Seven years ago, I woke up, sent some emails, and went bowling for a friend’s birthday. And I did it all as a full-time entrepreneur. As of July 1, 2012 I was no longer a Procter & Gamble employee, I had officially started working on Humor That Works full-time. And 2,556 days later, I’m still at it.

Over the past seven years, I have: delivered 536 programs, performed 574 comedy shows, published three books, delivered two TEDx talks, spoke in front of 40,000+ people, launched a coaching program, online course, and awards program, visited all 50 states, 27 countries and 6 continents, and, most importantly, have built a sustainable business spreading the word about the power of humor.

But not everything I’ve done has gone according to plan. Below is a look at some of those “accomplishments” in a little more detail, along with the takeaways I’ve gained from each.

I wanted to share this recap not to brag about what I’ve done (you can see many aren’t brag-worthy), but to share the ups and downs of being an entrepreneur, content creator, and idea haver. Not everything you do is going to work, not every project will be profitable, and not every video will be impactful. But if you never put anything out there, you’ll never create the thing that can change the world (or at least one person’s day, year, or life).

21 Lessons from 7 Years as an Entrepreneur

JULY 24, 2012: I did my first paid gig for Humor That Works after making it my full-time job.

The event was a 3-hour workshop for Santander in Dallas, TX that paid me $1,000 plus travel. Going into the event, the organizer acted liked there would be the opportunity to do a lot of different trainings for the group. After the event, I never heard from her again. That may have been because I didn’t deliver on what they were expecting, it was just hopeful optimism on both of our parts, or it was a way to get me to lower my price (like getting paid in “exposure”).

Takeaway #1: There’s never a guarantee for additional work unless it’s in the contract.

NOVEMBER 13, 2012: I uploaded a video called Zombie Tag to YouTube.

The video was a simple demonstration of one of my favorite applied improv exercises. I had little expectation of how many people would see it, I just wanted to share a fun activity. It slowly became a popular team-building video, now with more than 500,000 views. I foolishly used the song O Fortuna to make the video seem epic which means any ad revenue from the video goes to the music owner, not me.

Takeaway #2: You never know what’s going to resonate with people. As a result, create as though the entire world will see it, but only do the things you’d do even if no one saw it.

NOVEMBER 14, 2012: My first “real” book launched.

501 ways to use humor book

I say “real” because I had previously published a collection of quotations, but they were more curation than creation. I self-published 501 Ways to Use Humor, Beat Stress, and Increase Productivity in both print and on Kindle with the goal of providing a resource for people who wanted to use humor but didn’t know how to get started. The book has so far sold 6,123 copies, netting a 3.8 rating on Amazon off of 18 reviews.

Takeaway #3: You can’t have a third book if you never created a first one. Even if it doesn’t go gang-busters, the first attempt helps you learn for the next several.

MARCH 14, 2013: I officially launched my humor coaching program.

The goal was to provide one-on-one coaching for people who were looking to make a change in their life. After the first six months I all but abandoned the idea after discovering I didn’t really love coaching. I had a grand total of 12 clients, three of which were paid.

Takeaway #4: Just because a successful person does something a certain way, it doesn’t mean you have to. Find the things you like to do and focus on those, rather than doing something because you think you’re “supposed” to.

APRIL 3, 2013: I announced the first ever Corporate Humor Awards.

The awards were created to celebrate individuals and organizations that use humor in the workplace. They recognized five individuals and five companies that effectively used humor in creating a better work environment for the humans that worked there. I repeated the awards in 2014, completely ignored them for three years, and then brought them back in 2018 and (soon) 2019. Yes, I wish I had continued the Corporate Humor Awards every year, but I don’t want the inconsistency to stop me from bringing back the awards whenever I have capacity for them.

Takeaway #5: More important than being consistent is being persistent.

FEBRUARY 4, 2014: I had an enlightening lunch with a fellow engineer.

The lunch was with two PhD students at Carnegie Melon University. I had reached out to them because they were also engineers  who were interested in improv. Towards the end of the lunch, one of the guys asked me who managed my website. I proudly claimed I did and asked why. His response was, “When I talk with you now, I get that you’re an engineer and that you focus on humor because it works, and it sounds fascinating. But when I read the site, it seems fluffy and touchy-feely, and doesn’t seem like something I’d be interested in.” I was appreciative of the feedback and it made me wonder how many other people never reached out or considered booking me because they were turned off by the language on the site.

