The Physician Philosopher Podcast

TPP #76: The Benefits of a Disciplined Life

I’ve been working on several things lately, most notably the goals that I’ve put on the back-burner for too long.  You know, the non-urgent yet highly important tasks in our life.  You know why? Because I sometimes struggle with having the discipline to continually focus on the non-urgent but highly important things in our life.  

Physician Disability Insurance

We talked a bit about what I mean by this in Episode 72 – but these non-urgent but highly important tasks are what get left behind when we don’t say no to anything that doesn’t fit our Hell Yes Policy.

For me these non-urgent but highly important tasks tend to be health related. And so I’ve committed to working intentionally on these things moving forward. Things like:

  • Drinking less often
  • Eating better
  • Consistently working out (or at least moving for 30 minutes each day).

And for a while I’ve had a bit of trouble finding the motivation to stick to these things.  

I have not found a thought that really resonated with me and that led to the motivation I needed to get on track for these goals.  To be consistently disciplined… but now I’ve found that thought that motivates me and I want to share it with you so that you can borrow it, too.

The Importance of Discipline

The thought is this:

I am disciplined today so that I can enjoy tomorrow 

I LOVE this thought.  

It motivates me because – like most of you listening to this show – I am a forward looking individual.  I am a mountain climber. A goal achiever. A go-getter.

Most of us in medicine are.  That’s how you became a physician. Even those of you who are telling yourself that you aren’t a go-getter.  Let’s be honest for a moment.  Look back on your life. You are an achiever of the highest order.  All doctors are – it’s in our DNA.

So instead of focusing on the difficulty of the moment, focusing on the enjoyment that comes at the end of my work fuels me when I want to have a drink, destroy a carton of ice cream, or I tell myself I am too tired to work out… 

I am disciplined today so that I can enjoy tomorrow.  

We are going to break this thought down, and why it has been so useful to me, but before we do – let’s talk about some other thoughts I’ve tried or heard and why they didn’t resonate for me.

Other thoughts I tried that didn’t work for me but may work for you include:

  • I can do hard things ( but then I’d immediately tell myself yeah… but I don’t want to and this feels like torture)
  • I am built for this (and then my brain would fight back… let’s be real, if you were built for this this would not be that hard)
  • If they can do it, I can do it (alright let’s talk about comparison being the thief of joy for a moment… like Gavin Debra’s said “I don’t need to be anything other than what I’ve been trying to be lately”)… given that I am doing a ton of work right now on being just me and no one else… telling myself if someone else can do it then I can provides ZERO motivation

Alright, let’s break-down the thought that worked.  I am disciplined today so that I can enjoy tomorrow.

What is the definition of discipline?

I remember the first time I ran across a definition of discipline that really resonated with me.  It was hanging in one of my best friend’s dorm rooms at Erskine College.

The sign had been given to my friend from his dad, and it read: 

Discipline is doing what needs to be done, how it needs to be done, and when it needs to be done – even if you don’t feel like doing it.

It is the last portion of this that really got me.  I was (and still am) pretty good at getting things done when I want to do them.  Yet, if I am being honest I am the King of Procrastination when it comes to things that don’t have a lot of urgency to them.  This is how things that are non-urgent, but highly important get left behind in my life.  

So, what are those of us to do who don’t seem to have discipline hardwired into our DNA? Who procrastinates on things that don’t have urgency in our life, but that we know if we ignore for too long will come back to haunt us?

Discipline is a Skill We Can Cultivate

In Angela Duckworth’s book Grit, she describes the method of developing skills in a couple of awesome equations.  

Talent x Effort = Skill

Effort x Skill = Achievement

When it comes to our discussion, we have to recognize the truth.  Discipline isn’t something many of us are born with, but even if you are naturally talented at the skill of being disciplined – your effort to hone this skill matters more than your natural talent.

So, for those of you who are saying, “I’m not good at being disciplined.”  I’ve got news for you.  Me, too.  It turns out that very few of us are by nature naturally skilled at discipline.  Yet, that doesn’t matter.  

As Tim Notke says, “Hard Work Beats Talent When Talent Doesn’t Work Hard”

The Importance of SO THAT

Habit experts like James Clear point to habit stacking that when we stack something we don’t want to do with something we do… it makes us more likely to stick to it.  That’s why the “so that” statement in our thoughts about discipline matters so much.

If we left the thought we are discussing about the need to just be disciplined today, I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t provide a lot of motivation for most of us.  

Yet, when we add a “so that” statement, the motivation we are missing comes into view. The So That tells me the reward on the other side of work I am doing.  So, when I say that I am disciplined today SO THAT I can enjoy tomorrow – the reward I get for being disciplined today is the enjoyment of tomorrow.

Specifically, when I drink less I feel better in the morning. I also don’t have to explain to my kids why I drink so beer every night at dinner (a question I’ve been asked once or twice by my two oldest kids who are old enough to notice now).  And it helps me achieve my health goals as well.

When I commit to being active for at least 30 minutes per day, I know that this is building a habit that will allow me to be better able to enjoy tomorrow, too.  I will have the functional strength to live the life I want.  One that is active with Kristen and the kids.

Focus on Tomorrow

The final thing I want to point out about why this thought works so well is that it is forward focused.  Most doctors have a goal oriented nature. And almost all human-beings have a forward-facing focus. We need to know where we are going and why.

When we focus on enjoying tomorrow that gives us a reason for what we are doing. Like an experienced runner who has their vision focused on an object in the horizon and not the pain of their current discomfort, we can do the same when we live a disciplined life.  

While being disciplined today so that I can enjoy tomorrow is forward facing enough for me, you may want to make it more specific.  Maybe your So That statement is different. Perhaps you are disciplined today so that you can enjoy your marriage tomorrow.  Will this help you quit the one thing that is self-destructing your marriage or to do the one thing you aren’t willing to do to make it better?  

For me the overall better feeling I have when I am disciplined is honestly rewarding enough after I get past the cheap thrills of dopamine wired activities like alcohol, sugar, and being lazy watching You Tube car videos on the most recent sports car.

Discipline allows me to rest

The final concept I’d like to leave you with is that when I say I am going to be disciplined today so that I can enjoy tomorrow, part of this is rooted in my thoughts about rest versus being lazy. 

Often times, I tell myself that restful activities are lazy.  One reason this happens for me is that it has traditionally been very hard for me to re-wire my brain into believing that any non-productive task I do is okay, if I haven’t worked hard to earn it.

So, part of enjoying tomorrow is being able to enjoy the very natural thought that I deserve rest when I take it because I was disciplined yesterday.  I am allowed to enjoy the things in life – like the Porsche Cayman or Boxster I plan on buying – because I have done what needed to be done, the way it needed to be done, when it needed to be done… even when I didn’t feel like doing it.

Editor’s Note (if any): If you want help working on your money and your mindset so that you can create the freedom to practice medicine on your terms, click here to schedule a consult call with one of our certified physician coaches!

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