I wish to share my journey of getting disciplined. I hope you will take something away from this :). I would like to mention that I'm not a native English speaker, so forgive me for any grammar and/or spelling mistakes.
TLDR; Build positive habits on a foundation of willpower, not motivation.
Start reading non-fiction and apply it in your life. Work on your physiology, it should be the foundation for productivity and discipline.
Lessen the amount of super stimuli in your life to get more dopamine (motivation).
Flow activities should be the goal in life, not mind numbing pleasure.
Start a bullet journal where you color code all activities you do each day positive or negative.
It all started when I realized I had hit rock bottom. I was getting up at 3pm everyday. Only ate junk food, lay in bed watching YouTube and smoking a lot of weed. My room was always a complete mess. I completely disregarded my study while I was living of a study loan. Every night I would hang out with a friend who would do the same and we'd smoke weed and watch screens until about 5 am. It really was rock bottom. This went on for a long time until I saw I had to change my life.
I read a book called The Slight Edge. The idea of the book was that with consistent, incremental improvement, anyone could reach anything. It also debunked the idea of a 'quantum leap', which at first I believed in. I liked the idea and started implementing it to form positive habits in my life. I started with nofap, meditation, reading, cleaning and some more. I made a lot of mistakes when I first started out. So some advice on habit building I have accumulated is this:
DON'T TRUST MOTIVATION. Motivation is good if it's there but it shouldn't be the foundation of the habits you create. Why? because motivation isn't always there, and when it's gone you also lose the habits that you build on top of it. I experienced this a lot of times. I would have a streak of 100+ days meditation, miss 3 days and completely give up until I had the motivation again to start over.
So how can I build habits then? Do it based on willpower. The big difference is not to say to yourself "I'm gonna read 20 pages every day because I'm so motivated to gain knowledge." But that you say "I'm going force myself to start reading everyday because I will have enough willpower to always do that."
The key is that if you make the requirement so small that you can always do it, you will never fail. So doing for example 1 pushup everyday. You will never fail that requirement. But if you have very little motivation one day and think about doing 20 pushups, it just seems intimidating and you don't do it.
Some people might say "only starting to read or doing 1 push up will never get me anywhere." And I agree, but the thing is that you can do more. And you will usually do more. Once you forced yourself, with willpower, to get into push up position and do 1 push up, you'll probably think "I can do one more, and one more" and so on. Same for reading, once you've forced yourself to sit in a chair with a book and started reading, you wont stop after just 1 word. You will do a lot more than the initial requirement more times then not. It will also give you a sense of "I did this". Especially if your requirement is, say, 1 push up, and you do 10. You will have done 9 extra. As opposed to when you require yourself to do 20 and do 10. You will have done 10 too little.
Try it right now, force yourself on the ground to do one push up. I'm sure you have the willpower to do that.
The key is to make the requirement so small you will never fail it. Build the habit on a foundation of willpower, if motivation comes along, that's great.
The one habit that has done the most for my life is to read non-fiction. I bought an e-reader and started to read daily. I recommend buying an e-reader a lot. Here are some of the benefits:
- Very portable, whenever I'm in public transport I pull it out and read some pages.
- Buying books is instant and you can read anything you'd like
- If you have little money there are a lot of places where you can download ebooks for free
- It has a backlight, so you can read in your bed, lying on your side, in the dark. Most come with blue light filters as well.
Some of the benefits of reading non-fiction
- You can learn directly from great people
- There are books on anything that you find interesting (for me it's psychology)
- There are a lot of self-help books on the market that will give you advice that you can practically apply in your life.
I'm sure there are a lot more, but for the sake of not writing a book as a post this will do.
I think the most important thing as a prerequisite for discipline is good physiology. If you aren't feeling good it's hard to do things that would count as disciplined behavior. So that's why I would recommend reading some books about physiology.
Books that have had a profound impact on my life are; Mini habits, Meet Your Happy Chemicals, The HeartMath Solution, The Willpower Instinct, Cupid's Poisoned Arrow, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience and Awareness Through Movement.
If your read all these books you will learn; how to create healthy habits in your life without making it hard; how your brain chemicals work; how to instantly lower stress and deal with negative thought and emotion, how willpower works, why it matters and how to get more of it; how orgasm induces neurochemical brain changes for 2 weeks and how it's evolutionary designed to break romantic relationships; what a flow experience is, and why it should be the goal for all activities in life to turn into one; that everyone stops progressing in the most basic things like breathing, posture etc. because only the minimal in life is needed to get on, it also provides lessons on how to improve these parts of life.
Gaining knowledge in this field will give you the ability to make the changes in your life that will benefit your overall feeling. Feeling good overall, in your body and mind, is required for doing productive things.
I'm a psychology student so when I got into self help I was naturally interested in the brain's place in self improvement.
Dopamine is the key player here. Most people think dopamine is responsible for 'pleasure'. This is a big misunderstanding. Dopamine is actually responsible for 'wanting' and motivation.
