Living a life that is governed by self-discipline is something that can reap many rewards. Although there is nothing easy about it, incorporating self-discipline into your daily mode of functioning is well worth the effort. In order to attain true freedom, discipline is something that must first be controlled and ultimately mastered. There is no shortcut!
Simply put, self-discipline is your ability to do something that you know would benefit you in a positive way, regardless of whether or not you feel like doing it.
Our culture is all about instant gratification and the concept of developing self-discipline can sometimes seem foreign to us or perceived as something that is meant for Buddhist monks meditating in the Himalayas. However, it is vitally important to develop a healthy dose of self-discipline if we are aiming to make progress in life.
It is very easy to imagine ourselves fulfilling a difficult task, but when it comes to the crunch and we are face to face with the task at hand, it is an entirely different story altogether. It becomes much easier to stay on the couch, skip the gym, eat that bag of chips, and put off that super important task until tomorrow. These tiny decisions create the illusion that we are in control when really we are just giving in to our lazy pleasures.
Many students can attest to this when exam time rolls around. Despite their best intentions to put in long hours studiously revising coursework, most of them inevitably slack off and end up cramming the night before the exam. They always vow never to do the same thing the next semester, but if they haven’t done anything in terms of making changes to their self-discipline, they’ll do it again. Sound familiar?
So, how does one go about developing self-discipline without going overboard?
It all begins with a conscious decision to take action. A good start is to simply say to yourself, “I’m going to take action!”.
- Start now: Whatever it is that you might be waiting for in order to get started will never come. Motivation is something that we tend to wait for, but there is nothing more motivating than taking action and getting something done. Our brains love it when we beat resistance. There is a neuro-chemical release of dopamine when we finally make that tough phone call or even muster up the energy to do some household cleaning. This is where we gain momentum and feel inspired to make stuff happen.
- Get specific: What exactly are you going to do? Making goals for yourself is a natural second step and writing down your intentions will make it more concrete. Break the goals down as much as you can. For example, if you want to lose 20 pounds, you obviously won’t be able to do this in one sitting, so break it down into weekly “bite-sized chunks” which will take the form of achievable goals. Don’t do something crazy like expect yourself to lose too much weight per week as you will only get too discouraged and give up. Set realistic goals.
- Make yourself accountable: Apply positive pressure on yourself by taking responsibility for your actions. If you are able to make yourself accountable to someone, great! Your accountability partner should be someone you can trust, someone who knows you quite well and someone you know will encourage you to achieve your self-discipline goals. If your accountability partner is also on the same journey as you, you could encourage each other as you achieve your goals together.
- Repetition matters: Doing without thinking is referred to in the field of neuro-psychology as automaticity. Being able to do something automatically without resistance is considered a hard-wired habit. These are the things we eat, do, think, say, and consume. Although some habits that we wish to attain – such as quitting smoking, or waking up early – do not come as easily as some would hope; it is still very possible to develop any desired habit into the state of automaticity. Repetition and discipline in the beginning stage of forming a new habit is the key.
It is hard to distinguish a certain time frame, but based on several studies, a new habit will be difficult for the first 16 days. After approximately 3 weeks of daily repetition (waking up at 6 am and exercising for example) the new habit will begin to come easier.
After 21 to 30 days the habit will begin the process of being programmed into the neural pathways of the brain and start to seem automatic and a lot less straining. Forming a new habit into a maximum state of automaticity was found to be approximately 66 days.
- Don’t stop: If you fail at any point along the way, don’t be too hard on yourself. After all, we are all only human and this is a tough game we are playing. As long as you can learn from the mistake you made, you will be fine. The only time you should become concerned is when you are making the same mistake over and over again: but even then, recognize it, stop it in its tracks and move on. The main point is that you are moving forward and not backward.
The process of developing self-discipline is a journey and not a sudden influx. If you keep a journal and track your progress, you will be pleasantly surprised to see how far you have come over the weeks, months, and years. Decide what type of actions you can take in order to achieve the life that you want to live.
By cultivating an attitude of self-discipline, it becomes possible to create your reality and reach closer to your ideal life. It may not always be an easy journey, but if it was easy everyone would be doing it. You can trust me when I say it is well worth the effort in the long run!