TLDR: Motivation is fickle and can’t be relied on. You have to be disciplined and do what you need to do regardless of what you feel like doing.
The topics of motivation and discipline are interesting topics for me as I struggled with them for the majority of my life and have just recently begun to understand both the difference between the two and my relationship with them.
As I have stated in my past posts, I am an avid podcast listener and reader. I look at books and podcasts as a way to learn from the mistakes and experiences of other people. As Eleanor Roosevelt once said “Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.” One lesson I keep hearing over and over is, with rare exception here and there, the path to success requires hard work, discipline, and perseverance. It’s the little things like waking up early each day, going to the gym and working out with intensity, week in and week out, regardless of how you feel, that eventually lead to actual improvement.
“Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.” Eleanor Roosevelt
With that being said, though I still have a long way to go, I am more disciplined and action-oriented now than I have ever been in my life and I wanted to share both my story of how I got to this point and some tactics I learned along the way. This story is broken down into 3 Acts:
- Act 1: Weak Foundation
- Act 2: Just when things were looking good, life happened
- Act 3: Turning Point and tactics
The short answer for why I chose to talk about these 3 areas is to convey the fact that the journey has been a constant struggle. Early on in life I didn’t know how to deal with all the obstacles life threw my way, but as I have gotten older I’m starting to realize, in the words of author Ryan Holiday, maybe, the obstacle is the way. Without further ado, lets begin.
ACT 1: Weak Foundation
As far as academics go, when I think about my childhood up until college I think of a kid who was lost, afraid to be vulnerable, and didn’t understand the concept of hard work.
Short aside: I won't say I'm ashamed of these years of my life as at the time I didn't know how to express myself or deal with the situation, but I do feel vulnerable writing about this openly as its hard for me to understand why I didn't, or at least why I felt like I couldn't, snap out of this cycle.
I wrote about this topic in the past but I’ll give a short summary again. I was a good student in school up until around 5th grade. Somewhere around then I began to struggle with my grades though. In hindsight I think it came down to the fact that I never really studied outside of class which worked out for me up until a certain point. Once my lack of studying started to catch up with me though, I didn’t know how to react. Add to this the pressures of my Iranian dad and my fear of asking questions as I didn’t want to look dumb and you create a dangerous environment.
First my grades started to slip, then, I was even more afraid to talk to my dad about the situation as I knew he was going to be even more disappointed. Feeling stuck in the situation, I would do everything in my power to hide my grades, forge my parent’s signatures, and lie about what was happening. What made this worse is as time went on, my foundation in classes like English, Math, Science, etc. was becoming very weak and it made learning more complex topics harder and harder – to the point that I felt too far behind to even be able to grasp the newer topics.
To compound this already complex issue, I was part of a few sports teams outside of school including a baseball, basketball, swimming, and football team. However, when things started to get hard, instead of putting in the hard work and effort required to get better, I didn’t know how to react so I quit. In hindsight I think I felt overwhelmed by the entire situation and didn’t know how to handle everything so I did everything in my power to try and show the outside world that everything was okay in my life. The internal struggle I had was my parents always taught me to be honest and treat people the way I wanted to be treated so I never felt at peace with the lying and deceit.
I didn’t have confidence in myself, I didn’t know how to work hard and struggle to answer complex questions, I thought mistakes were bad, and I had no work ethic.
For me, the takeaway here is rather than using the 17 years leading up until college to build a strong work ethic, to build confidence in myself, to learn how to struggle and find answers to complex questions, to make mistakes, I was the exact opposite. I didn’t have confidence in myself, I didn’t know how to work hard and struggle to answer complex questions, I thought mistakes were bad, and I had no work ethic.
However, on the last day of high school, I’m not sure why I did this, but I remember walking up to my psychology teacher, who also happened to be the swim coach, and expressing my disappointment in myself for not meeting my parents expectations. The coach told me something that would change the course of my life, he said “Miles, I’m going to tell you the same thing I tell my swimmers, it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish that matters.” I didn’t realize it then, but those words sparked a fire in me.
Act 2: Life Happened
After graduating high school I applied to and attended a community college not too far from where I grew up in Houston. In the beginning I was a little ashamed of myself for not attending a big school like Harvard, Cal Berkeley, Stanford, etc. like many of my classmates. What I couldn’t understand at the time though was attending community college would help me almost reset both my academic career and my self confidence.
Long story short, at the community college I started out taking very basic classes like Geometry, English 1, Biology, etc. I was frustrated as I thought I should have been in more advanced classes. However, these classes ended up being amazing for my confidence as I was able to get good grades in them and start believing in myself. Then, as classes got progressively harder, I wasn’t going to make the same mistakes I made earlier in my life, I made sure to talk to my teachers about my questions and study hard. In time, I had a high GPA, was even tutoring other students in Calculus, and applied to and earned my way in to the Mechanical Engineering program at The University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin).
Things were looking good for me, I had learned to build a strong work ethic, I had confidence in my ability to solve complex problems, and I had high aspirations for life.
“When you think things are going well, you are going to walk around a corner and someone is going to whack you in the shins with a 2×4 – Michael Ovitz, American businessman, investor, and philanthropist
Then life happened…the Thursday night before final exams of my first year at University I got a call from my mom that my dad was involved in an accident on the soccer field and I needed to come home immediately. I wrote about the full story in a previous blog post, but the short story is my dad had a heart-attack after his usual Thursday night soccer game and passed away before the ambulance was able to arrive.
