You Don’t Need Extreme Self-Discipline
In the gap between who we wish one day to be and who we are at present, must come pain, anxiety, envy, and humiliation. — Alain de Botton
The demand for online courses industry has shot through the roof.
In 2015, the global market for such courses reached $107 billion. Just two years later, the market grew to $255 billion — a whopping 138 percent growth within 2 years!
But there’s something more. And it’s not good.
A study revealed that the average completion for Massive Open Online Courses — MOOCs — is a dismal fifteen percent.
I’ll admit. I’m part of the 85 percent. Barring a couple, almost every online course I’ve signed up for has stalled at the halfway stage.
It’s not just online courses that lie unfinished. College degrees, novels, paintings, songs, projects… every day millions of goals get abandoned.
Nobody begins pursuing their goals with the idea of giving up. When people start something new, it feels amazing. They feel a surge of energy as they begin to shape their vision.
But as the work gets tougher, their effort declines for various reasons — new responsibilities, lack of time, too hard, “just can’t do this right now.” All these reasons boil down to one thing — aversion against discomfort.
People value their comfort zone more than anything else, even money. That’s why many of us enroll for courses that we don’t complete, rent studios to do work that we never finish, and hire consultants and coaches to help us set goals that we never pursue.
Falling in Love With The Result
Everyone loves thinking about the outcome. What it will look like, how we will feel AFTER we’ve achieved it. Daydreaming doesn’t demand much. If anything, it keeps us in our comfort zone.
But taking action TO achieve the goal pushes us outside our comfort zone. And that’s one thing we don’t want to compromise on at all.
We want to get fitter, but we don’t want to exercise.
We want to save money, but we don’t want to change our spending habits.
We want to write a book, but we don’t want to sit down at the table, think, and put the words on paper (or a document).
When you set a goal but leave it midway, you do yourself more harm than good.
For example, each time you lose momentum, you have to work twice as hard to get back to your original rhythm. This Sisyphean feeling takes all the fun out of doing something for the love of it instead of love for the outcome.
Also, the vast chasm of feelings between the vicarious joy you experienced when you imagined the goal achieved and the secret disappointment you felt when you gave up make you feel like shit (and guilty).
And you try to suppress this feeling of guilt and “I’m good for nothing” by consuming more content, eating more junk food, wasting more time, and blaming the world for your condition.
Look. If blaming the world helped people achieve their results, everyone would do it.
Okay, almost everyone does it, but because it makes them feel better in the present moment. In the long run, it’s as destructive as exposing yourself to outrages on social media every day.
Do your future self a favor: Stop complaining and start doing just one key thing to stick to what matters.
How to Stick to What Matters
The journey to a thousand miles starts with a single step. But you cannot reach the destination if you stop after ten steps.
On the other hand, continuing your journey doesn’t demand that you turn into a superhero. It just demands that you take one step at a time.
Not so tough, is it?
You don’t need extreme self-discipline. You don’t have to hole yourself up in the Batcave for ten hours a day. You don’t have to give up on everything you enjoy.
You just have to show up every day. You just need enough self-discipline to stick to your average pace.
Your average pace, according to James Clear, is what pushes you enough to make progress, but not so much that it becomes unsustainable.
Here are some examples.
If you exercise thrice a week, you’ll have exercised 72 times at the end of six months.
If you put 100 bucks in a cookie jar each day, you’ll have saved 18,000 bucks at the end of six months, which you can invest in a mutual fund.
If you write one page for your book each day, you’ll complete 180 pages at the end of six months.
As you can see, your average pace will produce long-term results that will make you feel proud of yourself.
Sticking to your average pace also has a hidden advantage It turns these actions into habits which, in turn, increase your average pace. And once you learn to stretch your limits in one aspect of life, you begin to apply it in every other aspect.
“Great! But… How Should I Start?”
Simple question, simple answer.
When you want to buy a new mobile phone, you have two options for action.
One, you can gather mounds of information from friends and the internet, wait to check whether the rumors about new model launches are true, and drag your feet.
But that’s not what you do, is it? You often follow the second option, which is:
- Read stuff on the internet.
- Ask friends for suggestions.
- Go online (or to a store).
- Buy the phone.
Follow the same regime for your actions.
Read up about steps to begin what you want to. Then go on a content-fast: stop consuming content and start taking action. Keep the chain going. If you don’t show up for two days in a row, make sure you don’t miss the third.
When you hit a wall, get information on it, go on a content-fast, and take action.
This Takes Courage
I’ll admit, doing so requires courage.
To hit the gym when you would rather veg out on the sofa and watch Netflix.
To save up when you would rather buy the latest smartphone model because your six-month-old phone feels outdated.
To write your book when your friends ask you to join them for Friday-evening parties.
To be called primitive for missing a few episodes of Game of Thrones because you were working on your goal.
But think about Future You. What will Future You thank you for one year, two years, five years down the line? For not compromising on your comfort zone? Or for showing up every day to do what you promised yourself you would?
Consistency matures you. It’s the best investment you can make in yourself.
Move ahead, one step at a time, one day at a time. Gain a yard each day.
A yard seems tiny now, but at the end of six months, you’ll have crossed the football field.