There are many things that contribute to a person’s success, achievements, and happiness. But there is one constant that brings consistent, sustainable, and long-term success in all aspects of life. That is self-discipline. It does not matter what you are trying to accomplish.
Whether you are trying to lose weight, get a promotion, maintain a relationship, self-discipline is the key to success.
According to a 2013 study by Wilhelm Hoffman, those with high self-control are generally happier than those who do not. This is because self-discipline allows us to deal with goal conflicts, which is the conflict between instant gratification or long-term success. Here’s an example.
Suppose that you are given two options. You can either get a brand new car now or wait 5 years and get the same car and a spacious apartment for yourself. This seems like a no-brainer. Of course, the second option is better, but quite a lot of people would rather get the car now than wait five years.
Such behaviors are seen in children in an experiment in which they can either get a piece of marshmallow or wait 15 minutes and get two. Our tendency toward instant gratification can inhibit our success in life. How does self-discipline play into this?
You see, our entire lives are nothing but transactions. The only wealth that everyone is born with is time and it is a limited commodity that we give away every second.
We have two main options on how we want to spend this finite resource. We can either spend a little bit and get short-term and often meaningless happiness now or we hold off and trade-in for long-term success and happiness. In this day and age, it is hard to resist the temptation of instant gratification and so many people tend to choose the first option.
Self-discipline comes into play here as it tells us what is really important. Think of it as a compass to help guide our decisions.
Those who have a high degree of self-discipline are not immune to temptation. They still want that chocolate cake, but they do a better job of suppressing the temptation. Self-discipline keeps emotions and impulses at bay. As a result, you are able to make informed and rational decisions.
You may think that self-discipline is something that someone is born with. After all, how can someone keep their life together whereas everybody else is a mess? In reality, self-discipline is a learned behavior. It is difficult to develop, which explains why not many people do this, but it is crucial if you want to achieve success consistently.
As with anything worthwhile, it takes a lot of time and effort to develop self-discipline. It requires practice and repetition, though the tips I am about to tell you are very simple. Again, it won’t be easy. Doing it one time is super easy, but the challenge lies with sticking to it.
You will be able to break bad habits, establish good ones, and improve your control over your life.
Consider Incorporating The Following Into Your Daily Life:
Know your weaknesses
First of all, know what your weaknesses are. Everyone has one. Some people only manage to wrestle control from their temptations/weaknesses because they acknowledge their flaws. It starts from there. Only when you know what you are up against and what obstacles there are in your way can you start to make positive changes.
This should not be too difficult to identify as they are often found when you make mistakes.
So, take some time during the weekend to look at all your mistakes and decide what makes you think that way and decide whether it is impulsive or an error of judgment. If you’re trying to remain focused and productive, but cannot, then your weakness maybe Facebook or other addictive apps.
Whatever your weaknesses are, acknowledge them.
Many people pretend that they have no weaknesses and try to cover them up, but this never works. They always surface. Instead, own up to your flaws because only then can you start to make changes.
The first step in taking control of your impulsive habits is by addressing the root of the problem. In this case, think of what you are struggling with and see if you can find a pattern that led you up to make that bad decision. For example, if you’re trying to have better control of your eating, then ask yourself what caused this. Perhaps you have junk food lying around in the house. So, just throw it all away.
Self-control becomes easier when you remove the temptation, as the old saying goes “Out of sight, out of mind”. This has two benefits.
One, you physically remove the temptation so you won’t feel as tempted in the future. Two, you add another layer of friction. Since the brain favors the path of least resistance, the idea here is to make it as hard as possible for you to follow through with your impulsive decisions.
In our example, that means if you want to eat junk food, you will have to go out and buy some, which may be too inconvenient enough to dissuade you from doing so. If you want to stay productive and not get distracted by social media, consider downloading apps that block certain apps for a while to let you focus.
Eat regularly and healthy
Did you know that low blood sugar lowers your resolve? You see, when you are hungry, you won’t be able to concentrate and you will be in a bad mood and tend to make rash decisions. This is one of the reasons why depression is so dangerous. When you feel bad, you tend to overeat to cope, which makes you feel worse, which causes you to eat more, and you feel worse… You get the idea. It’s a vicious cycle.
In order to stay on track, you want to make sure that you eat well. It takes a bit more effort to acquire healthy snacks and meals, but it’s worth it when you end up having a clearer mind. In doing so, you allow your brain to focus on the task at hand instead of your stomach.
Some people want to wait for the right moment to do something. That may sound smart until you give it more thought. I believe this is a very dangerous form of procrastination. In reality, the stars almost never align.
There will always be something that misaligns with our expectations and waiting for it all to come together is a fool’s errand.
