Zen Habits has an article this week on adding more discipline into your life.
By Leo Babauta
What do you do if your life is a mess, you have no discipline or routines, can’t stick to anything, procrastinate, and feel out of control?
How do you get started with the discipline habit when you have so much to change?
You start by washing your dishes.
It’s just one small step: when you eat your cereal, wash your bowl and spoon. When you finish drinking coffee or tea, wash your cup. Don’t leave dishes in the sink or counter or table.
Mindfully wash your dish, right away.
Form this habit one dish at a time, one day at a time. Once you do this for a few weeks, you can start making sure the sink is clean. Then the counter. Then put your clothes away when you take them off. Then start doing a few pushups. Eat a few vegetables.
One of these at a time, you’ll start to build the discipline habit and trust yourself to stick to something.
But for now, just wash your dishes.
While reading the article, I thought back on the times someone mentioned to me that they are not as disciplined as I am. They wished they could find the time to exercise regularly … or meditate or whatever.
My standard response is, “If I didn’t believe it helped, I probably wouldn’t do it.” I find it easier to maintain a habit when I see or feel results. In the case of exercising every day, I see and feel the results. When it comes to eating a large salad every day, I feel the results.
Just as important, I find it easier to change a negative habit when I can see or feel the results. For example, I quit smoking over 40 years ago because I saw and felt the negative aspects of what smoking three packs a day had upon my life and my family. I quit ‘one cigarette at a time’.
Now, when you initially start changing a habit, you will not see or feel the beneficial results. At that point, you are working on faith. You believe that the change will be positive in some way. For example, last summer I gave up eating ice cream every day. It was a habit I had been indulging in for close to 50 years. My belief was that I would generate less phlegm by eliminating this milk product from my diet. Now, I didn’t initially say, “I will never eat ice cream again.” I told myself each time I wanted ice cream that I would wait an hour and if I still wanted it then, I would have a bowl.” Guess what? In an hour I was doing something else and didn’t even think about it. It has been nine months and I see and feel the difference. Today, I still don’t tell myself that I will never eat ice cream again. When I think about it (“Um, that sounds good”), I just wait an hour.