This is part 3 of a three part series on self-discipline. Check out the others in the series:
Sacrifice and the Altar of Fortune – Part 1
“It’s supposed to be hard. If it were easy, everyone would do it.” – Tom Hanks, A League of Their Own
Self-Discipline is the beacon light of humanity.
Everyone wants it. But how many people will become “self-disciplined”?
In the last article, I gave a simple explanation of self-discipline:
doing what you know you have to do to accomplish your goals whether you feel like it or not.
A compelling case for self-discipline
If I already didn’t make it clear for the reasons why in the previous two articles, let me make it exceedingly clear now.
Self-discipline is the only way that you’ll be at the cause of life rather than the effect.
Life is already unpredictable enough as it is. Self-discipline is the only REAL way to “jam a steel rod in the grinder” in an attempt to gain some stability.
Let’s say you work at a large company that manufactures parts for a certain type of industry. Everything’s going just swell….until the industry falls apart. The CEO now calls everyone into the board room and announces massive layoffs. Guess what?
You’re one of the layoffs.
Your heart sinks.
How am I going to pay the bills? What’s going to happen to me?
Well, at least you saved up some money, right?
Ah shit… You didn’t save up because you weren’t self-disciplined enough.
How many more instances of unpredictable events caught you off guard because you weren’t prepared? The only way to prepare is to exercise the quality of preparation before something happens. The only way you exercise it is through… you guessed it! – self-discipline.
Hey, if you want to be blown around like a leaf in the wind – that’s your choice. But if you want some actual control in your life and the ability to steer the ship in the direction you choose….read on.
But first, a story about…marshmallows?
Yummy marshmallows and stone cold self-discipline
Chances are…if you’re into self-development, you’ve most likely heard of this test before. But if you forgot, or if you don’t know…let me let you in on it.
Back in the day, there was an experiment done at Stanford University testing the link between instant and immediate gratification and the fulfillment of long term and current objectives. The test?
Can you resist a marshmallow?
This test was given to little kids. The tiny tots were promised the reward of two marshmallows if they promised not to eat the one placed in front of them AND if they could wait 15 minutes (two marshmallows instead of one? Sign me up!).
Some kids immediately ate the marshmallow. Some kids decided to wait.
The catch? These researchers followed up with these kids who were now fully grown adults, years later. The results were out. of. this. world!
The kids who displayed the precocious effort of self-discipline over instant and immediate gratification were the ones said to have had higher SAT test scores, lower BMI indexes, and an overall quality of life.
Correlation doesn’t always equal causation…but this test was a landmark study in the beginning of habit formation.
Your mind might be racing right now.
That’s ok. Mine was too when I read about this. You might be wondering:
- Is self-discipline an inbuilt quality or is it learned?
- Why would something done so long ago measure future outcomes?
- Is it too late for me?
Let’s tackle all of these one by one.
“Is self-discipline an inbuilt quality or is it learned?”
Some individuals may have a higher neurological disposition towards greater levels of self-discipline because of their individual wiring in the brain and very early childhood stimuli.
This means jack shit if you don’t know how to use it. The person with a neurological tendency towards self discipline who blindly “developed” it is at a supreme disadvantage to the person who learned to develop their self-discipline through grit and muster.
The human brain is highly malleable and even moreso if you’re in your 20s. Everything you know now is a learned quality. Learned qualities soon become fixed habits. Fixed habits soon become rhythms. Habits and rhythms are hard to break, good or bad.
If you can learn to ride a bike, you can learn to become a self-disciplined person.Learned qualities soon become fixed habits. Fixed habits soon become rhythms. Click To Tweet
“Why would something done so long ago measure future outcomes?
Following from the thread above, rhythms are hard to break.
The past doesn’t predict the future, but it can be a pretty good indication of where it’s going.
According to The Slight Edge, you are the sum total of what you’ve done in the past PLUS the “compound interest”.
Every action, every choice, every decision you make will determine whether you experience all the success in the world…or all the failure.
If you keep doing habits formed unconsciously, you’ll tend to do it in an unconscious manner. If you take no effort to strengthen that reward circuit in your brain for positive reinforcement, you’ll just keep drifting and drifting along – most likely getting worse in the process.
There is no “standing still” in life. You are either increasing or decreasing. If you make no effort to improve yourself, you’re automatically on the decline.
The only way to do is through – you guessed it… self-discipline.
“Is it too late for me?”
It’s only too late once you’re dead. Besides, if you’re reading this – you’re probably in the prime of your life.
Even if you somehow aren’t…there hasn’t been a better time to start than right. fucking. now.
I am certainly not perfect in this area. I could definitely use more self-discipline. But I’m learning. That’s what counts.
An effort will always be a lot better than all the people who just talk about change and read books, articles, and all other hoopla… but make no effort whatsoever to do so.
So where do you start? Simple. You manipulate the wires.
The hard-wiring process
Your brain is the most elaborate computer ever made. It automates all of your millions of bodily processes and keeps you alive without skipping a beat (unless you have arrhythmia, but that’s a whoooole ‘nother kettle of fish).
As a result, it can be programmed. There’s two ways to do this:
It’s the second one we’re concerned with. Your brain is heavily influenced by repetition.
It wants to save the most energy possible, so it hard wires habits into your subconscious mind and nervous system by creating readily accessible neural pathways.
