There are many important qualities that can contribute to a person’s achievements and happiness, but there is only one that begets sustainable, long-term success in all aspects of life: self-discipline. Whether in terms of your diet, fitness, work ethic or relationships, self-discipline is the number one trait needed to accomplish goals, lead a healthy lifestyle, and ultimately, be a better person.
According to a study by Wilhelm Hoffman, people with high self-control are happier than those without. The study discovered this is true because the self-disciplined subjects were more capable of dealing with goal conflicts. These people spent less time debating whether to indulge in behaviors detrimental to their health, and were able to make positive decisions more easily. The self-disciplined did not allow their choices to be dictated by impulses or feelings. Instead, they made informed, rational decisions on a daily basis without feeling overly stressed or upset.
Despite what many may think, self-discipline is a learned behavior. It requires practice and repetition in your day-to-day life. To improve your own self-discipline, test out these 5 proven methods for gaining better control. This regimen will help you to establish good habits, break bad ones, and improve your control by making simple changes to your everyday routine. Improved self-discipline will allow you to live a freer life by helping you to make healthy choices, not emotional ones.
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. 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 Freedom 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, etc. In order to stay on track, make sure that you are well fueled throughout the day with healthy snacks and meals every few hours. These snacks ensure that you 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 in the beginning. Charles Duhigg, 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 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, it will 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, hard core, or drill sergeant. In fact, giving yourself zero wiggle room often results in failures, disappointments, and giving into 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.