Self discipline and grit is something I feel we all struggle with (I certainly do). Whether we’re trying to learn a new skill, break a bad habit or get fit, consistency is something you can’t really get around.
But the usefulness of self discipline is often underrated. Some people find disciplining themselves easier than others, but you can argue that it is a skill that can be improved. It’s also something that you can apply to multiple completely different facets of your life. From trying to memorise the Qur’an to eating more healthily to seeing through this incredibly difficult project you’re working on. But being a skill also means it’s likely not something you’re going to be good at from the get go, it’s something that needs to be deliberately practiced.
A pitfall you can fall into is a false sense of progress. It’s easy to work on something and feel like you’re making progress simply because you’re spending time on it. Time spent doesn’t necessarily equate to value gained. This is why it’s important to find a single thing that you want to do that you can use as a proxy for improving your self-discipline, which you can then apply to other parts of your life.
I often recommend working out. You should work out. Yes, you. If you already do, great. If you don’t you should really start. And I don’t mean going to the gym. If you want to go to the gym, please do. But the point here is to give yourself a goal that is slightly above your current physical limit. It can be as simple as, if you can do 0 push ups right now, try and practice till you get to 10. Or 5 even. The goal here isn’t to get super fit, it’s to practice self discipline. If you can nail the grit part, the fit body part will follow.
The reason I say you should work out is because self discipline is a transferable skill. And fitness is the one activity I’ve found where I can’t cheat. I can’t trick myself into thinking I’m making progress. You can see results. And if you cant see them yet you can feel them. Going from being able to do 0 sit ups, to 5, to 10 is tangible progress that doesn’t necessarily take too long, if you’re being consistent.
The important part though, is when you hit a wall and feel like you can’t really do any more, but force yourself to anyway and persevere past it. This is where we usually take a 3 hour break from our essay, or reopen twitter on our phones. Trying to get passed this wall is where progress is made.
It doesn’t have to be working out though. I only picked it because it’s a framework that kinda works for me and is usually something that people want to get better at. Maybe there’s something other than fitness that would work better for you when it comes to developing self discipline. The idea is to pick one thing that allows you to track small steps of progress and stick to it. If you can’t think of anything try fitness, but it helps if it’s something that you want to do. InshaAllah we can all get to a point where we can apply ourselves to reach whatever spiritual, physical and generally beneficial goals that we set ourselves.
Also, if you suffer from procrastination, here are a couple of articles I’ve found useful that you can productively procrastinate on, I recommend reading them in order:
Part 1: Why procrastinators procrastinate
Part 2: How to beat procrastination
There's also a TED Talk version of them by the author.
The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ used to seek refuge in God from laziness, reciting the following supplication:
اَللّٰهُمَّ إِنِّيْ أَعُوْذُ بِكَ مِنَ الْهَمِّ وَالْحَزَنِ ، وَأَعُوْذُ بِكَ مِنَ الْعَجْزِ وَالْكَسَلِ، وَأَعُوْذُ بِكَ مِنَ الْجُبْنِ وَالْبُخْلِ ، وَأَعُوْذُ بِكَ مِنْ غَلَبَةِ الدَّيْنِ وَقَهْرِ الرِّجَالِ
O Allah, I take refuge in You from anxiety and sorrow, weakness and laziness, miserliness and cowardice, the burden of debts and from being over powered by men.
Do not forget to ask Allah for help in everything it is you do.