The more you use these pathways, the more the brain says “oh! ok…so he needs to fire faster and more often. Got it.” It then coats the pathways in a substance called myelin, which allows the neural signals to fire faster and more effectively the more they are used.
Ask and you shall receive indeed.
This can be to your detriment or to your advancement. In the case of self-discipline, it’s only for the sake of advancement.
You can hijack this process to suit your own ends.
It’s pretty easy. Here’s some steps.
1. Consciously decide what you want to become “self-disciplined” in – Let’s say you want to practice guitar for 30 minutes a day. You set that as a guidance mark. You need a goal so that your mind can focus.
You will have to consciously exercise this for a minimum of 60 or so days for it to become hardwired into your brain. You can do this in a couple of ways:
- Write post it notes to yourself
- Phone/electronic calendar reminders
- Do it at the same time every day
You brain will then begin to automatically trigger you to practice guitar at a certain time of day for a certain period of time.
You must consciously exercise this (like a muscle) and it takes the dreaded “w” word – willpower.
Willpower is one of those intangible things that can only be summed up as:
the ability to push through any obstacles to achieve a desired objective no matter the odds or length of time.
Many of the greatest minds of all time had incredible willpower and work ethic. It’s why they’re so revered in our history.
You may be thinking at this point: “well shit, my willpower is garbage”. It is now…but you can increase it.
Willpower is closely linked to self-discipline in the sense that you have a finite amount of it to exercise over a certain period of time and it can be increased with practice.
If you resist the urge to do something you desperately want to do, you increase your self-discipline but decrease your willpower. Over a certain period of time, it gets harder to say no.
This is also known as “decision fatigue” and it’s a crucial element to know when developing iron clad self-discipline.
Here’s how you increase your willpower:
- Conscious decisions to continue with tasks even when you feel like quitting
- Keeping track of extraneous expenditures
- Strength training
When you continue with something even though you feel like giving up, you are sending a message to your brain that you’re the kind of person who doesn’t quit easily. Your brain remembers this and then gives you a “second wind” to continue with activities the next time. That’s why it’s important to finish what you start and never leave anything half done.
A lot of us don’t keep track of our spending habits. The conscious decision to use cold, hard cash instead of swiping your purchases on a flying carpet made of plastic will also send a message to your brain about self-discipline.
Training with weights is a SUPER solid way to increase your willpower. That feeling of pushing out one or two repetitions of an exercise even though you want to just mail it in…the feeling is “fan-tasts-tik” (Arnold Schwarzenegger voice)
Once that work is done… you need to refuel. Here’s how to replenish your willpower:
- Get good sleep
- Eat healthy foods
- Resist impairment
Sleep helps the body repair itself. It has literally be shamed in our culture, dating back to the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Even after study after study has shown it to help us, a lot of us don’t get enough of it. Sleep helps you revitalize your willpower reserves by helping the brain get back to normal functioning.
Eating healthy foods will help you brain restore itself with the energy it needs to function at an optimal level. Junk food will do exactly the opposite.
Being impaired with drugs or alcohol may be fun…but it also chips away at your willpower. If someone tells you to do something stupid when you’re drunk or stoned, you’re probably going to do it unless you have such a strong sense of self-discipline and self-control imbedded in your subconscious.
Self-discipline is only achieved through the conscious exercise of willpower and the strengthening of it.
The most key element of all…
I saved the best for last. In fact, I’d say this article is incomplete without the mention of it.
You know how something just “sticks”? Like its almost (or even) impossible to get rid of? A bad habit that you just can’t seem to shake, no matter how many times you try? A good habit that you just can’t stop doing?
It talks about how habits eventually become fixed and crystallized because nature LOVES order.
When I said “it’s not too late”… yeah, I kinda lied. If you do a habit for a long enough period of time, you can eventually reach the point of no return. The habit is literally so ingrained in you, it is as natural as breathing and eating.
Do you honestly think that a person who’s been drinking heavily for 40-something years is going to change his tune over night? Unless his doctor gives him bad news, I doubt it.
The wise man uses hypnotic rhythm to his advancement. The foolish man uses it to his downfall.
The rich only get richer and the poor get poorer.
This means if you exercise self-discipline on a daily basis it MUST become a fixed habit. There’s no other alternative. Good news for all of us who want life improvement.The wise man uses hypnotic rhythm to his advancement. The foolish man uses it to his downfall. Click To Tweet
Your next steps
So now you know how self-discipline is created, what it is, and why it’s so essential in our modern world.
Here’s some action steps to get you started to become a more self-disciplined person.
1. Identify one or more key areas you wish to become more “self-disciplined” in. Write them down on paper and write out how you’re systematically going to attack it. What will you do to become better in those areas?
2. Exercise conscious self-discipline. You need a minimum of two months to establish a new habit. During this time, you will need to exercise your willpower to establish the habit.
3. Keep this up, then move to the next area.
Remember, your attention is like a flashlight. You can only pay attention to what its focused on. Focus on one thing at a time, then move to the next. Systematically attack it until you have become more self-disciplined in all the areas you choose.
Some things will pop up here and there, but follow these steps and you’ll be able to exercise willpower and self-discipline in them in no time.
You can choose to be positive or you can choose to be negative. Both are within your power. Both are choices. Both are habits.
Decide to be positive. Decide to make it a habit. Decide to act in a manner that’s towards your advancement, rather than your downfall.
Decide to be…self-disciplined.
Now, I want to hear from you. What areas are you weak in and need more self-discipline? Let me know in the comments below!