How to have more self-discipline

For a while I have been fascinated by the research about happiness. Some of my favorite research is from Sonja Lyumbomirsky, psychology professor at University of California Riverside. (She’s great at listing really small things you can do to impact your happiness.) And from Dan Gilbert's Hedonic Psychology Lab at Harvard. (I follow PhD students from that lab like other people follow favorite quarterbacks.)

But something I've noticed in the last year is that most of our happiness is actually dependent on our self-discipline. For example, we are happier if we exercise, but the barriers to getting to the gym are so high that it takes a lot more than missives from the Hedonic Psychology Lab to get us there. Also, Roy Baumeister, professor of psychology at Florida State University, has studied self-esteem for decades, and finds that when it comes to success, self-discipline is much more important than self-esteem.

So I have started tracking my own self-discipline rather than my happiness. And I think that the process is making me happier, because I am teaching myself how to bounce back quickly when my self-discipline falls apart. Here's what I've learned:

Self-discipline is about small things paving the way for very big things.
My favorite piece of research from all the happiness research I've read is that self-discipline snowballs. That is, if you can work hard to have self-discipline in one, small area, you create self-discipline almost effortlessly in other areas. The most famous study about this phenomena is from Baumeister, who found that students who walked with a book on their head to fix their posture ended up eating better, studying harder, and sleeping more. Without even noticing they were making those changes.

(One of the more recent things to come from the Hedonic Psychology Lab is an iPhone application by Matthew Killingsworth that lets you add your own happiness data to the lab's research. Ironically, the data entry for this application requires a level of self-discipline that will surely qualify as the type that snowballs into other areas of your life and increases your level of happiness. So maybe we should all participate.)

The key to self-discipline is finding an easy re-entry point.
I used to tell myself that if I would just get back on my daily workout schedule, the rest of my self-disciplined life would fall back into place. This is true. But it's too hard. When everything has fallen apart for me in the self-discipline arena it usually looks like this: I am eating poorly, behind in answering emails, and I'm biting my nails. Then I start hiding from people because I feel too discombobulated to connect.

Fixing any one of those problems is big for me. So I go to something easier: push-ups in the morning, noon and night. I do it on the floor — any floor — and it takes 30 seconds because I only do five so that I won't dread doing them. The act of doing the push-ups is like wearing a book on my head. It restarts my self-discipline after just a few days.

You need to give up perfectionism in order to get anywhere.
Perfection is the enemy of self-discipline. If you are aiming for perfection, you are never going to get yourself to do what you need to do. No one is perfect, and if you tell yourself you need to be perfect, then everything is too hard to start. Here's a self-discipline issue I have: I want to keep up with my reading pile and not let it get so high on the kitchen counter that it falls over.

This goal requires me to read things immediately, as they pass in front of me. I'm great at doing this online, but not offline. I realized, though, that the trick is to read fast and if I can't, I throw it out. There is no harm in doing a bad job of going through a reading pile, and there is more harm in setting the goal”?to keep the pile low — and not meeting it.

Self-discipline is mental, but only because it’s about believing in yourself.
Take, for example, the person who stops going to the gym for a month. A person who thinks of himself as someone who goes to the gym is more likely to start going again than someone who thinks of himself as a non-gym type. And this is true in a more broad sense: If you think of yourself as someone with high self-discipline then when you are not having self-discipline, you expect to start having it again, and you do. Also, self-discipline is like a muscle so you need to practice to get stronger with it, and part of practicing is talking with yourself about who you are: a person who has self-control.

The moment of regaining self-discipline feels triumphant.
I have not blogged in more than a week. For most people, it wouldn't matter that much. But blogging is a job for me. So I really need to be doing it. Also, blogging keeps the rest of my life on track — I feel connected to a community, I think in a more critical way, and when I write a good blog post, I have self-confidence that I will do other things well, too.
So I am telling you that the moment today, when I finally sat down to write, and I could feel that I'd start blogging again, felt so good, and so secure, that I hope it will remind you to put aside an hour today to do the thing you have wanted to do for weeks, or months, to get yourself back on track. It won't just change that hour, or that day, it will change your life.

Posted in No image, Self-management
125 comments on “How to have more self-discipline
  1. Allen says:

    Yes Penelope we notice when you do not blog for a week!

    • Angelo says:

      Ha! Could not have said it any better.

    • Todd @ Personal Finance Playbook says:

      +1! I’ve been wondering where you’ve been!

