Many people wonder how I manage to be so disciplined. They believe that my life must be very hard, since I am always under a strict schedule. That was true when I was training to be an Olympic athlete, and it’s true now, when I am a brain training coach, MIT mentor and a co-founder of Onbotraining – an online course for developing happiness.
However, I don’t see it that way, as I love everything that I do. My journey to the Olympics has shown me what it takes to become good at anything, and I don’t mind going through that journey. I have never minded the struggle – I knew it will give me the chance to reach my goals.
I worked full time and I trained full time for the Beijing Olympics. By the way, I am not an exception in the world of elite athletes. Many support themselves with dual high-level careers, and live their dream while achieving their goals. They push their capabilities to their limits, and enjoy lives with a purpose.
All these athletes, myself included, know how discipline works. Discipline is a way to show that you are in control of your life – and a way to get anything you want.
How does one maintain a discipline? Mostly, by combining an automated brain program – doing all what’s needed to be done no matter what – with an incredible commitment to the future goal.
It’s becoming harder and harder to be disciplined, as we live in the society that prizes instant gratification. We are more concerned about feeling good all the time, so we seek immediate pleasures – whether it’s a new car, an exotic trip or a new partner. Our long term goals are not so important anymore. We get comfortable, and wait for some special event that will make our lives meaningful, fulfilling, full of happiness and success.
The amount of discipline that we have shows how much we are in control of our life, and how free we are. Otherwise, we’re just controlled by outside circumstances.
Therefore, for me, discipline means freedom and happiness. It gives me the ability to do what I want, since I can learn how to achieve any dream I set myself to. Discipline also teaches how to control thoughts, since only by controlling our thoughts we learn how to be happy in any situation. For example, it happens in sports that you are feeling under the weather, but you still have to perform at the competition and win. The technique then is to use visualization to bring back positive emotions about the competition, which triggers your optimistic mood. It’s nothing complicated – you just have to train yourself for it.
Discipline also brings self-confidence, mental and physical strength, and inspires us to grow as human beings. With growth comes the ability to enjoy life in deeper ways.
Here is my advice on how anyone can develop discipline – it’s a skill like any other, and can be trained!
- Set big goals with purpose. Don’t be shy!
I never dreamt about being the best at anything in the world. I thought my goal was to be a lawyer if I pass the exams. I was not one of the best students in school, and my mom would always tell me that I had to work and study hard. However, one day a man with the mustache, my coach, came and said I was going to be a javelin thrower and we were going to start training for the European Championship in two years, then the World Championship, and one day we would go to the Olympics. The minute he set these goals for me, I had to think of myself as a professional athlete and train as one. When you challenge yourself to achieve bigger goals, then you dedicate yourself to the craft. You have to start thinking as if you were already on the top in order to put yourself into the mindset of a bigger, bolder state. Now you are not the person who set the goal, but the person who has a professional attitude and is on the mission to achieve a bigger purpose.
- Set clear goals
Goals can be set for a process or for a specific thing, for example, to be healthy or to buy a new car – but it has to be clear. Our brain only can understand clear commands in order to process them into action. The meaning has to be well-defined by multi-level architecture: what, why, where, when and how. You would ask a computer to open the precise window you want, you wouldn’t just give a vague idea of the window you wish to see. For example, you decide to be healthy. Clearly define what healthy lifestyle means to you, and what you will do, exactly, to achieve your goal. Will you go running every day? At what time and for how long? Will you eat healthy? How will you measure if you are healthy? If there is no clear goal, there is no possibility to create specific steps that you will need to do to achieve it.
- Every day matters
When you wake up in the morning, you need to know what’s the most important for you to accomplish that day. Everything that you have set for yourself has to be done! It’s a life and death matter, since you will determine whether your dream lives or dies. Every athlete knows that if they skip one training session, they are already behind. They know that in the competition that is still three months away, they will deprive themselves from winning if they don’t accomplish the set plan today. If you will decide to skip doing what you have set yourself to accomplish, then remember what you will be losing. Research shows that mental contrasting when you analyze your actions in the if-then framework has high effect in training self-control.
