The vast majority of internet blogs are abandoned within their first 3 months of existence. There are literally millions of blogs out there left to lie fallow forever, public remnants of someone’s failed ambition.
And it’s easy to see why.
Creating and sharing quality content regularly requires supreme time & effort, the reward for which never seems to materialize. When you feel like your message always falls on deaf ears and apathetic eyes, you lose motivation and give up.
Even for me it’s fairly difficult to find the time to write something I’m willing to attach my name to, despite enjoying the process. But EngineerDog.com is already 6 months old and going well, so what have I done differently?
I know a few tricks for maintaining self-discipline, so I can stick with it.
Actually, I’m often complimented for having a strong work ethic and high level of motivation but the funny thing is that I don’t feel like a particularly disciplined person because I practice these habits:
1) Use the correct type of motivation for the task at hand.
Author Daniel Pink writes in his book “Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us” that money, social pressure, increased status, and other extrinsic motivators are most effectively used for manual labor based work. A cash incentive narrows our focus and helps us stay on task, which is great for jobs like mowing the grass or running from cops.
On the other hand, creative problem solving is best incentivized using intrinsic motivators. As an engineer I often work on projects which require detailed & creative solutions. Of course making money motivates me to come to work every day, but it is intrinsic motivation that keeps me productive throughout the work day. I know I do my best work when I am genuinely interested in what I am doing.
Pink also argues that the best intrinsic motivation comes from feeling a sense of autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Autonomy gives you a sense of freedom and independence. Mastery is becoming better at something that matters to you. Purpose fulfills your natural desire to contribute to a cause greater and more enduring than yourself.
Tip # 1: Set yourself up with appropriate incentives for the task and it will appear that you have endless amounts of discipline, when in reality you are just having fun!
2) Willpower is a consumable, save it for the things that matter!
Willpower is a resource that is consumed every time you make a tough decision or resist a temptation. But when you turn an action into a habit then it becomes a “free-action”, which means that you don’t consume any mental energy when doing it!
While it might appear that I am disciplined because I maintain a (mostly) healthy diet, the reality is that my dietary choices require zero effort because they are now habits. Resisting fast food is a lot easier when I make a habit of eating an apple every day at 5pm. Even so it can still be difficult to resist because your willpower decreases when you are hungry. So if your back is against the wall trying to get a project done then maybe the occasional drive through McFatty burger is justifiable. Just don’t make a habit out of it!
On that note, keeping a healthy diet along with an exercise routine and a dedication to getting a good night’s sleep are all known methods for rejuvenating your willpower reserves.
Tip #2: High levels of willpower are best maintained by making habits, avoiding situations where temptation will be involved, and consistently sticking to healthy diet, exercise, and sleep routines.
3) Convenience is key!
The more I think about it, the more that I come to the conclusion that our lives are ruled by convenience much more so than we’d like to admit. According to Dan Ariely, people don’t like to make difficult choices so they will tend to select whichever option is the easiest. In the context of Dan’s research, the success of organ donation programs depends solely on whether or not they are opt-in or opt-out. People choose the default option the majority of the time. (The funny thing is that people are certain they would only make such an important decision after careful consideration!)
Similarly, author Shawn Archer writes in his book “The Happiness Advantage” about a concept he calls activation energy. Shawn wanted to learn the guitar but he couldn’t maintain the discipline to practice every day. He realized that it took too much energy to start practicing compared to how easy it was to turn on the TV. After leaving his guitar in an easy to reach spot and removing the batteries from his TV controller, he successfully manipulated himself into practicing the guitar much more often.
Self-discipline is probably the most valuable skill a person can have for their entire life because it is the key to developing all other skills; but exerting real discipline is difficult.
Set yourself up with the right motivation to maximize your incentive to stay on task. Make habits so that everyday decisions don’t wear you out. Maintain your physical health to maximize your stores of willpower. And finally, setup your life in such a way that making the right decision is convenient and succumbing to other temptations is difficult.