    • Kelli says:

      Shhh… you’ll frighten her away!

      But also, do you think that twitter is affecting your desire to write blogs all the time since you are immediately able to express a personal feeling or experience that might otherwise spark a post? I also wonder if your blogs have had less personal anecdotes for this same reason? I realize the abortion post was like two weeks ago but there is nary an oral sex statistic or farmer reference otherwise of recent note! Not a criticism,(still love to read your blogs – and tweets!) just curious. Is twitter making blogging seem like a chore?

  2. J says:

    Hot damn this post is the truth. Every word of it.
    I recently set the goal of cleaning and organizing my apartment (i’m a bit messy). But I didn’t set myself up and say I’d do it all in a weekend like i normally do. I said I’d do something every day, no matter how small, and be done by August 1. Last night I started with my something small and I felt almost as accomplished as if my whole apartment was already completely in order. I can really relate to what you are saying today.

    • Alora says:

      This is actually a great point. Much as I do not find applicable in a lot of what she says, The FlyLady (http://www.flylady.net/) totally changed the way I viewed my approach to housework when I read her book about breaking things down into 15 minute increments, and the idea that you don’t need to “finish” something at the time you start it. Once I realized that’s what I was doing, it was easier for me to break things down into smaller chunks. And I discovered the difference in the amount of motivation I needed to get started on something was ENORMOUS. When I was looking at something as a huge, end-to-end headache, I’d delay doing it. Now I use an egg timer, and I work on it for 15 minutes, then move on to something else. I’ve discovered that I can manage my motivation and energy better that way, and that is enough time for me to SEE progress, with then continues to fuel both my energy and motivation. Amazing difference, and something I had not specifically thought of that way before.

  3. Francine says:

    Good post and timely for me. I’m not sure if being self-disciplined is more important than self-esteem (actually, I think the two are somewhat joined at the hip). But I do agree that finding an “easy entry point” is key. I’m currently reading in tandem “The Soft Addiction Solution” by Judith Wright and “This Year I Will…” by M.J. Ryan. Both authors stress the importance of finding the key to unraveling the web of behaviors that keep us from achieving our higher goals and giving up perfection along the way. Wright suggests seeing destructive behaviors that eat up our time as a web. When we attack one point on the web (your easy entry point), the whole thing unravels.

    Going to the gym again, for example, encourages us to eat better. It also gives us energy during the day and helps get rid of sleep issues at night. It forces us to schedule a time to work out, thereby supporting good time management. When we are getting endorphins through exercise, we are less likely to try to seek them out through shopping, etc.

    And on that note, I’m going to get off the Internet, not read blogs all morning, and actually get something done.

  4. Sara says:

    This post is so very timely for me — I’m in the process of moving, and it’s disrupted my normal routine, and has totally thrown me into a tailspin. I’m sucking at work, sucking at home, and feeling miserable.

    Time to straighten my desk and make a do-able to-do list.

  5. Vi | Maximizing Utility says:

    I’m glad to see you are posting again, and this was a great post. I don’t always agree with what you write about, but I think you hit the nail on the head with this post. I especially like your insight that, ‘Self-discipline is mental, yes, but only in that it's about believing in yourself.’ Beliving in yourself is the fuel that keeps us moving forward.

  6. Will at Virtualjobcoach says:

    There is an interesting study where children were presented with one marsh mellow on a plate. They are told that they can either eat that one marshmellow OR wait one hour and get TWO marshmellows (that they can then eat).

    The children that waited for the second marshmellow scored, on average, 260 points higher on the SATs.

    This is another example of how self-discipline can impact your life.

    Great stuff,
    Will

    • blues says:

      So… are you saying that waiting for the marshmallow made their IQs better?

    • Chistopher McCandless says:

      Will, I wish you had some great self discipline and didn’t bother to post such inane comments. So these kids had to literally waste an hour of their time, over one lousy marshmellow? Time is precious. And worth more than a stupid marshmellow. Just ask Michael Jackson, Billy Mays, Farrah Fawcett, or Steve McNair. Oh yeah, you can’t. So…teaching kids they’ll get ONE more marshmellow after 2 hours is the reason they scored up to 260 points higher on their SATs? Yeah, right. Besides, test scores are not indicitive of how rich or happy someone will be with their lives. How old were these poor “kids” when they did this “experiment”? Where’s the data to back it up? Who do you coach, pre-school children?

      Christopher

      • Mitch says:

        @Christopher: I knew Chris McCandless… and you sir are no Chris McCandless. I wish you’d not insult his memory by stealing his name and attaching it to such commentary. I find it quite ironic that you use the name of the dead in your rebuttal and then do the same as your pseudonym.

  7. Laura says:

    Thank you so much for posting this. I exercise for a couple of weeks and then something comes up and I stop for awhile. I started exercising again this week, but was going to skip it tonight because I had a lot of things to do. Now I’m not going skip it, because it is really important to me – and I already feel happier about it! I needed this post today!

  8. Heather says:

    This is a timely post for me too. I’ve been wanting to get back on track with my self-discipline, including exercising regularly again, eating healthy and such. I also agree with the statement about perfectionism. I think most people don’t do what they need to from fear of failure or not doing it perfectly. I’ve been working to remove the word “perfect” from my vocabulary for years now.

  9. Shandra says:

    This is a really great post – thank you!

  10. Maria says:

    This is timely for me too! I was feeling bad for not exercising, eating badly, etc. and I gained enough weight that I can’t wear some summer clothes that fit last year, so I pouted more, ate worse, etc. My trigger to get off that downward spiral – I bought a balance ball this weekend! I had no idea that it would be the spark, but I am having a blast using it and learning new exercises on it (plus my abs are killing me!) I have gone to bed on time every night, gotten up on time, arrived at work early, so I can leave early and … use my balance ball to exercise when I get home and now the spiral is heading back up and yes, I am happier. It just takes something little. Thanks for this reminder and confirmation!

  11. Mira B. says:

    Great post! I’m new to your blog…spent quite some time reading through your posts yesterday. I was looking for a bit of inspiration yesterday…which lead me to Advertising Age’s top marketing blogs post. Shoe Money had a post linking to one of your old posts. I stayed on your blog for more than an hour. Such great advice, great stories and just an inspirational woman overall. Look forward to reading more.

  12. Alex says:

    Great post and very timely – I came upon it as I was web surfing instead of working. Very undisciplined. One thing I like to do is set a timer and meditate for five or ten minutes at my desk, particularly when I’m moving from one task to another.

  13. Wayne Allen says:

    I think the piece for me is to give myself permission to feel what comes up, without judgement. For example, I’ve been writing a blog post weekly since 1999. (prior to 06 it was an e-zine…) Many times, my mind does a little dance, “This is silly, no one cares, give it up… etc.” I’m good at listening to that voice and “disciplined enough” to feel sorry for myself for a few minutes, and then to sit down and write anyway. (I was actually just sitting down to do just that, and read your blog post…)
    I guess the key for me, and what I teach my clients, is to “have your feelings,” by expressing them, and then to move on. It’s the mental games that kill us, not the stuff in front of us.
    Which, when you think about it, is Discipline 101.
    Glad you think you’re writing again – I love your stuff…

    • Penelope Trunk says:

      This is such great advice. I find that my first step to letting my self-discipline fall apart is ignoring how I’m feeling about other stuff.

      –Penelope

    • Penelope Trunk says:

      This is such great advice. Thanks, Wayne.

      I find that my first step to letting my self-discipline fall apart is ignoring how I’m feeling about other stuff.

      –Penelope

      • Wayne Allen says:

        Hey Penelope,
        Interesting. I just swung back here to get the link for this post, as I thought I’d write next week’s blog post on an offshoot of this topic and link to your article, and I see your reply.
        So, to carry on the thought…
        I was talking about self-discipline with a client last week, and realized that a big learning for me was to stop justifying breaking my word to myself.
        Example: in 83, I decided to stop using verbal criticism as a tool. Worked at it for 3 years, mostly successfully. Then, at a meeting, I slipped up. Realized that I slipped because my ego went: “But he deserved it! He’s treated you badly for years!” In other words, I justified losing integrity with myself.
        So, what I realized was that a) I’d always think critical thoughts, b) I’d always try to justify laying into someone, and 3) I could choose, each time, to not slip, and not judge my wanting to.
        As of today (knock wood) I haven’t slipped since 86.
        Do I want to? Hoo boy, about 10x a day.
        I’ve learned to take myself with a large grain of salt.
        So, anyway, what I came up with for my client was, (in his case) “Stop making excuses for yelling at your daughter, because you’ll always find one. Just commit to stopping.” Not easy (what is?) and that’s why it’s called self-discipline.

  14. Christina says:

    Great post Penelope! Looking forward to more posts this week. BTW, went to the gym this morning and on my way to self-discipline.

  15. Rebecca says:

    Hi Penelope- I stumbled upon your blog yesterday when I was looking for information about stay at home dads (researching for a blog I’m thinking of writing). I feel so lucky! I really enjoy the tone and content of your blog.

  16. Patrick says:

    This post got the “share” love on my Google Reader, this is why I love reading your blog- the valuable tips and nuggets of insight I get every once in awhile. I particularly enjoyed this idea of changing my mindshift of being concerned with discipline rather than happiness.

    Right now I might be a little lost but now I know what I need to do to get back on track!

  17. William Bruce says:

    Since no one else seems to be taking the role of critic, I suppose that I must make my typical “complaints”:

    Could a great deal of these behavioral relationships not entail correlation without causation, particularly with the rationale behind this employing *post hoc ergo propter hoc* thinking? If any “scientific” discipline is currently vulnerable to such fallacies, it must be psychology (with economics tailing right behind).

    For example (or shall we say, “for starters”), why assume that the requisite number of variables have been controlled for in looking at either positive psychology studies *or* personal anecdotes? While I am inclined to agree that self-discipline does snowball in certain contexts, I would hardly assume that my personal experiences with it are a good demonstration: I may very well have been influenced by a whole host of other psychological tendencies or general variables. Why not, for that matter, consider the possibility that the chain of causation is not so straightforward? Many of these techniques for success, if I may call them that, could be little more than behavioral or habitual “middle men” for some desired psychological good — making them necessary but extraneous at best, and unnecessary at worst.

    Incidentally, it seems that the studies and research supporting these points are cited in a highly selective manner (as usual — Penelope likes using these same studies), so I find little reason to be persuaded on *that* account.

    And, to put the icing on the cake of my pessimism, I cannot help but point out that “the moment of regaining self-discipline” is the high point of a tragic cycle. To put it tritely, the problem with the “first day of the rest of your life” is that it is (hopefully ?) not *every* day of the rest of your life.

    But, as always, I am probably maladjusted, and eagerly await refutation.

  18. Erin says:

    Oh my goodness, it’s like you’re talking directly to me. I had this exact conversation with a friend last night, how I’ve just started to disgust myself with my lack of discipline and self-control. This is exactly what I’m focusing on in my life right now. So glad you wrote about this! I’m gonna go back and click on all your links and get motivated!

  19. Dee says:

    Mental games indeed – that was a great comment, Wayne!
    The older I get the more I find that discipline comes in waves for me. There’ll be days, weeks or months when I’m eating right, exercising, thinking positively etc, and then there’ll be some days or even weeks when I’m not. And that’s ok too, because it’s all a process, in flux, and everything’s relative. By making sure I take the circumstances into account, I try to take the systemic approach or macro-view and consider context.
    Funny I should read this post today, after a breakfast of orange juice and chocolate cookies all through which my brain was saying, “why are you eating this crap?”
    Plan: making the non-disciplined intervals shorter and the more disciplined ones longer. Note: there’s no good or bad, no need to add guilt to the whole thing.
    Have a good one all!
    xx

  20. lola says:

    Wonderful post. I do think the small things tip into big things. What I most appreciated is how you mention that you go into paralysis – this happens to me, (it happened last week)and I get so stuck! Today I am working on getting un-stuck, so it was the perfect post!

  21. Alexis Grant says:

    Loved hearing this today!! I DO feel good about myself when I’m disciplined.

  22. V. says:

    Great post – and talk about synchronicity: I just had a conversation on such a topic with a friend this morning. But if I’m good at boosting others, I’m less good with myself, and reading your article provided me with extra information on the links between how we think and how we perform on a daily basis, and extra motivation to make those so important small changes. Thanks!

  23. Heather says:

    I agree that self-discipline is more important than self-esteem, since I think that having self-discipline gives you self-esteem. I know I feel much better about myself when I actually do the crap I set out to do. A sense of accomplishment always feels good.

  24. Heather says:

    This post comes at a really good time–recently switched jobs from a 60-70 hour/week burnout to a new job–entirely new work environment and am working remotely. My self-discipline has been terrible-perhaps from burnout, and perhaps because I am remote and the accountability has shifted. I’ve been extremely disappointed in my performance since moving into new job, but perhaps if I can take a little of the advice, start with something small, then it will graduate into performing at a much higher level. Hopefully without the burnout that came with my last job. Thanks for a great post.

  25. brian papa says:

    Love the push-ups idea. For me, it’s flossing (if only to spare me pain at the dentist), though i agree adding one consistent behavior makes it easy to adopt others.

    I’ve also been drinking carrot beet juice at my wife’s insistence that it will make me healthier. Fair enough, I say, and pass her my floss.

  26. funkright says:

    How to achieve happiness:

    Trust your elevated thoughts, especially those that stir up passion, and act upon them as if they were unquestionable. Take 1 small step towards those thoughts whenever you are in doubt!

    It’s not money, it’s not stuff, it’s not your job..

  27. Alex @ Happiness in this World says:

    Outstanding post. I’m not so sure I agree that self-discipline is more important than self-esteem, however. In fact, you could argue self-discipline is nearly impossible without self-esteem. Which, in fact, I did at the link below:

    http://www.happinessinthisworld.com/2009/07/05/the-three-realms-of-confidence/

    Thanks for such a thought-provoking post!

  28. Ron says:

    Welcome back!

    Great post and thanks for the links to other exciting ideas like Sonja.

    That’s how I found your site; by a referral from an aquaintance.

    Ron

  29. Nathalie says:

    Hi! I’m a first time reader and I have to say I’m hooked! I couldn’t agree more with what you said. You are absolutely right. Perfection is a detriment to actually doing the job you set out to do. I make that mistake a lot, if I can’t do it right or perfectly the first time, what’s the point in doing it at all?

    I have recently learned the point in doing anything, no matter how well you accomplish your task, is learning.

    Take cleaning your house, each time you clean you learn better, more efficient ways of cleaning. The gym, each time you go, you learn about yourself – what you can physically handle, what fitness goal you’d like to focus on…you can even learn by watching other people when you go to the gym and plan on trying it for yourself. Each time you do anything, you get better and you feel better, mentally and physically.

    I am in sales and it’s easy for me to let things pile up and get behind. Be it calling clients, sending emails, reading industry newsletters. When I let the pile get too high, everything seems too overwhelming and I shut down mentally wanting to quit for the day go home only to come back to it the next day with the same feeling of defeat.

    The best thing for me to do is to take a breath, sit down and start writing a to do list. The list is usually really long, but I’ve already made the first step in organizing my thought process, rather than letting things get lost and getting side-tracked by other thoughts popping into my mind, when this happens I end up with a lot of unfinsihed projects and feeling out of control.

    By making a list, it’s my easy re-entry point to help me get motivated. Just writing the list makes me feel better, no matter how long of a list it is.

    Thank you for your insights! I look forward to more of your posts!

  30. KateNonymous says:

    This is so true. Years ago, I was standing in front of my desk at work. It was piled a foot high (across its surface; I had a very big project) with papers. As I weighed priorities, I thought, “I don’t know where to start.” Then another part of my brain came up with this: “It doesn’t matter where you start. Just start.”

    And sure enough, it all got done. Ahead of schedule, under budget, with a higher rate of accuracy than any of the other projects in our department.

    Later, another boss told me that one of my strengths was knowing what was “good enough.” She didn’t mean that I would settle for mediocrity. She meant that I recognized when I had met the goals for that particular project, and didn’t continue to fuss in search of perfection–I knew when I had produced something that did what it was supposed to, and I could let go of it.

  31. Mike Wilson says:

    Love it.

    Buddhists would call this “Cultivating Mindfulness.” You really can’t do it in one area without it spreading, which is good ;)

    I find that self-discipline (when I can muster it, which is frankly not that often) yields this delightful feeling of unlocking my head and putting me at ease. I know things that need to get done can/will get done.

    Without it I’m endlessly concerned about what’s slipping through the cracks, even if very little is. I’m concerned about my ability to handle “it all.”

  32. Angelo says:

    It is starting to sound all too common already but dang was this post timely to me too! I am currently going through some rough times and unfortunately had not even thought about how important self-discipline is. Thank you!

    Now… Let me start by getting my ass out of bed.

  33. Sean says:

    Spot on! As an employment coach, I help my clients through the use of the Japanese mantra of Kaizen; involving continuous improvement, usually in incremental steps. It is not realistic to change a behavior overnight. I find that although my clients are not resistant to change, they do not know how to implement. Gradual steps seem to be more effective and less overwhelming. For more information on how this can apply to your job search, go to http://www.seanmccaffrey.com.

