9 Self-Discipline Strategies That Work

January 16, 2016

There they are…an apple and a piece of chocolate cake. And although you’ve promised yourself not to eat anything outside of your diet, you start to notice your hands nervously sneaking toward that chocolate cake in your refrigerator. Or…You go out to celebrate your best friend’s birthday with “a few” drinks, only to later wake up next to someone you don’t know or maybe even leaving the restaurant drunk as you reach for your car keys…

Do any of these situations sound familiar? Many times, a long-term goal of ours (i.e. losing weight) ends up competing with immediate rewards (like chocolate cake). However, that immediate pleasure can not only end up harming us, it can also damage our goals.

Why do we give in to temptation when we are fully committed to what we want to achieve?

It’s as if our impulsive nature follows us around in search of stimulants that will bring us immediate pleasure and directs our behavior (like it did in our search for that chocolate cake). Obviously, the magnitude of these impulses isn’t the same every time or for every person. In fact, these impulses are based on many different circumstances and mindsets. For example, we have all seen what we come home with after going to the grocery store while we were hungry!

But we also have a thoughtful side to us. This is the side of us that causes us to be mindful of the consequences to our actions. Thinking about what we are going to do requires a lot of resources and willpower. As difficult as it is, it’s worthwhile to be diligent. If we stick to it, something as simple as going to the gym can be transformed into a habit instead of a constant internal dilemma we have with ourselves while sitting on the couch.

So, are we born being self-disciplined or is it something we become?

Self-disciplined people are made. Through these individuals, we can learn a lot about how they kicked their tobacco habit, lost weight, trained for a marathon or studied for their entrance exams. Just remember, your goals don’t need to be exactly like theirs, just take note of their advice and apply it to any goal that you are looking to accomplish.

How do they do it?

  1. They are aware of the risks and negative consequences that can lead to harmful behaviors. To deal with these risks and consequences, they set aside “if…then” rules. For example: “If I eat a piece of chocolate cake, then I will not be able to maintain my weight goal for the week,” or “If someone offers me a cigarette, then I won’t accept it,” or “If I don’t train today, then I won’t be able to make any progress,” etc. Imagining the many different situations that we could end up facing and how we will respond helps us to stay on track in achieving our goals.
  2. They increase the importance of their personal goals by explaining their objectives and plan of action to their friends and family. By adding a verbal element, their strategy of telling those around them reinforces their goals and holds them accountable for staying on track and eliminating unnecessary distractions.
  3. They convert their large goals into smaller steps or actions that they need to complete. For example: this week I’m going to plan on losing one pound. To do this, I will either go to the gym one more day than I did last week or walk for 2 hours a day for 5 days this week.
  4. They celebrate the “small wins” while working to achieve their goals. Sure, not having lost those 10 pounds yet may frustrate us when we think about all that we still have to do before we ultimately succeed, but every pound we lose, every cigarette we skip, etc. shouldn’t go unnoticed. Give yourself a pat on the back!
  5. They also use the “if…then” strategy in order to prepare themselves for anything they may come up against while working to achieve their goals.
  6. They associate their established impulses with an external image. For example: the image of a piece of chocolate cake is associated with a lump of fat, or a bottle of gin is associated with a car accident, etc.
  7. They train their memory. Ok, this may sound like something weird, but the more memories we have to draw upon, the better able we are to make educated decisions.
  8. They think about the situations that present high health risks and try to avoid them.
  9. They take time out to rest and restore themselves so that they don’t wear out their mental resources or loose their motivation. When we are always fighting against those impulses that get in the way of achieving what we want, it’s especially important to set aside moments of rest and allow ourselves a bit of a detour. However, we need to make sure there are guidelines when taking a break. We should remain flexible, but we don’t want to go completely off track and erase all of the hard work we have put forth toward reaching our goals.

All in all, the path of self-discipline is found by controlling ourselves during times of temptation and making the most out of our strengths. So, the next time you find yourself in a dilemma that involves immediate satisfaction and a long-term goal, don’t forget to imagine your thoughts and impulses fighting against one another. Which one are you going to let win?