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  • How to get self-discipline

    Hi everybody,

    I am using GTD every now and then because I fall of the wagon regularly.
    And when I am of the wagon again, I stay of the wagon for a while before
    I jump on again. I was wondering why, so I startet to analyse the situation.

    And I have come to the conclusion that lack of self-discipline is the major
    problem in my life. (See I am writing this post instead of writing my research
    paper ) Some people would name it procrastination, but I think my
    problem is a little more profound because even if I have started working on
    some things I stop very soon. The only area in my life where I have enough
    self-discipline is sports (5 times a week). Why can't I have the same discipline
    in my working life?!

    So my questions are:
    • How have you developed or are still developing your self-discipline?
    • Do you know good blogs about getting self-discipline?
    • Do you know good books about getting self-discipline?
    • Do you have other tips and tricks?

    The only resource I found is a post in Steve Pavlina's blog.

    Thank you in advance for sharing your insights into self-discipline.

    -wbc

  • #2
    How are you able to maintain enough discipline for sports?

    Is it because the practices are set by an external calendar that prods you into action? If so, you might try setting up regular study sessions with a friend.

    Is it because sports are enjoyable in themselves? If so, you might think about why you are doing the other things, or you might figure out a way to reward yourself for doing the work, or you might think about ways to find work that is more intrinsically enjoyable.

    Is it because sports are more (or less) challenging for you? If so, you might figure out how to raise (or lower) the difficulty level of the other things you are doing.

    Good luck!

    Katherine

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by wbc View Post
      • How have you developed or are still developing your self-discipline?
      • Do you know good blogs about getting self-discipline?
      • Do you know good books about getting self-discipline?
      • Do you have other tips and tricks?

      -wbc
      wbc,

      "Self-discipline" is a complex notion. Thinkers since at least the time of Plato, have pointed out that both the person meting out the discipline and the person being disciplined are the same. So, in a sense, we have multiple selves and one of them is disciplining the other.

      Most of us who participate in this forum live in highly competitive societies. A big part of the appeal of GTD is that it will help us become more productive, hence, more competitive. Of course, it is the nature of our market societies, that one can never rest on one's laurels. The market rewards constant improvement. So restless dissatisfaction with one's level of discipline and productivity is a given. I might have been doing very well yesterday, but today my competitors have caught up to me and now I must meet their challenge.

      With that preamble, I have three books that I highly recommend. I first learned of all three of these books on this forum. The first one is Self-Help Without the Hype, by Robert Epstein (out of print but I got it on Amazon). Like most effective learning tools, it is incredibly simple to understand. It's written at a third-grade level. It outlines some of the basics of behaviorism as developed by B. F. Skinner. I have always rejected behaviorism as a theory of mind and found many of its implications about human nature, culture, and politics repulsive. But behaviorism has areas where it can be incredibly powerful and useful.

      This book suggests that you do 3 things to develop self-discipline: modify your environment, monitor your behavior, and make a commitment to others. There are no formulas for carrying out these recommendations. You need to experiment and find out what works best for you. By far, I have found the "monitor your behavior" aspect to be supremely effective for me. For example, one facet of GTD that I have always had difficulty with was getting to "zero base," that is regularly processing my in-boxes, physical and e-mail. So one year, I set my goal to be "Get to zero base at least once a week." I then monitored my behavior by logging how many times I got to zero base. The next year I upped my goal to getting to zero at least twice a week.

      Writing stuff down is a very effective way to change behavior.

      The second book I would strongly recommend is David D. Burns's The Feeling Good Handbook. Just as Epstein showed how to develop self-discipline using the methods of behaviorist psychology, this book by Burns shows how to develop self-discipline using a more cognitive approach. The goal of self-discipline is to change one's behavior. But our thoughts mediate our behavior. Burns's method shows how to change one's thoughts so that they enhance one's self-discipline. By changing one's thoughts, one can modify one's emotions and one's behavior. This is an effective method for becoming more disciplined.