Takeaway #6: You hardly hear the “nos.” No feedback is, in fact, feedback. If something you try isn’t getting a response, it means something needs to change.

FEBRUARY 8, 2014: I delivered my very first TEDx talk at TEDxOSU.

humor at work tedx

Though the talk never went “viral,” it has racked up more 200,000 views and has led to 13 speaking engagements and over $30,000 in revenue. Looking back at the talk now, I still believe in the content but cringe at the delivery knowing that I’m so much stronger as a speaker now. Part of me wishes I had delivered a stronger talk, but that was a great delivery for my skill level at the time. Plus, I’d much rather look back five years and think I’m a better speaker now than look back five years and realize I haven’t grown at all.

Takeaway #7: If you don’t look back at the past five years and at least cringe a little bit, you probably aren’t taking big enough chances or continually improving.

SEPTEMBER 23, 2014: I had my first five-figure event day.

For the first time in company (and my personal) history, I earned over $10,000 in a day. To do so, I delivered a keynote, breakout, and two workshops over the course of one day for a group of project managers at Nationwide in Columbus, OH. It would be two years before my next five-figure day.

Takeaway #8: One success doesn’t guarantee another success, just as one failure doesn’t guarantee another failure. But a peak at one time can give you a glimpse of what the future could hold.

JANUARY 21, 2015: I launched an online course on humor at work.

After three months of planning, shooting, and editing, my first (and currently only) online course went live on Udemy. I hoped that it might lead to a nice stream of passive income and generate leads for in-person workshops… thus far it has netted $1,682 from 1,198 students and zero leads. Despite my insistence that it is not a course on being funnier, it sits at a 4.15 rating (on 45 reviews) with more than a few negative comments about how it doesn’t make people funnier. More than anything, it did force me to put together a cohesive workshop-style program that I used for in-person deliveries.

Takeaway #9: Passive income is very misunderstood; very often it’s delayed income from work you put in a long time ago, and it’s not guaranteed.

AUGUST 7, 2015: My second app, the Perfect Day (now called 5 Daily Habits), launched.

While I hoped others might benefit from the app, the primary purpose was to provide an easy way for me to follow my five daily habits program. My first app, 501 Ways to Use Humor, came out in November 2013 as an add-on to my first book and has made -$723 dollars off of roughly 200 downloads (revenue of $902 minus $1,625 cost to build). 5 Daily Habits has netted -$3,960 (the app is free but app development is not) with over 6,000 downloads, but it has more than paid for itself in keeping me accountable to my short- and long-term goals… that is until I stopped tracking my habits sometime in 2018.

Takeaway #10: Return-on-investment doesn’t always come in the form of money back, sometimes it’s a new skill, accountability, or additional credibility. Also apps are hard.

JULY 17, 2015: I did a talk for sales new hires at P&G.

Since leaving P&G, I’ve returned to the organization for a number of the events, including one for new employees in sales. In the audience for the talk was Adam, a new hire and the son of the president of the National Speakers Bureau, Brian. Adam enjoyed my presentation so much, he called his dad about it and two days later I talked with Brian about being part of his speaker line-up. That meeting resulted in them listing me as one of their speakers and I’ve done five talks with them for more than $25,000. I’m also friends with Adam and Brian.

Takeaway #11: You never know who is sitting in your audience and what opportunities may come when you deliver a good product or program.

FEBRUARY 11, 2016: I completed my 1,000th performance in my 50th state on my 32nd birthday.

performances by year running

The storytelling show in Hawaii was one of the defining moments of my career up to that point as it was the culmination and celebration of months of travels, years of performances, and decades of existence. I never would have guessed that this introverted teacher’s pet would go on to perform in more than 1,000 shows, let alone do it in all 50 states.

Takeaway #12: What starts as a hobby today could become your passion/career/purpose  tomorrow (where “tomorrow” is a metaphor for the future, 24 hours from hobby to career seems unlikely).

APRIL 22, 2017: I gave my second TEDx talk, this time on the skill of humor at TEDxTAMU.

I dedicated nearly four months to prepping for the talk, doing stand-up and speaking engagements to iterate on the message. I felt great about the performance and the end result. On January 2, 2018, six months after the talk came out, it only had 3,000 views. It hit one million views on July 2, 2018, currently has over four million views, and has been an idea worth spreading.

