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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.

Easy Steps

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.

More Tips

1. Notice the rewards of self discipline. The more you see the benefits, the more you'll be motivated to continue the useful behaviors.

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 goal.

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.


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Relevant Pages:

The Intelligence of Self Observation

Self Awareness

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