Crucial Skills®

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Being Disciplined with Daily Habits

Each year we begin anew with commitments for improved health, strengthened relationships, better behaviors, increased skills—new habits. Some realize those resolutions, but for many (if not most), the goals never materialize. It may seem like you’re setting the same New Year’s resolutions year after year. Lose weight becomes lose more weight or lose weight again. Get fit in 2022 turns into get fit next year in 2023. Sort out the junk in your shed transitions to sort out the junk in your life.

I’ve taken a different approach. To guide my desires and commitments for being better in the coming year than I was the year before, I choose a word for the year. My guess is many of you have done something similar. Some of my past words include contribute, grow, focus, become. This year, my word is discipline. In his book Discipline is Destiny: The Power of Self-Control, author Ryan Holiday says, “Discipline means being disciplined in all things, especially the little things.”

I want to be more disciplined in the little things of my life. For me, that means improving my daily habits. A habit is something that starts out as choice and then becomes nearly an automatic pattern. The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg, teaches the science behind habit formation with three components of the habit loop:

  • The cue: the trigger or signal that initiates the habit (time of day, your environment, etc.)
  • The routine: the actual behavior or action
  • The reward: the signal to the brain to do the routine again (a positive outcome or satisfaction)

Once you identify the desired routine, leveraging the right cues and the right rewards helps create automaticity.

What daily habits would you like to be automatic this year? Mediation? Exercise? Journaling? Reading? Networking? Regardless of your desired habits, it will ultimately take discipline—or, in other words, willpower. As Charles Duhigg says, “Willpower isn’t just a skill, it’s a muscle, like the muscles in your arms or legs, and it gets tired as it works harder, so there’s less power left over for other things.” It’s willpower that gets exhausted for many of us.

More than intelligence, wealth, or advanced academics, willpower seems to be a greater predictor of success. Understanding the habit loop will not be enough, we have to harness our willpower. We have to be more disciplined. But how? Here are five suggestions to help support your willpower.

Focus on Your WHY

People need a sense of purpose to persist in a habit change. Your why should be something personal and meaningful to you. It’s the reason why, specifically, you wish to accomplish this habit. Constantly ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?”

Create a Specific Plan

Too often our resolutions are too vague. Lose weight is a great goal, but it won’t guide your behavior. You are more likely to do a routine if you make it small and specific, like adding at least 25 grams of protein to your breakfast every day. Make it small and specific enough that when the time comes to do the routine, you don’t even have to think about it. The ultimate goal is to reduce the time between the cueing and the doing.

Surround Yourself with True Friends

Friends are great. True friends are better. A true friend makes it easier to accomplish our goals, not harder. A supportive network of true friends increases our willpower.

Turn Bad Days into Good Data

As you experiment with new habits, see yourself as the scientist and the subject. Learn to see your behavior not in terms of success and failure but in terms of data you can use to improve.

Repetition is Key

We often underestimate the amount of effort required to achieve success. Changing behavior will get harder before it gets easier. Over time it will get easier—but first, we must overcome the forces (real and perceived) that keep us where we are. And that takes repetition.

If you don’t believe it can and will get easier, you will find yourself at the beginning of the curve—and that makes it far too easy to slip back to your old habits and stay where you are. Take heart from this classic Ralph Waldo Emerson quote: “That which we persist in doing becomes easier to do, not that the nature of the thing has changed but that our power to do has increased.”

These five tips to increase our discipline will be key as we look to learn from the past, live in the present, and prepare for the future. Let’s make 2024 the year of impact as we make, keep, and improve our daily habits in order to accomplish our even bigger goals.

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