A No-Nonsense Guide to Building Discipline and Motivating Yourself

Learn how to get a hold of your life with better motivation, habits, and discipline
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Eminem is undoubtedly one of the most prominent hip-hop musicians of all time. The way the story goes, ever since he was little, he wanted to become a famous rapper. He wanted the complete package, the money, the cars, the women, the shows, studio sessions, and record labels. If you listen to his earlier, pre-fame songs, this is exactly what he talks about. At the time, he was barely making ends meet working shitty jobs in Detroit, and saw rap as his ticket out of a bad situation.

His hard work paid off when Dr. Dre got a copy of his demo, signed him to his label, and basically made him famous overnight. All of a sudden, he was placed in the exact lifestyle he was yearning for all those years and everything that came along with it. However, when the dust settled, he felt even worse than before.

Only a year after his major-label debut, he released Marshall Mathers LP, a very dark album in which a recurring theme was his inability to deal with the attention and newfound fame. This “fame is evil” theme became a core part of a lot of his future songs. But why? Wasn’t this the lifestyle he said he wanted? This constant misery, combined with the sudden death of his best friend, led him to develop insomnia and abusing sleeping pills, getting addicted to them, and overdosing to the point where he almost died.

In his autobiography Decoded, Jay-Z said this on the subject: “I mean, [Eminem] is a guy who loves rap and wanted to be successful his whole career. Then he finally gets it, and there’s this dark cloud over him.”

On the other hand, take a look at Arnold Schwarzenegger. He grew up in a small town in Austria and wanted to become the best bodybuilder in the world. Just like Eminem, he kept putting in hard work and dedication until he achieved exactly what he set out to achieve. He became the most popular bodybuilder in the world and moved to the United States where he furthered his career in the movie industry and politics.

However, unlike Eminem, he didn’t become miserable once he achieved success. The reason is that Arnold wasn’t chasing a specific lifestyle, but a goal. He wanted to be recognized as the best in something specific. He wasn’t doing it for the money, girls, or fame. I mean, sure, it’s not like he didn’t enjoy the perks, but they were not his main motivation. Once he reached that level of success, he set a new goal and applied the same dedication to becoming a film star. Once he conquered that level, he moved into politics with the same efficiency.

Arnold wasn’t chasing the benefits of a successful lifestyle. Instead, he knew the type of person he wanted to become and set goal after goal that brought him closer to that ideal.

What Eminem is known for is his deeply personal and unique style. But he got to that level once he stopped chasing fame and focused on becoming the best rapper. His first album was released three years before he became well-known and he sold it out of the trunk of his car. People mostly criticized it, saying he sounded like he was trying to imitate other rappers and lacked originality.

Once Eminem made the shift in his perception from “I want to be rich and famous” to “I want to be the best lyricist and one of the greatest of all time”, he stopped talking about how much fame sucks and focused on becoming better than his peers. His albums took a turn from “just bitching about my life” to “motivating you to follow your dreams”. Instead of just screaming “Fuck you!” to the world and writing diss records for anybody mean-mugging him, he started incorporating themes of overcoming addiction, appreciating life, and making amends with his family.

In other words, he became better by choosing certain values over a certain lifestyle. This change in perception happened once he had a near-death experience as a result of his drug addiction. However, unlike many popular musicians who abuse drugs for partying, his addiction was to regular prescription pills for treating acute pain and sleeping disorders. His drug use was the result of the inability to cope with the misery of the lifestyle he chose.

Instead of chasing specific perks, determine the type of person you want to be. You can still reach the same destination, but the reason behind your actions plays a larger role than you might think. A cool lifestyle you don’t care about will seem like any “normal” job you would get. You get to brag about it to your friends, then go home and be miserable.

Don’t just struggle until you get the reward. Find a compelling reason to care about the journey.

Motivation: Finding A Reason to Give a Fuck About Doing Things That Matter

Every January 1st, people commit to yet another set of resolutions; working out, cutting down on junk food, quitting smoking, and so on. Gym memberships skyrocket, social media gets overflown with motivational updates, and everybody starts talking about what they’re going to improve on.

Most people only do things when they feel motivated to do them. This is what I call sprint motivation: You watch an incentive video, read an inspiring quote, or hear an inspirational story, so you get hyped instantly. You set big, long-term plans and get down to business right away. Your adrenaline is high, you’re 100% focused on what you need to do, and there’s no stopping you. Then, an hour, a day, or a week later, that energy is completely gone and you don’t know what happened.

You always seek motivation to “get started” and, in turn, spend more time trying to get motivated than actually doing something. Sprint motivation functions like a drug; you get an instant high and a surge of energy that makes you feel amazing for a while. But sooner or later it disappears and, once it does, you’re stuck feeling even worse, willing to do anything to “get motivated” again.

