The Benefits of Self-Discipline and Frugality

Get things done efficiently. Distinguish between “want” and “need”. Self-discipline is important when making changes and reaching goals.

When I started studying again, like a poor university student, but as an adult with a family, I had to rethink how I was going to organize my life. At first it seemed like a loss, I had to give up on traveling, shopping and sell my car and my apartment with a view at the sea. All of this I would have been able to afford by continuing my 8-16 job, but I had a vision that there were more important things to experience in life. In 2014 I started a journey that I thought would just end up with a new education and another type of job, but oh was I wrong. And the funny thing about this is that I have never missed any of this expensive stuff.

Experiencing stress with my studies and upcoming exams I started doing what I had done before as a young student – cleaning! During my previous studies I remembered that my apartment had never been as clean as before an exam. I remembered cleaning the fridge several times – an activity I regularly never do. But this time, as an adult, the cleaning went further. Not being very familiar with any of the modern decluttering and cleaning methods, I just started somewhere. Little by little, shelf by shelf and closet by closet I gave away and got rid of a lot of stuff. At some point I tried to count how many bags of stuff had already been removed, but there still seemed to be quite a lot of things left. At the same time I sold some of the bigger items, like furniture. But it would take me two years to finish this project – and I thought I didn’t own much stuff! I used to consider myself a minimalist! No way.

It was not until I had got rid of most of my stuff that I started to realize what is important in my life and which issues were still to be solved. I had been familiar with the out-of-the-box thinking concept from before, but this time it was crucial to be able to think out of all the boxes available and figure out new boxes if needed! The most important insights were related to seeing things as something I “want” or something I really “need”. As my grandmother grew older and got ill I thought of her style of living and was wondering if we really need all the gadgets we spend so much money on in today’s world. She was able to live on a small income and still be happy.

It was a year during my studies when I was working really hard. Then I decided to have a long summer break, maybe three months. I had no plans at all. Mostly I went jogging, to the gym and to do some yoga (even though I hate it). After a while I was wondering how it was possible to feel so good. I mean I was physically in very good shape (and I still am) and the main objective of the day was to do more sports. A year later I realized this is the feeling I want back! It seemed impossible to achieve it, but I didn’t give up. This was my number one goal. My goal number two was to be able to have three months off in the summer if I wanted. Is this impossible? No.

And there seems to be a problem in common for many people – and that’s discipline. Yes, to plan something, think how it should be done and start doing so. If the action taken doesn’t take you to the goal you wanted, you have to change your way of acting, until you reach your goal. But this doesn’t happen overnight. Ever. You have to have patience, take small steps and work your way through the obstacles you face on the way to your goal. I can hardly think of anyone winning an international sports contest without having practiced with great discipline for a long time…

Another thing is this about socially acceptable norms and the daily habits we have. In my country everyone is supposed to eat porridge every day – especially in the morning. There doesn’t seem to be any other acceptable ways of having breakfast. Why? Who has come up with these norms that should be followed? Yes, there are certain laws and rules and it is not very friendly to disturb anyone, but except from this, who says how we have to live our lives? We, ourselves…? Yes. One can actually survive without porridge, believe it or not!

The result of decluttering, cleaning, thinking, rethinking, analyzing, changing and improving my daily living ended up in too much empty space in my apartment (which I thought in the beginning was quite tiny…) and I was able to study extremely efficiently in a decluttered environment (during one year more than doubled the usual number of credit points from university) and still had time to go to the gym, go out for walks, work with interesting projects etc. etc.

Now I got really interested in all this, hearing so many people talking and complaining about their busy lives where they get nothing done.  If you stay in the rat race it never feels like you have obtained everything you want. The neighbour will always have a nicer car. Someone will always wear more expensive clothes. Your cousin will have a bigger TV than you. So what!! The rat race seems to increase the feeling of “wanting” lots of things.

In the end, if you think of everything you have bought, for how long did it make you happy? Did you have to compensate the feeling of not having anything new in a while with buying something again? And for how long did that purchase make you happy? Let me guess… Not for quite long. It is though difficult in a social situation to explain that you are not in to these modern things. Everyone understands if you say you “need a bigger TV”. But what if you say you got rid of your TV? Not many people will understand, because they like to be lazy on their couches in the evening watching TV. I have chosen to do something else. I go to the gym or do meal prep. I have chosen a frugal lifestyle. Everybody should choose what’s best for them. But if you choose the TV, don’t complain about getting nothing done!

One of my last study projects was to finish the master’s thesis for my university studies in technology. My sprained ankle was the beginning of the icing on the cake for what had started as a cleaning project. This last project I started was about Lean. A model invented in the car manufacturing business simply saying: do what creates value, and get rid of waste! Change your mindset and be ready for continuous improvement! How easy does that sound? Studying the topic in more detail I found out that many had failed. Why? Because they were not able to relate how to apply the car manufacturer’s advice in their own case and they were just doing part of the improvements every now and then. Discipline is needed. Don’t give up when an obstacle comes in your way. Try again until you come up with a solution!

What kind of goals do you have in life? Have you ever written them down? How much effort have you really put on achieving your goals? Do you enjoy all the stuff you buy and waste money on? Could happiness come from something else, that’s not related to money? Has the way of working been disciplined? I think that by considering these simple questions and start working with self-discipline, lots of things can be changed, in small steps, by changing daily habits and working with the problems and obstacles that seem to stand in the way of achieving what you want to do.