One Insanely Popular Reason So Many of Us Are Unhappy

It’s not too late. You aren’t behind. You’re exactly where you need to be. Every step is necessary. Don’t judge or berate yourself for how long your journey is taking. We all need our own time to travel our own distance. Give yourself a little more credit right now, be thankful you made it this far, and take the next tiniest step forward.

Seriously, don’t waste another drop of your time and energy fighting against where you are. Invest your time and energy into getting to where you want to go. Do your best to let go of everything from the past that does not serve you, and just admire the fact that it brought you to where you are now…

To this new beginning.

That’s the super-simplified gist of what Marc and I preach on a daily basis to course students, blog commenters, book readers, friends, and just about anyone else who pings us for some general advice on getting unstuck in life.

And it’s pretty good advice for the most part, right?

You might even say it’s common sense.

Yet, so many of us do the exact opposite on a daily basis.

In fact, many of us do nothing productive at all until we get to a catastrophic breaking point.

In other words, we waste all our time and energy waiting for the ideal path to appear. But it never does. Because we forget that paths are made by walking, not waiting. We forget that we shouldn’t feel more confident before we take the next step—that taking the next step is what builds our confidence. And so, we hesitate, procrastinate, and ultimately succumb to the same old routines that have been making us miserable.

The underlining reason for our errors in judgment?

A Lack of Self-Discipline

Many of us lack the self-discipline skill set required to make consistent, meaningful progress.

Think about the most widespread sources of unhappiness we deal with in our lives—from laziness to lack of exercise to unhealthy vices to procrastination, and so on.

In most cases, problems like these are not caused not by a physical ailment, but by an conditioned weakness of the mind—a weakness that persistently urges us to avoid discomfort.

Too often we dream about the reward without the risk, the shine without the grind. But we can’t have a destination without a journey. And a journey always has costs. At the very least, we have to give up a little time and energy to take a step forward every day.

So, instead of dreaming about what you want right now, first ask yourself:

“What am I willing to give up to get it?”

Or, for those inevitably hard days:

“What is worth sacrificing for?”

Seriously, think about it…

If you want the six-pack abs, you have to also want the sore muscles and the healthy meals.

If you want the successful business, you have to also want the long work days and the possibility of failing twenty times to learn what you need to know to succeed in the long run.

If you want something in life, you have to also want the costs of getting it—you have to be willing to put in consistent effort. Otherwise, there’s no point in dreaming. In fact, as long as a meaningful dream is just sitting around in your head it’s doing far more harm than good. Your subconscious mind knows you’re procrastinating on something that’s important to you. The necessary work you keep postponing causes unhappiness, anxiety, fear, and usually more procrastination—a vicious cycle that continues to worsen until you interrupt it with ACTION.

Yeah, taking action seems simple enough but, really, it’s not. Because, again, what we truly need to do is often what we most feel like avoiding. This is a harsh reality…

How often are we stuck in a cycle of worry, fear, and other forms of over-thinking?
How often are we aimlessly distracted?
How often do we procrastinate?
Waaaaay too often! But there’s hope…

Practicing the Skill of Self-Discipline

After consistently honing my self-discipline over the years, I’ve become reasonably proficient at getting things done with minimal distraction and procrastination.

Today, for example, I wrote a 1200-word newsletter email for blog subscribers, proof-read and cleaned up the last few edits for a brand new book Marc and I just finished co-writing, coached one of our Getting Back to Happy course students, responded to comments and emails from dozens of students and readers, worked on business planning and strategizing for a few active side-projects, spent a quality evening with my family, and of course now I’m writing the article you’re reading now which I’ll queue up for tomorrow morning.

It might seem like a lot, but it happens one step at a time, with presence and focus.

With that said, however, I’ll be the first to admit that Marc and I still struggle with occasional self-discipline breakdowns that sneak up on us and get in the way of our effectiveness (because we’re human). When this happens to me, first and foremost, I forgive myself for messing up, and then I strive to be mindful about what’s really going on. Am I procrastinating for some reason? Am I distracted? Instead of telling myself that I’m “bad” or “undisciplined,” I try to productively uncover a more specific, solvable problem, and then address it.

In a nutshell, I remind myself that self-discipline is just a skill to be honed. It’s simply the practice of overcoming distractions and focusing on what matters. It involves acting according to what you know is right instead of how you feel in the moment (perhaps tired or lazy). It typically requires sacrificing immediate pleasure and excitement for what matters most in life. And it’s something that must be revisited, again and again.

But (there’s always a “but”)…

What do you do if your life is in complete disarray, you have hardly any self-discipline or beneficial routines, can’t stick to anything, procrastinate constantly, and feel miserably out of control?

How do you get started with practicing self-discipline when you have so many changes to make?

You start small. Very small.

If you don’t know where to start, let me suggest that you start by simply washing your dishes. Yes, I mean literally washing your dishes. It’s just one small step forward: When you eat your oatmeal, wash your bowl and spoon. When you finish drinking your morning coffee, rinse the coffee pot and your mug. Don’t leave any dirty dishes in the sink or on the counter for later. Wash them immediately.

Form this small ritual one dish at a time, one day at a time. Once you do this consistently for a couple weeks, you can start making sure the sink has been wiped clean too. Then the counter. Then put your clothes where they belong when you take them off. Then start doing a few sit-ups every morning. Eat a few vegetables for dinner. And so forth.

Do one of these at a time, and you’ll start to build a healthy ritual of practicing self-discipline, and finally know yourself to be capable of doing what must be done… and finishing what you start.

But, again, for right now, just wash your dishes. Mindfully, with a smile.