      Both the Burns book and the Epstein book affected me in a manner similar to the GTD book. As soon as I used them I recognized how powerful and effective they were. The last book, The Now Habit by Neil Fiore, was different. I did not get much out of it the first time I read it. But upon rereading it, I realized that it had some pearls of wisdom that I had missed. The most important thing I learned from Fiore was that it's OK to spend time not working. In fact, it's essential to spend time not working. What's more, it is important to learn how to use this nonworking time to enhance one's self discipline.

      I had always read in other books that it's a good idea to reward oneself after one finishes a big project, like some 3-month project. And these books usually tell you to buy yourself something, or eat something good. What I learned from Fiore was that I need to find out what my own rewards are and I can use these rewards multiple times throughout the day, if need be. Those rewards can be determined by looking at what one does frequently. So, wbc, if you find that you spend a lot of time reading the GTD forum, instead of doing your research paper, then perhaps reading the GTD forum (or writing to it) would be something you could use as a reward. What helps is to keep track of what you are doing when you are not disciplined. These activities will probably make good rewards. So you could promise yourself that after doing 30 minutes of research, you will spend 15 minutes surfing the web.

      Lastly, I would suggest you embrace the principle espoused by Charles Darwin, that great changes can come about by the accumulation over time of many small changes. In other words, if you are getting 45 minutes of real work done per day, set yourself a realistic goal for next week. Maybe you want to increase it by 33% to 60 minutes a day. In a couple of months you can see enormous change.

      Now, for short answers to your questions. My self-discipline has increased enormously after using GTD and the methods of the books I mentioned. But I would like to see it increase even more. I try to preserve my good habits and slowly work to reduce my less-good habits.

      I don't know any good blogs for this. I think that reading blogs can serve as a reward but it's not clear to me that reading blogs is an effective way to develop one's self-discipline. I can learn much more from a few good books than from thousands of blog entries.

      I know 3 good books and they are the ones I mentioned above.

      Tips and tricks: monitor or log the time you spend doing research (or whatever it is your goal is). Buy The Feeling Good Handbook. Start reading it and complete it within one month of starting it. Do all the exercises contained in it. Determine what activities you engage in frequently when you wish you had been working instead. Call those activities rewards. Allow yourself x minutes of reward activity after you've engaged in y minutes of work activity. Note, don't expect to fee like working before you work. Learn to accept that it's OK to start working before you feel like starting. In the words of David Burns, "Action precedes motivation." You are much more likely to feel like doing research after you've done it for 15 minutes.

      Good luck! And keep us informed of your progress.

      Comment


      • #4
        Thank you for the replies so far!

        @moises:
        You mention the three books:
        • Self-Help Without the Hype, by Robert Epstein
        • The Feeling Good Handbook, by David D. Burns's
        • The Now Habit, by Neil Fiore
        Do you recomend any order? If you had to choose only one
        which one would you choose, and why?

        @kewms
        I do sports because I am used to do it and I enjoy it a lot!
        Secondly I do sports because if you are in good shape
        you get more compliments by others especially the opposite
        gender And that motivates a lot!

        @everybody
        I am looking forward to hear more tips and tricks...

        Comment


        • #5
          As my mother always said: This is the first day of the rest of your life!

          This sentence came into my memory as I was reflecting my
          situation about the lack of my self-discipline. I am now trying
          to work on it and to improve it. One thing that astonished me
          is that I do not really have no self-discipline at all it is more
          the fact that I am choosing when to discipline myself and when
          not.
          So my first step in getting more self-discipline is to make a list
          with two columns, one with a and one with a on top.
          The smiling face stands for things where I am disciplined enough
          to do them, like doing outside sports even if the weather is bad.
          The frowning face stands for things where I have no
          self-discipline at all to do them even if they are very important,
          like doing my research.

