While learning self-discipline is something that anyone can do, very few people are actually able to master it.
So, what is it about self-discipline that makes it so challenging?
For starters self-discipline is like waging war against yourself, if you are trying to master the chances are that you have some bad habits that you would like to get rid of.
When made frequently enough, the small bad decisions that you make such as snacking, watching too much tv and overspending can become so engrained in your behavior that they change the way that you think.
This happens because each bad decision comes with an immediate reward in the for of junk food, entertainment, or an expensive thing.
The good things that you get in return reinforce your desires turning the occasional bad decision into a full-blown bad habit.
Eventually these bad habits become second nature, this makes it difficult to stop and think about the impact they’re having on your future
But why is self-discipline like fighting an internal battle?
This is because you body is going to fight you along the way. A majority of people fail to develop a lasting self-discipline because they don’t have the one crucial thing that keeps them from losing this war.
This one thing is motivation, otherwise known as the “why”
It is called this because anyone that is trying to learn self-discipline should start by pinpointing “why” they want to improve, this 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, you should take a moment to discover your “why” that will keep you from stopping.
Once you have figured this out, you’ll be much more prepared to tackle these four common obstacles that make self-discipline so hard to master
1. Unrealistic ideal selves
Chances are that you have daydreamed about what your life would be like after you have put in the hard work and have made the changes you want to make, by then you might have started your own company, obtained the body you always wanted or finally achieved your lifelong dreams.
The thing is everyone has these visions, this is what psychologists call an “ideal self”
This is essential, what 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 this doesn’t mean they are useless, your ideal selves guide 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 to identify the specific parts of your ideal self that you want to develop
For example, if your ideal self is hard working and diligent while your real self is a procrastinator then you should know that you need to develop a better work ethic and increase your productivity.
But here’s where things get a bit tricky, not all ideal selves are healthy, in fact most ideal selves hurt themselves way more than they can help. This happens when they develop unrealistic or impossible versions of themselves then they become discouraged by how much work is required to get there
On top of this people tend to hone in on the general materialistic goals instead of picking things that actually make them happy
Someone might spend years imagining themselves as a bachelor on a private island but they never consider the kind of person they actually want to become.
This is where motivation comes into play, because the “why” can help you shape your ideal self and figure out which aspects are most important to you
So, you should develop version of yourself that is not only obtainable but also makes you excited to be that person, once you have done this you can take small steps to match your real self to your ideal self
2. Sacrificing the short term
This generally goes against what we are biologically programmed its actually one of the most important parts of self-discipline.
Imagine you are deciding between two restaurants. One is your favorite burger joint and it is loaded with unhealthy fats but they taste a lot better than the salads at the Salad bar next door.
Most people’s instincts are to go to the first restaurant, yes the burger might lead to stomach aches or weight gain but the immediate positive reward that you receive from eating this burger outweighs a salad
That is how our mind works without any sort of self-discipline, we generally behave in ways that benefit ourselves in the short term while sacrificing the long term.
So, what does the person who has been practicing self-discipline do? Do their instincts tell them to go to the salad bar? That is a common myth about disciplined people
Just because someone has the willpower to make a better decision doesn’t mean they weren’t tempted like everyone else!
Instead of rewarding themselves in the short term, people with self discipline are able to 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 off course.
This is probably one of the biggest reasons why it’s so difficult to stay disciplined once you’ve started and why proper motivation is crucial for success
If you don’t have the motivation to consistently focus on the long term unfortunately you are going to fall right back into old habits
3. Lack of control
When you’re at home or over the weekends it is very easy to get rid of distractions and temptations, this is because you have complete control over your environment.
So, if your trying to be more productive you can turn off your phone, put on sound proof headphones, turn off your wifi or do a number of things to boost productivity.
In this isolated space it is 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 control every aspect of your life especially at school or at work.
Imagine trying to go to the gym in the afternoons, but one day your boss gets you to work late. By the time you get home you don’t have the energy to go to the gym, so instead you decided to relax and watch TV.
This might not seem so bad at the time but what happens when you have to work late again the next day as well? You might think “Without work it would be easy to find time to exercise every day” but the stress of a long day can be enough to justify a bad habit
Maybe instead you have a bad habit of buying lottery tickets and you have been dipping into your savings so you decide to stop, you’ve been doing a great job so far and have been avoiding any mention of lottery tickets and not buying any. But you suddenly hear about a Mega Lottery 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 might have heard the saying “out of sight out of mind”
But the reality is that you can never really get rid of them. You should do your best to get rid of any temptations that you can control, but you should be prepared for when they do eventually show up
If you find your self sitting in front of the TV or in the queue to buy a lottery ticket remind yourself of “why” you’re trying to change.
This way you can deny yourself of these bad habits, while strengthening the motivation you’ll need to keep pushing
4. Social Secrecy
Few people tend to admit that they are trying to get rid of something in their lives. If you have the habit of eating too much junk food or binging too much on TV, you probably haven’t told many of your friends that you’re working on these changes
Even though you are doing something that is ultimately good for yourself, it might be embarrassing to admit that you have these weaknesses in the first place.
This is particularly hard when you’re the only one in your family or group of friends that is struggling with this issue.
So why is this secrecy so destructive when you’re learning self-discipline? Since you haven’t told anyone about your new habits, you might start breaking them when you’re with other people
Let’s say your trying to eat fewer fatty foods, normally you would never tempt yourself by going to a pizza place. But what if you’re with your friends and they’re dead set on getting some pizza.
You don’t want to be the only one not eating, so you decide to eat because it is a special occasion. Unfortunately, this “cheat” can quickly become a bad habit on its own, tearing down the foundation of your good habits you have built thus far.
How do you get around this? Simple, tell your friends and family that you are making changes in your life and be proud of your accomplishments so far.
In fact, they might be able to help by going to the gym with you or suggest a healthy restaurant to go to instead or even give some encouragement
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