„When I was able to change my body so much,
then, through discipline and determination,
I was able to change everything else I wanted.
I could change my habits and my whole view of the world.“
- Arnold Schwarzenegger -
Self-discipline very often sounds like it clearly has its advantages, but is almost no fun. In addition, it's very difficult to constantly follow all the rules that you impose on yourself. But it's not like that. Self-discipline, pleasure and an optimized life are absolutely compatible things. I will show you how you can achieve these, without having to give up on everything.
Let us first clarify what the definition of self-discipline actually is:
Self-discipline means devoting oneself constantly and with self-control to things, in order to achieve long-term goals and improvements, regardless of one's emotional state and desires.
First ask yourself WHY?
The reason for this is quite simple. If you don't know why you do something, why do you do it then? The well-known management consultant and author Simon Sinek sees these WHY's as one of the most important basis for decisions, goals and profit. And that's absolutely right. Because you need a reason for your actions. A motivation. A WHY!!!
It is so that you very often do things, which are suggested to you as being important. For example, you should get up every morning at 5 o'clock, meditate, do sports, etc. There is certainly nothing wrong with that. On the contrary, it's a great habit. But WHY do some people do this? Do they just want to brag about how much they accomplish, while others are still in bed? Or do they think it's the only way to be disciplined? Of course it is also a method. But not the best.
So if a person "tortures" him/herself out of bed early (well, maybe he/she loves it), then these people usually have a clear goal in mind. If not, then this routine is useless towards their goals. Don't get me wrong, because sports and meditation etc. are extremely useful things that almost exclusively have positive aspects. But the question remains unanswered:
Is it adapted to your own goals?
If not, then you're wasting a little bit of your time. Because maybe you'd like to achieve this or that, but your time is wasted on a packed morning routine, just because you read that Elon Musk or Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, for example, do it that way every morning. It will only slowly bring you closer to your goals and sooner or later this will be noticeable in your lack of motivation. Such "self-discipline routines" are connected with great effort, because they do not respond to your wishes. That is why you lose your motivation after a while.
Self-discipline can of course be demanding, a workout should also be challenging so that you make progress. If you always read the same page of a book, you will never finish the story. Yet self-discipline is first and foremost connected to the purpose of your action, the WHY. So ask yourself:
WHY do I want to reach XY?
WHY do I do this (habit) regularly?
A few examples:
So if you just want to lose weight, a flat belly is not necessarily your WHY. Your WHY may
be that you want a healthy body or that you are trying to achieve more self-esteem.
If you get up early in the morning to do a workout, your WHY could be that you want to be an athletic person or
that the morning is the best time for you to do a workout.
When you meditate, your WHY is certainly not just sitting around for 10 minutes. Your WHY is
that you want to achieve a better attitude towards life, reduce stress or visualize a certain goal.
- You don't want to curse when something upsets you. What could your WHY be? Maybe that you want to ban negative feelings more and more from your life or you are embarrassed in front of others, when you curse. That's maybe a WHY you want to get rid of it.
So you can see where this is all leading to. You need a clear reason for self-discipline, a WHY, for getting out of bed and doing what you are doing. Self-discipline can be applied to food, alcohol, cigarettes, sports, behavior patterns, etc. Everyone has different reasons, but you have to be clear about them and question them in a focused way. If you want to change something in your life or behavior, you need a clear WHY!
The path of least resistance
Now let's assume you have found your WHY or maybe you already knew it. But you were just missing something. Self-discipline is of course a great thing when it comes to sticking to things that are important to you, but quite often we come across situations where we think to ourselves: "I'd like to achieve this or that and it's important to me too, but I just can't get it done!" But why is that?
On the one hand, of course, it may be because you only think you care about this matter. This often happens with consumer goods, for example. You think you have to drive this fancy car to finally be happy. But the real reason you want the car, is just to enjoy the feeling of proudly presenting your new car and perhaps even impressing others. If that should be the case, then your WHY is the wrong one. Or at least your goal is the wrong one. Because there is no real benefit in it.
