21 Days to a More Disciplined Life: Discipline Demands Focus

Missed the first posts in this 21 Days to a More Disciplined Life series? Read them here.

If you want to succeed at discipline, you have got to be focused. You’ll never hit the bull’s eye if you’re aiming at multiple targets.

Here are three keys for maintaining focus:

1) Remove Distractions

If you are struggling to follow through with your goal(s), step back and examine if there are things that are serving as major distractions:

::Are you on Facebook or reading blogs instead of cleaning up your kitchen at night like you’d committed to? Set up Leechblock on your computer for the hour after dinner so you can’t get on the computer.

::Are you giving in to the temptation to eat two brownies every night, even though you’re trying to lose five pounds? Get rid of the brownies and don’t make anymore! Seriously, it’s better to throw them in the trash if they are keeping you from sticking with your goals.

2) Break Your Goal(s) Into Bite-Sized Pieces

If you look at your goal(s) as a whole, you can quickly get overwhelmed. But when you break it down into small pieces, it becomes much more manageable. In addition, it’s much easier to stay focused if you are only looking at the next few steps ahead of you than the huge mountain you’re aiming to climb.

Trying to lose 50 pounds can be daunting unless you break it down and focus on losing a half pound at a time. Successful marathoners can’t get hung up worrying about how they are going to finish, they just have to pace themselves for this mile or half-mile that they are currently running.

If you have a home piled with clutter, you won’t be able to overhaul it in a day. If, however, you set the timer for 15 minutes every day and work faithfully on it for three months, you’ll see some real progress.

3) Set Yourself Up for Success

It’s easy to make excuses for a lack of discipline, but excuses don’t get you anywhere. Instead, invest the time and effort you’d usually take to make excuses to consider what you can do to set yourself up for success in achieving your goals.

For instance, if you’re trying to get up early but you find that you always fall back to sleep or hit the snooze button, don’t just give up and make the excuse that “I’m not a morning person”. Maybe you’re not, but until you’ve put forth significant effort to try getting up early on a regular basis, you can’t make that statement.

Start winding down for bed at least an hour before you plan to go to bed. Make a point to go to bed an hour or two earlier than you usually do. Buy an alarm without a snooze, set multiple alarms, or have a friend call you at 6 a.m. every morning. Make yourself get right out of bed and jump in the shower to wake yourself up. Or, put your shoes on and go out for a morning run. Even if you’re dog tired, you’ll probably feel wide awake by the time you get home!

Practical Application

1) Consider what is distracting you from staying focused on your goal(s). How can you remove these distractions?

2) If you didn’t do so earlier in this series, take the time to break your goal(s) down into small bite-sized pieces. If applicable, set a specific timeframe for accomplishing each of these small pieces.

3) What things are hindering your success in following through with your goal(s)? What steps can you take to set you up for better success?

How are you doing on your current habit? I got up at 5 a.m. again this morning. I practically had to drag myself out of bed, but I was glad that I did later. And after a brisk run, a shower, and a cup of coffee, I felt quite energetic. However, I’m going to bed an hour earlier tonight, because I’m beginning to feel low on sleep!

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21 Days to a More Disciplined Life: Accountability is Key

Missed the first posts in the 21 Days to a More Disciplined Life series? Read them here.

Early this morning, my friend Angie texted me with a question about freezer cooking. As we were texting back and forth she asked, “Did you run this morning?”

You see, Angie and I have both been individually trying to get up early and run in the mornings. We both know we feel better and accomplish more when we do it, but it’s not always easy–especially on cold mornings.

This morning when she texted me, I hadn’t run yet as I was hard at work wrapping up the details to post about my free freezer cooking ebook. Her text was just the motivation I needed to pull myself up out of the comfortable chair I was seated in and go run a mile. Yes, it was just a mile, but it was something and it made me feel a lot more energetic the rest of the morning.

You Need Cheerleaders

You can’t do this discipline thing alone. Well, you can, but I guarantee you it will be a lot harder to keep at it if you don’t have anyone encouraging you along the way.

Whenever I run by myself, I’ve found that I tend to go easier on myself and stop earlier than I planned. If my side starts hurting or I have a long to-do list, I use that as an excuse for a short run. However, when I run with someone else, I’m always motivated to push a little harder, go a little faster, and not give up when I feel winded and tired.

It’s the same with life: when you feel like you’re going it alone, it’s harder to keep on when the going gets rough. But when you have others around you who are encouraging you, checking up on you, or texting you to make sure you’re following through with your morning run (thanks, Angie!), you’re much more apt to actually stick with your goals.

