Authored by Dia
In my podcast titled “Want Success?” I talked about how having self-discipline is a key to being successful. In this podcast I want to take a look at how one can establish self-discipline as a habit. You’re going to need to play a bit with the advice offered to find what works for you; but even if you try something and it doesn’t work, don’t give up, as it just might lead you to something that does.
Also, don’t be embarrassed by what it takes to discipline yourself. The end goal is what is important, so be willing to do whatever it takes to get there, even if it seems unusual. If you can discipline yourself, you will be taking control of your life and you will then have the power to succeed. Rather than looking at self-discipline as self-denial, see it as a “positive effort,” a way to get what you want and achieve your dreams.
Self-control is a fundamental character strength that is hard to measure. You can teach yourself mental tricks, and that is a good place to start, but the real challenge is turning those effective “tricks” into habits, and that requires weeks, months, or years of diligent practice. Mundane routines like not snacking before dinner or putting your change into a piggy bank are exercises in cognitive training: we are teaching ourselves how to think so that we that can outsmart our desires.
We often hear the phrases “worth the wait” or “delayed satisfaction” or “anticipation is half the fun.” Having the ability to delay gratification, to hold out on something you want to do in order to achieve something that will benefit you in the long run, gives you the power to get something you really want that can bring you much longer lasting satisfaction.
It might help if you were to picture what continuous instant gratification would do to your life and body. What might your life be like if you indulged every whim and never used self-control? Oscar Wilde wrote the book The Picture of Dorian Gray, which shows the horror that can result from complete indulgence of one’s wants.
His novel tells of a young man named Dorian Gray, the subject of a painting by artist Basil Hallward. Basil is impressed by Dorian’s beauty, believing his beauty is responsible for a new mode in his art. Dorian then meets Lord Henry Wotton, a friend of Basil’s, and becomes enthralled by Lord Henry’s worldview, which is that the only things worth pursuing in life are beauty and fulfillment of the senses. Realizing that one day his beauty will fade, Dorian expresses a desire to sell his soul to ensure the portrait Basil has painted would age rather than himself. Dorian’s wish is fulfilled. Dorian then goes through life indulging himself in anything that pleases his senses. The majority of these things are unwholesome, and while he remains young-looking and beautiful, the effects of every selfish action are displayed on his portrait, which becomes uglier and uglier by the day.1
I think self-discipline in today’s world is harder than ever. Almost everything is just a few steps or clicks away. You can play now and pay later. It’s just easier to do what you feel like doing; things that give you satisfaction are much, much more available and therefore easy to succumb to, like watching TV, eating junk food, etc. I am not saying one can’t or shouldn’t enjoy life as much as possible, but if you have a personal goal or dream you wish to achieve, I definitely encourage you to consider sacrificing instant gratification and disciplining yourself to go after what you really want.
Walter Elliot said, “Perseverance is not a long race; it is many short races, one after another.” I think the same applies to self-discipline—it’s a little decision you have to make many times over, until you reach your goal. If you give yourself worthwhile incentives to win the short races, attaining a long-term goal will be less formidable.
To start off, though, you need to have a goal in mind, something that you are working toward; if you don’t have one, there is hardly any reason to get started.
Once you have a goal, break it down into smaller stages and steps. Then reward yourself along the way as you achieve the smaller goals. Also, make sure the rewards aren’t taking away from your goal!
Find role models. Observe the people in your life and see to what extent self-discipline and habits help them accomplish goals. Ask them for advice on what works and what does not.
Including others in your goal by making yourself accountable to them can increase your chances of following through. It also gives you someone to share your achievements with, making the journey more enjoyable. Others can also safeguard you when you need help.
Odysseus, in The Adventure of the Argonauts,2 is renowned for his self-restraint. Circe warns Odysseus about the dangers he will face at sea. One of these dangers is the Sirens, who lured sailors with their enchanting music and caused shipwrecks on the rocky coast of their island. In order to avoid temptation, Odysseus orders his men to put wax in their ears, and to tie him to the mast so he can’t be lured by the Sirens’ voices.
So if you know there’s something you just won’t be able to resist, asking a friend to “tie” you to a proverbial mast may do the trick. Now for some ideas for practicing self-discipline in daily life:
Be realistic. Don’t bite off more than you can chew and set yourself up for failure by trying to do everything all at once. Start small with something realistic and sustainable.
Be consistent. Singular or random actions have very little long-term impact; success depends upon establishing good processes and sticking to those processes.
Practice deliberate delaying, especially if you often find yourself making impulsive decisions that you regret. For example, deliberately delay on buying something you want right away, or watching something the minute you feel like it, or on making an impulsive decision or acting on impulse.
Use the power of routine. Schedule a specific task in the morning, afternoon, evening, or at a specific time of day. Stick to the schedule as much as possible for at least six to eight weeks in order to get into the habit of it.
Track your progress. Tracking progress takes commitment, but it’s an important step. Often, you don’t notice your progress unless you’re looking for it. Some things are much harder to track than others. If you are goal-oriented, this is hugely important. Your goals need to be clear, you need to visualize them, and then have a way of knowing that you are getting closer to achieving them.
Don’t be too hard on yourself. You are going to encounter discouragement; some days you will forget or make the wrong decision, and it might feel like one step forward and two backwards. Be forgiving with yourself. Sometimes you will need extra sleep or a break from your routine, and you should give yourself that. Afterwards, though, get back up, regroup your vision, re-visualize your goals, remind yourself why you are working toward it and how far you’ve come, and continue going after it. Living a self-disciplined life is not a sprint—it’s a marathon, so pace yourself. You can do it!
Here is a link to an excellent and motivating talk by Matt Cutts called “Try Something New for 30 Days.” I highly recommend viewing it.
1 Adapted from “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” Wikipedia.
2 The Odyssey, Book XII
Read by Amber Larriva. Music by Simon W. Copyright © 2012 by The Family International