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Sunday Self-Scaler 5
How to remove willpower from the equation of self-discipline, an amazing podcast you should check out, and a mental exercise that can help you through tough times.
The internet is ridden with thousands of articles by self-help “gurus” spouting advice on cultivating self-discipline — Wake up early in the morning, take cold showers, abstain from masturbation blah blah blah.
I’m not saying that such advice is bad, just that it won’t help you cultivate self-discipline. In fact what even is self-discipline? There are thousands of definitions and I like to define it as,
“The ability to control yourself with the intention of improving yourself and working towards your goals”
Fair enough? Now the question is what do you think of self-discipline?
Something hard that requires willpower and motivation?
Wrong. Firstly, self-discipline isn’t and shouldn’t be hard. Secondly, willpower is a limited resource and if self-discipline required willpower, it wouldn’t last long.
No, you aren't to blame for this misconception. We have had this “contorted version” of self-discipline shoved down our throats by our parents, schools, and mainstream media.
I want to share a few thoughts and ideas on how to cultivate true self-discipline — which is easy, doesn’t require much willpower, and even fun.
Have a Strong Sense of Purpose
Let’s say you decide to take cold showers every morning and I ask you why what would you answer?
“Err, because someone on the internet told me to”, “Because a friend does it and says I should”?
If your answer is something on similar lines, then you, my friend do not have a sense of purpose. Everything you do needs to have a purpose not blindly doing something just because someone told you to or someone does it.
“Since cold showers have been proven to rouse and make you alert, I believe they will help improve my productivity in the mornings when I usually feel lazy and sleepy.”
An answer like the above has a strong sense of purpose — Wanting to improve your productivity in the mornings.
A strong sense of purpose alone is enough to drive, and motivate you to do something. When you lack a sense of purpose, doubt and questions like, “Why am I even doing this”, “This isn’t worth it”, etc. will arise.
You might push along with “will power” for a while. But as I said earlier, willpower is a limited resource and it won’t take long for it to run out.
So before you decide to do something, ask yourself, “Why?” and be brutally honest when answering it. It’s worth going ahead only if you find a satisfying answer.
Start Small and Build Your Way Up
Okay, so now you have a strong sense of purpose. Let’s say you wanted to start waking up early.
With an air of determination, you proceed to set an alarm for 5:00 AM right away. You are really excited about your new endeavor as you go to bed. The next morning, you don’t want to wake up but you summon your willpower and get up.
This repeats the next day and for a few more days. This feels like torment now. “How the actual hell do people do this regularly?”, you wonder to yourself. When the alarm goes off the next morning, you are at the end of your rope and after a few minutes of silent contemplation, you go back to sleep.
“It’s just today and anyway I deserve a day off after all these days. What harm will one day do?”
One day becomes two, two becomes four and before long, you have completely given up. This happens so sneakily and gradually that you don’t realize it before it’s too late.
“Once the seed of irregularity is sowed, it doesn’t take long for it to sprout into a tree.”
You could go about this a different way where you start with a time of say 6:45 AM and decrease the time by 15 minutes every week or so.
The starting point is easier to stick to. As the change is only 15 minutes every week, you will barely even notice the change. At this rate, you would reach 5:00 AM by the end of 7 weeks.
You are also much more likely to stick to it as you slowly acclimated your way there over the course of a lot of days instead of forcing yourself in a single day.
Start small and build up with time. This not only ensures consistency but also makes the process much easier. I love analogies and here’s one,
“It is much easier to climb a staircase with low steps than one with fewer but steeper steps”
Make It Easy to Do
When the quarantine started, gyms closed and I had to work out at home. A couple of months back, a nearby gym opened but only for a few hours early in the morning.
Being a late riser, this switch was hard to make. The feeling of getting back to an actual gym after working out at home kept me motivated the first few days.
The “prepping” process would take quite some time — grab fresh towels, fill 2 water bottles, make and have my pre-workout meal, dust my straps, ready my shaker, etc., and this really frustrated me.
One morning, the thought of the “prepping” made me skip the gym and go back to sleep. With the seed of irregularity planted, quite a few “one” mornings ensued.
One night, wallowing in regret, I decided to prepare ahead. I dusted my gym apparel, filled the water bottles, prepared my pre-workout meal, popped it in the fridge, and packed my gym bag.
The next morning felt like a breeze. “Why hadn’t I thought of doing this before?”, I said to myself. By prepping ahead, I had greatly reduced the tediousness of the process.
Prepare ahead to make the process easy. The easier the process, the better you will stick to it.
As I used my phone for my morning alarm, it would be at hand’s reach. As a result, I would check my phone right after waking up. Somedays I would get hooked and not get off it for so long that it would be too late to go to the gym.