  34. jan says:

    I guess the points made are too much generalized, especially the last one, which says doing the right thing makes you have more self-disciple. Actually that works reverse for me. When I do something good, I usually feel I earned a lengthy holiday!

  35. Terry Vermeylen says:

    I think that self discipline or will power is over rated. If you can view it as incorporating a new habit it makes it sound better. A new habit usually takes 30 days to stick.

    Terry

    • KateNonymous says:

      Is it overrated, or do you prefer different terminology?

      I actually think we’ve really downplayed self-discipline and will power as a society, and it hurts us. Why knuckle down and do something today when you can get someone else to do it and pay them with plastic a month from now?

      • William Bruce says:

        Our society *has* lost a certain shared emphasis on self-discipline and willpower, but it is not in fiscal and fiduciary matters where the loss is most concerning (or telling). I am not even certain that it is most concerning in our relationships with others — or that the answer is to found there, regarding causes, incentives, etc.

  36. Todd @ Personal Finance Playbook says:

    Hi Penelope,

    I have a point of criticism that I believe is constructive (I hope). You may have been told this before, but I think you should set your links to open in new windows. That way, I can click on one, see what it is and whether I’m interested in reading or viewing it, and seamlessly come back to what I’m reading in the post. Just my two cents – Todd

  37. Dr. Beverly Potter says:

    That self-discipline has tremendous impact upon happiness is quite insightful. When we accomplish something it is because we acted in certain ways to do so and underlying those actions is good self-management skills. (I prefer self-management to self-discipline.) Knowing that we can accomplish what we set out to do generates feelings of potency, I-Can-Do attitude. And this is what is often thought of as “self-esteem”.

    Self-management skills – good or bad – are learned. This means that even if you had a terrible childhood or were subjected to abuse or suffered through other events that diminished your positive feelings about yourself, you CAN do something and that is improving your self-management skills so that you can better handle life’s challenges. You don’t have to spend years in psychotherapy. You can begin making yourself a “winner” today by learning to manage yourself more effectively, which includes setting magnetic goals, taking small steps towards those goals, acknowledging your progress and so forth.

  38. LPC says:

    I am so surprised that you did not mention The Happiness Project. Did you not know of it or you just don’t like her approach? http://www.happiness-project.com/happiness_project/

  39. JB says:

    Good post, and I’m a huge believer (and practicioner, at times!) of self-discipline. But I’m wondering, couldn’t this could fall under a “time management” topic? Because self-discipline is a form of time management. It’s definitely a key point in today’s work world, having self-discipline when you telecommute or have a lot of other distractions like twitter, facebook, blogs, etc. But I don’t think it’s so unique that it needs its own heading.

  40. Will at Virtualjobcoach says:

    To Christopher Candelass

    Ha, Ha Chris – you got me! Perhaps you should watch the f*cking video before you put your hands to the keyboard. Oh, wait, I forgot that you are smarter than the people on TED.

    Again, you should watch the video before opening your pie-hole.

    Oh, and I am showing _great_ restraint in this response :^)
    Will at virtualjoboach.com

  41. Jessica Bond says:

    Perfection’s best friend is procrastination.

  42. William Bruce says:

    Since so many commenters are seizing the opportunity to skewer “perfectionism,” I suppose that it is incumbent upon me to (again) take up the role of critic.

    I see two precarious catches in the sort of arguments made here (and on many other occasions by Ms. Trunk):

    1. Semantics — I fear that everyone is defining “perfectionism” in such a narrow and logically precise way as to bleed the concept of any practical value. This is, intentionally or not, done in such a manner that it creates a straw man: being truly “perfect” is impossible, so “perfectionists” are obviously misguided. From an argumentative perspective, this is pretty pathetic stuff. We all know Voltaire’s famous quip; there is no need to regurgitate the idea ad infinitum.

    2. Context — The value (or lack of value) of perfectionism is extremely contextual, which I suspect is the cause of so much derision toward that disposition, mindset, behavior, or whatever one considers it. Doubtless, perfectionism is less rewarding in the sorts of professions commonly held by those writing comments here (or by Penelope), but I do not believe that there can be any denying the power and value of perfectionistic tendencies in the right fields, especially with the right *projects*. I would also extend the same reasoning to lifestyles, where I find that perfectionism has much more ethical vigor vis à vis the “merely good.”

