Building Discipline: I Did It for My Self-Esteem
6 min read | Note: Take what serves/resonates with you. Leave behind the rest. Challenge yourself to grow.
I really don’t want to write this blog post right now.
But I wasn’t able to publish one last week due to life’s lemons and I committed to writing one per week. So here I am, starting to write 500 crappy words on not wanting to do things but doing them - for my self-esteem.
Personally, I’m not really into the concept of feel-good motivation. Rarely do I actually get sh*t done because I feel inspired and motivated. This seems to be a common challenge since I hear a lot of "I just don’t have the discipline", or "I’m just not motivated to do it", or "I’ve been procrastinating because I’ve lost the motivation". And yes, I’ve said them too.
Source: Smith House Photo
So if not feel-good motivation, how do I get things done? The most important things I’ve achieved in the past few years have stemmed from one out of three things: desperation, responsibility, and self-esteem.
In relation to discipline, let’s start with self-esteem.
Why Self-Esteem is So Damn Important
If you’re a consistent reader of my writing, you may have recognized that I frequently reference Nathaniel Branden’s work on self-esteem. I do this because I believe that self-esteem is a foundational human need that affects our survival, functionality, and success. And yet most of us are not taught what it is, how it affects us, or how to cultivate it.
Branden defines self-esteem as
“the disposition to experience oneself as being competent to cope with the basic challenges of life and of being worthy of happiness.”
He argues that self-esteem is an urgent need because “its (relative) absence impairs our ability to function.” If we’re not confident in our ability to do/learn things or if we see ourselves as unworthy of joy, reward, or happiness, it’s difficult to move forward in our day-to-day lives. My personal experience affirms this argument.
How We Act Affects Our Self-Esteem
In Six Pillars of Self-Esteem, Branden covers a broad spectrum of topics in relation to self-esteem, but for the purpose of this blog post, I want to focus on integrity and self-concept.
Paraphrased from the book: Every human holds a standard of ourselves to a set of values, and we judge ourselves by that standard, whether it be explicitly or implicitly, conscious or subconscious, rational or irrational. So with every action we make, there is also a value judgment we make about ourselves. And thus, if we fail to align our actions with our values, integrity suffers, self-trust suffers, and self-respect suffers. We are not defined by our actions, but our choice of actions do affect how we feel about ourselves, and thus our self-esteem.
For example, let’s look at an imaginary Bob (which is really, 21 yo me).
Bob has been sleeping in quite a bit lately. He can afford to do this because he has a flexible schedule but he’s feeling a little frustrated about it. It’s not the lifestyle he desires and it doesn’t make him feel good. So one day, Bob decides and says to his friend, “You know what. I’m going to get up at 7AM tomorrow. I’m going to start getting out of bed consistently at 7AM like the people who work 9-5 jobs. This is happening. It’s time to get my shit together.”
There are several possible scenarios that could unfold the next morning. Bob can:
- A) get out of bed when the alarm rings,
- B) snooze for an extra hour and then get up, or
- C) sleep in until 10AM like he usually does.
With each possibility, he’s going to think and feel a certain way about himself. Bob could think:
- A) “F*CK YES! I DID IT!” - feeling enthusiastic and empowered, or
- B) “Okay, I snoozed for an hour, but it’s still progress. I’ll aim for 7AM tomorrow.” - feeling hopeful and eager, or
- C) “Ugh, I did it again. I’m just not going to get it.” - feeling disappointed and frustrated.
Whatever choice of action he makes, it’s going to affect his self-esteem and how he feels about himself.
Values + Action → Integrity → Self-Trust + Self-Respect → Self-Esteem → Actions + Thoughts + Emotions
I Want to Feel Good About Myself
So basically, I practice discipline for my self-esteem. I write this when I don’t want to, for my self-esteem. I get out of bed when I don’t want to, for my self-esteem. know I’ll feel bad about myself if I don’t do it. I know I’ll feel so much better about myself if I do do it. And I know that the way I see and feel about myself makes all of the difference. Cultivating and maintaining my self-esteem is the most important aspect of my personal development.
The little things seem so little in the moment. But over time, that progress or lack thereof, adds up. Making that small shift today, and tomorrow, and the day after - makes a huge difference 6 months from now, 1 year from now, 10 years from now.
And when the big things hit, I continue to make my decisions based on “how do I want to feel about myself?”
Taking Action for Cultivation
There is a misconception that we should just feel good about ourselves, that we should feel worthy, that we should trust ourselves. But ideals and values require action in order to make it into reality.
Love is our birthright, and we need to unlearn toxic patterns and practice healthy love.
Joy is our birthright, and we need to build up the courage to activate and embrace joy without self-sabotage.
Each one of us are born worthy, and we need to take action to cultivate the sense of worthiness.
We are all deserving of respect, and we need to live in a way that is respectful.
This is why I don’t sit around reading motivation quotes or writing affirmations in order to feel “worthy” one day. They can definitely help as reminders but are far from sufficient. Self-efficacy and self-respect requires cultivation.
Self-esteem requires action.
- Journal on the following questions and sentence prompts:
- What is one habit or action I haven’t felt the motivation to execute?
- How would I feel about myself 6 months from now if I continue to put it off?
- How would I feel about myself 6 months from now if I took action today?
- What 3 important things would I be able to accomplish if I started to actively cultivate an increased sense of self-esteem?
- I will (take x action) for my self-esteem.
- Watch this short video on the Six Pillars of Self-Esteem or go read the book.
- Start this sentence-completion exercise to help you build self-esteem. I’m on week 14.
- Start practicing discipline TODAY. Move through the knowing-doing gap.
On my whiteboard, I have written “Discipline is FREEDOM.”
I’m realizing now that it feels so liberating because it helps increase my self-esteem - the confidence in my ability to face life’s challenges and my sense of worthiness. And that feeling of liberation is so worth getting out of bed for.