8 endeavors that require self-discipline

  1. become a minimalist.
  2. write a novel.
  3. run a marathon.
  4. quit smoking.
  5. learn a new language.
  6. lose 30 pounds.
  7. meditate every day.
  8. remain a minimalist.
Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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  1. Tom says

    I think self-disclipline is overrated, at least when it comes to things that you should want to do as opposed to things that simply have to be done. The above 8 things are things someone is likely to choose to do, so there should be abundant motivation (read: a reason why) for doing any of these tasks. And when you have that motivation, self-discipline is really a non-issue.

    For example, I would have never quit smoking by self-discipline. It was simply the fact that I was fed up with it and wanted to feel healthier and not have my clothes reek of cold cigarette smoke all the time. It was a matter of leaving a bad situation for a better one and that hardly needed any self-discipline at all. All it needed was the realization and aknowledgement that I could change my life for the better.

    Same goes for weight loss. I lost 40 pounds because I hated myself and the fact that my jeans didn’t fit anymore and I was short-winded. That situation was becoming unbearable for me, so I had ample reason to change it.

    A “reason why” goes a long way when it comes to following through on something. Sure, there are things that need to be done and that we need self-discipline for. But for your points above I see no real reason why somebody should self-discipline himself into doing them. Either you want to do them, or you don’t.

  2. says

    i think i agree with tom. if something requires what i would call self-discipline it means i have seriously conflicting desires. smoking, because of the chemical dependency, would be something with a built-in conflict, and for many people does call for self-discipline. same with any addiction, from drugs to sex to gambling to shopping.

    novel writing, on the other hand, cannot be forced. if you are not naturally called back to the writing, you are not really a writer. same with art. you might have talent and potential, but the key ingredient, pull, is not there. it should take self-discipline NOT to write all the time, to leave room in your life for other things.

    likewise with minimalism. if it takes self-discipline, then you are imposing a structure upon yourself which is not organic, and thus not naturally sustained. fortunately there are many flavors of minimalism. find one that is a natural fit and get it off the self-discipline list.

    i would call your list one of good things to be able to achieve.

  3. says

    @Tom & Mara: I’ve written about this numerous times on Zen Habits, but I believe “discipline” is an illusion — it doesn’t really exist if you really examine what it is. All we have is motivation. When we talk about things requiring discipline, we really mean we need to find the right motivation.

    Btw, I’ve done everything on the list except learn a new language (other than the one I learned as a toddler). They’re all great!

  4. says

    leo–agree totally. i love the moments when things just “click” and the logic/motivation for certain actions becomes crystal clear and a pleasure to pursue. i’ve also done everything on the list except run a marathon (health limitations). i’ve forgotten most of the french i used to know, and my novels are best forgotten as well :p

  5. says

    thanks for the thoughts everybody. i’m glad to see this 25-word post spark such deep insights.

    motivation is certainly an important element of this conversation and is required for any significant life change that one embarks upon. however, i tried to select a list of items where “initial motivation” would not be sufficient to bring about completion of the goal.

    my choices for the list above were based upon a discussion that i had with a group of friends when i asked the question: “what accomplishment in your life required the most discipline?” the answers ranged from “staying faithful in my marriage” to “running a half-marathon” and from “got a phd” to “learned a new language.” in every instance, they spoke of natural forces that tempted them to abandon their motivation at some point during their endeavor. the motivation started them on the journey, but self-control (self-discipline) was required to see it through to the end.

    during the conversation, the thoughts in my mind raced to the practice of minimalism. in a culture that champions consumerism and often crowns the family with the biggest house as the most important, there are external forces against this lifestyle (of choosing it and remaining in it). natural forces that must be overcome until minimalism becomes your new normal.

    once it becomes your new normal, less “discipline” is required.

  6. Tonya Washburn says

    The McDonalds story so applies! Lia loves collecting them, our extended family will even shop them for her. I recently scoured the house for every last one of them, it was scary how many I found! I then moved on to the stuffed animals, she hasn’t even noticed! Then I moved on to the clothes, I dropped off so much at Goodwill that they scolded me and told me next time I need to call ahead! LOL I’m on my way!

    Let your wife know that I already have clothes in the closet for next year! (sometimes the sales are just that good) which then leads me to realize how much they are making off us when we do pay full price…. YIKES!

  7. says

    @Tom, Mara, Leo – The concept of discipline might be better expressed as the intersection between motivation (why) and technique (how). For example – even if I’m naturally pulled toward writing (motivation), it’s doubtful that I’ll be able to complete a novel-length work without some sort of adherence to certain writing techniques, at least some of which would likely be different than the techniques needed to write, say, short poems. Discipline is the ability to use motivation and passion to power specific actions associated with a particular goal. Motivation without discipline is just thrashing – excited, energetic thrasing, yes – but still thrashing.

