What Is Self Discipline?
It starts with the ability to control your behavior. This
means motivating yourself to do the things you need to do, and
stopping yourself from doing things that are bad for you. "Ability
to control" is just the start, though. Real discipline is
when you have trained your mind in such way that you consistently
get the behavior you want.
Self discipline may appear to be a problem of willpower. "Willpower,"
however, has connotations of just pushing ourselves harder to
do things, even when we feel miserable, or fighting temptations.
This is a good recipe for stress and disappointment, but there
are better ways to a disciplined life.
If you have ever stayed up all night talking about something
interesting, you know what power the mind has over the body.
Even sleep can be put off when we are motivated by a passionate
discussion. How much willpower does it require for you to keep
doing something when you are enjoying it? This gives us a key
to self discipline.
Find ways to enjoy what you are doing and to be energized.
Willpower goes up and down with energy levels, so play energetic
music, move around, laugh, and look for the interesting parts
of whatever project you are working on. When you find your best
energy boosters and motivators, make a list, and train your brain
to use them whenever you need discipline.
Another discipline trick is to make things easier on yourself.
Suppose you feel stressed when you think about doing your tax
return, for example. It can be overwhelming to think about doing
all that work, so don't think about it! Lay out the forms where
you can work on them later. Then later do just one form, and
later, another. Whatever the task, you can find enough motivation
for some small step. Train your mind to take that step as soon
as you think of it, and the next steps become easier.
1. Notice the rewards of self discipline. The more you see
the benefits, the more you'll be motivated to continue the useful
2. Ask for help. If you can't stop whining, for example, have
friends point out when you're doing it.
3. Reward yourself. Set behavioral goals and reward yourself
for their completion. A writer, for example, could decide to
write 20 pages per day, and reward himself when he reaches this
4. Imagine the consequences of your useful and damaging behaviors.
When you are tempted towards damaging behavior, see all the possible
results, and be vivid in your imaginings. Give yourself a good
scare, if you have to. When you are trying to get to work, see
all the future rewards that are possible.
5. Relax. Willpower is low when you're stressed, so close
your eyes and take three deep breaths.
6. Note the causes of your temptations, and deal with them.
Boredom can lead to all sorts of stupid ways to find "excitement,"
for example. Quickly getting involved in something productive
and interesting can make temptations disappear. Look for underlying
causes, and change what you can change.
Self Discipline Through Self Awareness
Suppose that doughnut calls to you. Sometimes it's hard to
resist temptation, right? Willpower is a nice idea, but a simpler
solution is to stop standing in front of the doughnut! This is
an easy lesson to understand. You just have to train yourself
to apply it habitually. Don't go alone to the bar if you want
a faithful marriage. Don't keep vodka in the house if you don't
want to drink it. Keep away from people that lead you to trouble.
Disciplining yourself doesn't mean being immune to temptation.
You can develop the willpower to say no, but why not also have
the wisdom to avoid temptation? Learn where your resistance is
low, and don't put yourself in those situations. Doesn't this
make more sense than fighting useless battles with yourself?
You can develop more willpower, but "strengthening"
willpower by fighting your feelings is a losing battle. It's
more effective to learn how your mind works, and use what you
learn. What motivates you and how can you use that? What are
your strengths and weaknesses? Learn what you can, and use what
you learn to make it easier to do what you need to do. This is
a better path to discipline.