Discipline: Breaking the Cycle of Guilt

I often find myself caught in an unhealthy cycle. I’ll start feeling guilty about not being productive, which inevitably leads to less productivity and even more guilt—rinse and repeat as things slowly spiral out of control. If your income depends on these tasks, you can’t wait on motivation to dig yourself out of the hole you’ve created. The only way to reenter the world of the living is through pure grit.

So how do you discipline yourself in the face of no motivation?

By building habits – starting as small as you can manage, even microscopic, and gathering momentum, reinvesting it in progressively bigger changes to your routine, and building a positive feedback loop.

Discipline is a muscle, just like your attention span. The more you exercise that muscle, even on a small scale, the better you get. Like I’ve discussed before, tackling small tasks helps generate confidence and momentum. The key to breaking the guilt cycle is just to make progress on something. Little wins are still wins. If you try and fail, start smaller next time.

To quote Avery Edison:

When it comes to school, I don’t miss the people, or the rules, or the cafeteria food. But I do miss the clear sense of progression, of getting an assignment and completing it, of filling something out and receiving a grade. I miss the clear journey from the start of the path to the end, moving your feet and making your way.

I’m sure a lot of us feel that way, and there’s nothing stopping us from recreating that clear sense of progression in our adult lives. It all starts with discipline and little wins. Try a Seinfeld-style calendar or keep a list of your everyday chores so that you can experience the rewarding task of marking them complete.