It might be difficult to be productive when you’d rather do anything else. Our natural tendency is to favor immediate satisfaction above effort and long-term objectives. In contrast, Daniel Walter contends in The Power of Discipline that developing healthy habits will help you become more disciplined over time.
Walter, a Canadian author and cognitive neuroscience Yale graduate, specializes on enhancing focus, routines, and memory. This manual will discuss developing productive habits, biological hurdles to self-discipline, and its difficulties. To assist readers attain their maximum potential, we’ll also rely on other works like Awaken the Giant Within and The Power of Habit.
What Is Self-Discipline and Why Do We Struggle With It?
The capacity to make wise decisions, withstand pressure, and act in your best interests is known as self-discipline. Daniel Walter emphasizes the significance of setting objectives, forming positive habits, and working consistently hard in order to achieve success.
Self-discipline is a talent that requires experience and work to develop since people have a tendency to choose quick satisfaction above hard labor. In addition, Walter lists four innate characteristics that undermine self-control: the need for consistency, exaggerating one’s own talent, procrastination, and unreasonable expectations. To develop self-discipline and accomplish your goals, it is essential to recognize these inclinations and work to overcome them.
Tendency #1: Craving Consistency
Walter identifies the first biological tendency that hinders self-discipline as our resistance to change and preference for consistency in our lifestyles, jobs, and environments.
This tendency prevents us from taking uncomfortable steps that can trigger improvement and success. Experts like Brianna Wiest attribute this phenomenon to the brain’s hardwiring for homeostasis, which sends us urges to resist change and maintain consistency to avoid emotional changes that alter bodily chemistry.
Humans Fear Loss and Failure and Desire Comfort
Humans resist change and crave consistency due to three reasons: fear of loss, fear of failure/regret, and comfort in the familiar. To overcome this tendency, Walter suggests performing a thought analysis exercise when making important decisions.
This involves listing the pros and cons of each option and determining which choice will be most advantageous for personal improvement and goal attainment.
We Crave Consistency Because of Our Pain vs Pleasure Response
Walter and Robbins both explore why humans resist change and favor consistency, but they have different approaches to overcoming these urges. Walter identifies three underlying reasons why we resist change, while Robbins argues that all unproductive behaviors and decisions stem from our biological urge to avoid pain and seek pleasure.
Robbins explains that neuro-associations control our pain and pleasure responses, and he identifies three factors that determine whether we’ll form a pain or pleasure association with an experience. These factors may explain why we resist change and favor consistency. Walter suggests performing a thought exercise to overcome these urges, while Robbins recommends reconditioning our neuro-associations.
Tendency #2: Over-Estimating Personal Abilities
The Dunning-Kruger effect can impact self-discipline by causing people to overestimate their ability and neglect practicing it. To avoid this tendency, seeking feedback from proficient individuals is recommended. Procrastination weakens self-discipline as it becomes habitual, and there are two main forms: delaying hard work for instant gratification and spending more time planning than doing work.
To resist procrastination, start tasks as soon as possible and stop planning when 70% sure of success. It is important to accurately judge one’s own abilities and improve self-awareness to enhance self-discipline skills.
Procrastination Isn’t Always Bad
In “A Mind For Numbers,” Oakley discusses two types of procrastination. She argues that deferring tasks to plan them is useful, while consciously delaying work for more immediately enjoyable activities is unproductive and termed as habitual procrastination.
To overcome procrastination, both Oakley and Walter recommend starting tasks as soon as possible. However, Oakley suggests completing the toughest tasks first to avoid burnout and using planning time effectively. She does not support Walter’s idea of starting work at 70% certainty.
Tendency #4: Setting Unrealistic Expectations
Walter highlights the common mistake of underestimating the time and effort required to reach our goals, leading to failure and discouragement. Giving up too easily weakens our ability to self-discipline, as it reinforces the habit of instant gratification.
To overcome this, it’s important to set realistic expectations, analyze our goals and actions, and avoid self-sabotaging behaviors. For instance, someone who wants to learn how to knit must practice consistently for the required time frame to achieve their goal. By doing so, they can preserve their self-discipline and avoid giving up.
The Impacts of the Planning Fallacy and How to Resolve Them
Experts attribute unrealistic expectations to the planning fallacy, a cognitive bias where people underestimate the time needed to complete tasks due to poor planning and overly optimistic performance expectations. This bias stems from optimism bias, motivated reasoning, and taking the inside view.
Setting unrealistic expectations can lead to a lack of self-discipline and trigger negative thoughts, self-judgment, depression, and burnout. To avoid this, Walter recommends analyzing behaviors and prioritizing tasks, managing time and resources, and considering potential obstacles. Experts suggest seeking advice, defining priorities, blocking time off in your calendar, and brainstorming potential obstacles to ensure a realistic perspective on goals.
Improve Self-Discipline With Good Habits
To enhance self-discipline, Walter suggests replacing bad habits with good ones that support discipline. Habits are actions we do automatically, and forming habits that are detrimental to our interests reduces our ability to adopt positive habits.
