Maisel

The only thing harder than becoming disciplined is maintaining it over the long term. There will always be issues that pop up and get in the way of our discipline. That’s life.

Handling these issues and staying on the path is a lifelong pursuit. Here are some tips for maintaining discipline no matter what happens:

1. It’s Always Day One

The bane of discipline is complacency. The longer you succeed at maintaining your discipline, the more likely you are to fall off.

Often we forget why we chose discipline in the first place. If you succeeded at losing weight, you’ll think ‘Now I don’t need to watch what I eat any more.’ If your meditation practice created inner peace, you’ll think ‘I feel calm today, no need to meditate.’

This applies to any disciplined practice. It accomplishes what you want it to, and you think you can stop doing it. That is the trap. If you let go of the practice, the issue it resolved will return again.

The solution is developing the mindset of ‘It’s Always Day One’. Pursue your discipline like it’s the first day you’re doing it. Don’t get caught thinking ‘It’s been accomplished 100 days in a row, so I can take a break now’. The 101st day is still just Day One.

2. Go To Bed Earlier And Get Enough Sleep

Our willpower and energy are depleted in the evening.  Low energy is what most often undercuts our attempts to be disciplined.  Optimize your energy to make disciplined choices much easier.

When do you most often watch Netflix, eat junk food, or browse social media?  If you’re like me, that happens in the evening.  It’s tough to take disciplined action after 9pm.  Going to sleep earlier makes discipline easier tomorrow, and often avoids hours of distraction and wasted time.

If you struggle to get to sleep on time, there are numerous ways to improve your sleep:

  • Stop drinking caffeine by 2 pm
  • Set an alarm for an hour before you go to bed.  Turn off all screens (phone, TV, computer) at that time.
  • Meditate or journal before bed.  Journaling helps organize your thoughts and clear your mind so you’re not ruminating.
  • Avoid alcohol or nicotine

3. Increase Your Tolerance For Frustration

“When your practice proves difficult, as it almost certainly sometimes will, what will you do? The temptation will be to avoid it or even to abandon it. We all know that temptation. But if our goals are to fully live our life purposes and to consistently do the next right thing, we’ll look that temptation in the eye and announce, ‘I’m showing up, even though I don’t really want to.’” – Eric Maisel

Often the most valuable skills to learn are also the most difficult. Learning to code is a great example. Starting out, it makes absolutely no sense. Even figuring out what to start learning can be difficult.

As you learn the skill, you find yourself constantly getting frustrated and wanting to quit. Maybe you can’t figure out how to fix a bug in the program. Or possibly, after trying hundreds of solutions, your program still isn’t working correctly.

You want to throw your hands up in the air and give up. Many do give up. That’s why it’s such a valuable skill.

Learn to tolerate the frustration, take a deep breath, and keep trying. Being able to handle frustration is the most important part of learning any skill. If you can do that, you can do anything.

4. Don’t Be Too Hard On Yourself

It’s easy to fall into the trap of beating yourself up when you fail.  Instead, be compassionate toward yourself.  Learn from each failure and do better next time.  Instead of punishing yourself when you fail, reward yourself when you succeed at being disciplined. 

Maximize your enjoyment of your disciplined practice.  The more difficult it is, the more enjoyable you should make it.  Sit in a comfy chair.  Put on your favorite music.  The better your work feels, the more likely you are to continue it.  Just sit down at your chair, and don’t get up until the work is done.

To get into flow, you must be able to work in a state of relaxation.  Stress makes it difficult to focus.  Loosen up as you sit down to work.  When you force yourself to sit down and work, you’re putting yourself in a situation of stress.  Instead, bring a relaxed attitude toward your work.

5. Accept the Difficulty of The Disciplined Life

“We know better than to suppose that our practice will be easy. But shouldn’t we expect it to at least get easier? Isn’t that where repetition and mastery and all the rest are supposed to lead? No. Because the work itself may always prove difficult, if we have chosen work that is difficult.” – Eric Maisel

One of the biggest traps people fall into is the idea that life should be easy.  It never has been, and never will be.  Achieving what you most desire will have plenty of difficulties along the way.  The only thing more difficult is never trying.

The work will never end.  You’ll always face challenges along the way.  That’s why it’s essential to build a life where disciplined action is consistent. 

Figure out how to enjoy your life while you keep doing the work.  Because you’ll always have to do the work.  It will never go away.  Better to start now.

Joel Smith

Author and writing coach at The Fit Writer.

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