How to Build a Practice When You "Don't Have the Discipline" (The Wednesday 1-2-3)


If you’ve ever tried to create a new habit just to watch it fall apart after a week, you may have had the thought “I just don’t have enough discipline.”

And, for many of us, this phrase can quickly turn into shame, guilt, other negative self-talk, and ultimately no sustained movement toward our goals and our dreams – the things that brought us to want to build the habit or practice in the first place.

This is a natural outcome of having a discipline-based approach to habit-building, one that is constantly reinforced by society through:

  • rigid diet and workout plans,
  • hyper-structured meditation methods,
  • strict and inflexible goal-setting protocols, and
  • a never-ending worship of perfection and productivity.

Discipline-based approaches overlook our unique body needs, lifestyles, preferences, real limitations, passions, histories, and literally everything else that makes us us. Over the long-run, they're one-size-fits-all non-solutions.

So, if you have a new habit or practice you want to give yourself to, but are worried about “sticking with it,” I recommend trying out what I call Core + Secondary. (This was a super helpful framework for several folks in our last inner work cohort.)

Here’s how it works:

Instead of committing ourselves inflexibly to a specific habit or practice, this is an invitation to center on the quality of aliveness or connection you desire to build capacity for.

For example, if I want to feel more present in my life, I could say “I’m going to meditate 10 minutes every morning.” But…what happens when the kiddos were awake all night and I just don’t have it in me? Instead of entering the discipline-shame spiral of doom, I could center on my longing for presence and find another practice that day to help me cultivate that quality.

My core practice is a habit that fits me most of the time; my secondary practice is something I can do with ease when life inevitably happens.

In this example, I could have a core practice of 10-minute morning meditation and a secondary, more flexible practice of 3-minute box-breathing.

More examples might look like:

  • Core = going to the gym; Secondary = workout at home
  • Core = morning walk; Secondary = lunch walk
  • Core = morning pages; Secondary = quick gratitude journaling

Not only does this short-circuit the discipline-based “I must check the box!” mindset, it helps us build a real toolkit of habits and practices that serve our longings and help us move in the direction we wish to move in.

If this connects, here’s how to try it for yourself:

  1. Reflect on your longings. What quality do you want to build capacity in?
  2. Identify a habit or practice that could help build this capacity.
  3. Identify a smaller, more flexible (perhaps mini-version) habit or practice that would also build this capacity.
  4. Think about your body needs, lifestyle, sense of identity, and so on: do these practices fit you? (And if not, make changes!)
  5. Try it out and be open to tinkering until you find what feels good.

Questions

  1. What is a quality in your life you want to build more capacity for? What would become possible if you did?
  2. How does this approach land with you? What messages within you about discipline or habit-building does it challenge?

Resources


⏪ If you missed last week's email:

I shared a practice from Jessica Denise Dickson on self-connection.


Hope all is well-enough with you,

Andrew

IG: @andrewglang

The Wednesday 1-2-3

Inner work frameworks, practices, and questions – all in a five-minute read. Delivered to your inbox every Wednesday morning before you even wake up. Written and curated by Andrew Lang.

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