Discipline & Procrastination are Habits, NOT Personality Traits

Often times we label ourselves. This can be empowering or disempowering because the labels become a self-fulfilling prophecy. We act in accordance with our beliefs about ourselves. If we tell ourselves we are disciplined, we act disciplined. If we tell ourselves we are a procrastinator, we will procrastinate. We become what we repeatedly do. It is important we all understand these are really just habitual behaviors and not personality traits.

Realizing that these are habits, and not personality traits are empowering. Habits are malleable. We can replace a bad habit with a good one. This gives us a greater sense of hope for a better future. You are not a procrastinator, you simply developed the habit of procrastination. You can break that habit, like any other habit. You can develop the habit of discipline; doing what you should do, when you should do it, whether you feel like it or not.

Habits, good or bad, allow our minds to operate on autopilot. Our minds prefer autopilot because making decisions at the conscious level is exhausting. The cerebral cortex fatigues quickly and is prone to exhaustion. Constantly making decisions at the conscious level is mentally exhausting because it requires our cerebral cortex to do the heavy lifting. This is why everyone forms daily rituals.

It takes time and effort to wire in a new habit, but once it is installed, it will take minimal effort to sustain. The initiation phase takes approximately two months. This is longer than the 30 days most of us were taught. It is perhaps why many people failed to form lasting habits in the past. The two most powerful tactics for changing your behavior are shifting your beliefs and identifying your reason for adopting the new behavior.

You might not be able to say you are a disciplined person right now, but you can say, “I am going to become more disciplined. I am going to make an effort each day to get better.” The more often you say this, and back it up with action, the sooner you will be able to say, “I am a disciplined person.”

Another important strategy for adopting a productive habit is to identify your reason for wanting to improve. What is procrastination costing you? What will you gain by becoming more disciplined? You have to link disciplined action to the reward and procrastination with what it costs you. If the cost of procrastination is greater than the discomfort of taking disciplined action, you will change. If it isn’t you will not. If your reason isn’t strong enough, your excuses will be.

Develop the habit of discipline by starting your day doing your most impactful task. Track your consistency. Mark your calendar each day you succeed at beginning your day with your most impactful task or use a habit-forming app, like Strides to track your consistency. Tracking your consistency will make you more consistent based on the principle of what gets measured gets managed. Tracking a behavior makes us more mindful of it.

As new tasks become routine, the more resilient basal ganglia take over. The action becomes easier and easier to perform. The actions flow almost effortlessly. Routines make life less stressful. Routine feels good; we thrive on routine. We all fall into a routine, and we all develop daily rituals.

Taking positive action when we don’t feel like doing it is one of the most powerful habits we can form. It is the habit of discipline; doing what we should do, when we should do it, whether we feel like it or not. The disciplined person doesn’t hesitate. Hesitation can become a habit. Hesitating to take positive action leads to the habit of procrastination.

When we hesitate to do something, our minds will magnify the anticipated pain or discomfort and begin to provide a myriad of excuses not to do it. Hesitation signals to the brain that we are about to do something dangerous; something that could threaten our survival. Our brain magnifies the danger to kill the idea.

This cognitive bias, called the spotlight effect is designed to kill any action that could threaten our survival. This is great when we are thinking about doing something stupid like risking our lives performing acrobatics on a 50-story building ledge to get views and likes on social media, but it isn’t helpful when it prevents you from taking positive action like speaking up in a meeting or working out.

Our mind is hardwired for our survival. Our ancient programming doesn’t look at the long-term consequence of action or inaction. It is only able to evaluate doing or not doing something based on the immediate pain or pleasure it produces. Hesitation sends a red flag to the brain that the action you are contemplating is dangerous. It cannot distinguish real physical danger from fear born out of insecurity.

When you begin to feel yourself hesitate, MOVE. This is a decisive moment; a moment of huge power. Force yourself to move. The mind and body are linked together; one affects the other. Even if the activity is to study a text, grab the book, turn on your desk light, grab your highlighter, initiate movement. The longer you hesitate to act, the more likely you are to get trapped in your head. Force yourself to move. It will help you to overcome your instincts and feelings so you can operate at the level of your ideas and higher self.

Good luck!  Best wishes and best health.

Change your habits, change your life! 

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