          I am adding things to the list as they occur, and every now and
          then I will go over this list and think about how to move things
          from the frowning face to the happy face by setting reachable
          goals.

          And I have thought a lot about rewarding my self after doing
          work which I tend to procrastinate on because of the lack of
          self-discipline. And guess what... yes you are right, this post
          is a reward to my self for doing an hour of good work on my
          research project and it feels good .

          That's it for now...
          wbc

          P.S. More tips & tricks are highly appreciated

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by wbc View Post
            Thank you for the replies so far!

            @moises:
            You mention the three books:
            • Self-Help Without the Hype, by Robert Epstein
            • The Feeling Good Handbook, by David D. Burns's
            • The Now Habit, by Neil Fiore
            Do you recomend any order? If you had to choose only one
            which one would you choose, and why?

            @kewms
            I do sports because I am used to do it and I enjoy it a lot!
            Secondly I do sports because if you are in good shape
            you get more compliments by others especially the opposite
            gender And that motivates a lot!

            @everybody
            I am looking forward to hear more tips and tricks...
            My answer is premised on the assumption that you (or anyone pursuing the goal of increased self-discipline) is in this for the long haul. The key to self-discipline is forgoing short-term goods for the sake of long-term goods.
            I would start with The Feeling Good Handbook because it has the most structure of the three. It might be a good idea to commit yourself on this forum to buying the book. Then tell us when you will start it. Then commit yourself on this forum to finishing it in one month.

            After you have completed that month, you will have developed new, more productive habits of thinking. You can then read the Self-Help Without the Hype book to learn some very general principles for changing behavior.

            The Fiore book is a distant third. The best idea I learned from it was to use frequently engaged in activities as rewards and it is OK to give myself these rewards throughout the day, after I have spent at least 30 minutes doing work.

            Comment


            • #7
              Observation..and and idea

              Just an observation...telling yourself you have "no self discipline", even only about some things, pretty much makes that TRUE. In other words, you are declaring this to be a fact about yourself and your thoughts and actions will line up to prove yourself right! If your into affirmations, try something more positive...at any rate, watch your self talk if you really want to make changes.

              Secondly, when you find yourself procrastinating, try this: Set a timer for 10 minutes. Work as hard and fast as you can on whatever you want to focus on. Don't get distracted; really concentrate. When the timer goes off, take a 2 minute break and do something you enjoy. Then start the process over with another 10 minutes of solid concentration.

              This technique is guaranteed to move any action forward...at the end of an hour, you'll have made quite a dent! Give it a try!

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by moises View Post
                ...
                I would start with The Feeling Good Handbook because it has the most structure of the three. It might be a good idea to commit yourself on this forum to buying the book. Then tell us when you will start it. Then commit yourself on this forum to finishing it in one month.
                ...
                @moises:
                Thank you for your answer.
                I just ordered a copy of the book. I think it will arrive on Wednesday, but I will
                write when I start to read it.

                @Barb:
                It is very funny, I just listened to a podcast produced by Steve Pavlina about the "Law of Attraktion"
                which addresses the problem you've mentioned: Think negative and you will
                attract negativity. So I thought immediately that I have to envision success
                and self-discipline to attract it.
                The second thing you've mentioned is the timer. I have decided this mornig to
                buy one to time my work. Because when I see the whole project it is
                overwhelming and I have the feeling that I have to work forever. And that
                repels me of doing any work

                @all:
                If you work with a timer, which are the ideal intervals (work vs. sth. else) for
                you?

                -wbc

                Comment


                • #9
                  Law of Attraction

                  Yes, I can see The Law of Attraction at work here...but this concept has been written about for many, many years. I guess "The Secret" is the newest packaging.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    My problem with "self discipline" is that I've allowed myself to think of my "Daily Review" as a chore that wastes my time rather than an interesting task to help save my time.

                    When I get home, I often start cooking dinner, and get on the computer to browse the net or play my favourite computer game. What I'm trying to do is schedule the time for my computer game, and make it a reward for completing my daily revew.

