Sunday, March 11, 2012

Be Happy – Be Disciplined (Part 2)

As you are aware, disciplining yourself means regulating yourself towards achievement of some goal. As there are different muscle groups which you train with different exercises, there are different areas of self-discipline: disciplined sleep, disciplined diet, disciplined work habits, disciplined communication, etc. It takes different exercises to build discipline in each area. You may identify an area where your discipline is weakest, assess where you stand right now, acknowledge and accept your starting point, and design a training program for yourself to improve in this area. Start out with some easy exercises you know you can do, and gradually progress to greater challenges.

Progressive training works with self-discipline just as it does with building muscle. For example, if you can barely get out of bed at 10am, are you likely to succeed at waking up at 5am every morning? Probably, not. But could you master getting up at 9:45am? Very likely. And once you’ve done that, could you progress to 9:30 or 9:15? Sure. When I started getting up at 5am consistently, I had already done it several times for a few days in a row, and my normal wake-up time was 6-6:30am, so that next step was challenging but achievable for me partly because I was already within range of it.

I have personally reaped tremendous benefits from pursuing the path of self-discipline. When I was 20 years old, I lived in a small studio apartment, and my sleep hours were something like 4am to 1pm. My diet included lots of fast food and junk food. I didn’t exercise except for sometimes taking long walks. Getting the mail seemed like a significant accomplishment each day, and the highlight of my day was hanging out with friends. At the end of a month, I couldn’t really think of many salient events that occurred during the month. I had no job, no car, no income, no goals, no plans, and no real future. All I felt I had was a lot of problems that weren’t getting any better. I had no sense that I could control my path through life. I would simply wait for things to happen and then react to them.

But eventually I faced the reality that trying to wait out my life wasn’t working. If I was going to get anywhere, I was going to have to do something about it. And initially this meant tackling a lot of difficult challenges, but I overcame them and grew a lot stronger in a short period of time.

Fast forward fourteen years, and it’s like night and day. I get up at 5am each morning. I exercise six days a week. I eat a purely vegan diet with lots of fresh vegetables. My home office is well organized. My physical inbox and my email inbox are both empty. I’m married with two children and live in a nice apartment set. A binder sits on my desk with my written goals and detailed plans to achieve them, and several of my 2012 goals have already been accomplished except some problems one of my friends created foolishly. That too would be solved in due course of time. I’ve never been so clear about what I wanted, and I’m doing what I love. I know I’m making a difference.

None of this just happened. It was intentional. And it certainly didn’t happen overnight. It took a lot of years of hard work. It’s still hard work, but I’ve become a lot stronger such that things that would have been insurmountable for me at age 20 are easy today, which means I can tackle bigger challenges and therefore achieve even better results. If I had tried to do everything I’m doing now when I was 20, I would have failed utterly. 20-year old boy wouldn’t have been able to handle it, not even for one day. But for 54-year old Vinod, it’s easy. And what’s really exciting for me is to think of what 78-year old Vinod will be able to accomplish… relative to my life path of course, not anyone else’s.

I am telling you this to impress you, not with me but with yourself. I want you to be impressed by what you can accomplish over the next 5-10 years if you progressively build your self-discipline. It will not be easy, but it will be worth it. The first step is to openly accept where you are right now, whether you feel good about it or not. Surrender yourself to what you have to work with — maybe it isn’t fair, but it is what it is. And you won’t get any stronger until you accept where you are right now.

Vince Lombardi mentions that the difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack of will. Your willpower can play miracle in your life.

What Is Willpower?

Willpower is your ability to set a course of action and say, “Engage!” Willpower provides an intensely powerful yet temporary boost. Think of it as a one-shot thruster. It burns out quickly, but if directed intelligently, it can provide the burst you need to overcome inertia and create momentum.

Willpower is the spearhead of self-discipline. It is a concentration of force. You gather up all your energy and make a massive thrust forward. You attack your problems strategically at their weakest points until they crack, allowing you enough room to maneuver deeper into their territory and finish them off.