One night, I decided to start using a physical alarm and tucking my phone away in another room’s cupboard. Needless to say, this worked like a charm.
With distractions around, you will have to exercise your willpower to not give in to them but if you remove them altogether, the problem is solved.
If you want to focus on your work, turn off notifications. If you want to eat healthily, don’t even buy junk food. If you want to stop masturbating, block out porn sites.
Make it hard to “not do”
I am and always have been a late riser but as I said earlier, I was compelled to wake up early to hit the gym. An alarm is great but it’s extremely easy to hit the snooze button and go back to sleep.
Somedays, when sleep feels just so damn dear that nothing else seems to matter, I hit the snooze in a split second. I thought, “If a single alarm didn’t cut it, then multiple had to.”.
As I had to wake up by 6:00 AM, I set a whopping fifteen alarms from 5:45 AM to 6:15 AM, spaced 2 minutes apart. The frustration of having to silence so many alarms would be enough to forsake sleep and get my ass up.
Making something hard to not do makes it easier to do.
Similarly, if you want to reduce your phone usage, use a tracking app, and if you are really serious, go “nuclear mode” by allowing it to block your usage once the limit is up.
Self-Accountability and Accountability “Devices”
We often easily find and even invent excuses if necessary to convince ourselves that something isn’t our fault.
If you decided to take cold showers every day and missed a day, you would readily justify it — “I had a mild cold”, “The weather was too cold today”, “I deserve a break after all”, etc.
You aren’t to blame, your cognitive biases are.
Meet the egocentric bias and the self-serving bias
You get good grades, you attribute it to your hard work and acumen. You get bad grades, you blame the question paper, teacher, or your “bad luck”.
Been there? Of course, you have, we have all been there.
The self-serving bias is where you readily take credit in positive events and readily blame external factors in negative events. This is linked to the egocentric bias where we tend to “exaggerate” our own roles in events.
Once you are aware of these biases, you can look at things from a more objective perspective. Stop blaming external factors and try to see your own faults and mistakes.
If you don’t see any fault in yourself, how will you even improve? Be responsible for and accountable to yourself. As the saying goes,
“You either make yourself self-accountable or you will be made accountable by your circumstances”
Self-accountability is great but it isn’t enough sometimes. This is where “accountability devices” come in.
It can be a person, an app, or anything that can hold you accountable. When you have something external to be accountable to, you feel much more responsible and are less likely to slack.
If you want to regularly hit the gym in the morning, find yourself a workout partner so that you can be mutually accountable to each other. Similarly, for a reading habit, join a reading club.
Just Show Up Every Day
Somedays, circumstances can be extremely dissuading, so much so that you feel like taking a break and even giving up.
On such days, summon your willpower and just show up. Have no plans, have no goals. Just show up.
As a fitness enthusiast, somedays I feel extremely unmotivated and lethargic. But I show up and more often than not — I have had some of the best workouts of life on such days.
“Sometimes the bravest and most important thing you can do is show up”
The power of showing up is extremely underrated. You never know, your worst days could turn out to be the best.
An Amazing Podcast You Should Check Out
Ever since I discovered Naval Ravikant, I have become a huge fan of his thoughts, ideas, and him itself.
For those of you who don’t know him, he’s an Indian-American entrepreneur, investor, thinker, and modern-day philosopher. His podcast is mana for the intellectual or curious brain.
He basically posts 1 to 2-minute snippets that rightly are what he calls - “High value no fluff concise nuggets.” You should totally check them out. While you are at it, I also recommend watching his interview with Joe Rogan. It’s easily the best JRE interview I’ve ever watched.
A Mental Exercise to Help You Through These Tough Times
Since COVID-19 hit the world, our lives have changed, for the worst in most cases with families being torn apart and millions dying.
I’m from India and since the second wave struck here, it has been absolute hell for most. Insufficient beds, cases rising like crazy, people dying, government and people alike being irresponsible and careless, and the healthcare system is on the verge of a collapse.
An exercise that has helped me and continues to help me stay calm through turmoil is very simple - identify and focus only on the things that are under my control.
This is basically the Stoic dichotomy of control - some things are under our control such as our thoughts and actions while most aren’t, like external events, other’s actions, and the like. And the only things you need to be focusing upon are only the ones under your control.
Forget and don’t care about the things outside your control. This simple exercise can work wonders so be sure to seriously try it out.
Hey guys! That’s all for today! Hope you had a great weekend and hope this helps you have an even better week ahead! So cya till next time!
If you have suggestions, content ideas, feedback, plain ol’ appreciation, or even criticism, kindly leave a comment. I’d love to know what you have to say!