By: Lisa Philippart

When people think about discipline, the term willpower usually comes to mine—pushing yourself to work harder or stay focused. But if you actually observe highly disciplined people closely, you’ll notice something striking…Disciplined people don’t rely on willpower. Of course, they make use of it from time to time. But willpower isn’t their main tool for getting things done. Instead, highly disciplined people cultivate mentalities that help them do consistently great work without needing to use willpower. Let’s look at the mindset characteristics of highly disciplined people.

Maybe the biggest misconception I see among people who struggle to be disciplined is their “do more” mindset. They think being focused and productive comes from doing more things. For example, they may use an app or to-do list system to stay focused. Or, they may read more self-help books and watch more YouTube videos about how to be more productive. Now there’s nothing wrong with these examples, but the problem is the underlying belief behind them that says, “If I want to be more disciplined, I need to do more.” In my opinion the “do more” mindset leads to wasting even more time, energy, and resources on everything besides the real thing you need to do. Instead, truly disciplined people will take the opposite approach and cultivate a “progress through removal” mindset. This mindset allows for the best way to stay focused and actually get meaningful work done (especially creative work) by removing distractions and obstacles and letting their natural motivation pull them toward progress.

Here’s an example of making progress through removal: Instead of trying to add more positive emotions to your headspace whenever you feel insecure or afraid about your work, focus on removing negative self-talk or constant worry. The main idea here is that it’s usually more productive to spend your energy removing obstacles and friction points than trying to add inspiration or willpower. So, the next time you find yourself stuck, procrastinating, or just wishing you were more disciplined, ask yourself this question: What can I remove or do less of that will help me work better?

Consistently disciplined people are also highly motivated, which makes sense. But how do these people stay so motivated all the time? Here’s the thing about motivation…the most powerful source of motivation is progress. For example, you’ll be much more likely to stay focused and complete a report if you successfully complete the first section in good time. What I have noticed is that the size of the progress has almost nothing to do with how motivated it makes you feel. Just making some progress, even a tiny amount, will boost your motivation significantly, which means a higher likelihood of staying focused and disciplined. When you’re stuck, break it up. If you are constantly completing small chunks of work, you’ll have a steady supply of motivation. And to the outside world, you’ll look incredibly disciplined. Inside, you’ll know that it’s really that you always stay motivated by making continual progress, because you are smart enough to break up the big projects into small chunks.

Join me in my next article for more suggestions on how to maintain a disciplined mindset.

By: Lisa Philippart

Licensed Professional Counselor