The next biggest lie about living a disciplined lifestyle is that it requires a marathon of effort. It doesn’t. It only requires you manifest enough discipline and motivation to make the routine a habit. The initial resistance we encounter doesn’t last beyond a couple of months. The authors of The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Truth Behind Extraordinary Results say success is not a marathon of disciplined action. It is a sprint fueled by just enough discipline to build a habit. Habits are harder to start than they are to sustain. The key is to identify the behavior you need to adopt and then work at it long enough to make it a habit.
Researchers at the University College of London determined that, on average, it takes 66-days for a new behavior to become a habit.[i] They concluded that after 66-days, the new behavior became as easy to sustain as it would ever become. Train yourself to act in a specific way long enough, and you make the action routine. Routine actions flow almost effortlessly. Our minds essentially go on autopilot. Our powerful basal ganglia take over for the easily overwhelmed cerebral cortex.
Successful people aren’t remarkable, especially in the beginning, but they get better by mastering consistency. I hope you’ll avoid the common mistake of believing the willpower needed to interrupt a bad habit or create a good one is the same as the willpower required to sustain it. It’s not. Take comfort in that knowledge when you are forging new routines. Change is difficult, but in time, the new behavior will become the new norm. What separates successful people from unsuccessful people is that they develop a few impactful habits. Success is about doing a few critical things right, not about doing everything right.
Successful people routinely do what unsuccessful people are unwilling to do. Unsuccessful people are waiting to feel like it, while successful people press on and do what needs to be done. Successful people nourish their strong wolf and starve their weak wolf. John Maxwell says, “If you wait to feel like doing something, you will likely never accomplish it. Don’t wait until you feel positive to move forward. Act your way into feeling good.” You will not feel good before your workout, but after. You’ll feel like a winner. I enjoy every workout, even the one’s where I must take it easy to fully recover from my hard workouts.
The only bad workout is the one you miss. Even if you go through the motions, you’ll feel much better about yourself. Exercise, like virtue, provides its own rewards. Exercise releases endorphins that make us feel wonderful. Listening to music while working out can lift your spirits and improve your mood. Completing a tough workout provides us with a sense of accomplishment which makes us feel great about ourselves and boosts our confidence. Often people want to feel good before they act, but life does not work that way. You will never feel like taking a difficult action. Usually it is not as difficult as you had thought it would be, but you will not find that out until you do it. First, you must accomplish something meaningful, and then you feel great. I believe that 90% of our success in life is attributed to just showing up. Discipline helps us to keep showing up and putting in the work day after day even when we don’t see any immediate results.
Discipline yourself to act when you do not feel like it. Discipline starts each day with waking up early. Discipline yourself to wake up when you would rather sleep in and get a head start towards accomplishing your goals. Wake up, show up, do the work, and reap the rewards! Hard work always pays. All respect, even self-respect must be earned. Self-affirmations lose their effectiveness if they aren’t backed up by concrete actions. You can tell yourself and others what you are going to do and become, but you can’t fake showing-up. You must continuously give yourself that little push to consistently make the right decision to follow your instincts and not your feelings. You must get excited about defeating your inner saboteur, the weak wolf. Find pleasure in feeding your strong wolf and making the little decisions that produce tremendous results. If you want to transform your life you have to win this battle consistently. Conquering weakness is at the core of all achievement. It is the habit of discipline. Like any habit, it will become easier and easier over time. Eventually, it will become a part of your character. We don’t act disciplined because we have the virtue, instead we have the virtue because we have acted with discipline.
There are two key points I want you to remember about becoming a more disciplined person. First, no one is born disciplined. Discipline is a habit, not a personality trait. Anyone can develop the habit. Successful people are those that have developed the habits essential to achieve excellence in their field. Second, you will want to build one habit at a time. Developing a habit takes a lot of energy in the beginning. Don’t dilute your willpower by trying to do too much too soon. A lack of focus is the source of many failures. “The man who chases two rabbits catches none.” Roman Proverb Adopt one habit at a time.
The process of adopting a new habit should take between 30 and 90 days, with 66-days being the sweet spot for most habits. Our goal is to develop a daily routine that helps maintain a healthy mind and body while pursuing an important personal or professional goal, but for now, focus on one habit at a time and master it before moving on to the next. After you have a solid foundation of discipline, you’ll find that each follow-on habit will become easier to adopt. Your strong wolf will begin to dominate your weak wolf; one decision at a time, one day at a time. Discipline in one area of your life will help you develop discipline in other areas.
There are unexpected benefits to daily exercise. Australian researchers, Megan Oaten and Ken Cheng, found that an exercise routine leads to significant improvements in a wide range of regulatory behaviors such as less impulsive spending; better dietary habits; decreased alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine consumption; and fewer hours watching TV.[ii] When you routinely do what is difficult, habit makes the difficult easy. Motivation and inspiration are important, but you can’t wait for them to take the positive actions your instincts are telling you to take.
If you are waiting for motivation and inspiration to act, you’re never going to. When is the last time you were motivated to do something difficult? Some motivation is necessary, but discipline gives you the push you need to act. When you are tempted to sleep in, think about how great you’ll feel afterward and how disappointed you will be if you miss your workout. I suggest you write down how you feel after a workout in your workout log or journal. It will help you connect exercising with the positive emotions it produces. Discipline puts your actions in line with your values by forcing you to act on what you know will move you in the right direction.
