Discipline Doesn’t Work. Here’s What To Do Instead.
There is no perfect routine. Only a series of experiments.
Let’s be honest — I’m not the only one that’s tried to wake up at 5 am, attempted to get fit after watching some motivational YouTube video, or tried cleaning the house during the height of the Kon Marie hype.
We’ve all bought the books, listened to the podcast, watched the YouTubers, and attempted to replicate whatever productivity tip they’ve dished out. We’ve all been there — Atomic Habits, minimalism, billionaire routines, and schedules — but nothing seems to stick.
Our butts are still flat. Our house is still a mess. There are still clothes all over the floor. We still don’t wake up at 5 am. Nothing is done — except maybe whatever series that just came out on Netflix.
So we tell ourselves that it’s because we lack the discipline to do whatever we need to do. We berate ourselves for failing and become convinced that we’re never going to be that person that we want to be.
And we’re right. Within a week or half month of starting our resolutions, we fall back into our former selves — back into the state of equilibrium that we’ve tried so hard to break, only to have it break us.
Why does this happen? It’s because we believe in the discipline myth.
The Myth of Discipline
There’s a misconception when it comes to what discipline means. Here are some things that we’ve all experienced in some form at some point:
you can’t wake up at 5 am because you don’t have the willpower or discipline to do it
you want to go to the gym/get fit but don’t have the discipline against your laziness
you want to eat healthier but don’t have the discipline to resist the junk food in your house
you want to make money online but don’t have the discipline to sit down and make the content required for it
you want to learn a new skill, learn to code, sing, dance, play an instrument, read a book — but you don’t have to willpower or time to do it.
If we look at the list above for what they really are — we see discipline as an association with pain that needs to be experienced regularly to achieve the end goal.
This is where we go wrong.
The negative association between discipline and the thing we want to achieve only works to entrench the idea that you have to experience pain to gain. This thought process, coupled with our general nature to avoid pain, becomes our internalized excuse to fall back into the out routines and habits that we’re trying to discontinue.
Discipline: To Learn, Not To Struggle
The Latin roots for the word discipline actually mean to learn. Somewhere in our language development over the centuries, the meaning got morphed and became associated with a form of self-flagellation.
Rather than trying to be disciplined based on the modern understanding of the word, what if we took it back to its Latin roots?
To truly learn something, we need to run a series of experiments and tests. When it comes to changing our habits or working towards a particular goal that requires discipline, we tend to start with a superficial understanding of the situation and requirements.
So we apply what we think we should be applying, based on whatever we’ve read, watched, and saw on Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, or Medium post. Then we fail. We beat ourselves up for it and give up.
But what if, instead of telling ourselves that we simply don’t have the discipline, we stop, reassess what went wrong, and try again?
When we try and start a habit, we go in with rose-colored glasses. We have an image of what it's supposed to look like, how it's supposed to feel, and what it's supposed to help us achieve. But then reality hits.
Rather than giving up, you need to work with your reality — not what you think your reality should be.
Want to wake up at 5 am? But don’t want to get out of bed because it’s too cold? Get one of those timer plugs and a heater so that your room is nice and toasty when you wake up.
Want to get fitter but don’t want to go to the gym? (Not everyone is a gym person, especially in this world climate) Roll out a yoga mat and do ten minutes before you try and commit to an hour of cardio.
Working out in the morning not doing you any good on a mental level? Try midday or at night.
The point is — if it’s not working out for you, observe your environment, mental reactions, and whatever else that’s causing the friction and make changes accordingly.
To be truly disciplined is to test and experiment to figure out how to best achieve the thing you want to do. Don’t just try one thing and think that’s it — you’ve failed. Yes. You’ve failed. But there are other ways and times to do the same thing. You just need to figure out what works best for you.
Final Thoughts: You Will Fail and That’s The Point
You want to make a change. For anything to change, you need momentum. The less friction you have on the thing you want to do, the easier it is for you to do it.
However, things change. Life happens. Sometimes, what you found to be frictionless suddenly becomes a chore or near impossible to do. Just because it was working for you a year, doesn’t mean that it’ll last forever.
The timeframe doesn’t actually matter.
What matters is that you keep moving, doing, experimenting, and figuring out what works for you in your current situation. You will fail and that’s the point. Your perception of how things should be vs. reality isn’t always perfect. One person’s routine and results may be unachievable for you in your current life situation. However, your solution may never work for your favorite Youtuber, Instagramer, or motivational Medium writer.
Discipline isn’t defined by failure. It’s about the ability to keep going and to adapt as needed. It’s about learning and growing your awareness of yourself, your needs, and working with them to move you towards your goals.