I ended up returning home and spending the summer with my mom and my sister. It was a tough 3-months but my family pulled together and the situation ended up bringing us closer. Something wasn’t right in my head though, I was able to return to school the following year but I wasn’t the same. I didn’t have the same drive or focus that I had when I entered University.
I still managed to graduate with a decent GPA and obtained a position at a consulting firm where I worked for 2.5 years. Unfortunately, during my time at the consulting firm I wasn’t able to find my drive and focus and it showed in my work. I decided I needed a change in life to find myself and let myself heal. With that being said, I planned a year off of work where I would travel to South Africa, Hong Kong, Nepal, and then Spain for a year. The main goals were to push myself physically and mentally, harder than I had ever done in my life. I also wanted to challenge myself to learn Spanish just to prove I could do it. And that is what I did until November 2017.
Act 3: Turning Point
“The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be” Ralph Waldo Emerson
In November of 2017 I returned from my travels abroad to the Bay Area in California. I quickly got a job at a tech firm doing corporate sales and thus began my journey back to the corporate world. This time, things would be different because I was different.
I’ll make another post on what actually lead to me being different, but suffice it to say it was a series of events that taught me the following key lessons which brought my discipline and work ethic to another level:
- 99% of the time I will not feel like doing what I need to do
- Regardless of what I am doing, I’m going to fail A LOT and have no idea what I’m doing when charting new territory
- Showing up, over and over, regardless of how I feel, is 90% of the battle
Knowing these things beforehand helps me be more prepared for all the obstacles and excuses that try and stop me from making any change in my life. Similar to how Marcus Aurelius, former Emperor of Rome, would remind himself that people in his life would be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, etc. (Check out what he would read to himself everyday here), I use this list to remind myself of what to expect, so when reality sets in, I’m already ready for it.
Now, at work, I take pride in holding myself to a very high standard. At the gym, I focus on showing up, repeatedly, and having intensity in my workouts. In regards to finances, I have big goals that I plan on achieving – I don’t know how I will achieve them just yet, but I have faith that if I work hard, if I stay laser-focused, opportunities will arise and I will be ready to grab them.
For many people, discipline is something they built at some point in their lives and it might be hard for them to understand why someone like me couldn’t just work hard and stay focused. However, as someone who never really worked the discipline muscle as a child, it has taken a lot of work to build this muscle as an adult. The good news is, I was still able to do it.
In getting to my current mindset and lifestyle I tested out many different tips and tricks to help myself stay focused. Truth be told, I still use many of these to stay on track whenever I feel myself getting distracted. I’m sure many of you are already familiar with most of these, but even so, here are a few things I do to help myself stay on track:
Tips and tricks that have helped me
- Man, I can’t emphasize this enough, mindset really seems to be the foundation for everything in life. As it relates to discipline and making changes in my life, I really had to change the way I thought.
- What I mean is, I had to internalize those 3 lessons I mentioned above.
- I had to change my self-talk from one of scarcity to one of abundance. In other words, instead of focusing on what wasn’t working, I learn from all my experiences and focus on the limitless possibilities that exist in life.
- For anyone interested in learning more about this topic, I highly recommend an online class by one of my favorite authors, Ramit Sethi, called Success Triggers.
- Having a Plan
- I’m pretty sure we all know the feeling, you walk in to the gym and have no idea what workouts to do, let alone HOW to do those workouts.
- That’s why, in my own experience, I have found it important to have some sort of plan on how you will achieve your goal.
- For example, I knew I wanted to gain muscle mass at the gym. Therefore, I talked to a friend of mine who went through a similar process, asked him how he did it, and now I am following the same plan. When I get to the gym I know exactly what I need to do and I do it. There isn’t much up for debate.
- Reducing Friction
- This ties back to the bullet point above, I try very hard to reduce the amount of decisions I need to make when it comes to doing things I need to do.
- Let me give you an example, I wake up at 4:30AM during the week and go to the gym before work. For a lot of people this is a little crazy, but it works for me because I start my mornings with a win and it limits the possibility of some sort of excuse stopping me from getting it done. In order to make the whole process as seamless as possible though I do things like laying out all my workout and work clothes, packing my bags, and prepping my lunch, the day before. This way, I just wake up, change, grab my things and go.
- Social Pressure
- There are a lot of forms of social pressure from making bets with friends of colleagues to doing 30-day instagram challenges.
- I have an ongoing $50/day missed at the gym with my roommate. It is a painful bet to lose but it keeps me honest and pushes me in the morning when I need the extra motivation
Change is going to be hard, my body is going to fight me every step of the way, and every time I think things are going well, life seems to throw another obstacle my way.
However, if I know this going in, I can be, and will be, prepared for it. I can’t rely on feeling motivated to do what I need to do. I need to stay disciplined and put in the work I know needs to get done, regardless of what I feel like doing. I also know that failure will be part of the process. It’s not about whether I fail or not though, it’s about picking myself back up, dusting myself off, learning why I failed and how to avoid it in the future, and getting back to it.
I think if someone like me can build discipline and a strong work-ethic, anyone can do it. I would love to hear about your journey, whether you are already disciplined and have achieved your goals, whether you are thinking about it trying to become more disciplined, or whether you need some help. Post about it in the comments below!