Self-discipline is perhaps one of the most valuable traits you can develop and one of the most effective ways to bring about positive change in your life. The reason for this is that self-discipline is needed in order to force yourself into the behaviors that will develop you in positive ways and help you break bad habits no matter how badly you want to give in to them. Want to take control of your life? Then first you need to take control of your brain.
And while this might seem an impossible task (surely you need self-discipline in order to be disciplined enough to develop it?) there are fortunately many people who have gone before you and found ways to whip their brain into shape on your behalf. These various techniques have all been shown to work, so give them a go and see if you can get them to work for you too.
The Pomodoro Technique
The Pomodoro technique is an interesting and useful concept that works well for mental discipline and focus and for helping you stick to a task without distraction (which is often what we’re after when trying to improve discipline). Basically the idea is that when you are trying to work or do something worthwhile you will set a timer for 25 minutes (such as an egg timer) and then work undistracted for that time where no distractions are allowed including things like cups of tea or e-mail checking. You will then set the timer again two more times and the fourth time you will use to take a break and do the things you want to do like checking e-mail. This way you are segregating your time so that you don’t build a list of distractions in your mind as you know you’ll get a chance to get them off your chest. What helps for me is to use a notepad and a pen and paper in order to write down the things I want to do in my resting half hour so that it is completely off of my mind and I am free to think about work again.
Start a New Hobby
Taking up a hobby or a project gives you a good framework in which to develop your discipline. For instance if you join martial arts, then getting good will require a lot of discipline and hard work and the class environment will provide you with social pressure and support to ensure that you develop determination and the ability to see something through which you can apply to other areas of your life – just like when they send naughty kids to camps where they put on a stage production in the reality TV programmes.
Here’s one I created myself which I call ‘easy rules’. The idea here is that you make a bargain with yourself that if you don’t have the discipline to do a full workout/a whole hour of writing etc, that you will at least complete a very simple and easy task as a token. This will normally mean for instance doing just 50 press ups, or writing just 200 words. The reason this works is first of all because it leaves no room for excuses and makes sure on principle that you stick to your guns, but also because you normally find that after doing that small task, you find more energy and enthusiasm to do more as you have gotten into the ‘swing’ of it.
Conditioning comes from behavioral psychology and means basically forging an association in your brain between the good behaviors you want and reward, or the bad behaviors you don’t want and punishment. So for instance you might say that you can only drink a cup of tea as a reward for writing 300 words, or you can only have desert after working out for three days straight (this also adds incentive which is rather useful). Alternatively you might have an elastic band around your wrist and ping it each time you catch yourself biting your nails.
Meditation is a great exercise that can help you in many different ways. There are many forms of meditation from meditating ‘on’ a topic, to using mindfulness to take a look at your own state of mind, to trying to clear your head of all thoughts. Use your meditation time to try and control more closely the thoughts you entertain and once you mange to control your thoughts you should find that controlling your actions becomes much easier.
How many stories have you heard about the guy or girl who was born into an underprivileged life and had to work from a young age, but managed to take themselves to new heights and escape the poverty trap? Likewise how often do you hear about ‘rich kids’ who inherit a lot of money and end up squandering it all or ending up on drugs? Part of the reason many of us don’t have self-discipline is that unfortunately we are spoiled and used to being able to take the easy road. The people who have always had to work hard and aren’t used to creature comforts are the ones who think nothing of committing themselves to a goal.
So the answer? Learn to go without for a while. Try going on a long trip somewhere that has minimal facilities, or try banning yourself from modern conveniences; even enrol yourself in an unpleasant job. Any experience like this can force you to better appreciate the value of hard graft and so help you to keep that same toughness when you go back to your normal environment. Then you’ll have the trapping of modern life and discipline and the world will be your oyster.
Another problem with all the immediate gratification we are used to is that it means we gradually come to expect getting what we want more and more immediately and in bigger and bigger doses. It’s a process of escalation that means we tend to get *more* lazy. By gradually introducing new rules then – like not finishing your desert, or by only having two hours of TV a night, you can that way improve your determination and increase that incrementally instead. Alternatively you can use escalation by challenging yourself to hold off something longer and longer each time you want it and this will ultimately help you to ‘train’ your discipline.