But, Why? The Key to Self-Discipline

But, Why? The Key to Self-Discipline


The best way to motivate yourself to do something you really don’t want to do is to find a worthy reason of doing it in the first place. Too often we set out on a project or personal goal with the best intentions and gusto only to watch our enthusiasm wane causing our endeavors to fall apart. New Years resolutions are a good example of this. Most people vow to get into shape, eat better, be more proactive about obligations, but few (if any) see their promises through to completion. The reason, I sincerely believe, is because people don’t answer the simple question, Why?

Why should I exercise more? Why should I eat healthier? Why should I call my parents more often? Or flake less on plans with friends?

Interestingly, we often have a sound rationalization for setting these goals. I should exercise more so I can have a more attractive body. I should eat healthier foods so I have more energy, or live longer. I should call my parents because they like hearing from me. I should be less of a flake so my friends don’t think I’m too busy for them. These are all legitimate reasons to change our ways. But here’s the thing. If those rationalizations were enough, we wouldn’t have problems with consistency.

This is where the word WORTHY comes into play. A worthy reason is not a rationalization, it’s something that speaks to a part of your soul that can hear it. It’s a simple, yet profoundly powerful idea that means something to you on a personal level.

I’ll give you a real life example.

I went to a conference a few years ago for young professionals looking to develop strong business practices. To be honest, most of what was taught bored me to death and I found myself sadly playing games on my phone under the table. But there was one part that stood out to me. It was when the presenter began talking about the tedious, annoying aspects of running a business and how hard it can be to consistently stay on top of the “unsexy” parts like book keeping, cold calling, or endless paperwork. He handed out business cards to everyone in attendance that had only one short sentence on them. When I read it, I was instantly floored by its simplicity, yet amazed at how it somehow cut right through me. It read: “Because I said I would.”

Suddenly, all my languishing over how hard or repetitive something was just felt like BS. I left the conference with my head swimming and as a few days passed an idea began to crystallize. Motivating yourself to do something you really don’t want to do (but know that you must) is not a matter of skill, but a matter of will. Full disclosure, I’m not a man with the world’s strongest will power. But I realized the reason I lacked will power was because I lacked genuine purpose in why I did something.

So, I’ve been trying the following personal philosophy to motivate myself and so far it’s been going pretty well. I have my off days, I have my on days, I have my brilliant days, and I have my “what’s wrong with my brain?” days. So here it is. Hopefully you will find it as helpful as I have.

Take a minute to think of a part of your personality that consistently stands in the way of your goals. For me, this meant constantly telling people about my grand plans and then losing steam somewhere in the process and inevitably abandoning the project. Perhaps this is why “Because I said I would” was so profound. It spoke to that part of me that felt like an imposter. Making promises to myself and others I consistently didn’t keep. I would find excuses as to why something didn’t work out, convincing myself that it was anyone or anything else’s fault but my own lack of self-discipline, just so I could protect my fragile ego. It’s one of my deepest sources of shame that I have yearned to conquer for my entire life.

Unearthing this part of ourselves can be challenging and may take a fair amount of soul-searching, but rest assured that you will definitely know when you find it. How? Because it will likely turn your stomach with guilt or regret.

The next step is to come up with the “antidote,” a worthy reason for fighting our well-rehearsed habits that sap motivation. This can come in the form of a simple, powerful thought or mantra that we recite when we need a reminder of WHY.

This brings to mind another real life example.

At one point I took boxing classes at a local gym. The instructor was a no-nonsense guy who always pushed us. I remember we would consistently complain about conditioning exercises he put us through at the outset of every class. One day, when more than a few of us (myself included) began to “phone-in” the exercises, he stopped the class and told the following story.

He talked about Muhammad Ali, the legendary heavyweight boxing champ, and his approach to training. He said that once, Ali was asked how he felt about preparing for a fight. Ali remarked that he HATED every single second of the hellish, relentless workouts his trainers put him through. However, no matter how bad it got, he was somehow able to push forward. His secret, our instructor told us, was repeating to himself the same sentence over and over whenever he wanted to quit: “I do it, because I want to be a champion.” And that was enough for him. I have no idea if any part of our instructor’s story is true, but I can tell you it sure was effective. Nobody complained about anything for the rest of the class.

From here you can probably guess the next step in this process. Take that thought which ignites your will power and use it as a weapon against complacency, against doubt—then rinse and repeat. Say it to yourself when every part of you wants to quit. Remind yourself what you fight for. I heard a great lecturer on motivation once say that “We can’t wait around for the ‘feel like it’ feeling. We must create it for ourselves.”

The final step involves something we often lack—kindness. Not to others, but to ourselves. I can say from experience that I regularly lack patience and compassion for myself when I hit my stride only to stumble and fall. We all do. We get frustrated, compare ourselves to others who appear to handle life effortlessly, and we shut down, wondering what’s wrong with us. And this is why the last step is far and away the most important. The reason we lack consistency is because we refuse to embrace failure as part of the process. Rather, we assume failure is a sign that we are engaging in the wrong process or don’t have what it takes to succeed. This simply isn’t true. It’s a distortion of reality our impatience and self-loathing create.

We have the ability to see our dreams realized. All it takes is two of the biggest four-letter words in our vocabulary: hard work. This isn’t news to anybody. But when you find a reason worth fighting for, worthy of your absolute best efforts, you will be astonished at what you can endure and what you can accomplish.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *