Although very few people will agree with me, when it comes to peak performance, success and trying to improve the quality of your life, self-discipline is massively overrated. I’m not suggesting that it is without value all together – obviously, it has its place. Yet for most people it is the only tool in the shed.
Culturally, the self-discipline narrative is sustained by the unhelpful myth that success is inextricably linked to how hard you are prepared to work. There’s so many people banging on about the need to try harder, be better, have more discipline, energy, focus, commitment, drive and passion. The implication here is that the only possible reason you haven’t succeeded yet is that you haven’t been trying hard enough.
However, as Daniel Priestly brilliantly says ‘The harder you work, the less you earn … If you were to gather up all the hardest working people in the world, you would not find the top CEO’s and entrepreneurs, you would find the people who are struggling to make it up the ladder or struggling to survive at all.’ (Becoming a Key Person of Influence P.24)
Fighting against yourself
While self-discipline is still culturally celebrated and rewarded, it is incredibly inefficient and overrated. It’s a change strategy for young people because it requires you to have energy to waste. The real problem with self-discipline is that it works on a presupposition you must fight against yourself to win. It’s as though people imagine they have a fat lazy person inside them who loves chocolate and hates exercise and the aim of the game is to kill that part. Therefore, the more punishment, judgement and cruelty towards that part of themselves, the better!
The older you get, the more exhausting and unsustainable this strategy becomes. Midlife brings with it the realisation that you no longer have excess energy for inefficient strategies. The way forward is all about optimisation and working smarter not harder. Self-discipline may give you some short-term success, but willpower is like a muscle and inevitably you get tired and stop.
The deep fear is that if you take the pressure off yourself, you’ll revert to doing nothing. If you stop fighting, the lazy guy wins. Yet take a moment to consider how cruel and unfair this approach really is toward yourself. Imagine trying to motivate someone else by micromanaging them, doubting their ability, judging, belittling, mistrusting and believing the worst about them. Of course you will not be motivating them to be at their best!
All lasting change comes through self-permission rather than self-discipline.
It requires you to understand how to work with yourself rather than trying to get ahead by fighting against yourself. Making peace with yourself ultimately allows you to be at your best where it matter most. Through self-permission, you are able to recognise that every part of you (even the parts that feel like they are at war) actually want the same thing. Everything is driven from a sense of protection and love, only seeking the best for you.
While it is far more counterintuitive and definitely counter-cultural, self-permission always beats self-discipline as a motivation strategy. It is the only strategy that truly allows you to access your full capacity as a human being.
Self-permission is about valuing the beauty and gold that lies within you. It is to honour your own wisdom and intuition. It requires you to develop a beautiful relationship with yourself and deal with the doubts, fears and insecurities acting like a handbrake. You get the best out of others when you love and trust them and the same is true to getting the best out of ourselves
Self-permission is the adult form of motivation. It is the system upgrade that provides a far more lasting and sustainable form of drive to perform. It is based on the presupposition that you are inherently good and that you’ve got all that you need inside you already. It makes sense that for you to show up at your best where it matters most would entail working with yourself rather than fighting for control.
Self-permission is about realising that ultimately you are the only one powerful enough to get in the way of your own dreams and hold yourself back, and you are the only one with the power to cause you to succeed. When you give yourself permission to flourish there is nothing strong enough or big enough to get in your way.