The movie Limitless showed this in a great visual way. When the main character takes a drug that makes him more perceptive, his whole world — which was portrayed in bland grayish colors — suddenly becomes vibrant, colorful, and dynamic. Once the effects fade and the world becomes gray once again, he becomes focused solely on getting that amazing feeling back. It is literally how addiction works. And you behave just like any other addict when it comes to seeking motivation.

You watch every motivational video on YouTube, bump all the inspirational songs, read all the social media quotes, you say to yourself “Yeah, I can do it, let’s go!” Anything to get that sudden rush of productivity. But when the feeling expires and you’ll be back at square one, you’re scrapping for one more hit just like any other junkie.

A short-term boost of motivation like this is awesome but it is always temporary. Yet many of us have this ridiculous belief that a sudden rush of adrenaline will be able to sustain us over a long period of time, even though it never has and never will.

This hype lasts for a couple of weeks, after which most of those people give up and never look back. The problem with their way of thinking is that they don’t have a specific purpose for sticking to their resolutions. They get a boost of temporary motivation which soon wears off and they’re back to square one. To be able to sustain the energy and willpower needed to reach the desired goal, you need to define your big, fat, bold, capitalized, and unique WHY.

Let’s call this the marathon motivation.

For long-term motivational benefits, you need to define your core reason for doing this. And not just vague explanations – why is this so important that you are willing to go through blood, sweat, and tears for it? What specifically do you want to achieve? Why is it important to you? If you can’t answer these questions with a clear definition of what you desire, you’re going to have a very hard time putting in the effort needed to reach your destination.

When Arnold Schwarzenegger set his mind on becoming the best bodybuilder in the world, he was truly dedicated to it. He didn’t watch others working out to get motivated. He imagined himself huge, pictured himself winning bodybuilding tournaments and, when he did, he got so excited about it that he went to work with a 150% capacity. The same way, Eminem was broke, couldn’t hold down a steady job, and was raising a child. But he kept writing songs, kept saving up for studio time, and kept going to rap battles.

In contrast, compare their passion to something most of us would say: “I want to get in shape. So I guess I should work out.” Everybody knows they need to get in shape, but why do you personally want to do it? Do you want to lose weight or gain mass? Do you want to simply improve cardio or are you at risk of developing a severe medical condition? Do you want to become a functional athlete or just get compliments from your friends?

Personalize your motivation

If you can close your eyes and picture the success you crave as clear as day, it will unleash an endless stream of motivational energy that will keep you going for a long, long time.

This applies even when it comes to getting motivated about things you don’t care about, like a school test or a work project. In this case, you don’t have to care about the specific thing, but rather the result you aim to achieve. For example, scoring well on your exam next week will enable you to have more free time than if you fail. So you can use benefits you might expect in the future as the drive to give your 100% today.

Nobody supported Arnold’s dream of becoming a bodybuilder but, because he could imagine the end result, he was pushing forward rather than looking for reasons to quit. At the age of 18, he was serving in the military and had no equipment or time to work out. So after an entire day of military training, he would use objects around his dorm to train while everyone else went to bed. He went AWOL to compete in Junior Mr. Europe contest, won first place, and then spent a week in military prison for running away.

He was able to persist because he knew why he was doing it. When you know why you’re doing something, you will be more inclined to stop procrastinating and reach that level of success as soon as possible.

There will always be days when you don’t want to do what you need to do. Maybe the weather isn’t fit for a run, you’re not feeling productive enough to write, or you’re simply itching to watch the newest episode of your favorite show. But think about it like this: Things you need to do will need to get done eventually no matter what and the things you want to achieve will never become a reality without your effort. The worst thing that can happen to you is that you grow old and say: “I wish I had more time.”

Habits: How to Make Choices That Build a Better Future

The fundamental principle in building physical strength is progressive overload. It basically means training your body to endure more stress over time; you lift heavier weights, do more sets and repetitions, have longer workouts, do harder exercises, etc. The essence of this principle is this:

  1. Start small
  2. Gradually increase difficulty
  3. Get stronger as a result

The way to build a strong mindset is by using the same principles you would use to build a strong body; a mental equivalent of progressive overload.

Step 1: Start Small

When you decide to change something about yourself — a habit, the way your work, your life — the first step is to start planning. Sit down, make a to-do list, organize things, prepare yourself for success. Makes sense, right? You need a plan in order to know what you must do.

The problem with this is that you still haven’t actually done anything. You consider the act of planning a step forward, where you’ve only just talked about what you’re going to do instead of doing it. It’s easy to make plans and contemplate changing your life, which is why everybody does it. Far fewer people actually make those plans a reality.

