Today I have a great guest blog for you, Mark Tyrell shares excellent advice on self-discipline. Hope you like it, and don’t forget to explore Mark’s website: Hypnosis Downloads.
Once a wise man asked another man: “Can you keep a secret?” The other man eagerly replied that he could: “Then observe!” said the wise man: “So can I”
Personal self control can make the difference between a life well lived with plans and dreams realized and a sense of regret and waste.
Research stretching back years showed that children as young as four who could exert self discipline by controlling an impulse to have a sweet now so that they could have two sweets later (1) were more likely to have successful happy lives as adults. Self discipline doesn’t just make us successful it makes us happy it seems.
But self discipline isn’t just about the lottery of genetically inherited luck; something we’re either born with or not. We can all learn to control even master our immediate wants and impulses. So how do you do this? How can you purposefully strengthen your self discipline?
Step one: Exercise your discipline muscle
Just think about the language we use to describe self discipline: We talk about it being “strong” or “weak” just like a muscle. And research (2) has found that just like a muscle the more you exercise your self control the stronger it gets.
But it gets better. Exercising will power in one place (such as making ourselves work on our cherished project for a set time every day) will start to strengthen self discipline in other areas such as being able to say no to that tempting social invitation when you’d previously promised your pal you’d sit and listen to their marital problems. . So exercising self discipline specifically can strengthen it generally. But alas self discipline behaves like a muscle in another way too…
Step two: Don’t overdo it!
Exercising all day every day, lifting weights for hours on end won’t make you stronger in fact overtraining will start to weaken and waste your muscles (3)
Likewise people who have a New Years’ Resolution frenzy deciding to exert massive amounts of self discipline all over the place all at once will likely end up feeling less able to exert self control. When we exercise a muscle we deplete it of stored natural sugars (glycogen) and eventually the muscle weakens which means we need to rest. It’s the same with self control. Amazingly when you exert self discipline you actually deplete glycogen stores in your body just as with physical exertion! (4) Its even been found that ensuring your blood sugar levels are stable helps strengthen self discipline. So decide where you want to focus your self control, don’t overdo it all at once and build it up slowly.
Step three Beware of perfectionism
Having to do everything absolutely perfectly may, paradoxically, over use your supplies of will power needlessly making you less fulfilled and effective. Remember exerting self discipline drains glucose levels from the body and the perfectionist feels they have to exert their will and attempt to control everything. Feeling compelled to control all kinds of things that you really don’t need to (such as what other people say or think) is a waste of will power where it could be reserved and focussed on where you really need it. Being to perfectionist can make us give up earlier and stop trying or bothering because of the thinking error that: “If it’s not exactly as I feel it should be then it’s not worth bothering with at all!”
So remind yourself that you are only human and that you can make mistakes and you’ll actually find greater levels of self discipline.
Step four: Strongly imagine the consequences of your actions
The children in the self discipline research who were able to forgo having a marshmallow treat immediately by waiting (and thereby getting two treats!) were able to do this because they used their imaginations constructively. This is a good example of how one of nature’s finest human tools, the imagination, is meant to be used (one way it is commonly misused is through needless worrying) When you need to exert discipline and lead your own impulses really imagine the positive consequences later of being strong now. I use hypnosis with my clients, a very powerful way to access the imagination to strengthen resolve in this way.
Step five: Remind yourself who you are
When we feel like being weak we become trapped in the present (sometimes “living in the moment” isn’t so great) But it’s been found (5) that when we feel like giving into temptation stating to ourselves or even out loud our core values can give us an injection of immediate self discipline. Doing this can snap us out of tunnel vision and illuminate the bigger picture which in turn weakens the impulse. So next time you feel magnetically drawn to those doughnuts you might tell yourself: “Health and the welfare of my body is important to me!” or if someone felt compelled to treat someone else badly they might state to themselves: “Being a decent human being is important to me!” Try it.
And finally I’m reminded of the words of the ancient Roman poet Horace “Rule your mind or it will rule you.”
- C. and Mischel, W. (1976). Effects of temptation-inhibiting and task-facilitating plans on self-control. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 33 (2), 209-217 DOI: 10.1037/0022-3522.214.171.124.
- See: Gailliot, M.T., Mead, N.L., & Baumeister, R.F. (2008). Self-Regulation, In O.P. John, R.W. Robbins & L.A. Pervin (Eds.), Handbook of Personality: Theory and Research (pp. 472-491). New York: The Guilford Press.
- See: Doug McGuff’s excellent book ‘Body by science’ 2009
- The mind-body response of exerting willpower literally fatigues us (Tice et al., 2007). It depletes physical power, as shown in one study that looked at the effects of mental self-control on physical stamina (Bray et al., 2008). In this study, trying to control one’s thoughts decreased muscular endurance, as measured by performance and EMG activity. The researchers who conducted this study called the effect ‘central fatigue’. This all provides another reason why it might be a good idea to exercise first thing.
- According to research conducted by Schmeichel and Vohs in 2009.