My husband has graciously agreed to be my early morning wake-up accountability partner for this 21 Days to a More Disciplined Life Challenge. When I came to him and presented the idea of possibly committing to get up before 5 a.m. Monday through Thursday for three weeks, he jumped right on board and enthusiastically said he’d join me.

While neither of us have been quite as enthusiastic in the early mornings when the alarm clock goes off, it’s been much easier to stick with our commitment when we’re both doing it. And, of course, posting about this challenge publicly on my blog has been a huge motivation, as well.

How to Find An Accountability Partner

You might be thinking, “I wish I had an accountability partner, but I don’t even know where to find one.” Well, it might not be as hard as you think. Start with your local friends and family and see if anyone would like to join you in keeping each other accountable to one specific goal on a regular basis.

If you can’t find anyone locally, ask friends on Facebook, Twitter, your blog, or other online groups you’re a part of. Or, search and see if there’s already an online support group of some sort (such as the Good Morning Girls or Hello Mornings Challenge, if you’re working on getting up early).

Practical Application

1) Find an accountability partner either locally or online.

2) Create a specific plan for how you each will hold each other accountable for your goal(s). Will you email, call, text, talk in person? How often will you check up on each other?

3) If you have an accountability partner, tell us about it in the comments. I’d love to hear what’s worked well for you!

How are you doing on your current habit? I got up right at 5 a.m. this morning–yay! I had had a busy day yesterday and had stayed up late reading a book (I know, I know, I shouldn’t have!), so it was really hard not to hit snooze and go back to bed this morning. But the accountability of my husband and knowing I was going to have to report back to you all tonight motivated me. And I ended up quickly forgetting about my tiredness with all the activity of the day!

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21 Days to a More Disciplined Life: Discipline Requires Goal-Setting

Missed the first posts in this series? Read them here.

To intentionally cultivate discipline in your life, you must have goals. Not just dreams, not just lofty ambitions, but specific, realistic, achievable goals. If you don’t know where you’re aiming, you’ll lack direction and purpose.

Put Your Goals on Paper

I love how Dave Ramsey encourages people to put their financial goals “on paper, on purpose”. When you write down your goals, instead of just keeping them floating around in your brain, it puts more weight to them. Plus, if you write your goals down, you’re able to track your progress and be encouraged at the momentum you’re gaining in the right direction.

There are some very helpful goal-setting worksheets available from Project Management Skills and from Cigna Behavioral Health. However, please don’t be overwhelmed by these more in-depth worksheets. A simple sticky-note taped to your mirror or refrigerator will work just as well. The objective is not to have a fancy paper filled out, but to actually follow through with your goals.

Take Small Bites

Once you’ve written down the goal or two you are focusing on implementing in your life, develop an incremental plan of action for accomplishing that goal. Some goals lend themselves more to babysteps than others. For instance, if you want to lose five pounds in six weeks, you can create a six-week plan to achieve this goal that could look something like this:

Week 1: Track your calorie intake through SparkPeople. Exercise for 2 hours total.

Week 2: Find an accountability partner. Continue to track calorie intake, adjust if needed. Exercise for 2.5 hours total.

Week 3: Check-in with accountability partner. Continue to track calorie intake, adjust if needed. Exercise for 3 hours total. Drink more water.

Week 4: Check-in with accountability partner. Continue to track calorie intake, adjust if needed. Exercise for 3 hours total. Drink at least 8-10 glasses of water daily. Cut out fast food, sugar, or soda pop.

Week 5: Maintain all habits from previous weeks, re-evaluate anything that isn’t working.

Week 6: Reward yourself for losing five pounds and developing some good habits that will hopefully stick around for a long time.

Now, I’m not saying that the above plan is guaranteed to make you lose five pounds in six weeks, but it gives you an idea of how to take a bigger goal and break it down into smaller pieces. Instead of being overwhelmed by looking at the big picture, think what small steps you can slowly take to get where you want to go. Map them out and then follow them!

Review & Tweak As Needed

Post your goal(s) in a conspicuous place and review them often. I’d suggest reviewing them at least daily, if not more often. Remind yourself of where you’re headed and how you’re planning to get there.

If you are struggling and feeling overwhelmed in the goal(s) you have set for yourself, step back and re-evaluate. Do you need to give yourself more time? Do you need tweak your goal(s) a little to be more realistic?