The application of willpower includes the following steps:

  1. Choose your objective
  2. Create a plan
  3. Execute the plan

With willpower you may take your time implementing steps 1 and 2, but when you get to step 3, you’ve got to hit it hard and fast. Don’t try to tackle your problems and challenges in such a way that a high level of willpower is required every day. Willpower is unsustainable. If you attempt to use it for too long, you’ll burn out. It requires a level of energy that you can maintain only for a short period of time… in most cases the fuel is spent within a matter of days.

Use Willpower to Create Self-Sustaining Momentum

So if willpower can only be used in short, powerful bursts, then what’s the best way to apply it? How do you keep from slipping back into old patterns once the temporary willpower blast is over?

The best way to use willpower is to establish a beachhead, such that further progress can be made with far less effort than is required of the initial thrust. Remember D-Day — once the Allies had established a beachhead, the road ahead was much easier for them. It was still challenging to be sure, especially with the close quarters fighting among hedge rows in France before the Rhino Tanks began plowing through them, but it was a lot easier than trying to maintain the focus, energy, and coordination of a full scale beach invasion every single day for another year.

So the proper use of willpower is to establish that beachhead — to permanently change the territory itself such that it’s easier to continue moving on. Use willpower to reduce the ongoing need for such a high level of sustained force.

Let’s put all of the above together into a concrete example. Suppose your objective is to lose 20 pounds. You attempt to go on a diet. It takes willpower, and you do OK with it the first week. But within a few weeks you’ve fallen back into old habits and gained all the weight back. You try again with different diets, but the result is still the same. You can’t sustain momentum for long enough to reach your goal weight.

That’s to be expected though because willpower is temporary. It’s for sprints, not marathons. Willpower requires conscious focus, and conscious focus is very draining — it cannot be maintained for long. Something will eventually distract you.

Here’s how to tackle that same goal with the proper application of willpower. You accept that you can only apply a short burst of willpower… maybe a few days at best. After that it’s gone. So you’d better use that willpower to alter the territory around you in such a way that maintaining momentum won’t be as hard as building it in the first place. You need to use your willpower to establish a beachhead on the shores of your goal. So you sit down and make a plan. This doesn’t require much energy, and you can spread the work out over many days.

You identify all the various targets you’ll need to strike if you want to have a chance of success. First, all the junk food needs to leave your kitchen, including anything you have a tendency to overeat, and you need to replace it with foods that will help you lose weight, like fruits and veggies. Secondly, you know you’ll be tempted to get fast food if you come home hungry and don’t have anything ready to eat, so you decide to pre-cook a week’s worth of food in advance each weekend. That way you always have something in the refrigerator. You set aside a block of several hours each weekend to buy groceries and cook all your food for the week. Plus you get a decent cookbook of healthy recipes. You learn about Weight Watchers, and find out where the closest one is to you, so you can go to the first meeting and sign-up. Setup a weight chart and post it on your bathroom wall. Get a decent scale that can measure weight and body fat %. Make a list of sample meals (5 breakfasts, 5 lunches, and 5 dinners), and post it on your refrigerator. And so on…. At this point all of this goes into the written plan.

Then you execute — hard and fast. You can probably implement the whole plan in one day. Attend your first Weight Watchers meeting and get all the materials. Purge the unhealthy food from the kitchen. Buy the new groceries, the new cookbook, and the new scale. Post the weight chart and the sample meals list. Select recipes and cook a batch of food for the week. Whew!

By the end of the day, you’ve used your willpower not to diet directly but to establish the conditions that will make your diet easier to follow. When you wake up the next morning, you’ll find your environment dramatically changed in accordance with your plan. Your fridge will be stocked with plenty of pre-cooked healthy food for you to eat. There won’t be any junkie problem foods in your home. You’ll be a member of Weight Watchers and will have weekly meetings to attend. You’ll have a regular block of time set aside for grocery shopping and food prep. It will still require some discipline to follow your diet, but you’ve already changed things so much that it won’t be nearly as difficult as it would be without these changes.

Don’t use willpower to attack your biggest problem directly. Use willpower to attack the environmental and social obstacles that perpetuate the problem. Establish a beachhead first, and then fortify your position. Habit puts action on autopilot, such that very little willpower is required for ongoing progress, allowing you to practically coast towards your goal.

Let us discuss about need of Hard work in discipline next time.

Be Happy – Be Disciplined.

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