We humans are terribly good at making excuses, aren’t we? I didn’t get to the gym, I got caught at work. I shouldn’t have had two slices of cake, but it tasted too good to resist. I shouldn’t have lost my patience with you but I’m tired. When it comes to succeeding in life there is one quality we can’t do without – self-discipline. If you want to get promoted professionally, stay healthy, save money or have quality relationships then you need to have self-discipline.
Chicago University psychologist Wilhelm Hoffman has dedicated years to studying self-discipline, which he calls self-regulation. He has found that self-disciplined people are happier than other people. They are better able to deal with goal conflict. They do not waste time debating what to do and not to do. They know to avoid temptation and stay away from anything that is bad for them. They make more rational than emotional choices and don’t spend much time feeling stressed or disappointed.
Dr Hoffman believes that self-esteem is a learned behaviour not an inherited trait. The Forbes business magazine recently came up with five ways of improving your self-discipline for business people. Let’s look at those.
1. Stay away from temptation
It is easier to resist temptation if temptations are not in your face. If you are trying to save, avoid shopping malls. If you want to eat well, don’t have lollies, chocolates and cakes in your house. If you want to stay off social media, delete your Facebook and Twitter accounts.
2. Stay healthy
Resisting temptation and doing the right thing is a mental activity, controlled by the brain, but you will find it easier to control your mind if your body is in good shape. When you are tired and hungry, your mood suffers and so does your concentration, it becomes harder and harder to do the right thing. When in bad health you are grumpy and not reaching your potential. When people are really run down, they often become pessimistic. The bottom line is, eat well and get enough sleep. Avoid diets high in sugar, and try to keep your blood-sugar levels constant. That means you will be less moody. Sleep is also strongly connected to self-discipline. When we’re tired, it impacts on our mood, ability to focus and our judgement.
Finally exercise. Exercise improves health by increasing blood flow and oxygenation of the body’s cells, helping to fight off diseases and boost the immune system. Exercise also increases our ability to focus on the tasks, allowing us to lead a more disciplined life. And exercise releases more happy chemicals, like endorphins, into our blood. The happier we are, the easier it is to be disciplined.
3. Don’t be guided by emotion
Write down your goals and strategies. Be sure what you want and where you are going. Question whether your desires and urges are in keeping with your bigger goals and go all out to resist them. If your emotions and rationale are at odds, retreat from the conflict and at least wait 30 minutes until the right course appears obvious. By setting life goals we instil discipline because it gives us direction. It also helps us to avoid distractions by seeing just what needs to be done in a given day. Without goals, it is too easy to give into temptation.
4. Give yourself good treats
If you have ever gone on a diet, you know that constant deprivation is no fun and you are much more likely to succeed with a diet if you factor in the occasional treat. That is true of most areas of your life. You can’t work non-stop without breaks. You can’t go to the gym constantly without rest. You can’t save your money and never buy yourself the occasional treat. Your self-discipline will last longer if you factor in rewards. This is about developing control. Your control will build up over time, but initially be kind to yourself and schedule in a few indulgences.
5. Forgive yourself and keep going
Look, even the most disciplined people fail from time to time. Forgive yourself if you stumble, and just keep going. As they say if you fall off the horse, get back on again. Persevere with the diet and exercise program and your work regime. Some days will be better than others, but as long as you keep going you are making progress. Think of self-discipline as a new habit that you need to adopt over time. Bad habits take a long time to break, new habits take a long time to form.
I have a few more tips to add to the Forbes list. I recommend that you meditate or pray every day so you get your head right. Go for 10 to 15 minutes every day. Begin by acknowledging all you have to be thankful for. Send positive thoughts or prayers to other people. Think of people suffering and in difficult circumstances. Next consider what you want to achieve in the short-term and what you hope for yourself long term. Ask the universe or God or your higher self to strengthen you as you journey through your day.
Aim to be organised. If you are always flying by the seat of your pants you will feel stressed and when you are stressed it is hard to be self-disciplined. Organise your workspace, your house, even your clothes. Plan ahead and try to make life easier for yourself.
Another part of being organised is managing your time well. Go to bed early, get up early and attend appointments on time. Perpetually running late induces stress and again, stress makes it harder to be self-disciplined.
At the end of the day, self-discipline is like a muscle. If you exercise it then it will get stronger and stronger.
ABOUT PAT MESITI
Pat Mesiti is a best-selling author, coach and educator in the area of personal development. Having built some of Australia’s largest people-driven organisations, Pat understands the power of harnessing human potential. He has shared the stage with some of the world’s great business minds and has sold over millions of copies of his books and materials.