    That being said, I think discipline is, in time, eclipsed by habit and routine. Once certain actions or techniques become ingrained and natural, there’s much less need for “discipline.”

  8. says

    Thanks for inviting me to come over here on Twitter Joshua, this is a really great conversation.

    The last time I was at Yoga to the People in the city, the teacher said something about this while we were in Savasana which I think rings true.

    She said something similar to: “A few years ago when my daughter was younger, I was thinking about the word discipline. When we think of discipline, we’re first to think about roughness, hardness, and being strict. One day I picked up an old dictionary and looked up the word, the definition surprised me. — discipline means ‘to teach with love.’ This promptly blew my mind, and the entire way that I thought about my interactions with my daughter, myself, and my yoga practice.”

    Now, I couldn’t find this definition at dictionary.com — so we must not think of the word that way anymore. I think my yoga teacher is so right. Discipline isn’t such a bad thing, when you use a definition such as “to teach with love.”

    How can you reconsider Joshua statements if they were:

    1. to love yourself enough to become a minimalist.
    2. to love yourself enough to write a novel.
    3. to love yourself enough to run a marathon.
    4. to love yourself enough to quit smoking.
    5. to love yourself enough to learn a new language.
    6. to love yourself enough to lose 30 pounds.
    7. to love yourself enough to meditate every day.
    8. to love yourself enough to remain a minimalist.

    That changes everything right?

  9. says

    We’ve been raised in a word with the doctrine that improving your life standard is adding more stuff to your closet. I think that for most people minimalism almost seems counter intuitive. It’s only after breaking that doctrine that self discipline becomes motivation.

  10. GW says

    Motivation is the why – as someone mentioned above. Self-discipline is continually honoring the “why” as it waxes and wanes.

  11. says

    I’ve written about this topic before as well. However, unlike Leo I’ve fallen more toward the end of the spectrum that thinks self-discipline is important. I think Jeffrey really summed up my take on the subject pretty well in his comment. Everybody starts a personal project with motivation and excitement. That motivation will only last so long before what was new and exciting becomes the old and familiar. No matter how much I love writing, pushing through the difficult part in my novel where I have no idea what the characters should do next requires self-discipline. Getting through mile 17 of a marathon requires self-discipline. Sure, it’s much easier to have self-discipline when your motivation is strong but I think it’s false to say that self-discipline has no role in a well lived life (I don’t think anyone actually said that, but I’m just paraphrasing at this point).

    I think Everett makes a good point about the negative connotation that the word “discipline” gets. I have fairly successfully rewired my brain to think of discipline as an overwhelmingly positive thing. When you have self discipline anything is possible, even if your motivation falters for awhile. Having that self-discipline will get you through that “dip” until you are able to find or refocus your motivation again.

    Great conversation here. Glad I stopped by.

  12. says

    Interesting discussion, I must say. I’m sticking with my original position, but I also just realized that – for me – there is actually a place for self-discipline, even if I thoroughly enjoy whatever I’m working on and I have plenty of momentum to keep going:

    I need the discipline to stick with a project and not get sidetracked by a new idea. That’s something I’ve been struggling with for a long time.

    In a situation where I can work on two projects that interest me equally, a “reason why” might not help in deciding to stick with the one I’m already working on, because this reason may be the same for both projects or at least comparable. But any new ideas usually look bright and shiny, especially when compared to a project where you’re down in the nitty gritty. It takes discipline to hunker down and follow through.

    But maybe it all comes down to your personal definition of discipline. Probably anything one attempts will eventually hit some bumps (anything worthwhile does) and you need the mental strength to push through or over those bumps. And that mental strength is discipline, motivation or whatever you like to call it.

    • di says

      If it’s a personal project, without a deadline, it’s okay to put it away until your inspired once again.

      Enforcing discipline, when it is not really needed, may not have the best results.

  13. says

    A great list. I’m sure many of us can relate to it.

    The stop smoking can be done. I know ,as I quit after smoking for 30 years. Do some mental and spiritual preparation as well as the physical preparation. You can do it!

  14. says

    I absolutely love how this list begins and ends. The perfect bookends! I started my minimalist adventure about a month ago, and can honestly say that it’s getting easier as I go. I’ve lost all desire to shop and browse. It’s startling how that works – I certainly didn’t expect it to be the case. In fact, I haven’t spent a dime in six days, and not even because I’m attempting a personal challenge -I just don’t need anything. Makes me wonder what I “needed” before.

    • di says

      If you take an accurate assessment of your belongings, you’d realize you may already have what you need.

      You can go without many things without jeopardizing your well-being.

  15. says

    9. being a (great) parent

    Perhaps this is an end to some of the means listed in the original 8, but I find (great) parenting requires an immense amount of self-discipline. The ability to be present and mindful of your children — their needs, wants, rants, raves — so that you can respond in a nurturing way is the epitome of self-discipline. For me anyway…

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