Monday, August 8, 2016

What I Learned about Discipline that Changed My Life

The most life changing thing I learned this year is that discipline is a habit, a muscle that needs to be trained.

Like all life lessons, I didn't magically hear this and understand it. But I learned it through numerous failures and broken promises to myself. I internalized it and think about it multiple times a day in order to motivate myself to act upon it to try to be productive instead of waste precious time.

What I did before that didn't work
Trying to focus for hours at a time and telling myself to not leave the office until I finished task x.
This previously resulted in:
  • Unable to focus for that long
  • Unable to deliver according to my deadlines at work
  • Unproductive at work, felt guilty for only working 3 of those hours a day, despite forcing myself to sit there for 8 hours, then would force myself to sit there for another 3 hours in hopes that my focus would come around and I'd be able to complete the task. That rarely happened, and I would go home with the task unfinished and late
  • I thought I needed to quit and try to be productive on my own on projects that I was passionate about. I was still unproductive and only maybe productive 2hrs out of 17 hours awake

My mindset before
I thought:
  • I had a mental block that prevented me from not procrastinating
  • My job was the problem, and that was what was causing me to miss deadlines.
  • I hadn't found my passion yet and that was why I couldn't zone in on my work
  • My personality meant that I wasn't meant for certain types of work, even though I liked specific aspects of it.
  • Maybe I had the lazy gene

The Ah-ha
And I realized that despite being passionate about these projects, I was still unproductive. The problem wasn't the work, the problem was my lack of discipline.

My friend Jake called me to discuss how I was doing.
He mentioned that there were three types of people in life:
1) People who don't have a strong goal/vision/aspiration
2) People who have goals, but don't do anything about
3) People who have goals, and will do whatever it takes to accomplish it

I saw that I was the 2nd type. I asked jake how do i get from a wisher to a do-er (someone who'll do whatever it takes to make his wish come true).
He said he's not sure, and he mentioned a particular Jim Rohn video that he has been telling me to watch for over two years. For over two years, I said I'd watch it but I never did. Jake mentioned even if he tells 100 people to watch it, maybe only 10% will watch it, 90% won't, and he wasn't sure what set the 10% apart from the 90%, because it was such a simple small act.
The jump from unsuccessful to successful is chasmic, but watching that video vs not watching that video isn't. But it's as if just from watching it, I could be on my way to putting myself in the 10% of successful people group.

He was suggesting for me to watch that video again, and it starts with small intangible steps like reading self help books and wanting to change.

I became defensive, and mentioned maybe it's in my genes to be lazy.
Jake asked what I was thinking about in my recent blog post about me stereotyping and being racist.
I said there were studies that showed there was a lazy gene or violence gene, and maybe certain people have more of those genes.
He said so-what if that's true. Do I have any proof of this.
I didn't. But I was trying to defend my laziness and lack of productivity by saying maybe it's impossible for me to become productive.

He said it was hard for him to become productive too, but it was a personal choice, a habit that needed to be worked out. This was in line with a book I had read recently but wasn't putting into action: The Slight Edge. The book talked about daily habits and disciplines and how that snowballs into huge success or huge failure over time.

At this point Jake had to get onto a bus and said he'd call me back. During that moment of waiting I recognized that:
  • I was using fate/genes/depression as an excuse to make myself feel better about why I didn't work hard today
  • My subconsciousness would also use that as an excuse so that I wouldn't have to work hard tomorrow
  • But this thinking process that makes me feel better about my failures today by blaming fate and not taking responsibility will actually continue to set me up for failures tomorrow
  • It's not boolean. It's never just on or off
  • It's a distribution. and because it's a distribution, you can get yourself to one side of the curve

Even the article said that for those who have the laziness or violence gene, the environment matters a lot, in fact, the environment "turns on" the gene.

Jake called back and asked what good does knowing your genetic disadvantages do for you?

I said knowing your genetic predisposition lets you know what your advantages and disadvantages might be, so that you can maximize your talents and make use of your strategic advantages.

My whole life, I've been trying to find with certainty my "strategic advantage" and what I was uniquely good at. But at that moment I also realized: forget strategic advantages.

Don't let trying to find that paralyze you. Just try hard. Try very hard. You don't know if you're genetically predispositioned to fail at that yet.

You worry about going down the wrong path, a path that's not your genetic/strategic advantage, but if it's true that you're going down a wrong path, then you should try to get down that wrong path as quickly as possible. Genetics matters less than we think it does.

What I Learned from talking to Jake
Decide what I want to do
Decide if it's do-able
Then do it.
NBA star. (No, I genetically don't have the height)
Entrepreneur. (Not sure if I'm genetically too lazy, but it doesn't matter, I'm still going to try. It's not time for me to throw in the towel yet.)
You can still try in the NBA example too.

So, do I give in to my "fate"? Or do I try to change my fate?
Do I claim that my fate is laziness and give up? Or do I change it.
It's ok. It's not too late. There is still time to change, starting now.
If I give up and live mediocrity, I will regret it.

I realized what I kept explaining as an inability to focus or be disciplined - what I explained as a result of not being interested in work because the work was uninteresting to me, was maybe simply a lack of discipline on my part. Bad habits.

What I do now
Trying to focus for 25 minutes at a time, with 10 minute breaks, resulting in 6 hours of productivity a day.
This will gradually increase to 45 minutes at a time, resulting in 10 hours of productivity a day.
Stop googling the shit out of irrelevant facts and ADHD issues

Why mindset matters
I didn't even really talk about discipline forming habits here, but more about mindset.
Mindset results in thoughts, thoughts result in actions, actions result in habits, and habits result in character.
Before, I was trying to be productive without the belief that it was a habit that could be improved.
My belief was that i was unproductive because the work sucked.
Now my belief is that I was unproductive because it was a bad habit. And habits can be changed.

How this came about:
I could not have learned this if I continued to stay at my old job. I needed to quit and try to be productive on my own on projects I was passionate about. And I realized that despite being passionate about these projects, I was still unproductive. The problem wasn't the work, the problem was my lack of discipline.

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