                    My home computer is also where I sync all my digital devices (Palm V, iPod, Bluetooth phone). I use iGTD on the Mac to organise my list at the moment (will be trying OmniFocus when I get invited to the Beta), so I just go though all my projects and review the tasks to get my "Next Actions" list ready for tomorrow.

                    I have fallen into the trap of reading up about self motivation, when really I was just looking for someone else to do my stuff for me! Once I got into the habit of doing my daily review just before syncing all my devices (which happens co-temporally with cooking/eating dinner), I found it much easier to stick to the habit. Then when I hear my Palm chirping at me to confirm that the synchronisation is complete, that's my notification that I'm allowed to start playing WoW

                    I guess the trick to getting "disciplined" is to find what it is that you're distracting yourself with instead of doing the daily review, and use that as a reward for actually doing the daily review. When you find yourself doing the "nice" thing instead of the daily review, remind yourself it's the reward, stop doing it and get back to the daily review.

                    Once you have the daily review done, getting on with your "next actions" becomes much easier. Once you get into the habit of putting all your "to dos", "projects" and reminders into your GTD system, you'll find that the daily review becomes much more rewarding because you'll be able to approach the next day with confidence.

                    Dave Allen talks about this all the way through the book. Get the GTD book.

                    update: here's a take on the GTD system by David Pollard, in his "Save the World" blog: http://blogs.salon.com/0002007/2005/12/13.html in which he presents a flowchart and describes his routine.
                    Last edited by Grail; 06-24-2007, 08:31 PM. Reason: Added link to Save The World blog

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Yes, there's a lot there to talk about. Here's my attempt...

                      First up, check out Merlin Mann's procrastination recap for some handy tips and tricks. In fact, if you haven't already visited his 43 Folders site, you should: it's chock-full of interesting, informative, and entertaining stuff. The archive can be searched by category, too, since he's tagged all his posts, so it's really easy to browse for particular stuff.

                      If you want a cohesive strategy to overcome the problem, then you might have to do a bit of DIY self-analysis and behavioural therapy. By that I mean that you should think about why it is that you stop working (or don't start), and how you feel at the time. What you do then will depend on why and what: for example, if you work really well for 15 minutes but then get bored, you might need to tailor your work in short bursts, and do different things throughout the day. If, on the other hand, you have trouble starting, then you might find that Merlin's (10 + 2) * 5 dash might help.

                      In general, if it's a drift of attention, it's reasonably easy to work around. If it's a physiological/emotional resistance (you dread it or feel uneasy about doing it), then it's a bit harder, simply because your glands are involved. In that case, you've developed a resistance to work in general, and so you have to gradually trick your body into reducing (and hopefully eliminating) that physiological response.

                      There's a couple of books I've found useful, but, depending on what your particular problems are, you may not need to go that deep into the psychology of it.

                      Oh, one more tip that I found somewhere: a reverse dash. A bit like Fiore's Unschedule, except that this was an extreme version: the guy decided on this particular day that, since he spent a lot of time faffing around, he'd make a committment to do 10 minutes work each hour. He decided how much he wanted to get done (very specifically), then every time the clock ticked over to a half past, he'd put his head down for ten minutes, then he could spend the rest of it playing computer games with an easy conscience.

                      He said it worked really well: as the afternoon wore on, he did a little extra, then a little extra again, and found he whizzed through his work.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by unstuffed View Post
                        ...
                        First up, check out Merlin Mann's procrastination recap for some handy tips and tricks. In fact, if you haven't already visited his 43 Folders site, you should: it's chock-full of interesting, informative, and entertaining stuff.
                        ...
                        43folders.com is already on my daily reading schedule, and I have to concede that it is really full of thoughts which are worth reading them.
                        Originally posted by unstuffed View Post
                        ...
                        If you want a cohesive strategy to overcome the problem, then you might have to do a bit of DIY self-analysis and behavioural therapy. By that I mean that you should think about why it is that you stop working (or don't start), and how you feel at the time.
                        ...
                        That is what I try to do with my / -List which I have mentioned in a earlier post, and I have to say it helps a lot to think about the WHY . I have some insights already which I would not have been able to see without the list.

