While learning self-discipline is something anyone can do, very few people actually master it. So, what is it about self-discipline that makes it so challenging? For starters, self-discipline often feels like you are waging war against yourself.
If you are trying to master self-discipline, chances are that you like the majority of people out there have some bad habits that you would like to get rid of. When made frequently enough, small bad decisions like snacking, watching too much tv, and overspending can become so ingrained in your behaviour that they change the way you think.
This happens because each bad decision comes with an immediate positive reward in the form of junk food, entertainment, or expensive things. The good feelings that come with this reward reinforce your desires, turning the occasional bad decision into a full-blown habit. Eventually, these habits become second nature making it extremely difficult to stop and think about the impact they are having on your future.
Because your body is going to fight you constantly along the way. The majority of people fail to develop lasting self-discipline because they don’t have one crucial component that keeps them from losing this war. That one thing is motivation otherwise known as the “why”.
It gets this name because anyone who is trying to learn self-discipline should start by pinpointing why they want to improve. The “why” is what keeps you on track when you are surrounded by temptation and what you should think about every time you feel like giving up.
So before you start changing your whole lifestyle to be more disciplined, take a moment to work out the “why” that will keep you going. Once you’ve figured that out, you’ll be much more prepared to tackle these 4 common obstacles that make self-discipline so hard to master.
You’ve probably daydreamed about what your life will look like after you put in the hard work and made the changes you want to make. By then, you might have started your own company, sculptured the body you have always wanted, or finally achieved your life-long dreams. The truth is that everyone has these kinds of visions, creating what psychologists call an “ideal self”.
Our ideal selves are essentially who we aspire to be. Unlike our real selves which represent who we are, how we act and what we look like our ideal selves are entirely imaginary but that doesn’t mean that they are useless.
Your ideal self guides you through life by giving you something to reach for. But people don’t realize how attainable our ideal selves actually are. The key is identifying the specific parts of your ideal self that you want to develop.
For example, if your ideal self is hardworking and diligent while your real self is more of a procrastinator, then you know to focus on building a more disciplined work ethic and increasing productivity.
But here is where things get a little bit tricky, not all ideal selves are healthy. In fact, most people’s ideal selves hurt them way more than they help. This happens because people develop unrealistic or impossible versions of themselves then become discouraged when they realize how much work will be required to get there.
On top of that people tend to hone in on general, materialistic goals instead of making things that actually make them happy. So one might spend years imagining themselves as a wealthy bachelor on a private island but never stop to consider the kind of person they actually want to become.
This is where motivation comes into play because your “why” can help you shape your ideal self and figure out which aspects are the most important to you. So, try to develop a version of yourself that is not only attainable but genuinely makes you excited to be them. Once you have done that you can start making small steps to match your real self with your ideal.
While this completely goes against the way we are biologically programmed, it’s actually one of the most important parts of self-discipline.
Imagine you are standing in between two restaurants and you are trying to decide which one to eat at. Restaurant no. 1 is your favourite burger place, you know that very item on the menu is loaded with unhealthy fats, but it tastes a lot better than the salads over at restaurant no. 2. Our instincts tell us to go for restaurant no. 1. Yes, a burger might lead to a stomach ache and some weight gain but the immediate positive reward of a tasty burger outweighs a blad salad. This is essentially how our minds work without any sort of self-discipline. We behave in ways that benefit ourselves in the short-term while sacrificing the long-term.
So, what about someone who has been practising self-discipline? Do their instincts tell them to go to the healthier restaurant? This is actually a pretty common myth about disciplined people. Just because someone has the willpower to make a better decision, doesn’t mean that they weren’t tempted like everyone else.
But instead of rewarding themselves in the short-term, people with self-discipline make the conscious decision to focus on the long-term and they have to keep making these hard decisions every time their biology tries to lead them astray.
This is probably the biggest reason why it’s so difficult to stay disciplined once you have gotten started and why proper motivation is crucial for success. If you don’t have the motivation to consistently focus on the long-term, then, unfortunately, you’re going to fall right back into old habits.
At home or over the weekend, there are plenty of strategies to get temptations and distractions out of the way because you basically have complete control over the environment. So, if you are trying to be more productive, you can turn off your phone, put on soundproof headphones, turn off your wifi, or do any number of things to boost productivity.
In this kind of isolated space, it’s much easier to cancel out bad habits and start developing good ones, but what happens when you add in all the extra responsibilities of daily life? For many people, this is when self-discipline completely falls apart because you can’t actually control every aspect of your life especially at school, or work.
Imagine you are trying to exercise in the afternoons, but one day your boss makes you work late, by the time you get home, you don’t have the energy to go to the gym. So you decide to relax and watch tv instead.
It may not seem like much at the time, but what happens when you have to work late the next day too? Without work it would be easy to find time to exercise everyday but the stress of a long day can be enough to justify a bad habit.
Or maybe you are determined to stop buying lottery tickets because you keep dipping into your savings. You have been doing a great job of avoiding any mention of the lottery, until a giant mega-millions billboard suddenly shows up on your way to work.
Simply being reminded of your bad habits can often bring them back in full force. So what do you do? When it comes to avoiding temptations you have probably heard the phrase out of sight, out of mind but the reality is that you can never completely get rid of them.
You should do your best to get rid of any temptations that you can control, but be prepared for when they do inevitably show up. When you feel like sitting in front of the tv or buying another lottery ticket, take a moment to remind yourself of why you are trying to change. That way, you can practice denying bad habits, while strengthening the motivation you’ll need to keep pushing.
Few people want to admit that there is something in their lives they are trying to get rid of. If you have a habit of eating too much junk food, or never exercising you probably haven’t told many of your friends that you are working on making these changes.
Even though you are doing something that is ultimately good for you it might be embarrassing to admit that you had any weaknesses in the first place.
This is especially hard when you’re the only one in your family or friend group that’s struggling with this issue. So why is this secrecy so distractive when you are learning self-discipline? Since you haven’t told anyone about your new habits you might start breaking them when you are with other people.
Say you are trying to change your eating habits by cutting out fattening foods, normally you would never tempt yourself by going to a pizza place, but what if you are out with all your friends and they are dead set on getting pizza. You don’t want just to sit there watching all your friends eat.
So you might decide to let yourself cheat since it’s a special occasion. Unfortunately, this cheating can quickly become a bad habit of its own, tearing down all the good habits you have worked to build up.
How do you go around this obstacle? It’s actually pretty simple. Just tell your friends and family that you are making changes to your life and be proud of your accomplishments this far. There is no shame in finding ways to make yourself happier and healthier.
So don’t be afraid to tell the people you care about. In fact, they may be able to help by going to the gym with you, suggesting healthy restaurants, or just giving encouragement when you’re feeling defeated.