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Using Challenges to Develop More Discipline

Leaders who have discipline demonstrate control of, and responsibility for, their actions. Inner discipline is the ability to recognize and regulate our emotions (couldn’t we all use more of that!) Inner discipline is the root of the more visible control and responsibility forms of discipline. But this inner discipline is formed during infancy. So how can we strengthen it if we somehow emerged lacking a certain amount of this vital leadership ability?

One way you can develop more discipline—both emotional and action-oriented—is to leverage everyday challenges as your own personal discipline gym. This makes building your discipline muscles more like a game and less like a chore. If you also choose to include the element of competition or collaboration with others it improves your odds of success through mutual accountability.

What Sort of Challenge Could Work For You?

The everyday challenge method is similar to the popular online challenge model, but brings it to a micro-level, in the vein of the popular book, Atomic Habits. If you have been sleeping under a rock and don’t know what I am referring to in regards to the online challenges, your kids know. They are doing challenges like:

  • The Eat It or Wear It Challenge

  • Try Not to Laugh

  • The Whisper Challenge

  • And Speed Drawing

Other adults are doing 5- 10- and 30-day challenges like:

  • Fast Track to Expert Status

  • Collaborate & Grow Rich

And then there are the personal challenges which can be anywhere from 3-30 days (or longer.) Here are an extensive list of examples, described as easy to hard, excerpted out of a Hackerella article:

  • Drink more water (easy)

  • Brush your teeth twice a day (easy)

  • Floss every day (easy)

  • Take your vitamins (easy)

  • Plan all of your meals in advance (easy)

  • Eat breakfast every morning (easy)

  • Practice good posture (easy)

  • Make a green juice or smoothie every morning (medium)

  • Eat 7-9 cups of veggies every day (medium)

  • Keep a food journal (medium)

  • Bring your lunch to work (medium)

  • Do brain training exercises (medium)

  • Detox your house (hard)

  • Cook a new recipe every day (hard)

  • Eat vegan or vegetarian for a month (hard)

  • Sleep for 8-9 hours every night (hard)

  • Work on a standing desk (hard)

  • Take a cold shower to improve circulation, energy, sleep and workout recovery (hard)

  • Eat local (hard)

  • Stretch

  • Take a 30-minute walk

  • Walk 10,000 steps every day

  • Go to the gym or workout daily at home

  • Bike

  • Take the stairs

  • Run

  • Yoga

  • Set priorities for your day (easy)

  • Brainstorm daily (easy)

  • Clean up your physical clutter (medium)

  • Clean up your digital clutter (medium)

  • Follow a productivity system (medium) such as:

    • Bullet Journal (my productivity system of choice that uses - a notebook and a pen!)

    • Getting Things Done: The most popular one out there

    • Teux Deux: A beautifully designed, ultra simple digital to do list

    • The Pomodoro Technique: It's a simple method: get a timer and set it to 25 minutes. Focus on your work (no distractions) for those 25 minutes, and when the timer goes off, take a short break (5 minutes) and return to your next "pomodoro". After 3 or 4 rounds, take a longer break.

  • Follow a morning routine (medium)

  • Follow a bedtime routine (medium)

  • Write in a journal (medium)

  • Wake up early (hard)

  • Check email once or twice a day (hard)

  • No alcohol (hard)

  • No complaining or blaming or gossiping (very hard)

  • No credit cards, pay only with cash (hard)

  • No cursing (hard)

  • No devices in the bedroom (hard)

  • No fast food (hard)

  • No news (hard)

  • No social media (hard)

  • No shopping (hard)

  • No sugar (hard)

  • No soda (hard)

  • No snacking (hard)

  • No TV (hard)

  • No caffeine (very hard)

  • No internet (very hard)

  • No smoking (very hard)

  • No cars (very hard)

  • Listen to audiobooks or podcasts instead of music (easy)

  • Say affirmations (easy)

  • Write down a goal and look at it every day (easy)

  • Visualize something you want to achieve (easy)

  • Read a spiritual or inspirational text (easy)

  • Make your bed (easy)

  • Practice gratitude (easy)

  • Pray each morning (easy)

  • Watch something funny (easy)

  • Write down three positive things about your day (easy)

  • Draw something (medium)

  • Perform one random act of kindness (medium)

  • Do something romantic for your partner/spouse (medium)

  • Keep a dream journal (medium)

  • Spend time in nature or at least outdoors (medium)

  • Practice minimalism (hard)

  • Write an old friend / person a letter (hard)

  • Talk to a stranger (hard)

  • Tell someone you love them or what they mean to you (hard)

  • Pay someone a compliment (hard)

  • Meditate (hard)

  • Take a photo every day (easy)

  • Take a video clip every day (easy)

  • Learn a new word (easy)

  • Read 20 pages every day (easy)

  • Read a poem every day (easy)

  • Watch a TED talk every day (easy)

  • Read a Wikipedia entry every day (easy)

  • Learn (or brush up on) an instrument (medium)

  • Learn a language (medium)

  • Learn a skill (medium)

  • Learn to cook (medium)

  • Write a book (hard)

  • Write a poem every day (hard)

  • Learn lucid dreaming (hard)

  • Start a blog or podcast (hard)

  • Make/build something (hard)

But I Want To Grow My Business, How Can A Dream Journal Help With That?

Naturally there are endless challenges you can undertake. I have integrated the majority of these into my life simply for the enormous benefits I experience in my work, health and overall ability to thrive. No matter which piece of the elephant we choose to tackle, the impact creates a ripple effect through every aspect of our life. So, keeping a dream journal not only provides insight into your unconscious mind, it build neural pathways to insight, inspiration, creativity and motivation. You become more attuned to your inner world and self-aware of what the right actions are for you to take.

There are always new challenges we can integrate (I suggest not attempting them all at once, by the way) to expand our discipline and increase our sense of achievement and satisfaction.

How Do I Select My Challenge?

When looking to see if a challenge will be useful to you, there are some factors to look for, so you can best benefit. Is the challenge realistic? You want to stretch yourself, but not to the point where you have no chance of success. For example, you could challenge yourself to lose 30 pounds in 30 days, but that is not very realistic. You also want the challenge to not be too easy. You need to see if you have the time to devote to it. Be sure to include time for learning new things, For example if you challenge yourself to build a new blogging website in 30 days, remember that if you have never done one before, you will have to learn some things and that will be extra time above just writing the blog posts.

I invite individuals who feel their schedule or special organization are hopelessly out of control to challenge themselves to take micro-movements, such as putting away one item in the pile of clutter, or eliminating, delegating or automating one activity at first. Each micro-action creates momentum. I encourage those who feel they simply aren’t disciplined people to keep a written record of everything they are doing in a day. They inevitably see that theirs is not an issue of getting things done. It is an issue of spending time on things that aren’t moving them in the direction they want to go.

Discipline is really a practice of self-awareness, coupled with great intentionality. How would you like to be? How would you like to feel about yourself and your achievements? If you want something different for yourself, you have that in your control. We all make choices every day. Making those choices using our inner discipline is a process, and it gives us all greater freedom over time.

When you do a group challenge, you have some added benefits. There is a sense of camaraderie when working together on a goal that you do not get just competing with yourself. Other people can give you ideas, too. For example if you are in a group losing weight, people can share healthy recipes and support. Just remember that the primary person you are in competition with is not the others, but yourself, and you can really enjoy the process and practice of growing your accomplishments, by growing your discipline—one bite of the elephant at a time.

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