It’s a given that a messy and chaotic life, will always feed distraction over discipline. Not knowing where you’re headed with absolute clarity, not knowing the beliefs and fears you hold will keep you living an undisciplined approach to life.
These things are important to address when it comes to the topic of discipline, but we’ve unpacked them in the first season, so you haven’t been there, it’s a good place to visit too.
There are additional fundamentals though, when it comes to driving a habit of discipline, and today, we converse on those.
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- A RELENTLESSLY SHARP NAIL (or least sharper than excuses and self pity)
I often get told that I’m disciplined. Sometimes in a way that says ‘you’re lucky, you’re disciplined’ or in a way that suggests that I have a natural advantage an innate talent, and ultimately undermines the human potential of the person saying it. But the truth is, just like any other trait, discipline is learned. Sure, some personalities like ‘doing’ more than ‘watching’, but that’s not the catalyst. Discipline is learnable. And I learnt it because I had to.
The diagnosis of RA at 19 years of age, when I was studying about the human body and optimal performance, seemed ironic and unfair. I was doing the right things for the body. Food, movement…….
So, naturally I went into a little pity party when over the course of 3 months I went from achieving at uni, playing elite level sport and everything in between to nothing. To relentless pain and fatigue. To limitations. Not really fair at all right? How could this be happening to me when I knew all this stuff.
Thankfully, I wasn’t good at sitting still. That RA diagnosis, was not ok by me. There was too much I wanted to do in life. In other words, the nail was sharp enough to do the inconvenient and difficult. To do what needed to be done, even when I didn’t feel like it. This sharp nail is the very first step in building a habit of self-discipline. Get a better reason to do what’s hard. Sounds simple, but most won’t spend the time finding it. I challenge you to find a better reason that takes something from a desire to a necessity.
- A STACKING MINDSET.
Success in most arenas, including the human body, doesn’t come through giant and bold actions. It comes through minor, sometimes mundane and deceptively, inconsequential actions.
The time you get up.
The first thoughts you think.
What you listen to in the car.
Who you speak to on the phone.
What you eat for morning tea.
What time you go to bed.
The first drink you have in the day.
The way you dress.
The way you sit and stand.
What you plan to get done.
What you do before you turn off the light to sleep.
None are major life choices. They’re simple enough to do. Simple enough not to do. How you do them or not do them really doesn’t make a big difference to that particular day. But stacked together, over time, they matter. They become your life experience. They become your self-concept- who you believe yourself to be and what you’re capable of.
In every instance I have witnessed, these small moment-to-moment disciplines are the catalyst for a win or a loss.
Sometimes we don’t see how in the moment, but the more we educate ourselves in that specific area, the more clear it becomes as to why we are where we are.
The body is exactly the same.
It’s not just the gluten causing inflammation. It’s not how often you eat that makes you carry excess fat. It’s not the exercise that will raise your energy.
It’s many stackable choices, carried out as daily disciplines, that move the needle in either a positive or negative direction.
That’s number one in the foundations of building the trait of discipline. Let go of the magic bullet mindset and adopt a stacking mindset.
In my RA case, no one choice moved me to the RA diagnosis. And not one dramatic choice moved me away from that pain reality then, to my reality now of being pain and medication free, without limits of a physical or energetic nature. Not one dramatic choices keeps me from the strangle hold of that auto-immune disease. What keeps me free from it is that stacking mindset of supporting habits. And the nail is sharp enough.
3. MY BEHAVIOUR MATTERS, AND AFTER THAT I HAVE NO CONTROL
It’s an ethos I live by. So much more hopeful than the alternative of playing victim to external circumstances.
The amount of people that I have seen begin a serious of supporting habits, to then have something come sideways (I believe to test their conviction) but nonetheless, this external event comes in to interrupt things. And then it becomes this dialogue almost of helplessness.
Things outside of our dangerous and limiting expectation will always show up. It’s irrelevant.
With RA these days, we know more. We know how much actually is in our complete control. But 20 years ago, they didn’t know why. Intestinal permeability, emotional intelligence and EI weren’t the natural dialogue at that time. And there was danger in that. A danger of believing that this auto-immune disease was happening to me. Outside of my control. A danger of becoming a victim to a limited physical life and due to associated fatigue, a limited life of achievement.
When we’re in the foetal position due to life’s unexpected, which seemingly has no reasoning, we have to remind ourselves that we don’t have the luxury of controlling external circumstances. Never have, never will.
And so the mantra helps to maintain discipline when life feels unfair. A bit like the Frozen movie….’What’s the next right thing’.
That ‘my behaviour matters’ mindset, drives discipline.
- A CURIOUS + EXPERIMENAL MINDSET
Life is an experiment. It’s that simple. Play with it. Track it. See what works. See what doesn’t. Don’t take someone else’s word for it.
In my case, the transition from RA to not, has been a 20 year period of experimentation. Of trialling the science and research. Tracking habits. Tracking emotions. I’d prefer not to, but it’s important to. Not just to raise certainty around what most effectively moves the needle for our unique body (rather than following like sheep), but also to record the small wins. The small wins with experimentation of habits keeps you doing the uncomfortable, until the uncomfortable becomes comfortable.
The experimental mindset also helps to take the pressure of the big results that take a long time to get to.
Because unfortunately, 19 out of 20 people get so frustrated with not getting BIG results, that they quit the small behaviours too soon. And it’s the saddest thing, because then they begin to develop a belief that they are undisciplined. And the Anterior Cingulate Cortex in the brain will continue to make decisions and direct brain messaging based on that belief. Being undisciplined then becomes that person’s self-concept. Their reality.
When we treat choices as an experiment, we can enter into them with curiosity versus criticism. Criticism drives our primitive fear response, forms part of the neuroscience of failure by interrupting the desired messaging to the action centre of the brain, and ultimately puts a quick stop to the habits we would like to become disciplined in.
No more right or wrong rigidity. Life is an experiment. But not a reckless experiment. More the well tested and tracked type.
And it’s not just a one off experiment to try and fix something, it’s a lifetime experiment, that creates your unique rule book.
- EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE
Disciplined people do what it takes to get the thing done, whether they ‘feel’ like it or not.
Do your EI learning. Know exactly what emotions send you into a narrative that says you’re not worth it. That in turn gives permission to self to self-sabotage the stackable habits.
Discipline is a skill to learn like any other.
You need a nail sharp enough to do what you don’t want to do.
You need a stacking mindset, not a one magic bullet approach to change.
You’ll need to loosen the control grip and expectations, a hold conviction that your behaviour matters.
It’s in your interest to do some work on your critical inner dialogue and approach life and change as an experiment, not right or wrong.
And finally, be certain that what you do begins with your emotions. Get to know them well.