I’m writing a book and the deadline is looming. I was given six weeks to write it, which is the tightest deadline I’ve ever had. The work of doing this requires a great deal more discipline than I typically afford myself.

At the same time, I’m working with a renewed vigor on my fitness and health. With eating, that means being diligent at every turn, because a busy lifestyle plus travel makes it so easy to justify stuffing any old thing in your mouth to quiet your belly while you do “what’s important.” It means doing the work of exercise all the time, instead of just every now and again (I’m still not there on this point).

All of this makes me think about discipline, especially what’s untrue about it.

Discipline Isn’t Willpower

Rob Hatch and I were talking about a guy who wanted to practice his guitar more (I think this story is from a book, but I forget the book). He put little notes on his calendar to remind him to play guitar. Yet, after a busy day at work, he would come home and watch TV. One day, he realized that the reason he wasn’t reaching for the guitar he intended to practice more was that it was in the closet. He took it out and placed it between the couch and the TV. Pow, instant improvement in how often he practiced guitar.

Discipline isn’t willpower. Discipline is setting up the perfect environment to achieve the goals you have. If you want the perfect book for this, read Switch, by Chip and Dan Heath. If you read it already but still haven’t changed your environment to accomplish what you want to do, then read it again.

Success Breeds Success

Once you feel great about adhering to a better diet, you feel more inspired to work out more often. Once you get your writing into a steady flow of 2000 words a day, you expand your goals to accomplish something else, like resolving to record one video a week, or something. Success breeds success. So, find something simple to start with, build the appropriate environment to succeed, and then feel super excited that you hit something.

Beware Justification

The biggest enemy of your work on discipline is using your early successes to justify slip-ups and slacking. “I went to the gym two days in a row. I can take a break.” That will derail you faster than anything else. Doing what you’ve set out to do is not a badge you can wear. Imagine flossing your teeth once and deciding that you’re done. Discipline is a routine, not a single goal. Discipline is the power that fuels the systems that LEAD you to larger goals.

So make justification the enemy. The minute you hear yourself saying that inside your head, say, “I’m going to do something right now to counter that justification.” Do it. Without a quick snip, that justification will have you in the “I used to do that…” category faster than you think.

Discipline is the Ladder

Discipline is the ladder that gets you from where you are to where you want to go. Once you can write 2000 words a day without flinching, you can take on bigger projects. Once you can work out four times a week, you can take that trip to the mountains without worrying, or you can apply all that extra energy to doing more work (working out has given me more energy to make more money-making projects). Discipline is the ladder you can set against the wall that is between you and what you want. It’s not something to be longing for; it’s something you can accomplish by starting small, setting up the best environment, being consistent, pushing away justification, and then building on your previous successes.

So, where would you want to place that ladder? And what are you working on, discipline-wise? What are your challenges?

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