Takeaway #13: Success is rarely instant. Yes, some people “go viral” “overnight,” but often it’s the result of years of hard work before it happens. And yes, luck plays a huge role in success, but the harder you work, the luckier you seem to get.

SEPTEMBER 26, 2017: My second book, The United States of Laughter, came out.

When I started my  nomadic journey on March 1, 2015, I had no idea what it would lead to or why I was even doing it. By the end of trip, I had traveled 159,023 miles, gone to all 50 states, and visited 14 countries over the course of 18 months. I also had such incredible experiences that I felt compelled to write about them. Like 501 Ways, The United States of Laughter was self-published but in a much more professional manner. It’s currently sold 2,220 copies and has a 4.7 rating on 54 reviews. It has led to 22 media appearances and, perhaps most importantly, gave me the opportunity to do a literal book launch.

Takeaway #14: There’s a cliche that asks, “If anyone wrote a book about your life, would anyone care to read it?” Why not do something worth writing a book about, and then write the book.

SEPTEMBER 29, 2017: I uploaded The Cliched Meaning of Life video.

The video is a stand-up bit that involves 100 cliches in 4 minutes exploring the meaning of life. I had spent years perfecting the performance but kept putting off uploading the video as I thought it had the chance to go viral (and maybe even get me on Ellen), and I was scared to find out if it would. The video currently sits at ~7,000 views and I have not appeared on Ellen.

Takeaway #15: Sometimes we hold off on sharing something with the world because the dream that it might work feels better than the confirmation that it won’t. But you can’t watch a video that’s never been uploaded, and holding on to a fantasy prevents you from building a new reality.

FEBRUARY 18, 2018: I delivered a talk at NSA Winter Conference on the Future of Content Creation.

The talk explores what the world of speaking may look like in the future and was well received. In addition to a standing ovation and a few speakers jokingly “bowing” to me, people afterwards told me they could see that talk being given at nearly every tech conference out there… I’ve only delivered the talk one more time, at another speaker event. However, it has prompted me to work on creating the creative assistant I imagine we’ll have in the future, which might be a product or service in the future.

Takeaway #16: Don’t let compliments or insults sway you too far one way or another. They can be helpful pieces of feedback, but they don’t guarantee success or failure. Only your attitude and commitment do.

JUNE 13, 2018: I streamlined my websites into two brands: Drew Tarvin and Humor That Works.

Drew Tarvin became a combination of Drew Tarvin (comedy / blogging), Andrew Tarvin (speaking, authoring), Slash Entrepreneur (entrepreneurship), and Create / Consume (time tracking). Humor That Works (humor at work training) absorbed Humor Engineer (humor work), Humor’s Office (funny office humor), Humor Awards (corporate humor awards), and Understanding Comedy (how to be funny). For those keeping score, that’s two successful sites out of nine that I started. Though none of the other sites really took off, I wouldn’t call them failures either because they helped me explored ideas and many of the posts still exists under the new brands.

Takeaway #17: You will fail more often than you succeed, but often you will only succeed because you’ve failed.

OCTOBER 25, 2018: I stepped down as co-owner of CSz New York.

CSz New York was the first group I did improv with when I moved to New York City. 10 years and over 350 shows later, I was co-owner of the organization and working to build its presence in the city. Eventually, Humor That Works grew big enough that I wasn’t able to commit time to running the organization or performing as frequently as I once did. The group remains one of the most supportive, hilarious, and joyous groups I’ve ever been a part of was one of the biggest things I had “give up” in order to build the business I wanted to.

Takeaway #18: Owning a business is not without sacrifice. Sometimes you have to stop doing the things you really like to do for the things you love to do.

FEBRUARY 1, 2019: The first Humor That Works workshop not delivered by me took place.

The facilitator-led workshop was a version of a communications workshop I had delivered 80 times for the Flatiron School over six years. But workshop #81 was delivered by Vandad, someone who I trained up to do the program. Since then, 22 Humor That Works programs, including one keynote, have been presented by people not named Drew Tarvin, allowing the message of humor to be spread even when I’m not available or already booked.

Takeaway #19: There’s only so much you can do alone. If you want to multiply your efforts, you’ll have to engage or partner with other people. As the adage goes, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

MARCH 8, 2019: I gave a presentation on my fifth continent in two months (and my sixth continent total).