    Ultimately, the entire cast of the argument breaks down if one accepts the idea of radical ignorance in human affairs and human reasoning. As I do subscribe to such a philosophy, that seems to me the end of the question.

    But, as always, I eagerly await refutation.

    • KateNonymous says:

      So what is your definition of “perfectionism”? I would argue that it is not synonymous with excellence, and never has been.

      • William Bruce says:

        To answer, I unabashedly use someone else’s definition:

        “Perfectionism — A propensity for being displeased with anything that is not perfect or does not meet extremely high standards.”

        The latter portion of the definition makes my reasoning in these matters seem far more cogent.

  43. principalspage says:

    5 pushups???

    • AG says:

      Five pushups, three times a day.

      Hey, for women five is pretty good. I’m a farm girl and sort of strong, but I suck at pushups. Real pushups, that is.

    • KateNonymous says:

      It’s not a workout, it’s something to get her moving and started on something else. If she did a workout at that point, she’d still be procrastinating on the something else. Context.

  44. Eric says:

    Good post and so true.
    Glad you came back P’ !

  45. Mitch says:

    Thanks for pointing out the web app that is iPhone friendly. I’ve decided to give it a whirl.

  46. Happy Guy says:

    Related topic: willpower is a limited resource, but it can be exercised and grown too.

    Also, group dynamics help. I joined a morning bootcamp class for exercise and am in the best shape of my life after just a few weeks. I hate the thought of not showing up and thus disappointing my fellow campers.

    Also, those interested in happiness research should check out the Happiness Hypothesis, which looks at things like how spirituality increases happiness. The CEO of Zappos credits it as an important book in helping them figure out their company’s core values (hint: none of them mention shoes).

    The godfather of much of this research is Martin Seligman.

  47. Mark W. says:

    I know self-discipline is a worthwhile endeavor when applied for all the reasons that make sense to me and the goals are clearly defined. I have to clearly understand why I’m in a self-discipline mode and the benefits derived from the hard work necessary. While I’m engaged in something that requires self-discipline I have to be aware of where I started, where I’m currently at, and hope to end up at or maintain on a regular basis. It’s a constantly evolving process where my motivation for self-discipline is learning and growing every day with all the struggles, failures, and successes along the way.

  48. JustinN says:

    I’ve always been a sucker for setting myself loads of unachievable goals without really thinking them through. There’s always so much to do I hardly know where to start most of the time, but recently I’ve been setting myself small goals like with clearing out the attic etc. Remove and dispose of / give away / sell one item a day if possible and it’s amazing how quick things happen.

    I’ve applied the same idea to work now too. I’ve always got so many projects and sites on the go I never seem to finish any, so I’ve created a School style timetable for the week, giving myself dedicated hours of the week where I update, create and develop various projects I’m working on. Now I kinda feel really productive and feel like I’m finally getting somewhere.

  49. suba says:

    This is a nice surprise post.

    Thanks for the links which I didn’t know about.

    I am experimenting with my self-discipline part for last, say, more than 20 years. And, for a last few years, chasing all researches on happiness. (Curious that your references to happiness didn’t include some well known figures like Mihály Csíkszentmihályi’s Flow or Seligman’s Positive Psychology or Kahneman, for that matter)

    I agree breaking the initial barrier is crucial. But you need to break it everyday. That makes it difficult.

    I didn’t ever find having self-discipline in one area leads to another. I have almost no barrier in starting to paint/sketch but higher to start writing, though I enjoy both process. Even go in zone.

    Breaking the barrier is easier if I make starting the activity easier without preparatory hangups. That means if you leave sketching appratus and painting burshes on kitchen table, it’s easier to start than if you keep it in a high cupboard. If you keep you exercise mats and weights on floor it is easier to begin than if you need to carry it from basement. It is easier to start writing on a already switched on computer than that needs to be switched on.

    Some activity don’t give immediate rewards but need to be done because you would regret not doing it. Sometimes the rewards don’t come directly from the activity but related. One might like to blog to get connected, or to get heard though she might not like the process of writing. Here the barrier can be higher.

    Trying to achieve perfectionism is not a problem, though perhaps for blogging it is not needed. Because you need to churn out fast. I will digress if I write more.

  50. le says:

    good points – thanks for this one – cheers le

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    Mike’s Life Posts of the Week 10th July 2009…

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