When it comes to making positive changes, there is no better time to do it than now.
Of course, it will feel uncomfortable and awkward because it is something that you haven’t done before.
Charles Duhigg, the author of The Power of Habit, explains it best. He said that behaviors that result from habits come from a part of the brain called the basal ganglia, which is associated with memories, patterns, and emotions.
On the other hand, the prefrontal cortex, a different part of the brain, is the one that is responsible for decision and willpower. So when we try to incorporate a new, healthy habit into our lives, we are controlling the prefrontal cortex, but creates a conflict with the basal ganglia. You are basically working against a part of your brain and this will feel wrong.
The brain loves consistency and will do its best to resist. The solution is to simply practice consistency yourself, therefore convincing your brain that this is the new consistency that you want.
Breaking an old habit is hard, and learning a healthy one is even harder. But when a positive behavior becomes a habit, you no longer need to make a conscious effort. You function on auto-pilot and make the right decisions without realizing it. So, do not wait, start right now, and accept the fact that it will feel weird.
Accept that it will take a long time for your new healthy habits to feel natural. Just keep pushing.
You should have a clear goal in life of what you want to achieve and fully understand what success means to you. After all, if you don’t know where you are going or if you don’t understand why you want to achieve your goal in the first place, it is easy to become distracted. That is why all goals should be compelling enough.
If it is a big goal, set up smaller milestones to help track your progress. For example, if you want to pay off all your debts in 5 years, then your milestone could be to pay off 20% of your debts every year. As for the compelling goal, it is entirely personal as what motivates us varies from person to person.
To help you stay focused, write down your goals and milestones, as well as create a mantra.
The idea is to remind yourself of the bigger picture. When you have a clear idea of where you want to go and the goal itself motivates you, it is easier to remain disciplined and stay on track. Your motivation to achieve your goal overpowers the temptation of instant gratification.
Keep it simple
When you want to ditch old habits, you want to make it as difficult as possible to revert to your old ways. Conversely, when you want to reinforce a new and healthier habit, you want to make it as easy as possible to do those things. One way to do it is by starting slow and keeping things simple. Again, the challenge is consistency, not the difficulty in performing the habit itself.
Look at the goals you’ve set and see if you can break them down into simple actionable steps.
For example, if you want to lose weight, you can start by working out only 10 or 15 minutes a day. It should be too easy, but the idea is to get your body accustomed to change. You are likely to be more successful if you only do 15 minutes of exercise every day as opposed to doing 30 to 60 minutes of exercise every other day. The key is consistency.
Discipline is the art of balance between pain and pleasure. Being disciplined does not mean putting yourself through torture.
What do you think when you hear the word “discipline”? The first thing that may come to mind is probably a drill sergeant yelling at you nonstop and telling you how worthless you are just to push yourself beyond your limits. In reality, it’s not that hardcore. It’s healthier than that. It’s about using the pleasure to motivate you to be disciplined.
It’s about properly rewarding yourself for your effort.
If you leave yourself no breathing room and go all in, you will fail, become disappointed, and revert to your old ways. Self-discipline is about specifying what and when you should do something, and that includes taking breaks, treating yourself, or rewarding yourself.
For instance, if you are dieting, then have ice-cream sundae every Sunday (within reasons). If you are trying to lose weight, consider treating yourself with a fancy massage after every month you’ve been to the gym. If you are trying to control your spending, give yourself $50 to splurge once every two weeks or so. In this case, you want to leave credit cards at home just in case you go overboard.
The idea is to reward yourself for your efforts.
Have a backup plan
When you plan, you plan for what could happen, not what should happen.
When you make plans on how you want to achieve your goals, expect to meet obstacles along the way. Figure out what obstacles you could potentially face in the future and create plans on how you can overcome them. For example, if you are trying to lose weight, one potential obstacle is your friend’s birthday party, so your backup plan could be to eat some healthy snacks at home before going to the party to limit the amount you will eat at the party.
Cut yourself some slacks
Finally, understand Murphy’s Law: Something that can go wrong will go wrong. There will be times when you will fail in a spectacular fashion.
There will be ups and downs.
What matters is not so much about whether you are going up and down, but rather the fact that you keep going. When you stumble, find out what caused it and move on. Never get caught up in emotions because they will not help you improve self-discipline. Learn from your mistakes so you won’t repeat it in the future.
Keep the momentum going, rest if you must, but never quit.
In short, discipline isn’t about working against your own mind. It is about understanding how your mind and body function and giving yourself enough break without going overboard. It is a balancing game and it takes repetition. What you’ve read so far should help you create a system that can help you stay focused on the things that matter while still giving you enough time to kick back and relax.