After a few years of various conversations with IBM, I got booked with them to do three week-long events in three different countries (US, Spain, and Singapore) for the largest contract amount I had ever recorded (more than twice the amount of money I made my entire first year as a full-time speaker). Rather than just do those events and be done with it, I decided to seek out additional speaking opportunities in neighboring countries, adding a talk in Morocco and a workshop in Australia, giving me five continents in 47 days.

Takeaway #20: When you achieve success, find ways you can build on that momentum rather than rest on your laurels.

APRIL 1, 2019: My third book, Humor That Works, was published by hybrid-publisher Page Two.

humor that works books

The book was a culmination of everything I learned over 10 years regarding the what, why, and how of humor in the workplace. The book launched as a #1 new release and was featured in FastCompany, Thrive Global, and It was named a top gift for Father’s Day by Forbes and one of the best 49 business books for Empowered Professionals. In the first 3 months, it sold 941 copies, garnered a 4.8 rating on 29 reviews, and led to literal book launch version 2. To get all of that, all it took was over $30,000 in publishing and PR services… but it has led to increased credibility, workshop add-ons, and helped confirm a few booked engagements.

Takeaway #21: To get to the next level, you have to be willing to invest in yourself and your business. The payoff may not always be immediate, but it will come eventually (hopefully).


That brings us to today, July 1, 2019, when I wrote this post capturing some of my successes and failures over seven years of working for myself. Reviewing the past septet of years has served as a helpful reminder of the importance of continuing to create. Honestly, I hadn’t remembered all the things that I tried that didn’t go according to plan. By always having things I was working on, I could focus on what worked instead of dwelling on what didn’t.

A sincere thank you to all who have supported me these past seven years, and for the haters who have helped me grow and get stronger. Here’s to another seven (and hopefully more) years full of successes, failures, and everything in between.

Note: Keeping Your New Year’s Resolutions Using Quality Days is the second of a three part series on creating and sticking to your New Year’s Resolutions. Check out Part 1: Why People Fail New Year’s Resolutions, or check back soon for Part 3.

In the last post, we talked about five reasons people fail New Year’s Resolutions:

  1. They have an all or nothing mentality.
  2. They make too many resolutions.
  3. Their resolutions are not specific.
  4. They don’t track how they’re doing.
  5. They don’t make adjustments.

So how do you avoid these mistakes and keep your New Year’s resolutions? By establishing “Quality” and “Perfect” days.  First a little history…

photo by ba1969

A New Year of Resolutions

At the beginning of 2011 I decided there were five things I would ideally do every day, five daily habits I wanted to establish:

  1. Wake up without hitting snooze.
  2. Complete a task for Humor That Works.
  3. Do at least 20 minutes of physical activity.
  4. Eat at least 2 fruits and/or vegetables.
  5. Spend at least 30 minutes strategically disengaging.

In years past, I would have considered a day “successful” only if I had done all five habits that day (the all or nothing mentality). The problem is that the #1 habit on my list is the hardest habit I’ve ever tried to instill AND it happens first thing when I wake up.

If I had an all or nothing mentality and hit snooze once in the morning, the rest of my day would be toast. There would be no point in completing any of the other four because I couldn’t be “successful” no matter what I did.

But logically we can see that doesn’t make sense. Doing the other four things, or even one of them, would be better than none of them. So I developed a system that worked for me, one that involves five components.

photo by michelini

The Five Components of the Quality Day System

1. Quality and Perfect Days

Rather than try to strive for perfection every single day, my goal was to shoot for achieving a majority of my daily goals: 3 out of 5. If I completed any 3 out of the 5 habits, I considered it a “Quality Day.” If I completed all 5, I considered it a “Perfect Day.”

The mentality behind this system is that even if I hit snooze in the morning, I still had something to shoot for: a Quality Day. Sure it’s not perfect, but it is significantly better than accomplishing 0 out of 5, or even 3 out of 5 and feeling bad about myself. I changed my mindset to say I don’t need to be perfect, I just want to be “Quality.”

2. Five (and Only Five) Habits

While there are a number of other things I’d love to do every day (play guitar, stretch, and hundreds of other things), I knew that if I tried to do too many of them, I’d likely end up doing none of them. Tracking them would be a pain and there would be no way I could consistently complete 10+ goals every day.

Instead, I decided to be selective and choose the five goals most important to me. Why five? First, it’s a small enough number to easily remember (I can count them on one hand, and yes this was taken into consideration). Second it was a large enough number to challenge me and diverse enough to cover the important facets of my life (business, health, personal).