Practical Application

1) Write down your current habit/goal and put it in a conspicuous location.

2) If you’ve chosen a larger goal, break it down into bite-sized pieces and create a plan of action for the next few weeks or months.

3) Set up a weekly “appointment” with yourself to review and re-evaluate your goal(s) and how things are going.

How are you doing on your current habit? So far, I’ve stuck with my resolve to get up before 5 a.m. Monday through Thursday and before 7 a.m. Friday through Sunday. I’ve been amazed at how much more I’m getting done when I get up earlier!

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21 Days to a More Disciplined Life: Persevere Even When You Want to Give Up

As we talked about earlier, discipline is a choice. But you can’t just say “I’m going to be more disciplined” and then sit back and see your life change.

No, it will take work, effort, and much perseverance. There will be days when you do not want to follow through with your commitment. There will be many temptations to veer off course or throw up your hands in defeat.

Here are three suggestions to help you stay on track:

1) Anticipate Obstacles

I love how Michael Hyatt talks about the importance of preparing for obstacles before you encounter them in his recent post on discipline. He says:

As soon as you start swimming against the current, you will start feeling resistance. It’s as if the universe conspires to keep you from succeeding. That’s why you have to anticipate these obstacles and build strategies to overcome them.

::If you’re trying to lose five pounds this month, plan what you’re going to eat ahead of time before you go to the holiday party so that your hard work doesn’t go out the window.

::If you’re trying to go to bed earlier every night, set your alarm on your watch or phone to remind you to leave the evening gathering early in order to get home and go to bed.

::If you’re making an effort to get places on time, plan to leave 30 minutes earlier than you need to so that an unexpected phone call or diaper blowout doesn’t derail you from being on time.

2) Be Realistic

Don’t set yourself up for guaranteed failure by aiming for unrealistic goals. As I mentioned yesterday, I’m focusing on re-developing the habit of getting up early. I know that on the weekends, it’s impossible to go to bed before 9:30 p.m. with the usual activities we have going on. So I intentionally decided ahead of time that for the next 21 days I would get up before 5 a.m. Monday through Thursday only. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday I’m aiming to be up by 7 a.m.

Sure, I’d like to get up by 4:30 a.m. every single morning. But, I just can’t realistically commit to that and follow-through with it. Otherwise, I’d be getting less than six hours of sleep some nights. I can function on less than six hours of sleep once every few weeks, but realistically I need to get seven to eight hours of sleep on a regular basis to feel energetic and function effectively.

3) Resist Negative Thought Patterns

Remove the words, “I can’t” from your vocabulary. Stop dwelling on the fact that you’ll probably fail at this challenge since you never seem to follow through with anything. Surround yourself with people who inspire and motivate you.

And remember that falling down is not failing–unless you don’t get back up again. Keep going, even when it feels like it’s an uphill battle that’s going nowhere, and your persistence will eventually pay off.

Practical Application

1. Read Michael Hyatt’s article on 5 Steps to Developing Discipline.

2. Consider what obstacles lie in your path as you seek to implement your chosen habit over the next 18 days. Create strategies to help you be prepared for them.

3. Step back and make sure you’re being realistic about your discipline goals. Do you need to tweak anything to help set you up for better success?

4. What negative thought patterns do you need to squelch? When they arise, how will you replace them with positive, inspirational thoughts?

Yesterday’s project update: Did you make a list of habits you want to develop over the next few years? I have an ongoing list for myself and my children. I doubt I’ll ever make it through the whole list (wait, what was that I just said about negative thinking in point number 3?!?), but at least I’m never going to run out of areas in my life to work on and improve in! :)

Note: I’m taking the weekend off from posting this daily series, but will be back with the next installment on Monday. Enjoy a little breather–but keep on with your discipline goals and projects. :)

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21 Days to a More Disciplined Life: Implement One Habit at a Time

So many of you mentioned yesterday that it was really hard to choose just one bad habit to focus on for the next 20 days. I know the feeling! At any given time, it can seem like there are a hundred and one areas that I need to improve in. In fact, when I start dwelling on all the bad habits I want to reverse or the good habits I want to implement, I can become overwhelmed!

Over the summer, I attended a workshop at our local homeschool conference by Susan Christman. She was encouraging moms to making habit-training a priority in their children’s lives. (You can see her hand-out here. If you’re unfamiliar with the term “habit-training”, be sure to check out this free ebook for more helpful information.)

