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Ask HN: How to Build Discipline?
24 points by Gary_TheSnail_ 4 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 10 comments
Hello again - I made a similar post not too long ago about taking car of yourself and got some good answers and advice, but I came up with another question!

I am finishing my bachelors in CS right now - about 6 months left. My schedule does not look heavy for my last couple quarters, but I do not like the schedule I have to follow in school. I don't like being given somewhat boring assignments that don't leave room for creativity. I want to make something cool and adds value to the world.

However, I lack the discipline to do anything long term. I don't hit the gym consistently for a long enough time to see good results. I have always wanted to get on a solid daily routine. My energy levels are low during the day and the past 2 weeks have not been very productive. Online/remote learning has shortened my attention span significantly.

I want to build something (building myself physcially, mentally, financially, building products and software) but I can't stick to it long enough to make something valuable even though I enjoy it.

I would appreciate any resources or advice while I sort through this. I am not being too hard on myself - I am okay. I continually work on myself but discipline has by far been my biggest challenge for quite a few years.






Start with something extremely simple. e.g make your bed every day when you wake up. All that is important is to do it consistently every time you wake up.

Then after you feel you're able to do it consistently add more and more things to it. Just don't ever break the simple one you picked as the first one.


This is the trick. People try to begin with complex routines and fail, when in reality it's more likely to have success if your basic routine is make your bed and brush your teeth. The only other advice I can offer is this: don't be a perfectionist. If in one day you make your bed hastily, it's ok, you still did it. And if you miss a step one day, dont suffer for that, remember you will do it right in the next day.

The tiny habits method reduces it further. For example “when i get out of bed Ill grab the corner of the bedsheet”.

The idea is to make the trigger something you do anyway (get out of bed) and the action tiny. Now you are in action flight and will likely finish the task. But you only promised to grab a corner so you get the endorphin rush even if you make the bed badly. You did it!


Discipline and consistency has also been a challenge for me.

I have found it useful to embrace the humble beauty of boring things. It is easy to get on the hedonic treadmill of seeking ever-greater levels of excitement. Doing this will mean your attention gets jerked around by whatever screams the loudest. This makes consistency and accomplishment increasingly difficult to the point of overwhelm.

Two practices that you might find useful:

1. Print out a page of the sketches that Picasso did of a bull[1]. Notice that it is boring and repetitive to sketch the same bull. Notice that this is how art is made by the masters.

2. When you notice yourself seeking creativity, pick up a leaf and take five minutes just to appreciate the beauty of its curves and veins.

Finding a daily prayer to say to yourself is also good, especially on the evenings when you find yourself looking back with regret at a day you feel you wasted. Disiderata[2] is a good prayer.

I have also found the podcast of Prof. Andrew Huberman to be useful. Here he is talking about habits: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wcs2PFz5q6g

> I want to make something cool and adds value to the world.

In your class there is a professor who is struggling in a world where the pandemic has made it hard to tell if they are really helping students learn. This makes it a greater struggle to maintain her mental health and sense of purpose in life. You can add value to her corner of the world by writing down what you are grateful to learn.

[1] https://images.app.goo.gl/LhukTaB6khwQLNjh8

[2] https://www.desiderata.com/desiderata.html


First, set a cue. If you're going to the gym, perhaps it's always right after you wake up. You need to have a cue that consistently happens. After a while (a month), it becomes habit. Simple waking up sets off a whole sequence of habits for me.

Next, for the things you want to improve on, set a goal, measure and track.

For each exercise, how much weight did you lift, how many reps? Write it all down and match or beat yourself last time.

Start small so it's not overwhelming, and improve incrementally from there.

That's it. And even if you don't feel like doing it one day, take the first small step to doing it - like getting dressed for the gym. Then see what happens.


You might find this series of posts on training the will useful: https://ecosophia.dreamwidth.org/104078.html

You have to do it every day; a habit. It may not get easier, but it gets better.

A lot of people get sucked into a trap of reading blogs about doing things instead of actually practicing the doing.

Best of luck


Start with one thing at a time. Do that one thing excellently until it becomes part of your soul, and you could never imagine not doing it. Then move onto the next thing.

try doing things that give a visceral sense of accomplishment afterwards even if unrelated to coding.

creating or fixing physical things is great for that.


j u s t d o i t

when you actually get started on a task, it motivates you to do more.

Also, know what you want to accomplish by the end of the day. Set a concrete goal




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