Finally it gave me variety. Some days you just don’t feel like exercising. On those days, I had four other things to choose from to still get a quality day.

3. Binary Habits

The only criteria I had for creating or specifying my goals was that they had to be binary–I wanted to be able to say at the end of the day, without any thinking, either “yes” or “no” I completed each habit.

This forced me to make specific, yet simple goals. Rather than just say “do physical activity” I specified that it was “20 minutes of physical activity.” That way I didn’t waste time trying to decide if whatever I did was “enough” physical activity to count. Was it at least 20 minutes of physical activity? Yes or no.

Similarly I specified that it was at least 2 fruits and/or vegetables a day, but I didn’t count how many I ate. Sure there were days I had 4, 8, 12 servings of fruits and vegetables, but I didn’t want to add the cumbersome process of tracking how many I actually I had. At the end of the day I just ask, did I have at least 2, yes or no.

4. Daily Tracking

By using binary goals, it was easy to track my progress for each day. At first I started tracking on a paper calendar in my office. I created an icon for each habit and would mark that icon for each day I completed it. Half-way through the year I switched to using Excel (this allowed me to calculate the number of Quality/Perfect days more easily). Now I’m using to now track my daily progress (more on 42goals in the next post).

The point was I wanted a system that would allow me to quickly and easily track my progress for a day. For the most part, I tried to track my status at the end of each day (when it was fresh on my mind), but I’d be lying if I said I did it every day. There were many a-time where I had to go back and add how I did for the last 6 or 7 days (another advantage of only having five to track was actually being able to remember what I completed).

5. Weekly / Monthly Reviews

The last part of the system was to review my current progress during my weekly and monthly reviews (I take 20-minutes every Sunday night to review the week / take a peak at what’s to come the following week; I take about 40-minutes to review my progress on the first day of every month).

By tallying up the totals and reviewing them by habit, I could see which habits were consistent and which ones were tougher to complete. As a result, I could make adjustments.

During one particularly bad stretch of hitting snooze, I decided to make sure I was going to bed earlier just to try to get back on track (more intentional focus on that habit). It meant missing out on physical activity on one or two nights, but I wanted to make sure I gave dedicated attention to snooze so I could re-establish my no-snooze ways. And since I was shooting for “Quality Days” it was OK for me to miss some physical activity in lieu of more sleep.

photo by Egahen

The Success of 2011

So has it worked? Considering I’m writing an elaborate article on what I did, you probably already assumed that it did, and you’d be correct.

My goal at the beginning of the year was 250 Quality Days. Notice that it wasn’t 365. Again, I didn’t want to miss one day and then never come back to it because I couldn’t achieve my goal.

Why 250? Because that’s the assumed number of “work days” in a year (if you assume 5-day work weeks and 2-weeks of vacation, you get 5 days a week X 50 weeks = 250 days). That would give me license to take off the weekends if I wanted to.

Also I didn’t set any goals for Perfect Days. I didn’t want to put undue pressure on achieving perfection, I merely wanted to track it for analytic purposes (what was my hardest habit, easiest, etc). It’s nice to know but it isn’t my goal.

So, with a goal of 250, how have I done this year? Not counting today, there have been 348 total days in 2011 so far. Of those 348, I’ve had 345 Quality Days (99%) and 175 Perfect Days (50%). The three days I missed were days I was sick and couldn’t have cared less about completing three of five goals.

But this hasn’t just worked for me. I’ve shared this idea with some friends and family and they too are finding success. Not everyone is accomplishing everything they want, but they’re all making progress towards their goals and they’ve all said it’s been a helpful process.

Why It Works

Is this process guaranteed to work everyone? No. This might be too simple for some people, or too complex for others. But for me and the people I’ve shared it with, it seems to work. And for good reason too.

First, it helps to re-frame the definition of success from “perfect” to “quality.” Sure perfect is great to achieve, but quality is pretty darn good too. Second, it forces you to choose your top priorities and limit yourself to a manageable number of daily goals. Third, it ensures you have specific goals that are easily measured, and fourth it creates an easy way to actually do the measuring. And finally, it allows you to see where you need to make adjustments, and gives you the flexibility to change your priorities based on your needs.

If you’re ready to give the Quality Day System a try in 2012, be sure to check our next post on How to Set Up Your Quality Day System.