The one thing that she emphasized was not only important habits are to develop in our own lives and the lives of our children, but how important it is to focus on one new habit at a time. I left the conference with this nugget of wisdom forever lodged in my brain.

In fact, it was the answer to my lifelong quest for more discipline. You see, for as long as I can remember, every few months, I’d realize that my life was in serious need of more order and discipline. In a flurry of resolve, I’d make this huge list of new habits I was going to begin implementing immediately.

I’d do really well at my new resolutions for about two days. And then I’d crash and burn from exhaustion, or something unexpected would come up and catapult me off course. When this happened, I’d throw up my hands in despair and defeat, feeling like a failure.

Instead of trying to implement two dozen habits at once, pace yourself and just focus on one habit at a time. Yes, it will take longer to actually see big changes, but those changes will be much more long-lasting.

In the long run, it’s better to only focus on and master three habits each year that actually stick, than to try repeatedly to develop 30 different habits at a time and end up overwhelmed, frustrated, and back to where you started from.

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Practical Application

Sometime in the next 24 hours, find 15 minutes to sit down and make a list of all the good habits you want to develop in your own life and the bad habits you want to reverse. This is not an exercise to overwhelm you; it’s an exercise to just get it all written down on paper so it’s not sitting in your brain nagging at you. :)

Once you’ve made an exhaustive list, prioritize the top three habits that will make the most difference were you to implement them tomorrow. Then, take a deep breath, set your paper aside in a safe place (if you’re prone to lose things, consider emailing yourself the list or saving it as a file on your computer!), and keep working on the habit you’ve already committed to make your focus for the next 19 days.

When you feel like the current habit you’re working on has truly become a habit, you can then pull out your exhaustive list and start making the next thing a priority. Remember to take it slowly–even if you’re tempted to accelerate onto the next habit.

Yesterday’s project update: The habit I chose to focus on is to get up early every single day for this whole 21 day challenge. I’m three days in and already dragging, but I know that it takes awhile to “reset” my clock again. So I’m pushing through the tiredness, making early bedtime a priority, and not allowing myself to find an excuse for sleeping in in the morning, even when my warm bed feels so nice. :) How’s your daily habit going?

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21 Days to a More Disciplined Life: Discipline is a Process

Yesterday we discussed how living a disciplined life is dependent solely upon me and the choices I make on a daily basis. You are not only the problem, you are also the solution.

So how do we change from the inside out? Well, first, we have to realize that it will be a process. You can’t just decide to go from zero discipline to 100% discipline overnight.

Unfortunately, there is no magic pill you can take that will suddenly make you a disciplined person. Instead, you need to just resolve to change something and then follow through with it–even if it’s as simple as resolving to put your purse away in a designated spot when you come home instead of dropping it wherever you feel like when you stumble into your front door.

It’s easy to want to overhaul our whole lives in a matter of hours or days. But I promise that if you set small, simple, and achievable goals to begin with and stick with these over the long haul, it will be much more beneficial and effective than trying to radically change within 24 hours and ending up exhausted and burnt out after three days.

I love how FlyLady encourages her readers to start changing their lives by shining their kitchen sink. Again, this task might seem so small that it’s hardly worth the effort. But it really can make a big difference.

For instance, not too long ago, we started making a big effort to go to bed every night with a spotless kitchen. I’ve been amazed at how much more peaceful my mornings are when I don’t wake up to a sink overflowing with dirty dishes. It just makes my whole day seem bright to walk out of my bedroom and into a sparkling kitchen in the early morning! The opposite effect is true if I wake up to a messy kitchen: I feel overwhelmed, defeated, and behind before my day has even begun.

It’s a simple thing to whip the kitchen into shape at night. In fact, if my husband and I work together, we can get it completely clean in ten minutes. But developing the habit of not going to bed unless the kitchen is clean can change my whole outlook on the following day.

Remember: Moving in the right direction–even at a microscopic rate–is still moving forward. Slowly making seemingly tiny changes can add up to major differences over a period of time.

Practical Application

Choose one small bad habit you will commit to reverse or one good habit you will aim to implement in your life for the next 20 days. Use the Habit-Forming Chart or Habit Tracker (if you’re ambitious, there’s a 3-habit 100 days chart here) if that helps. Or, you can track your progress online through DailyFeats and earn free gift cards!

After you’ve put some thought into it, come back and tell us what one small change you decided upon. I’ll share mine tomorrow.

Yesterday’s Progress: The laundry is DONE. Well, at least until tomorrow. :) Yay! How did your project go? Did you get it finished?

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