Should your WHY, instead be that you need the car every day and you save fuel costs with the new one, or it gives you more safety and comfort because your old one only starts after 10 minutes of praying and reciting voodoo-sayings, then this is a more meaningful WHY. So ask yourself, as mentioned before, whether your WHY is right for you. But what if it is not because of your WHY?
Then it may be, because the task is too difficult, time-consuming or exhausting. Nobody says: "Oh, yes, I really feel like carrying that heavy dresser up to the third floor. Oh yeah, and the washing machine, too." But if you do it because you've just moved into a new apartment, the motivation is quite different. It's the MOTIVATION that's missing or the willpower to do the things you think are STRAINING. So how can you climb this huge mountain called self-discipline?
You start with the first and easiest step.
The path of least resistance must be taken. If you go up a hill, you will also look for the spot where it is easiest to get up and not the steep rock face. The whole trick of self-discipline starts with the smallest element. You start minuscule and improve it, until it becomes a habit and then you increase the level over time. That is the whole trick of self-discipline.
You can compare it well with lifting weights in the gym. At the beginning you could only move a very small weight and you were very busy with a correct execution. By repeating the exercise, the execution becomes better and better, your intramuscular coordination, i.e. muscles and nervous system, work together better and better and so you can lift more and more weights more effectively. Through practice, you will eventually lift completely different weights than at the beginning. Without practice you will always stay at the initial weight.
So in order to achieve self-discipline, you must train it. If you've always wondered how highly disciplined people manage to do that, while others are already struggling to get away from the daily zapping through TV channels, this is your answer. They have gotten into the habit of it. The saying is appropriate here:
A master isn't born. He is made.
You have to practice, practice and practice until you get where you want to go. But wait! Does that sound too exhausting again? Don't be discouraged. It's a very simple equation that you can solve by yourself without any problems. But enough of words, let's come to concrete examples of what it can look like in practice.
The most important rule applies:
Start small and grow with time.
But if you overdo it from the beginning, you will fail.
You start with a dose that requires almost no self-discipline and keep it up until it becomes a habit. Then you increase. Be patient and do not expect overnight results, then it will definitely work. You just have to keep going. Over several weeks.
Self-discipline from ZERO to SUCESS in practice:
Workout: Every night before you go to bed, you do exactly one single pushup. After a while, if you always think about it and always do your ONE
push-ups, you are free to increase to 2 or 3 etc. Only so much so that you keep your habit and it doesn't get too exhausting for you, so that you don't feel like it anymore. Or you can hang a
pull-up bar in the door frame and every time you go through it, you do exactly one pull-up.
Nutrition: From now on you won't drink sugary drinks from Monday to Friday. All other eating habits remain unchanged. Or you eat a piece of
fruit every day after lunch, which you like. Only one, so that it does not become too much for you. At some point you can replace sweets with fruit etc.
Education: You want to read so many books, but you never seem to have the time. Then read just one page a day and preferably always before you
go to bed. Someday you'll read two or a whole chapter.
- Bad Habits: If you smoke 10 cigarettes a day, just try 9 and you won't notice a difference at first, but over time the 9 cigarettes will be enough. And then you will continue to reduce. The same applies to alcohol or other bad habits.
Reduce or increase accordingly in tiny steps. But only after you have made a very small change. There's just no point in torturing you. Our willpower only has a certain capacity. So self-discipline must be gained from habits.
Self-discipline can therefore also be defined as such:
A habit you always follow,
without using your willpower and which brings you closer to your goals.
Short-term and long-term rewards
Each habit should include a reward. This means that if you have eaten particularly well this week, you are welcome to eat some chocolate. If you have a permanent feeling of renunciation, then you have overdone it a little. Not everyone wants to give up on everything. Some things are just too much fun and release a bunch of endorphins. You just have to take the healthy measure.
