Discipline is freedom


There’s much talk at this time of year about making resolutions that you’re not going to stick to. Going to the gym five times a week, giving up booze, caffeine, meat, wheat, sugar or dairy, earning more, spending less, being fitter, happier, more productive…

The problem with making resolutions that you don’t keep, is that it puts you off bothering in the future – it’s demotivating. On the other hand, one of the things I find most satisfying in life is creating a new positive habit and sticking to. I’ve stuck to a lot of them and broken a lot of them. Here’s what I find works for me:

1. Start small and expand

There’s a great TEDx talk by B.J. Fogg about creating new habits. He suggests making it micro. For example if you want to start flossing, make the resolution to floss just one tooth. The idea being that if it’s that easy to do you’ve got no excuse not to do it – you can’t say you haven’t got time to do something that only takes a minute. Once you’re doing it regularly, then you can do it for longer. This is actually how I got into the habit of flossing.

2. Have a reminder 

A good way to do this is to attach a new habit to an existing one e.g. after I brush my teeth I will floss. Phone reminders, posters and post-its can also help. ‘After I shower I will meditate’ worked for me.

3. Involve others

One of the most helpful habits I got into last year was using the pomodoro technique. This involves choosing a single task to focus on for 25 minutes, then taking a five minute break before choosing the next one.

What makes it far more effective is doing it with others. Two or more of us get together in the office for a ‘pom’ and tell each other what we plan to do. Then we meet to ask if each other if we did it. The accountability makes it far more effective, and finding out what each other is working on and sharing successes and challenges makes being more productive fun and makes it feel like teamwork. I also managed to give up sugar for a month by doing it with a group of friends who were all supporting each other.

4. Create a specific time for it

When I first started my blog I kept putting off writing the next post, because there was always something more urgent or more appealing to do. When I decided to allocate Monday morning to writing it, I stuck to doing it every week.

5. Celebrate the benefits

After you’ve meditated, exercised, stretched, completed a productivity task or whatever, take a moment to notice how satisfying it feels and what the benefits are of doing it. Also notice how unsatisfying it feels when you don’t do it. We do lots of high-fiving after pom task completion, and noticing how calm and focused I feel after yoga and meditation incentivises me to keep practicing.

I used to resist being very structured with my time because I viewed it as constraining, but I’ve come to agree with Aristotle that ‘Through discipline comes freedom’. Freedom to be who you want to be and achieve what you want to achieve through small, daily steps.

If stress is an issue in your workplace, get in touch for a free taster session to experience how mindfulness can help.