A system to build unshakeable discipline
When searching for ways to improve your life, you'll quickly come across countless pieces of advice on the internet or in books, offering strategies to earn more money, enhance your health, or acquire a new skill. While this search often yields useful and actionable information, many of us still fall short of our goals. Why is that?
The primary reason is that we are missing one key ingredient that is crucial for lasting success: discipline. When we start something new, our motivation gets a temporary boost and usually lasts long enough to yield some short-term results. However, without discipline, we tend to give up once that motivation begins to wane. Motivation will ebb and flow, leading to long periods when we don't feel like putting in the consistent effort required to achieve our goals.
With a disciplined approach, we're more likely to achieve our goals. Discipline helps us succeed where motivation falls short by aligning our behavior, emotions, and thoughts with our long-term objectives. Since discipline is a skill, it can be refined with practice.
When trying to accomplish anything difficult in life, there are generally four keys to success:
Having a decent plan
Having the discipline to stick to the plan
Having a feedback loop to adjust the plan
Having a long enough time horizon to achieve the desired result
The Discipline Equation¹
Discipline = Why (awareness + purpose + motivation) - Friction (difficulty + negative beliefs + fear)
We’ll dive more into the components of this equation below, where you’ll find a step-by-step system that will help you build the discipline required to accomplish your goals.
Grab your favorite notebook, piece of paper, or digital document. I personally use a tool called Obsidian to manage much of my life.
1. Goal Setting
In order to build discipline, you need to have something that you want to achieve. Spend some time thinking about what your goals are and write down a list of options in your document.
Pare down the list you created to a single goal that will take several months to achieve.
When writing down your goals, use the SMART goal framework — Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. This will help create goals that are both realistic and aligned with your values.
Lose 20 lbs over the next 6 months.
Now, break each goal down into daily actionable tasks.
Every weekday morning, after I drop my kids off at school, I will immediately work out for 10 minutes.
Every evening, for dinner, I will only eat whole, unprocessed foods.
If you currently have a set of daily routines, integrate these actions into one of your routines. If you don’t currently have one, it’s most effective to start with your morning. You can read about how to create an incredible morning routine here.
2. Find a compelling “why”
When you consider the Discipline Equation, the more you increase your “why”, the more friction you will be able to overcome. For instance, if you knew your family would be harmed if you didn’t work out every day for the next 6 months, no amount of friction would stand in your way because your “why” is so strong.
Spend some time thinking deeply about the “why” for your goal. I, personally, have found that having a “why” rooted in my values and for the benefit of my family is compelling enough to stop searching for a stronger “why” and instead move on to reducing friction.
3. Reduce friction
What are the obstacles that will stand in the way of you achieving your goal? Identify them. How can you minimize each obstacle as much as possible?
Decrease the difficulty. When starting something new, we often bite off more than we can chew. Instead, make it easy in the beginning, then refine it in a feedback loop.
Do prep work. The night before or a few hours before, set up your environment for success. For instance, if you want to workout in the morning, lay your workout clothes the night before. This will help you hit the ground running when you start your task.
Add to a routine. Do the task at the same time every day, following another daily activity you consistently do. This will help you form a habit more quickly than if you were to execute the task randomly at any point during the day.
Reframe and challenge negative thoughts. It’s helpful to reduce negative thoughts down into facts rather than assumptions. Can you find any evidence contrary to the negative thought? Show yourself the same compassion you would if a friend were having the same struggle. If negative thinking is negatively impacting your life, consider seeking professional help as it will speed up this process.
Find an accountability partner. An accountability partner can dramatically reduce friction. However, ensure that your discipline is strong enough to continue without them. If you become reliant on your partner and they fail, you too will fail.
Since we can improve only what we measure, it's crucial to find a way to track progress. For weight loss, this could mean weekly progress photos and scale measurements. For weightlifting, it would involve recording the movement, weight, and reps for each session. However, be cautious not to go overboard, as it might tip the balance towards the Friction side of The Discipline Equation.
Every few weeks, review your progress and determine whether you should consider adjusting your plan. Perhaps tasks are easier than expected, which will prompt you to increase the difficulty so you progress faster. On the other hand, if things are too challenging, you might decide to scale back to a more sustainable level. Regularly revisit your 'why' and consider using your results to make it even more compelling. Also, continue efforts to reduce areas of friction as much as possible.
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I began taking running seriously after a cardiologist warned me that if I didn't care of my heart, I would likely need a valve replacement in my early 50s due to a heart defect. At the age of 23, this became a compelling "why" for me and motivated me to establish a consistent exercise routine. I was also able to reduce friction by joining a running club, which allowed me to tap into a community for support.
Now, at 39, my "why" has deepened. I strive to set a good example for my children and hope to have the energy to play with my future grandchildren. This reason is even more compelling to me; I find it easier to take action for my family than just for myself. While I still find community support to be valuable, as my discipline has grown, I am no longer reliant on it
"To be great and to have power requires clarity: We must be clear in our aim, our direction, and our destination, then translate that ambition into the steps and daily tasks that will take us there." - Ryan Holiday
After months go by, you will soon be at a point where The Discipline Equation is so positive that you are ready to add another goal. Once you have built discipline in one area of your life, it will be significantly easier to do the same thing in other areas. Follow this same process and soon you will be absolutely amazed at how, with a disciplined approach, you have completely changed your life.
¹ Steven Bartlett’s Discipline Equation:
P.S. I’m currently looking for 3 more businesses to participate in our Slipstream beta program. We will help you identify, document, and systemize your core processes in Slipstream and give you an extended free trial (6 months!). Drop me a message on LinkedIn if you are interested!