This is a state known by the catchy name of analysis paralysis, where you overanalyze everything to the point that you feel overwhelmed and never actually get started. It applies to anything from completing your daily tasks, starting a company, or approaching strangers in a club.

The solution to this is very simple — start small. Do something, anything, that takes you one tiny step closer to what you are trying to achieve. Just one small thing. It is our instinct to avoid this because it seems so insignificant; you can’t change your life through such small steps, you need a big plan and big changes and big steps forward. The problem with this “big everything” approach is that it inevitably leads to failure.

Maybe you’re super hyped up and motivated to do something that’s out of your comfort zone. Maybe you make a big, detailed plan. So you do it once, twice, three times. You follow that plan for a few days, maybe a week or two, and then… you stop feeling motivated. Suddenly, you have a huge plan in front of you that you don’t want to do. It’s hard, it’s difficult, it’s painful. Fuck it, it’s easier to just ignore the plan altogether.

With small changes, you take the pressure off of yourself. You put your focus only on one small thing, one time. It’s so small that you have no real reason to avoid doing it. So you do it. If you do one small thing each day, in 3 months, you will have done it about 90 times. You will be 90x more confident in what you’re doing and 90x more likely to keep doing it. Now imagine if you repeat the same process for 6 months, a year, two years. You would be unstoppable.

Drastic changes require not only a lot of effort but a lot of time. On top of that, you can never know for sure exactly what you need to do. You can have a general sense of direction but you will still have to make a lot of changes along the way. Everybody does. Eventually, your initial plan will need to be changed and adjusted — which will only get you stuck in more planning.

The choices you make accumulate over time until something big happens. Every time you plan instead of taking action, you’re making a choice. Over time, those choices define you as person.

Step 2: Gradually Increase Difficulty

The goal of starting with small changes isn’t to always do only small, incremental things. This approach only helps you get started and stay on track long enough to avoid quitting at a certain point.

As soon as you get comfortable with doing something, you need to increase the difficulty. With progressive overload, this would mean increasing the weight, reps, sets, and similar parameters. When it comes to personality changes, it means taking a bigger step out of your comfort zone.

Small change:

  • When at a party, talk to one person you don’t know.
  • Stand up for yourself one time when the situation arises.
  • Do not give into your anxious thoughts one time and assume everything is going to work out fine.

Bigger change:

  • When at a party, talk to two people you don’t know; or spend less time building up the courage to talk to one person (e.g. it took you an hour, try to do it in under 30 minutes).
  • Stand up for yourself two times in a row. Do not let people insult you, take advantage of you, or try to guilt you into doing something.
  • Do not give in to your anxious thoughts two times in a row; or listen to happy songs when you feel depressed or sad, even though you want to listen to sad songs.

Big change:

  • At a party, talk to different groups of people and make new friends. Don’t care about what anyone thinks of you, simply relax, have fun, and be friendly.
  • Become the type of person who always stands up for themselves. Recognize that, sometimes, it is best to ignore provocations. Stand up for people who can’t do it themselves. Stand up for injustice around you.
  • Realize that just because you have certain thoughts, it doesn’t mean you need to act on them, think about them, or analyze them. Recognize poisonous and toxic thoughts, and as soon as you feel them coming, ignore them, and don’t let them take over your mind.

Examples above have a lot of steps in between. The “bigger change” is only an example of how to gradually increase the difficulty of the initial small tasks. You need to keep repeating this process over and over again, constantly taking one smaller step forward. If you increase the difficulty too much, too soon, you will get stuck in analysis paralysis again and you will stop making progress.

The “big change” refers to an end goal you are trying to achieve. This doesn’t mean you should stop increasing the difficulty and testing your boundaries when you get there, but it shows a drastic change in your personality when compared to the first small step with which you started.

The more you repeat this process and the more effort you put in, the faster the progress you can make. However, do not make too big increases because this will only make the process more difficult for you and, hence, you will be much more likely to give up. Stay patient and you will improve much faster in the long run.

Step 3: Get Stronger

Just like with physical training, over time you will inevitably become stronger and more resilient to the mental stress you experience. The more you do the same actions, the more you test your boundaries and step out of your comfort zone, the stronger you will feel. Things that used to be a problem for you will gradually become easier, and your confidence will rise as a result.

However, just like with physical training, you can overdo it. You can push the limits too much, too fast, and overwhelm yourself. The same way, if you stop pushing the limits and working on yourself, your mind will gradually become weaker and you can easily end up in the same place where you started. So keep working on yourself, keep moving forward, and constantly try to become better.

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