The title for this category in Personal Development Week is an interesting one, because I’m sure many of you were wondering, “What do you mean by success?” The irony is that in order to be successful, you have to answer that exact question for yourself.

Everybody’s definition of success is going to be different – one person’s success may be another person’s failure.  In order for you to achieve success in your life, you have to know what it is you’re shooting for (hmm, sounds kind of like what I talked about with regard to goals and discipline yesterday…).

The Difference Between Goals and Success

However, unlike our goals from yesterday, it’s more acceptable to describe success in less defined terms (so long as you have goals that get you to where you want to be), because success is much more “spiritual” (not in the sense of religion, but more along the lines of your purpose or meaning in life).

To some people, success is raising a family and seeing their children grow up to become successful in their own right.   To others, it’s to achieve fame and fortune in the public eye.  Regardless of what it is, it has to be true for you – someone else can’t tell you what success is, it’s up for you to decide.

It’s amazing how seemingly simple concepts can be extrapolated into momentous declarations, but that’s exactly what defining success is.  When you are on your deathbed, recounting your life, and determining if you were in fact successful, it’s going to ultimately come down to comparing what you wanted to do with/in your life, and what you actually did.

Life as a Gift

I don’t want to get to involved in the “meaning of life” discussion because it often leads to religions arguments from ignorant people who are too naive to step outside of their sheltered world created for them by their parents, BUT, I will say Steve Pavlina made an interesting observation in one of his podcasts that asking “What is the meaning of life?”, as in what is life supposed to offer me, is the wrong approach.  Rather, ask, “What do I have to offer life?” (think “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”)

When you start to think about life as a gift, you start to shift your mentality.  “What is the meaning of life?” is passive, it’s saying, “Someone tell me this, what is life giving me?”  When you ask what you have to offer your life, you are being active, you are being the force of change – which brings me to my final, and possibly most important point.

Success Means Starting

You can’t achieve success in life without initiative.  Success comes to those who are willing to go out and take it.  The over-infatuation of all things Hollywood has given people the perception that they don’t have to work for something, that they will be “discovered.”

What people don’t realize is how much work goes into becoming an overnight success.  You have to be willing to put up with the sweat and tears to achieve what it is you’ve defined as success.  If you want to become a stand-up comedian, then go out there and get on stage as often as possible, network with everyone you can, put in the hours it takes to hone your craft.

If you want to be a stay-at-home Mom, work hard to find a job that will allow to take a sabbatical from work, or find a way to help your husband advance his career to a point that he can support the entire family.

What do you mean by success?

If you truly take the time to answer that question, take the initiative to go out and work towards that definition, set goals and follow them through with discipline, you will be successful – no matter what it is you wish to achieve.

When it came down to choosing the first topic to talk about in Personal Development Week, discipline was an easy choice. Without the discipline to follow through with anything, you’ll have a difficult time achieving any of the other categories.

The biggest misconception about discipline is that if you don’t have it, than you don’t have it. Discipline is a skill, and just like any other skill, it can be learned over time.

The Importance of Goals

Before I get ahead of myself, it should be understood that discipline goes hand-in-hand with goal-setting. If you don’t set any goals, then it’s pretty easy to have the discipline to follow them. Setting goals is absolutely critical to achieving success in life. Sure you might fall into some success by wandering aimlessly, but good luck sustaining that throughout your entire life.

The problem is that, many times, people set the wrong type of goals – “I want to lose weight” is fine and dandy, except it’s not well defined. How much weight do you want to lose? An ounce? 100 pounds? How much time will you give yourself? 10 seconds? 10 years? A good goal is quantifiable AND has a deadline. “I want to lose 10 pounds by the end of August.” Now you have something you can work towards, and something that you can measure success against.

Achieving Goals Through Discipline

Ok, so now that we understand a little bit more about goals, discipline is about achieving them. Just how it’s easy to have discipline if you have no goals, it’s pretty easy to have goals but no discipline. You create a to-do list for yourself, or make a New Year’s Resolution (“Yay I started something”) but then you never follow through and achieve it (“Well at least I ‘tried’ right?”).

The problem with mentality is that re-inforces failure. Failure itself is not a negative, in fact failing can often be the greatest teachers of all – the key is that you have to learn something from them, and then it’s not really failure, it’s experience.

So if your goal is to wake up at 6am every day for a month, then discipline is ignoring the extreme desire to hit the snooze button when the alarm clock rings. It’s getting up despite your brain and body telling you otherwise. It’s not skimping on the weekends because you were up late the night before. It’s waking up at 6am, day in, day out, for that entire month.

