Remind yourself that you only need to make small, consistent changes for the better, not fix everything at once. Budget your self-discipline wisely. Challenging yourself unnecessarily by being overly ambitious with your goal or having unrealistic expectations for yourself only depletes your self-discipline while setting you up for failure. Rather, move toward your goal with smaller, easier baby steps, and use crutches to overcome inevitable setbacks.
Keep the words flowing by buying me a coffee.
Everyone wants a grand transformation.
But in reality, nobody actually wants to make the sudden changes needed.
Extreme change, even for the better, is often resisted.
We like to stay in our comfort zones, even if they’re not all that comfortable, because it’s safe and familiar.
Essentially, we are creatures of habit.
But, we can use this fondness for habit to our advantage.
A big change is difficult and scary and overwhelming.
Making six figures in a month or losing half your body weight are goals that will take enormous amounts of effort and discipline—but they’re the kind of goals that, even once you achieve them, you may be more prone to falling back to where you were before anyway.
Though it might not be as flashy and exciting, slow and steady really does win the race.
Small, buildable improvements have staying power.
It’s not what you can do in any one moment, but what you can do consistently, day in and day out, that really makes the difference.
While this formula for self-discipline and progress may sound simple—making tiny improvements every day consistently—it’s important to acknowledge that in practice, it is likely to prove difficult.
You obviously aren’t a Japanese car factory.
You have emotions, for one thing.
And these emotions drive much of your behavior.
If you’re stressed, overwhelmed or just afraid, you may undermine your own goals, hold yourself back, and avoid reaching your full potential.
But if you can only commit to making small, unthreatening changes day by day, you give yourself the chance to make large, permanent changes.
You may be feeling super optimistic and disciplined when you commit to an unrealistic weight loss goal, envisioning how amazing you’ll look and feel when you’ve reached your goal.
But later, when you’re tired, sad, or feeling lazy, you may look at that goal and only see it as something huge and impossible to achieve.
When you focus on the here and now, you tell yourself that your only business is to make small, consistent changes.
Not fix everything at once, and not even necessarily make a noticeable difference for today.
Just follow your good habit.
And the next day, do it again.
Even tiny habits, if they’re in the right direction, add up to results that outweigh many grand plans that quickly failed because they were too ambitious.
Your goal is not to lose weight; it’s just to eat small portions today and pass up on dessert.
Your goal is not to be a piano virtuoso, it’s just to practice for an hour this evening.
Your goal is not to save an extra three hundred dollars by the end of the month, it’s just to find a way to save ten dollars today.
When you think in terms of habits and process, rather than outcome, you fortify yourself against setbacks and disappointments.
It doesn’t matter if one day you fail to follow through on your habit; the next day is another opportunity to regain yourself.
A disappointment at a single point in time does not define the entirety of you.
In the grand scheme of your entire life, it’s the tiniest of slip-ups.
You can fail on a specific task now, and yet when you do not give up, and redeem yourself in the day-to-day, striving to be better, you can still later find success in aggregate, over the course of a month or a year or a lifetime.
The kaizen philosophy has a quest for zero defect, and tells you not to accept any excuses.
But if you do fail, well, the only thing to do is carry on.
If you binged on pizza, it’s not great, but don’t carry on bingeing—stop, draw a line under it, and carry on the next day with your healthy eating plan.
Hang in there.
Know that the longer you persist with a habit, the more chance it has of sticking permanently.
If you get discouraged or feel angry with yourself or ashamed at failing, you only waste time you could instead spend on getting back to it.
Bad habits take a lifetime to form—and good habits are no different.
You can still strive for perfection while being compassionate with yourself when you don’t reach your ideal.
You get closer to perfection, however, every time you strengthen that good habit and turn away from a bad one.
Think of it this way—erring from the path is not a big deal.
But every time you err and come back to the path, you’ve done something great: you’ve strengthened your discipline, self-control, and ability to self-correct.
People are irrational sometimes: they will actively spurn a daily action they feel is too small to be significant, opting instead for bigger, more dramatic actions.
The irony is, though, that the more dramatic the action, the less likely you are to actually follow through—one big step toward your goal followed by nothing will not get you as far as millions of tiny steps taken every single day.
A great way to use kaizen immediately in your goal setting is to ask yourself: what is the smallest daily action I can comfortably and reliably take toward my goal? Then commit to that.
If you can sustain it for a month or two, increase the intensity.
But resist the urge to do more initially.
Yes, you’ll have a slower start, but any progress banked will likely be permanent.
You’ll be doing something more valuable than making a quick and dramatic change—you will be building up an identity, a lifestyle, and a mindset that will serve you for the rest of your life.
Budget Your Self-Discipline Wisely
It takes time, effort, and energy to practice self-discipline.
It’s hard! So, don’t waste it.
Set up your life so that you are giving yourself the least possible work, so that when you do apply your self-discipline, it’s effective.
Look at the following and decide which you think takes more effort and hard work:.
• Giving up an enormous smoking habit cold turkey.
• Tapering off the amount you smoke, then moving to a vape, then using nicotine gum for a while, then gradually easing off entirely.
The more dramatic and sudden a change, the more you will need to recruit your powers of self-control.
Many people can and do quit smoking cold turkey, but it’s certainly easier to gradually reduce your usage.
Why challenge yourself when you don’t need to? The philosophy of “baby steps” isn’t very glamorous or impressive, but it’s an old- fashioned perspective that still has the greatest chance of actually working— precisely because it lowers the need for you to white-knuckle your way through a difficult transition.
It takes time and patience, but in a way, we really test our commitment to our goals when we work on the long term this way.
Anyone can promise the stars and the moon on their wedding day, but it takes real commitment to do the dozen little ordinary things every day that really builds and sustains a marriage.
Don’t overwhelm yourself with the big goal—focus on what you can do here and now to improve the situation.
If you’re sick and can only do forty percent of what you set out to do, fine.
Just do forty percent.
It’s forty percent more than you would have done than if you’d gotten frustrated with yourself and done nothing at all.
Expect setbacks, difficulties, and lack of motivation.
Get through these tough patches using crutches (like nicotine gum).
On very difficult days, merely holding the fort and keeping previous gains is challenge enough.
No matter the goal, no matter the obstacles, you always move forward if you can consistently ask, “How can I do this better? Where can I improve?” Consistency in accomplishing small, relevant tasks every day is far, far more valuable than grandiose goals that never materialize.
Questions or comments regarding the podcast?
Email the show at HollinsPodcast@NewtonMG.com or let us know what you think at http://bit.ly/hollinscomment
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Show notes and/or episode transcripts are available at https://bit.ly/self-growth-home
Peter Hollins is a bestselling author, human psychology researcher, and a dedicated student of the human condition.
Visit https://bit.ly/peterhollins to pick up your FREE human nature cheat sheet: 7 surprising psychology studies that will change the way you think.
For narration information visit Russell Newton at https://bit.ly/VoW-home
For production information visit Newton Media Group LLC at https://bit.ly/newtonmg
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