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Peer Blog: 5 Steps to Self-Discipline in Difficult Times

Liyi, Engineering, Class of 2024

Hi Gael friends, I’m back!

Between my last blog post and this one, I have had lots to do: midterms, assignments, and the like. I want to acknowledge how tough midterms and tests are, even though the majority of mine have been open-book or take-home assignments. University? Yeah. This is hard. And it’s not just midterms. Yesterday, I had a 2.5-hour meeting, and the entire time I spent it wondering what else I could be doing. It was one of those meetings where your presence is appreciated but you don’t really have to talk much. Even though I could have muted the call and focused on coursework, my FOMO (a double-edged sword) prevented me from doing that. So I just felt like I lost a whole afternoon. Then today I had a 4-hour phone call that needed me to be hands-on and attentive the whole time. My ears and body ached after that one.

The point is that I want to comfort you, my fellow students: if you’re struggling, I am too. Yes, we ARE going to try our best to push through, but sometimes we need to take a step back and re-evaluate. So, take your time to relax and recharge, and then muster up the courage to keep going. We’re all probably struggling with something different, and hopefully these SASS blogs have been helpful to you.

In spite of the struggle, I’m still trying to find ways to be a better student and a better person. I’m working on self-discipline right now.

I recently listened to Rob Dial’s podcast “The 5 Steps to Be More Self-Disciplined.” In the recording, Rob discusses his own journey toward self-discipline. He has some useful tips, so if you don’t have time to listen, check out my edited version below.

Self-discipline is hard. It doesn’t happen overnight: just like going to the gym for just one day won’t help you achieve the results you want. It’s a matter of persistence and imperfections—and of staying motivated in the face of mistakes or failures.

Discipline is not about being a productivity machine. It’s about winning more than you lose; finishing more times than giving up. Here’s how Rob Dial recommends you tip the balance in your favour:

  1. Work on finishing small tasks. Completing small tasks allows us to believe we can do the big tasks. For example, when you finish eating, you complete the “task” of eating by cleaning the plate or rinsing the plate and putting it in the dishwasher. Building daily discipline by doing the small things makes it much easier to do the heavy lifting when it really matters. If you’re stuck with demotivation and lack of discipline, try focusing on 2-3 small tasks you can achieve every day, day in, day out. Build up from there, even if seems like a long way to getting everything done.
  2. The second tip is to plan. That’s it! Just plan your schedule, your goals, etc. This reminds me of when I talked about my fear of timetables, which, in hindsight, was just planning out my day so I didn’t get distracted by other things. If the plan is right in front of you, then all we have to do is show up. All we’re trying to do is to remove the resistance and make what we don’t want to do as easy as possible. If all we have to do is show up, then we can focus easier. If you’re not a planner, start with a small routine: one part of the day, or just a few minutes a day, when come what may you’ll show up. Even 5 or 10 minutes is a good start.
  3. Removing distractions and altering our environment helps us be more disciplined. I strongly believe in “out of sight, out of mind.” A lot of our environmental difficulties revolve around tech. In another blog post, Kate talked about turning off all her notifications from 8 AM to 8:30 AM and deleting the messages bar from her MacBook. I have and love a Chrome Extension called “DF Tube” for distraction-free YouTube viewing, as I’ve noticed I spend way too much time scrolling through YouTube even if there isn’t any new content I like. Spend some time looking for apps, widgets, and plug-ins that will help you too. Our environment includes our peers and friends too. Surround yourself by people who support you and help you become a better person. All we’re trying to do is to create an environment to us in building our discipline. Choosing even 1 or 2 simple ways to improve your environment will help your self-discipline.
  4. Our journey to self-discipline is about progress, not perfection. I don’t think anything has been drilled in us as much as, “You don’t need to be perfect, but we can learn from our mistakes.” We can constantly improve from our failures and mistakes by making adjustments. We can’t be too hard on ourselves. We know that life isn’t perfect, so we can keep taking steps forward instead of dwelling on difficulties. Spend time each week reflecting on things that went well and setting a small goal to work on next week. You’ll get better over time!
  5. The last tip is to reward yourself. Building discipline is tough, and we will only burn out if we don’t take breaks and give ourselves rewards Setting up small rewards gets us excited to do what we need to do. It could be as simple as checking off a task on a to-do list, getting some chocolate, or watching a YouTube video. In your self-discipline planning, decide on what rewards you’ll give yourself—but don’t cheat by rewarding yourself before you’re finished!

Rob underlines the importance of setting up our life to have free time and rewards. Having free time allows us to focus on the intense work periods. In the grand scheme of things, we are all reaching for a goal in life, and we deserve rewards for working hard and getting through the times where we struggle. Try a few simple things and, before you know it, they’ll be snowballing and carrying you on toward greater self-discipline—even if this difficult period of a difficult year!

Stay happy and restful, Gaels! We’re almost at the finish line.