Many equate self-discipline with living a good, moral life, which ends up creating a lot of shame when we fail. There’s a better way to build lasting, solid self-discipline in your life.
It may be hard to believe when you’re facing a hot-fudge sundae or the prospect of sleeping in versus hitting the gym, but studies show that people with self-discipline are happier.
People with a higher degree of self-control spend less time debating whether to indulge in behaviors that are detrimental to their health, and are able to make positive decisions more easily. They don’t let impulses or feelings dictate their choices. Instead, they make level-headed decisions. As a result, they tend to feel more satisfied with their lives.
There are things you can do to learn self-discipline and gain the willpower to live a happier life. If you are looking to take control of your habits and choices, here are the 5 most powerful things you can do to master self-discipline.
1. Remove temptations.
Self-control is often easiest when abiding by the old saying, “out of sight, out of mind.” Removing all temptations and distractions from your environment is a crucial first step when working to improve your self-discipline. If you are trying to have better control of your eating, toss the junk food. Ask your office intern to leave you off of the daily lunch order email. If you want to improve your focus while working, turn off your cell phone and remove the clutter from your desk. If you’re really having trouble, download the SelfControl app on your computer to block distraction websites – Facebook, Youtube, even e-mail – for a set period of time. Set yourself up for success by ditching the bad influences.
2. Eat regularly and healthily.
Studies have shown that low blood sugar often weakens a person’s resolve. When you’re hungry, your ability to concentrate suffers as your brain is not functioning to its highest potential. Hunger makes it difficult to focus on the tasks at hand, not to mention making you grumpy and pessimistic. You are much more likely to have a weakened sense of self-control in all areas of our life – diet, exercise, work, relationships… you name it. In order to stay on track, make sure that you are well-fueled throughout the day with healthy snacks and meals every few hours. I personally make sure to always have some almonds or Muscle Milk on hand. These snacks ensure that I can get a dose of healthy protein and fats throughout the day when needed. Eating often regulates your blood sugar levels and improves your decision-making skills and concentration. Allow your brain to focus on your goals and priorities instead of on your growling stomach.
3. Don’t wait for it to “feel right.”
Improving your self-discipline means changing up your normal routine, which can be uncomfortable and awkward. Charles Duhigg, the author of The Power of Habit, explains that habit behaviors are traced to a part of the brain called the basal ganglia – a portion of the brain associated with emotions, patterns, and memories. Decisions, on the other hand, are made in the prefrontal cortex, a completely different area. When a behavior becomes a habit, we stop using our decision-making skills and instead function on auto-pilot. Therefore, breaking a bad habit and building a new habit not only requires us to make active decisions, but it will also feel wrong. Your brain will resist the change in favor of what it has been programmed to do. The solution? Embrace the wrong. Acknowledge that it will take a while for your new regime to feel right or good or natural. Keep chugging along. It will happen.
4. Schedule breaks, treats, and rewards for yourself.
Self-discipline does not mean your new regimen needs to be entirely cold turkey, hardcore, or drill sergeant-like in execution. In fact, giving yourself zero wiggle room often results in failures, disappointments, and giving in to your old ways. While practicing self-control, schedule specific breaks, treats, and rewards for yourself. Dieting? Designate Saturday as ice cream sundae day. Trying to lose weight? Treat yourself with a fancy massage after a month of gym trips. Working on controlling your spending? Allow yourself a $25 splurge at the mall on Sunday. (Leave the credit cards at home, and bring cash only). Self-discipline can be hard. Reward your effort.
5. Forgive yourself and move forward.
Instituting a new way of thinking won’t always go according to plan. You will have ups and downs, fabulous successes, and flat out failures. The key is to keep moving forward. When you have a setback, acknowledge what caused it and move on. It is easy to get wrapped up in guilt, anger, or frustration, but these emotions will not help build improve self-discipline. Instead, use the hiccups in your plan as learning experiences for the future. Forgive yourself, and get back in the saddle ASAP. The longer you’re off your game, the harder it is to keep going in a positive direction.
By Jennifer Cohen