- Do not debate the plan!
If you want to go to the Olympics, each training session matters. The same is with everything else in your life. When the process starts, you cannot question it. You have to work every day to reach your dream with full force. Tip: Execute 100% without stopping yourself with fears and doubts. When those thoughts come to your mind just let them pass, do not focus on them. The key is to let yourself to function in full capacity.
- No matter what!
The main mindset you will have to establish in order to become disciplined is “no matter what, I will accomplish the task for when it is set to be done!” No matter what! Yes, you have to create pressure for yourself, otherwise nothing will get done. By the way, there is a good stress and bad stress – and you have to make sure you are operating under the good stress, which means butterflies in the stomach – a manageable adrenaline that stimulates you. Tip: when you are about to fail to perform: remember why you want to accomplish your goal, imagine how cool it will be when you reach it, and how much you will grow when you attain your dream. Focus on the excitement that these thoughts and vision evoke, then smile and hit it with full force in executing what you were planning to accomplish.
- Discipline is a planned routine
You have to create a routine that would become automatic. Athletes know the hour of their training, their lunch, dinner and rest. In the training, they know they have to do a warm up and the main training, then cool down and recover. Everything is set to accomplish the routine.
Discipline was instilled in me by my Mom. When I would ask her if I could start art, dancing or volleyball classes, she would say: “Be careful in choosing on what you will be spending your time, because you won’t be able to quit. You will have to finish it till the end and do it well.” That led me to think hard if I would be able to commit to something for a long time. Also, knowing that it’s the only thing that I chose, made me explore how I could keep getting better at it.
- Understanding a process of transformation
Your body and brain will do everything to resist the change and growth. You need to know that it’s natural to feel lazy and undisciplined. But you have all the power to fight it, and you need to start with your thoughts. Tip: one of the “fighting” methods means positive self-talk:
- For Better Performance, Give Yourself a Pep Talk.
A study showed that simple self-talk – like saying “I want to be the best” or “I’m going to try as hard as possible” – was the most effective technique, especially if the script was about increasing motivation. Self-talk focused on specific goals, such as “I’m going to get a score of 90,” didn’t work as well.
- Go above feelings
The hardest part about discipline is maintaining the actions needed to achieve your dream or certain state of happiness. It requires constant hard work fighting against comfort and instant pleasures. To do so, you have to separate yourself from feelings that stop you, whether is tiredness, laziness or pity for yourself. You have to go above them, even if your feelings tell you that you are tired, stressed and alone in this struggle. Discipline is direct training of a fighter.
- Resisting the brain
All people are lazy – even the most successful businessmen, the most accomplished athletes, and the most dedicated professionals. However, to be precise, it’s not simple laziness. Rather, it’s your brain saving the energy for you. Any movement takes the energy away, and the brain is doing everything to stop you from moving by sending body signals about how hard it is to move, and thoughts about how scary it would be if you fail. But you can trick your brain. Imagine your body is a beautiful machine, and you are operating it as a higher force from above. Separate yourself from your body. Play it as a computer game. You are the one who gives commands to your body to accomplish tasks.
- Mindset – finding pleasure in hard work
Shift your focus to the process, and concentrate on getting the work done faster and better every time. Speed is important. You have to move fast in order to achieve perfection in a set amount of time. When you are improving, there will be pain involved when you shift from from old patterns into new behavior and outlook. If we focus on how much we will gain after that transition, it will make our journey exciting and short-term pain will melt.
Many quit too early. Success is all about persistence and going till the end. Discipline is what gets you to your final destination – the realization of your dream. When you learn about your craft and your own capabilities, you will start seeing yourself change, and you will get you hungry for more. Self-improvement is an amazing drug.
I love discipline, as it is the source of power. It is an engine that helps us understand and explore our capabilities and life’s opportunities. Discipline is not boring: it’s freedom to put all our energy into creating something meaningful and beautiful. The good news is that it’s up to us to choose the life with a discipline or without, with a goal or without – with a dream or without.
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