Here the 80/20 rule comes in handy:
If you do everything right 80% of the time, then you can just let go for 20%.
The most important thing is to enjoy your life and have fun. Just being in competition with yourself and others isn't fun for everyone. Improve the things that bother you and that step by step.
Also sometimes note the short-term and long-term rewards. Sure it is more fun to do nothing today and put off work until tomorrow, but in the long run it will accumulate more and more. Or if I eat ice cream today, I'm happy, but tomorrow I'll be unhappy because I've taken another step backwards. If I too seldom take care of a friend or my partner because I don't feel like having "negative input", if they need a shoulder to cry on, I will lose them in the long run.
This principle applies to all things. One more bottle of beer may not make any difference today, but if I prefer beer to tea or a glass of water every evening, I will have problems with my liver and blood values in the long run. Especially with self-discipline it helps a lot to ask yourself these questions:
Do I have more long-term disadvantages if I allow myself this/that now (e.g. a chocolate bar)
/ don't do this / that (e.g. a workout)?
If the answer is YES, then you may want to reconsider your actions. If the answer is NO, then go ahead.
It must become a part of you
Discipline, which you maintain through constant habits, must be learned. But it must also become a part of you. And the longer you pursue a cause, the more that happens. You don't just get used to quit smoking, running, becoming an entrepreneur, but instead you actually become a non-smoker, runner or entrepreneur one day.
A study showed that people who regularly took part in sports activities for at least 8 months in a row, returned to exercise again and again even after long breaks. They integrated it into their lives in such a way, that it became a part of their lifestyle. So in the future, when you start training or stop drinking, ask yourself what your goal is, what the benefits are and then do it.
Become what you want. A habit not only has the advantage that you always do certain things, instead it changes you over time and forms your future SELF. So if you want to be "smarter or more intelligent", you can start with an app and play "brain jogging" for 5 minutes every morning while sitting on the toilet. Then you order a magazine on the latest scientific topics and with time, you learn new things and improve yourself bit by bit. Then you do even more and attend a science class, etc. The possibilities are endless.
You don't have to be an Einstein or an Olympic-gold-medalist. Just see the advantages in the things you strive for and stick to them. If you see yourself as an athletic person and do a workout 3 times a week that you enjoy, then you will have a completely different motivation than if you see yourself as someone who should be doing sports, but will never make it, because it is no fun anyway.
Increase your self-discipline and then become an athletic person if you consider it important. This doesn't mean working out 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Instead it means just being active. Taking the stairs instead of the elevator, the banana instead of the burger. And you can do that without much effort. Through tiny changes that get bigger and bigger.
Self-discipline is less difficult to learn than you think. It's only important for you to find a very clear WHY, why you want to change something that needs discipline. Theoretically, you could just do sports once a month if you feel like it, but you won't get any real results. So ask yourself what your motives are.
Move up from a tiny obstacle that isn't perceptible to you as such. That means you start off small, so it becomes a habit. The advantage is that habits are usually controlled subconsciously and therefore you do not waste any of your precious willpower. Willpower must be used with care, because you don't have an infinite amount of it. Once you can say NO, the second time it becomes more difficult, and so on. So you transform indiscipline into small habits that keep on growing.
Be patient and give yourself time. Don't be embarrassed just because you're doing just one squat before showering for two months. It's about achieving a long-term success. You're building a habit and that takes time. What do you care how the beginning was, if you manage to include a complete 20 minute workout before showering one day.
It has to be fun and you must want it. Just torturing yourself, won't get you anywhere in the long run. See the benefits and become what you strive for. A language genius? An athlete? A musician? A painter? Or the perfect lover? It's up to you and your little habits, which you acquire through self-discipline.
You have now learned the tools with which you can theoretically go from being an overweight loafer to a triathlete. But only if you want to. Find your WHY and start today with reading the first page of a book or the first push-ups.
I hope the article was helpful for you. If so, please share it, so others like you can benefit from it. I wish you the best.
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