When the dopamine part of the brain was first discovered, it was discovered in rats. The researchers hooked up a lever to the rats' dopamine circuit to shock the dopamine circuit (mimicking dopamine release) whenever the rats would pull the lever. The rats soon ignored anything else and only pulled the lever until they died of starvation and fatigue. Next the researchers (this one is a bit cruel) would have 2 levers on the opposite sides of a cage that would produce a 'dopamine hit' if pressed after the other. To make it interesting they put an electrically charged grid in between that would give the rats a painful shock if they walked over it. So now the rats would have to cross the grid every time they wanted another 'dopamine hit'. Shockingly (lol) the rats would run across it until they burned of their legs and couldn't walk anymore. The researchers concluded from these experiments that this dopamine circuit was responsible for creating pleasure. Nowadays this is proved to be wrong and the actual function of the dopamine circuit is believed to be wanting and motivation.
Most things people like to do give a lot of dopamine (much more than anything would have given in nature). Things like watching TV (or netflix), internet, drugs, processed foods, porn, gambling and videogames. Things that give us a lot of dopamine tend to be addicting. No wonder I was only smoking, watching screens and lying in bed when I hit rock bottom.
Now, why should you care? The reason is very simple. Exposure to high dopamine for longer periods of time REDUCES DOPAMINE RECEPTORS. Lower dopamine receptors give you lower motivation, lower concentration and less mental sharpness. With there being a lot of supernaturally high dopamine giving activities and substances available to us we should all be aware in what amount we should consume them. This is the reason why there are more college and university dropouts more than ever before. Why so many people are unhappy at work. And why there are more cases of depression than ever before (depression is linked to lower dopamine).
Big companies know about this and use it to sell us as much as possible and keep them on their platforms for longer. They put the exact amount of sugar in all foods so that we like it the most, they design their platforms so you stay on them a lot (Facebook and Instagram), they implement gambling into games so that we play them more (Fortnite).
So what to take away from all this? Lessen the amount of activities you do each day that give you a lot of dopamine and don't add anything to your life. This will give you a natural amount of dopamine receptors again and will make it a lot easier to stay concentrated while reading or learning an instrument for example.
1 book that has made a profound impact on my life is the book Flow, The Psychology of Optimal Experience. The idea of the book is that there are certain activities that for which your brain needs 100% of it's power to be focused on the activity. This is when you reach a 'Flow state'. In this state you lose the idea of the self, you lose track of time and are only focused on the task at hand. For example when you drive somewhere and you get there and don't remember how you got there.
Flow occurs when your skill matches the challenge of the activity. When your skill is too high, you will be bored, when the challenge is too high you will be anxious.
The key idea from this book, for me, was the difference between pleasure and enjoyment. Pleasure activities are ones that give the high amount of dopamine. Whereas enjoyable activities also give dopamine, but also make you better at the task and will often produce a state of Flow. Enjoyment produces growth, pleasure does not.
I think that any activity in life that is not a pure pleasure activity can be made into a flow activity. It's one of my goals in life to fill my day with enjoyable activities. It made me realize I wanted to fill my day with making music and reading, not with smoking and watching TV.
One of the best habits I have build is journaling. More specifically bullet journaling. I'm not sure if this is the official way to do it but this is what I do and what works for me.
People pay coaches a lot of money to do something they can do themselves as well; give feedback. All a coach does is tell you what you've done, and where you can improve. This is something you can do yourself easily by bullet journaling.
My method: I have a simple notebook where I use the left and right page for 1 day. In the morning I write down some things I want to do that day on the left page. If there are things I wanted to do yesterday I write them down for today. I also write a bit about how I feel. Recently I've been doing some affirmations as well on that page. You can skip this entire left page, I personally like it, but I can understand how it's a bit much for some people. You could also experiment with it and change it up how you like it.
The real magic (and the reason I made the coach analogy) is on the right page. Here is where I write down every influential activity I do. I won't write down things like 'have breakfast' or 'short chat with roommate'. I write down everything that has a positive or a negative meaning (some things are neutral like doing groceries). Then at the end of the day I will use a marker to color code every activity either green (positive) or red (negative). So for example:
(green) get up at 6am
(green) take a cold shower
(red) smoke a joint
(red) waste an hour on Netflix
(green) go to school
(red) hangout with X toxic friend and drink beer
I hope you see what I meant with the coach analogy now. You will get a lot of feedback on what you do each day. When I first started doing this I was shocked by how much red activities I had and made it a mission to get more green activities in there. It was slow progress but steadily it got better.
If you don't like the left part of the journaling (which is how most people recommend it), I would advice you to try the right page. If you're gonna do one, it should be the right page. See it as a free life coach.
When I was at rock bottom my schedule was the furthest away from perfect that it could possibly be. One of the first things I changed that lasted was my sleeping schedule. I was done waking when it's almost dark already and still being tired. Also I noticed that everything I did in the late evening wasn't productive (or even counterproductive) like watching screens and doing drugs
There are good reasons to wake up early (5-6-7 AM). The best sleep you can get is the sleep between 10 and 12. If you're still awake at 00:00 you will produce cortisol and adrenaline to keep you awake. This isn't healthy. Good sleep improves cognitive function, vitality and motivation by a lot. There are many more benefits to a good sleeping schedule, and I think it's well known that it's a lot better. However most people think it's hard to change their schedule.
It's not. This is how you do it;
- Set your alarm at your goal wake up time (EG 6 am)
- When it goes, get out of bed, immediately eat breakfast
- Don't sleep the rest of the day
- Make sure you stop all screens by 9:30 and are in bed before 10:00
- Set the alarm again, you will most likely wake up before it goes.
It's as easy as this, now all you have to do is to stick with it. Start enjoying the vast amount if time you have available in the morning.
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