In his bestselling book The 4-Hour Workweek, Tim Ferriss writes “‘Someday’ is a disease that will take your dreams to the grave with you.”
How often have we thought about how, someday, we will start up a business? Or that, someday, we’ll join the speaker’s club to improve our presentation skills? Perhaps, someday, you plan to travel the world or write a book or learn how to paint.
Sadly, countless people discover that someday never comes. Someday, for many of us, isn’t a reality – it’s a psychological comfort blanket that lets us believe that it’s not that we’re procrastinating. We’ll get there, eventually, it’s just…now isn’t the right time.
In 1989, John Grisham was working as a lawyer in Mississippi when he wrote his first novel, A Time to Kill. Thirty years and over forty books later, he published The Guardians in October 2019.
Promoting the book, he held a Facebook Live Q&A. In response to a question asking what the best advice he ever received, John replied that his publisher once told him, “Aim to put a book out every year – that’s how you’ll create a following.”
Adding on to that advice, The Pelican Brief author suggested that, if writers aren’t writing at least one page every day, they’ll lose their momentum and never get around to writing their first work.
There will be plenty of writers who will say that it’s not necessary to write every day. As with any valuable lesson, Grisham’s point doesn’t need to be literally true. His advice is clear: we can think and plan and fantasise for as long as we like, but nothing will develop or grow until we start doing.
Bringing Yourself to Start
Some might argue that they struggle to work up the motivation. They want to achieve a certain goal, but they just can’t bring themselves to get started. And therein lies both the problem and the confusion.
Motivation is described as “a reason or reasons for acting in a certain way”. In wanting to do anything (and thus having a reason for it), we’re already motivated. The only thing that holds us back is the decision to act, to follow through. To be self-disciplined.
Self-discipline can be a challenge to develop. When we’re growing up, we are disciplined by our parents and teachers. Society disciplines us through its norms, and we face degrees of consequences when we don’t conform. In the workplace, we’re disciplined by two primary considerations: firstly, we need to perform in order to get paid; if we don’t perform, and secondly, we could find ourselves unemployed.
So, for most of our lives, discipline is something that comes from sources external to ourselves. Unless you’ve pursued your own ways of developing self-discipline (e.g. joining a martial arts class or learning piano), you might be unfamiliar with what it entails.
With that in mind, how do we develop self-discipline? Here are three key ways to develop the skill and master ourselves:
1. Whatever you’re doing, treat it as seriously as a paid job
A lack of self-discipline comes when we have all the time in the world to get something done, and there are no real consequences for procrastinating. In an interview with Harvard Business Review, the author Salman Rushdie describes how he disciplines himself to write, “I’ve always had told myself simply to treat it like a nine to five job– if you have a job, you just go and do it. It doesn’t matter whether you’re feeling good that day. You know, if you’re a carpenter, you make your table…I can sit down at my desk every day and do my day’s work. I just do not give myself permission not to do it.”
2. Use the Pomodoro Technique
If you find it difficult to just get down to the work, this popular time-management technique can help you progress towards that goal. The idea is that you commit to 25-minutes of work, and then take a five-minute break. After the third round of working for 25 minutes (75 minutes in total), you take a 15-minute break. Repeat the process as necessary. This helps you to focus during the time you’ve set for working, and the self-discipline is incentivised by knowing you’ll have a short break soon as your reward.
3. Remind yourself why you’re trying to achieve a specific goal
Learning Japanese might be challenging, but your partner’s Japanese parents don’t speak English very well. You want to make a good impression when you meet them. Even if you manage to hold a basic conversation, it shows that you’ve made an effort – and that means several plus points for you!
It’s difficult to maintain discipline if there’s no real meaning or purpose to it. By making sure an ambition or goal is important to you, it’ll be much easier to follow-through on your motivation and to persevere when you’re feeling stuck.
Read More: How I Overcame the Pain of Learning
Republished with permission from Roshan Thiran's LinkedIn
This article is also available in Chinese.
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