Am I the Only One Who Struggles with Self-Discipline?

Am I the Only One Who Struggles with Self-Discipline?

I never set New Year resolutions because they don’t work. Change takes some level of self-discipline, which doesn’t automatically come because of an artificial new beginning – i.e. the start of a new calendar year. Self-discipline comes from a deep desire for something to be different – an emotional driving force. Yet, this emotional driving force isn’t always enough to keep us on track. You think of it this way – self-disciplined can lead to immediate pain; whereas a lack of self-discipline leads to immediate pleasure. When you put it that way, why would we want to be disciplined? Therefore, we need to first shift our mindset away from believing that self-discipline is hard, that it requires us to sacrifice and suffer. We need tools and ideas to help us stay disciplined. In our Reflection Friday call, we talked about 5 easy and cool ways to stay committed to your desired outcome. I’ll share these methods, but first, let’s start by understanding why self-discipline isn’t easy.

The Science behind Self-Discipline

There is a part of our brain called the prefrontal cortex that is the conscious and analytical part that helps us make choices based on the information we’ve obtained. It is where we try to organize our behavior and thoughts with the goals we’ve set out. It is where we make judgments and decisions; where we formulate strategies to align our actions with our beliefs. We make qualitative assessments through our prefrontal cortex (looking at similarities and differences); we look at situations in terms of the consequences and outcomes (what would happen if I took certain actions). While we make our choices from this part of the brain, this is not where we choose to be self-disciplined.

Self-discipline comes from our ability to regulate or control our drives, impulses, and emotions. Our emotions, impulses, and drives live in the limbic system. However, as you may know, controlling our limbic system is not an easy task. We can be in a constant battle between the emotional and logical parts of our brain – helping or hindering our self-discipline. So, because we regularly confront these mental battles, we need to find tools and strategies to help win the fight. It’s understandable that it takes effort to be self-disciplined. Self-discipline is more about long-term benefits and outcomes, but our brain wants immediate pleasure.

Best Self-Disciplines Tips

These great ideas were taken from a book I highly recommend – Neuro-Discipline: Everyday Neuroscience for Self-Discipline, Focus and Defeating Your Brain’s Impulsive and Distracted Nature – by Peter Hollis and really provide a range of options. None of them are hard to implement, so what do you have to lose to try? (And you have so much to gain!!)

  1. Mel Robbins – 5 Second Rule – don’t give your brain time to think up excuses. For example, when the alarm goes off before your mind starts to remind you how late you went to bed, how cozy you feel under the covers and how it would be OK to stay in bed for just a few more minutes (sounds familiar??) – count backward from 5 – 0 and then jump out of bed.
    This trick works in any situation where you need to do something and can easily get deterred by the “Crazy Lady in the Attic” (that inner voice).
  2. Focus on your future self – who you will become if you are disciplined today? Don’t just focus on the gratification of now, think more about future outcomes. If I go to the gym today, I will be able to do that 5K in a month. Use the 10-10-10 Principle. Consider – I will I feel in 10 minutes if I _____________ (go to the gym; make that phone call; write that blog).  How will I feel in 10 hours? How will I feel in 10 days? Note – the emphasis is on considering how you will FEEL – connecting to the emotional outcome because remember that is the driving force for our actions.
  3. Behavior chains – we can struggle with self-discipline when faced with certain decisions. However, if we can deal with the potential decisions in advance, we are more likely to take disciplined actions and avoid making the decision in the heat of the moment – when our brain is encouraging us to go for self-gratification. You make the decision in advance when you are more rational about the outcome you want to achieve.
    The book gives a great example – If it is 3:00 pm on Sunday, then I will call my mother. Or if it is 6 pm and I’m still at work, I’ll text my partner. If I’m shopping for clothes, I won’t spend more than $30.
    Creating the IF/THEN relationship outcomes in advance will help you break negative habits that impact your life.
  4. Pleasure Now Pleasure Later – this tactic helps you satisfy the present need for gratification while satisfying the future self’s desired outcomes. You’re finding a way to bundle your immediate temptation with your long-term goal. Some people may think of this as bribing yourself to do something you don’t want to do, but if it’s a win-win, why not. Let’s stop being so hard on ourselves!
    Would it be so bad if we – had a piece of chocolate on the way to the gym; do work while soaking in the tub? We tend to think that self-discipline has been self-sacrificing. Well not anymore!
  5. Smaller, Faster, Closer – sometimes we struggle with self-discipline because we see what we need to do as a huge monumental task. These large but important undertakings become easy to avoid. What if we broke down a big task into small increments that seemed more manageable – not as scary or overwhelming? Every time we complete a small task, we get that feeling of accomplishment; we see that we are making progress and getting closer to the finish line. We are more likely to stay on track – now that we’re on track – and keep the momentum going.

For example: Having a goal to write a blog post a week can be overwhelming and something that is easy to avoid. How would we break this down into smaller tasks?
First, maybe come up with a theme for the month
Second, come up with 4 topics for each of the weekly blogs
Third, write some notes on each topic
Next, set out how many words, and 3 ways the blog will be used – e-blast, linked-in, website
Next, write one blog

We know self-discipline is important and we also have to realize that it doesn’t have to be hard. We don’t have to be a superwoman or live a boring and rigid life. We can have it all – we can have our cake and eat it too.

If you have any tricks that help you be more self-disciplined, I’d love to hear from you. The more we can share ideas and lift each other up, the better the world will be.

To learn more about our Free Reflection Friday virtual community for women, visit our website or contact Cindy Gordon.

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