You may think that developing self-discipline is about making up for limitations so that you can manage their impact more effectively. Perhaps just the thought of ‘self-discipline’ fills you with the thought of being ‘boxed in’ and ‘rigid’. These thoughts have probably been reinforced by previous attempts at changing unhelpful habits and confusing self-discipline with willpower. Willpower is about controlling thoughts and behaviour. Self-discipline is about progress and can be very empowering. Subtle, yet very different approaches.
Think back to when you managed to make a change in behaviour that was successful, how did you feel? When you overcame obstacles in your path, accomplished something, that sense of achievement leads you to believe you can do more. It can be motivating and make you feel like you can do anything.
Being able to exercise self-discipline teaches you to trust yourself and helps you to develop self-efficacy which nobody can take away from you. Without self-discipline it is hard to accomplish goals, let alone stretch goals, which may leave you feeling like you're useless. People with low self-discipline tend to put themselves down more and in general have a more negative outlook on life. People low in self-discipline tend to be considered unreliable by others.
Successful people do not get there just because of luck. They set goals, plan how to achieve them, and then develop the discipline of consistent action towards those goals to accomplish them. Their success is a reflection of their choices. Not everything goes according to plan, they do have obstacles, they may even modify the goals or go in a different direction based on working on the original plans. Their commitment to consistent action is what helps them to work through the unexpected events as they arise.
If you want to succeed in any area of life, you need self-discipline. You may want to get rid of unhealthy habits like excessive drinking, smoking, or sugar addiction. You may want to form good habits such as exercising, reducing clutter, reading more books and watching less television, or saving money. You can accomplish each of these habit changes if you are clear as to why you want to make the change and you're willing to exercise consistent action towards their achievement. To give your goals a greater chance of consistent action, group related goals together.
The biggest obstacle to discipline is not lack of willpower, but procrastination and a desire for instant gratification. Procrastination usually occurs when we are afraid of not getting it ‘right’. So, recognize when you start out working towards the goals you have set yourself it won’t be ‘perfect’. It may even be very in-elegant. You may also change the goal as you progress. However, you have to start somewhere and receive feedback, in order to move the goal forward.
“We need to accept that we won’t always make the right decisions, that we’ll screw up royally sometimes -- understanding that failure is not the opposite of success, it’s part of success.” Arianna Huffington
Instant gratification seems to feature heavily in our modern society. Since we have adopted smartphones, everything seems to be focused on having things done immediately or quickly. As a result, goals that take time to achieve often come to nothing and get forgotten. It is important to maintain interest in the goal across the life if it. To keep the goal alive, you could regularly visualize the end result, to maintain focus and interest in the goal. Angela Duckworth, in her studies on perseverance and grit, found “the achievement of difficult goals entails not only talent but also a sustained and focused application of talent over time,” or what we would call self-discipline.
To build your self-discipline muscles, start small. Break down goals into smaller chunks so you can set yourself up for success. Learn from the process and be willing to make changes if you need to. And most importantly, start!
People who demonstrate regular self-discipline are more resilient, happier and less anxious about what the future might hold for them.
“A resilient person has a belief in her own abilities to manage life’s challenges and situations effectively.” Psychology Today
Four years ago, I had an experience which led me to start intentionally focusing on my health. After many years of dabbling, I decided I would go ‘all in’. I joined a gym and as a part of my initial membership I was assigned a personal trainer. I only intended to attend classes once my free personal training sessions were over. Initially it felt like punishment but I stuck with it and I told myself this was one of the ways I took care of myself. Over time I learnt that I don’t work out as fully as when I have a personal trainer. As a result, I stopped paying for classes and only worked out with a personal trainer. I now know I have to work out in the morning so that nothing can get in the way of my exercise. Unless I am sick, I turn up no matter how I’m feeling. My personal trainer and I have been working out together for four years and I value every session we have.
My goal initially was to get in shape, it then morphed into being healthy and now it is a key part of my wellbeing activities. I have the most productive 4hrs after a workout and I miss it when I have to skip a session. Who could have predicted that? Sometimes we’ve just got to focus on the end-goal and the rest will follow.