                        Originally posted by unstuffed View Post
                        ...
                        What you do then will depend on why and what: for example, if you work really well for 15 minutes but then get bored, you might need to tailor your work in short bursts, and do different things throughout the day. If, on the other hand, you have trouble starting, then you might find that Merlin's (10 + 2) * 5 dash might help.
                        ...
                        As I have written yesterday, I bought the timer this mornig.
                        My concept is a 30/10 minute working/sth. else schedule. I have already finished 4 sessions today - and it feels good. My next goal is to expand my working time to 45 minutes by the end of this week.

                        @all:
                        Thank you for your help so far... If you have any success stories I would love to hear them because it is very motivating to read that one is not the only one who has a need for increasing self-dicipline.

                        -wbc

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Just an update:

                          I was able to do 11 sets of my 30/10 minutes work/lesure-schedule today.

                          I am totally impressed that I was really able to work 5 1/2 hours in total. For some people this sounds silly, but those of you who have the same problem with self-discipline know that this is a big step.

                          And all of this just with the little help of a small timer

                          -wbc

                          PS: If you wonder why I write "was able" I am in a different timezone (Germany)
                          Last edited by wbc; 06-26-2007, 12:08 PM.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            An omen

                            That's great, WBC! Your post was the first I read...when I woke up from a NAP! (Ok, well it IS pouring rain and I didn't sleep all that well....sound familiar, any other work-at-homes out there?)

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by wbc View Post
                              Just an update:

                              I was able to do 11 sets of my 30/10 minutes work/lesure-schedule today.

                              I am totally impressed that I was really able to work 5 1/2 hours in total. For some people this sounds silly, but those of you who have the same problem with self-discipline know that this is a big step.

                              And all of this just with the little help of a small timer

                              -wbc

                              PS: If you wonder why I write "was able" I am in a different timezone (Germany)
                              wbc,

                              That is truly impressive. Some of the principles you appear to have used:

                              1. You changed your environment by buying a timer. This timer is now an essential part of your workspace. This tool is your signal for starting and stopping work.

                              2. You seem to be monitoring your work. You wrote down in this forum that you were able to do 11 sets of 30/10. Many people are helped by keeping a log of such things. This way you can look back and see how many sets you did each day for months and months. Some people just write it down. Others like to be artistic, make a thermometer or stick gold stars to paper. Use whatever works for you.

                              3. You made a public commitment. Stating your goals to others, even via discussion forums, often provides us with some extra motivation to succeed. Perhaps we are seeking to reduce cognitive dissonance. We don't want others to view us as tolerating an inconsistency between our statements and our actions.

                              4. You gave yourself frequent, 10-minute rewards.

                              5. You kept on starting. Fiore points out that we often focus on the final product, a 20-page report for next week. It often helps more to focus on starting. "Let me work for 30 minutes now." To paraphrase an expression I heard often when I lived in Chicago, "Start early; start often." The more you start, the more you get done.

                              If I were you, I wouldn't try to increase too much too quickly. Try to keep the perspective that you are in this for the long haul: years, decades. If I force myself to do too much, I end up resisting and resenting the burden, and getting less done. Better to set my sights lower and exceed them. (Not everyone will agree with this but it works for me.) I don't want to feel disappointed because one day I didn't work for 8 solid hours. Neil Fiore recommends something like this. I'd rather know that if I work for 5 hours I've got a win. Then if I decide to do 7 hours, it was my own decision.

                              I am curious how you felt doing your 11 sets. Did you always feel like working? Were you excited to be doing each one of them? Or were there times when you felt like you were forcing yourself?

                              Comment

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