Discipline. What a terrible word, right? It brings to mind images of a little kid being scolded by his mom or forcing yourself to wake up at 4 a.m. for a workout you’re dreading. Many people believe that a disciplined life is too hard because you have to maintain a strict schedule. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Discipline. What a terrible word, right? It brings to mind images of a little kid being scolded by his mom or forcing yourself to wake up at 4 a.m. for a workout you're dreading. Many people believe that a disciplined life is too hard because you have to maintain a strict schedule. But it doesn't have to be that way. Take Olympic athletes (like me!) for example. It took an incredible commitment to my training and a willingness to do what needs to be done -- no matter what. But with discipline comes freedom, happiness, self-confidence, mental and physical strength and inspiration to grow. Here are my tips on how anyone can develop discipline.
1. Donâ€™t Be Shy -- Set Big Goals!
One day my coach told me we were going to train for the European Championship in two years, then the World Championship, and one day we would go to the Olympics. The minute he set these goals for me, I had to think of myself as a professional athlete and then train as one. When you challenge yourself to achieve bigger goals, then you dedicate yourself to a craft. You have to start thinking as if you were already at the top in order to put yourself into the mindset of a bigger, bolder state. Now you're not the person who set the goal, you're the person on a mission to achieve a bigger purpose.
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2. Be Specific With Your Goals
Our brain requires clear commands in order to turn them into actions. Your goals need to be defined by what, why, where, when and how. Think of your brain as a computer: When you ask a computer to open a folder, you tell it exactly which one you want. For example, if you decide to be healthier, you must first define what a healthy lifestyle means to you. Will you go running every day? At what time and for how long? Will you eat healthy? How will you measure if you are healthy? If there is no clear goal, there's no possibility to create specific steps that you will need to do to achieve it.
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3. Pause and Think Before Committing
Discipline was instilled in me by my mom. When I would ask her if I could start art, dance or volleyball classes, she would say, "Be careful in choosing what you want to spend your time doing, because you won't be able to quit. You'll have to see it through to the end and do it well." That led me to think about if I would truly be able to commit to something for a long time. Also, knowing that it's the only thing I chose made me think about how I could keep getting better at it.
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4. Make Every Day Count
When you wake up in the morning, decide what's the most important thing for you to accomplish that day. What you do (or don't do) determines whether your dream lives or dies. Every athlete knows that if they skip one training session, they're already behind. They know that even if the competition is still three months away, they're setting themselves up for failure if they don't accomplish each day's goals. Research shows that analyzing your actions in an "if-then" framework is highly effective in training self-control. So "if" you decide to ignore your plans and deadlines, "then" you're getting yourself off track from your goal.
5. Have a â€śNo Matter Whatâ€ť Mindset
Tell yourself, "I will accomplish the task on time -- no matter what!" You have to create pressure for yourself, otherwise nothing will get done. However, there's good stress and bad stress, and you have to make sure you're operating under the good stress. That means butterflies in the stomach -- a manageable adrenaline that stimulates you -- as opposed to an oppressive stress that makes you feel sick to your stomach. So when you feel like giving up, remember why you started. Focus on the excitement of achieving your goals, then smile and hit it with full force.
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6. Stick to the Plan Until It Becomes Routine
If you want to go to the Olympics, each training session matters. The same goes for everything else in your life. When the process starts, you can't question it. You have to create a routine that becomes automatic. Athletes know the hour of their training, their lunch, dinner and rest. During each training session, they know they have to do a warm-up, the main training, the cooldown and then recovery. Everything is set up to accomplish the goal. And you can't let fears and doubts stop you. When those thoughts creep into your mind, just let them pass without focusing on them.
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7. Give Yourself a Pep Talk
A 2006 study from the Journal of Applied Sports Psychology showed that simple self-talk -- like saying "I want to be the best" or "I'm going to try as hard as possible" -- was the most effective technique in increasing motivation. Interestingly, self-talk focused on specific goals, such as "I'm going to get a score of 90," didn't work as well.
8. Fight Your Instinct to Quit
The hardest part about discipline is resisting your natural inclination toward comfort and instant gratification. Your brain will do everything to resist change and growth. But it's natural to feel lazy and undisciplined at times. But you also have the power to fight it, and that starts with your thoughts. All people feel lazy from time to time. However, that feeling of laziness is actually your brain trying to save energy. But you can trick your brain. Imagine that your body is a machine and that you are simply operating it from the outside. Play it like a computer game. You're the one who gives commands to your body to accomplish tasks.
9. Find Pleasure in Your Hard Work
Shift your focus to the process and enjoying the journey. When you're improving, there will be discomfort involved in shifting from old patterns to new behavior. But if you focus on how much you're gaining it'll make your journey exciting, and short-term pain will melt. Many quit too early. But success is all about persistence and going until the end. Discipline is what gets you to your goal. When you learn about your craft and your own capabilities, you'll start to see yourself change. And then you'll become hungry for more. Self-improvement is an amazing drug.
What Do YOU Think?
What are your goals right now? What are you doing to help achieve them? Is discipline part of your plan? What do you think about these tips? Have you tried any of them? Do you think you'll put any of them into action? Share your thoughts, experiences and questions in the comments section below!