But what if you don’t have discipline? What if you can’t force yourself to wake up at 6am, or to eat healthy to lose 10 pounds, or save money for retirement? Well there are often two main problems that are preventing your success: the goal itself and reward/punishment.

Setting Goals

When you are setting your goals, they have to be attainable. And that may be the hardest part, because it requires you to be completely honest with yourself.

While it might be great to think that your going to de-clutter your entire life in an afternoon, be honest with yourself – will it really happen? Have you achieved success that way before? Probably not.

Humans only have a certain capacity for which they can do the same activity before they must take a break (and some can go longer than others, but everyone has to eventually stop). That’s why your goals must be actionable and ideally broken down into sub-goals.

If your overall goal is to de-clutter your life, create smaller sub-goals or tasks that can help you achieve that. Start by throwing away something you don’t need away, every day. Just one thing. You don’t have to go through your entire closet, or finish an entire room – just throw one thing away today, and then another tomorrow, and then another the day after, etc. By the end of the year you’ll have removed 365 things from your life by taking just a couple minutes out of each day.

A goal broken into tasks like that is attainable, it’s easier to have that type of discipline. Once you start to achieve success with those smaller goals, create more involved ones. Over time you’ll create the habit of achieving your goal, and you’ll want to continue that streak, even though your goals are more stretching.

Rewards and Punishment

One of the keys to building that habit is to have rewards for when you succeed, and punishment when you fail. This can be easy to do when your goal deals with a third party (there’s a reason so many people learn discipline in the military: you have someone there you will not let you fail, and if you do, you will be punished till you succeed).

But for more intrinsic goals, you don’t always have someone there, to be in your ear about just having that one piece of cake that falls outside your diet, or those mere 15 minutes you slept in today – you have to be your own punisher. You have to accept that if you sleep in now, you won’t be getting that SleepComfort bed at the end of the year.

The other important part to this is that you should reward yourself. Just like dogs/kids/co-workers learn via a reward/punishment system, so do you. So if you drop those 3 pounds in the first week, reward yourself with something (not food, as that would be contradictory, but maybe a trip to the spa, or purchase of a new DVD).

Creating Accountability

Many of you may be wondering though, what if you don’t have the discipline to discipline yourself for lack of discipline? (Great question, you’re really paying attention.) That’s where your friends and family can help, as can remembering to always start small.

Friends and family can help by simply letting them know what it is you are trying to achieve. Hell, this blog is great for that. Once I state I’m going to do something on here, I feel like I have to, otherwise, in a way, I’m letting people down, and worse, somebody could call me out on my failures.

Too embarrassed to tell your close ones about a certain goal? Join a group that has a similar interest and make it public to them, or try a site like where you can post what it is you want to try to do and you can find others trying to achieve the same thing.

The other part is so important that it bears repeating yet again: start small. Remember: discipline is learned, and once it becomes learned, it becomes a habit, and once it’s a habit, it’s a sure-fire way to success in all other aspects of life.

A Process to Build Discipline

If you really have trouble with discipline, try this:

  1. Set the goal that every day for a week, you are simply going to clap 5 times. That’s it: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Done.
  2. For each day you achieve this goal, reward yourself with something small (bubblegum from the store, and extra 2 minutes in the shower, whatever, just some type of reward, something small).
  3. The next week, set the goal to do 10 jumping jacks every day.
  4. Again reward yourself for the days that you make, and this time punish yourself for the days that you miss (each day missed = 10 situps the next day).
  5. For the third week, write out the word “discipline” 15 times.
  6. Repeat the reward/punishment for each day of success/failure.
  7. Now for the final week, simply say “I will succeed” (or any other cheesy phrase you want), 20 times a day.
  8. Reward yourself for the successes, punish for the failures.

By the time you are done, it will have been 28 days – coincidentally the number of days (it is believed) to establish a habit. If you succeeded every day for 28 days, you’ve just learned the habit of success.

Now take that, and apply it to something slightly bigger, but still a relatively easy goal. Over time you will be able to keep increasing the stakes of your goals, while achieving success.

So now that we’ve learned some of basics of goals and discipline, tomorrow we’ll talk about achieving success. The two topics are closely intertwined, but tomorrow, we’ll get more into the definition of success as well as talk more about the grand scheme of life.