Why You Should Keep Yourself In Check Before You Actually Need To

Two rows of karate students sitting in kneeling pose

Self-discipline is tough for many reasons. Sometimes, the task itself is a challenge. Other times, it’s our life circumstances. But one way we can make things better is through preparations, and there’s no better way to prep than by examining our failures.

I’m sure you’ve heard the quote about sharpening your axe for hours so that the actual tree chopping will take less time.

Yes, you could venture off into the forest, wielding a rusty axe, not knowing what wood you’re looking for, and still come home with some timber, but wouldn’t it be better to know how much wood you need, where to get it, and how, before even stepping out the door?

More importantly, wouldn’t you rather do that before the task rather than wing it when you stumble upon the task?

And thus is our topic for the day. Enter the world of front-loading your self-discipline.

What is front-loading?

In its simplest terms, front-loading involves doing the work upfront so you can lessen the burden of the actual task.

Some examples include:

  • Prepping your day by planning the night before
  • Removing all paraphernalia from your house before you quit smoking
  • Having your meals prepared so you don’t have to order takeout after a tiring day

It may seem that front-loading is just a fancy term for ‘preparing in advance’, but it’s more than that. There’s one major benefit to this practice, and that’s its function as a guiding star for when you’re feeling lost.

My own disciplinary issues

There’ve been a couple of life transitions this month, most of which I’ll share in upcoming posts. But one major change that’s happened was me not having time to cook my meals anymore. Mainly because I’m not based at home anymore and don’t have access to my kitchen.

But I still want to eat healthy. So I’ve needed to take a cold, hard look at my life and see how I can shape good eating habits around my new schedule.

What I’ve found is that I tend to pick the easy option when I’m tired. After a long day at work, the last thing I want to do is to pick a healthy meal. Instead, I end up choosing the easy way out: ordering whatever sounds good on GrabFood.

That has resulted in a few days of gorging on food I’m not too proud about. And the thing about unhealthy food is that the more you consume, the more you want to consume. And then I end up falling down this never-ending spiral of stale noodles and sugary cream sauce.

This is where front-loading comes in. I cannot rely on Tired Stu to make good decisions for myself. Instead, I now leave that to Responsible Stu on the weekends. So every Saturday, I buy the groceries, prep my food, and lay out my menu for the week.

More importantly, I’ve told myself that this is what I’m eating after I come home from work. I know that my mind will be hankering for something else, but I’ve already made my decision. It’s all front-loaded.

That way, all Tired Stu needs to do is to follow the plan.

Potential pitfalls

But just because you’ve made a deal with yourself doesn’t mean future you is automatically going to fall in line.

Life happens. Or you might feel differently when the time comes (more on this later). Or perhaps someone enters the office with a bottle of 12-year-old bourbon the day you decide to quit drinking.

This is why you’ll need to include a few other factors in your front-loaded tasks:

  • A why that you can refer to in moments of weakness
  • Potential moments of said weakness so that you won’t be taken by surprise when they do arrive
  • Alternative action you can take instead of the weak actions, like going for a walk to curb irrational cravings

You can plan as much as you like, but life is always going to have a surprise or two waiting just around the corner. And if you’ve found your preparations lacking, don’t beat yourself up too hard, because this experience can be added to your future front-loading plans.

Just don’t expect to discipline your way out of everything though. Which brings me to my next point.

We can’t rely on discipline

Throughout my self-improvement journey, I’ve learned how similar discipline is to motivation: there will be times when it spikes, and times when it wanes. And no matter what time it is, we shouldn’t rely on those feelings to make our decisions.

I’ve studied a ton of successful individuals in hopes of absorbing some of their self-discipline, and I’ve learned that most of them function best on auto-pilot mode.

That means no ifs, ands, or buts. If they planned to run after waking up, they do it, regardless of the weather. If they promised themselves they’d write 1,000 words every day, they write those 1,000 words.

Sounds dreadful? Maybe. But sometimes, this lack of freedom is what sets you free. It’s why morning- and evening-routines are so popular. Because they free up mental bandwidth through the use of front-loaded preparations.

That’s why we need to stop thinking we can make the best decisions all the time, and make them when we’re in a better state.

Make your hard decisions before you need to make them

Thus we come to the main point of the post: to decide on your actions long before you do them.

It’s like Minority Report in a way. But instead of looking for potential crimes, you’ll need to constantly consult your Precogs for the different ways you might break your promises to yourself.

Your scumbag brain is always looking for ways to conserve energy. It’s not its fault, really. That’s just the brain’s way of surviving. But what that also means is that it’ll always choose the path of least resistance.

Which is why I’m imploring you to make the tough choices now. Not when you’re up early and wishing to go back to bed. Not when you’re hungry and standing outside Dunkin’ Donuts. And certainly not when you’re angry and equipped with a scathing retort to your partner’s casual remark on your waistline.

And while we’re on the subject of spare tyres, check that you have a spare tyre before you set out on that long journey of yours. Now go out there and have a road trip of your life.

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