Emotions can propel us but weak feelings like fear, laziness, and procrastination paralyze us. One of the first habits you’ll want to adopt will be to mentally prime yourself each morning by listening to something that stirs-up strong emotions. I also recommend mini-priming sessions before doing anything that is difficult or important. Before you do anything, ask yourself what do you want to get out of this? What would the best version of yourself do to achieve it? What kind of energy do I want to bring to this task? I can still remember how fired-up I felt in high school when just before kick-off we would slap our thigh pads in an ever-accelerating cadence until the football was kicked-off.
Armies have historically used music and battle cries to overcome their fears, instill fear in their enemy, and prepare themselves for combat. A fantastic example of priming is the Fearsome New Zealand All Blacks’ Haka pre-game ritual. Just watching the thigh slapping, tongue-jabbing, chest-pounding spectacle will give you goosebumps. Performing this pre-game ritual gives them a decided advantage on the playing field, by jacking-up their adrenaline and boosting their confidence.
I acknowledge that motivation doesn’t last, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t seek it out. Zig Ziglar had a witty retort for critics of motivation. “People often say that motivation does not last. Well, neither does bathing, that is why we recommend it daily.” We will use motivation and discipline to establish the habits that will take us where we want to go. After the habits are firmly established, achieving our desired outcome becomes inevitable. Consistency is most important. If you follow the program as it is written, and record your workouts; your performance will gradually improve. The key to effective training is keeping a log. If you want to improve performance, you must measure it. Seems obvious, but how many people do you see at the gym keeping a log?
Keeping your motivational tank full with daily doses of inspiration, gives you the push you need to take more action, and consequently produce more results. As you produce results, as you make progress, your motivation will grow. Small wins motivate us. Progress leads to happiness. Progress is the one thing that universally makes us happy. The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work explains how progress improves the inner work life of employees and teams. Improvements in inner work life drive higher levels of performance and engagement; which in turn leads to better progress and enhanced inner work life. The author calls these reinforcing benefits, the “progress loop.” As you make progress, you rack-up small wins. These small wins make us feel great about ourselves, which stimulates the release of dopamine. When we are making progress in any area of our life, it gives us a sense of accomplishment. It gives us a sense of worth. Tony Robbins often says, “progress equals happiness” and I couldn’t agree more.
The greatest reward of achieving success isn’t what you receive, it is what you become. When you pursue greatness, it forces you to gain new skills and knowledge. Writing these books has forced me to become more knowledgeable. Daily writing has improved my professional writing. Sharing what I have learned helps to itch the information into my brain and makes applying it more natural. I don’t believe we achieve success as much as we attract it by what we become. For example, the best way to attract someone is to become someone that person would be attracted to.
The best way to obtain an above average job is to become an above average worker. Have an above average work ethic. Have an above average attitude. Develop above average skills and knowledge. Achievement rarely exceeds personal development. Looking for an above average job with average skills can be frustrating. What we pursue eludes us. Self-improvement is the best way to achieve success. Getting better doesn’t happen by accident. Great ideas don’t seek us out. We need to take the initiative to discover them. Jim Rohn said “Life doesn’t get better by chance, it gets better by change. Formal education will make you a living. Self-education will make you a fortune.”
He recommended you always work harder on yourself than your job. The best place to start the process of change is with your daily habits. These changes will have the biggest impact because they will be repeated thousands of times. We become what we repeatedly do. First, we form habits. Then they form us. Success is always the result of little daily decisions and actions.
In their pursuit of success, many people put off their own happiness. They wrongly believe that they will be happy when they achieve their goal. This is a huge mistake. If you aren’t joyous in the pursuit of success; it is doubtful you will suddenly be happy when you achieve it. People think that fame and fortune will make them happy, but they don’t. Studies have shown that single events, like winning the lottery, don’t lead to long-term happiness. Life is a journey in many ways, not the least of which is that we spend much more time traveling than arriving. If we want to achieve lasting happiness, we must enjoy the miles in between where we are and where we want to be. Finding joy in the journey leads to lasting happiness and higher achievement. The more pleasurable you make your daily routine, the more consistent you’ll be, and since rituals reap results, the more successful you’ll be.
I often tell people the most effective program is the one you’ll enjoy. If you hate your workouts, you aren’t going to be consistent. You’ll fail to produce good results due to your inconsistency. Eventually you will quit, dejected by a lack of progress. Making your program as enjoyable as possible is critical to your success. “Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.” Aristotle. Long-term happiness flows from our daily routines. Find pleasure in your daily routine and you’ll enjoy greater success and happiness. Deferring the pursuit of happiness is like waiting for retirement to start enjoying life. I believe everyone should squeeze out all the joy they can from each day of their life. Slow down to appreciate all the blessings in your life. Creating a list of all the things you are grateful for in a journal and reading it daily will make you a happier person. Other things you can do is to surround yourself with positive people, exercise daily, and focus on self-improvement.
[i] Benjamin Gardner, “Making health habitual: the psychology of ‘habit-formation’ and general practice,” 2012 Dec; 62(605): 664–666. doi: 10.3399/bjgp12X659466.
[ii] Oaten M, and Cheng K, “Longitudinal gains in self-regulation from regular physical exercise,” Br J Health Psychol. 2006 Nov; 11 (Pt 4):717-33.