If you think about it a little, it’s not hard to see why as adults we would have some serious misconceptions about discipline. Most of what we know about it goes back to our childhood, to the days in which our parents punished us basically for being kids. Also, another important reference is the military where soldiers obey commands, get up at brutal hours and must suck it up and do their duty.
Everything we know about discipline is related to a supreme authority that tells people what they are allowed to do and what not. Who the hell would like and choose a life like that? Well, I’m not here to judge. In the end we all make our choices depending on what we feel would make us happy.
Honesty moment: Discipline is one of those things that we all know we need. We know it. Without it we would all be digging a hole in our couches with chips crumbs on our chests and a phone glued to our hands. Because of our references none of us likes to talk or learn about it. Now and then we even get a little nauseous at the sight or sound of that word.
Let’s see the most popular misconceptions about discipline
Discipline in adulthood isn’t about punishment nor is it about obeying others. Discipline is about habits, efficiency and effectiveness. Freelancers, location independent people and digital nomads all need it to make things happen because there is no one there to nag them about deadlines, departure hours, sleeping hours, eating habits and so on. They answer only to themselves.
1. Discipline is a personality trait
You might be surprised to find out that this is one of the most popular misconceptions about discipline there is. People think it’s something you are sort of born with. Like the color of your eyes or hair. You either have it or not. I can tell you from my own experience that discipline is a tool, a method rather than an objective. It’s really the best tool out there that helps you reach your objectives.
2. Discipline is hard
In fact, a life without discipline is harder. Being late, eating what you know you shouldn’t just because you crave it, sleeping in though you know it will make you feel lazy and tired all day, watching another episode though you know you have a deadline and the list can go on. Due to a lack of discipline, your life becomes more difficult. It multiplies time loss and fuck ups which you’ll have to make up for. The hard part about discipline is the first month. Until you get rid of old habits and form new ones, you will struggle a little. There’s no need for me to lie to you. Panic not! It’s only a challenge.
Let’s take me, for example. I’m a morning person, but at some point between college exams and my first two jobs, I felt so tired that I started sleeping in in the morning. However, pretty soon this led me to going to bed later because my body only needs a certain amount of sleep to work at its best. This sleep schedule made me miss my most productive hours and I went into a world of frustration and constant tired days even though I was sleeping enough. As soon as I started waking up at 6 in the morning again, I started producing good work again.
3. Discipline is cold
Most of us think of discipline as something that asks for an iron will and brutality. We are dead wrong. That’s army style and we’re not soldiers, are we? First of all if we want to learn discipline we need to acknowledge, understand and then manage our own emotions. It takes some reflection time. You need to understand how your body, mind and heart work together and see what you can adjust. You can’t change what you don’t know, can you?
I’ve learned that discipline isn’t about abstinence from what you love. It’s just about making intentional decisions and about objectivity. If you know your life could be better or you could manage your time better, you have to decide to do it. Not force, decide! And do it for yourself, not for your clients. This is all about making YOUR life easier.
4. Discipline is boring
Regular eating hours, regular sleeping hours, regular work hours, it all sounds soooo boring and repetitive, right? Wrong, dudes. Yes, it might seem like you traded employee life for freedom and ended up having a schedule just like in your before, but here the thing: it’s not the same.
Let me explain why. Your days still have 24 hours. Between 6 and 8 hours per day you sleep. You need to if you want to avoid burnout. That leaves you with about 16 hours. The main difference between employee and independent working life is that those 16 hours are your to use in the best possible way. No one is going to imprison you in an endless meeting, make you stay in a pointless brainstorming or make you waste hours commuting. If you use discipline in your daily life you can end up with more free time than you know what to do with.
Discipline is about automation. The more tasks you automate, the less time they take and the more time you have. Therefore figure out a system for eating, find your most productive hours and use them to work, think of a way to deal with shopping, a system to deal with clients calling you all day and so on. After the first week when you’ve settled into the early stages of a routine you’ll start to see that work is done sooner, shopping eats less time, meetings happen less and you finally have the time to learn something new, go to the gym, take a walk, learn to roller-blade etc.
5. Discipline is multitasking
You would think that if most of your tasks have a system in place, maybe you could do more 2 or 3 simultaneously. Or maybe you could mix up work and relaxation. Netflix & editorial is not a good idea. You might end up with a piece debating the latest episode of Game of Thrones or why a certain CEO is definitely a Lannister. Good work needs focus, so try to focus and you’ll finish up sooner. Same goes for shopping (even online ones) and taking a client phone call. You won’t be paying full attention to either.
6. Discipline is exhausting
Nope. Really, it’s not. It only takes some effort to set things up. I’ve said this before. It’s all about habits. If you’re going to the gym or even working out at home you probably remember the challenge of the first month. But after some time, it becomes like a reflex and your body actually asks for that workout. It’s no different with everything else from sleep to work to learning.
In a more or less unrelated topic (it was a show about improving health) I heard this: Your brain works against you. What they meant was that your brain is comfortable repeating the habits you already have as it follows a well beaten path between neurons. A new habit means new pathways between neurons and your brain needs your help to do it. Don’t let it fool you. Because as soon as you’ve created those new pathways, you efforts are done.
It’s not just about laziness
Discipline isn’t only about defeating procrastination. It’s also about knowing when to stop. Yes, workaholics, I’m talking to you! If you spend all your hours working for more than 2-3 days in a row (understandable if you have a tight deadline), you’re headed for burnout. Know when to switch off. Working some place other than your home, like a co-working space with strict hours or a cafe might help.
Become a habit machine and your life will feel more relaxed than ever. Even more so for freelancers and digital nomads. An independent life brings a lot of new situations which need your energy. And with discipline you’ll have plenty of that to invest into learning something new, visiting somewhere new or meeting someone new.