However, Gary Keller cautions that building new habits can quickly deplete our limited supply of self-discipline or willpower. To overcome bad habits, Walter recommends cultivating good habits such as:
Habit #1: Create Morning and Evening Routines
Walter suggests that establishing a consistent morning and evening routine helps to promote productive behaviors and make better choices, reducing unproductive temptations that can harm self-discipline. By making these routines a habit, you can resist behaviors like sleeping in, eating poorly, or staying up too late.
A morning routine should include a plan for waking up, eating breakfast, and leaving for work, while an evening routine should start an hour before bedtime, with activities such as brushing teeth, washing face, setting out clothes for the next day, journaling, and then getting into bed.
Habit #2: Create Plans to Achieve Your Goals
Walter suggests that big goals can be overwhelming and lead to inaction, which weakens self-discipline. To avoid this, clearly define your goals and create a plan of action that breaks them down into daily tasks and sub-goals. By doing so, you can hold yourself accountable and increase your chances of success.
To create an effective plan, identify your end goal and then break it down into tasks like applying for residency, finding an apartment, and researching costs. Finally, create a daily schedule to accomplish a task or subgoal every day.
Habit #3: Gain Control Over Your Impulses
Walter says that acting on impulses without thinking is a bad habit that harms self-discipline. It leads to giving up and instant gratification, which can be harmful in the long run. To counteract this habit, he suggests two strategies: the 40% rule and the 10-minute rule.
The 40% rule advises to push through the discomfort and complete the remaining 60% of the work, whereas the 10-minute rule suggests waiting for ten minutes before acting on an unproductive impulse to assess if it’s the best decision.
Applications of the Pomodoro Technique
The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method that can also help with avoiding instant gratification. It involves setting a timer for a period of time, such as 10 minutes, and using that time to be productive. This can help you avoid giving in to temptations and stay on track with your goals.
By engaging in productive behaviors during these short bursts, you may be more likely to continue being productive and less likely to give in to instant gratification. This technique can be useful in various contexts, such as when you feel the urge to binge eat and can spend 10 minutes doing yoga instead.
Habit #4: Become Familiar With Discomfort
Walter advises that self-discipline often requires doing things we don’t want to do, like work instead of partying. However, practicing self-discipline can help us resist unproductive behaviors and persevere through tough times. To become familiar with discomfort, Walter suggests stepping out of our comfort zone intentionally.
For example, if you’re uncomfortable on stage, try karaoke with friends to build resilience. Experts note that this approach can also boost confidence and creativity, but caution against overwhelming yourself too quickly. Instead, start with small steps and consider going with a friend to ease into discomfort.
Habit #5: Practice Mindfulness and Meditation
Walter suggests that mindfulness, or focusing on the present and controlling thoughts and emotions, is crucial for self-discipline. Negative thoughts and emotions can make it harder to practice self-discipline, but if you focus on the present and control your thoughts and emotions, they won’t influence your ability to self-discipline.
One way to develop mindfulness is through meditation, which improves focus, decision-making, and delaying instant gratification. Mindfulness and meditation are highly effective for increasing self-discipline, indirectly improving sleep quality and alleviating stress. A beginner-friendly meditation technique is “noting,” which involves recording thoughts, feelings, and urges to overcome impulses.
Habit #6: Fully Commit to Your Goals
Walter says that to improve self-discipline, you must fully commit to your goals and put in 100% effort. Half-hearted efforts hinder self-discipline, and true success requires a strong belief in your ability to achieve your goals.
To overcome subconscious intentions that prevent full commitment, identify limiting thoughts and habits and replace them with positive ones. Brian Moran, author of The 12 Week Year, also agrees that weak commitments stem from subconscious intentions and must be addressed to achieve goals.
Increase Commitment by Pacing Yourself and Creating a Routine
Walter’s recommendations for maintaining commitment and momentum towards your goal are two-fold. First, avoid taking on too much too soon, as it can lead to loss of motivation and weaken self-discipline. Second, establish a goal-focused routine and maintain it even after you achieve success, as consistency is key.
For instance, if you want to gain supporters for your new innovation, posting on social media randomly won’t help. Instead, set a routine of posting twice a day, and even after achieving success, continue to post twice daily to maintain and strengthen your community.
Habit #7: Create Positive Associations
Walter warns that relying solely on self-discipline can lead to burnout if you dislike the work. To sustain self-discipline, he suggests creating positive associations with the work by incorporating enjoyable activities into a ritual before, during, and after work. Repeating this routine can create positive mental associations, making it easier to self-discipline. For example, open curtains before work, light a candle during, and reward yourself with a nice dinner after.
Change Your Neuro-Associations to Boost Self-Discipline
Tony Robbins, in his book “Awaken the Giant Within,” emphasizes the importance of rewiring negative associations, or what he calls “negative neuro-associations,” to practice self-discipline effectively. Negative associations with necessary activities like work can hinder productivity.
While Walter focuses on building positive associations to replace negative ones, Robbins suggests taking additional steps to completely undo old negative associations and replace them with new positive ones.
To change negative associations with a behavior, Tony Robbins suggests taking these steps:
- Identify the behavior you want to change and what’s blocking you.
- Create a sense of urgency to change by realizing how the negative association is holding you back.
- Disrupt the negative pattern of thinking by doing something unexpected when the negative association arises.
- Create a positive pattern to replace the old one and reinforce it by making it a routine.