This is the time in the school term that requires much intensive work, meaning that I am burning the midnight oil every night and have (even bigger) bags under my eyes. Week 8 of 10 means that there is light at the end of the tunnel, but I must dig my way to it through a mountain of books and papers and self-discipline.
My major is Organizational and Industrial Psychology. These last few terms have been focused on leadership, so we have been studying the habits and lifestyles of the uber-successful to find out what makes them tick. I don’t really have any grand plans for after graduation. I will be starting a business, but I do not aspire to make a fortune. I’m not really doing it for the money…but I do aspire to do some good in the world and to positively impact other lives. However, before I get there, I must keep my nose to the grindstone and practice some self discipline.
There are many important qualities that can contribute to a person’s achievements and happiness, but there is only one that begets sustainable, long term success in all aspects of life – self discipline. Whether in terms of one’s diet, fitness, work ethic, or relationships, self discipline is the first and foremost trait that one needs to accomplish goals, lead a good and healthy lifestyle and ultimately, to be a happier person.
Self discipline means doing what needs done rather than what one necessarily wants to do. For instance, I turned down a great invitation for dinner and music with friends last night because I had a paper to write. I have gotten used to this, during the course of my grad school endeavors, and, in fact, rather enjoy just staying at home alone working toward a much-desired goal. Each day, I realize how much closer I am, and each day, I am a little more grateful for this opportunity.
According to a 2013 study by Wilhelm Hoffman, people with high self control are happier than those without. The study discovered this is true because the self disciplined subjects were more capable of dealing with goal conflicts. These people spent less time debating whether to indulge in behaviors detrimental to their health, and were able to make positive decisions more easily. The self disciplined did not allow their choices to be dictated by impulses or feelings. Instead, they made informed, rational decisions on a daily basis without feeling overly stressed or upset. That is what I am trying to do with regard to school….and it is paying off, big time.
Self discipline is a learned behavior. It requires practice and repetition in one’s day-to-day life. Here are a few tips to help attain it:
1. Removing as many temptations and distractions from one’s environment is a crucial first step when working to improve self discipline. If you are trying to have better control of your eating, toss the junk food. If you want to improve your focus while working, turn off your cell phone and clear away the clutter from your desk. In other words, set yourself up for success by ditching the bad influences.
2. Eat regularly and healthfully Well, anyone that knows me, also knows that I am an advocate for a healthful, organic, plant-based diet. Studies have shown that low blood sugar can weaken a person’s resolve. When you’re hungry, your ability to concentrate suffers as your brain is not functioning to its highest potential. Hunger makes it hard o focus on the tasks at hand, not to mention making you grumpy and pessimistic. You are much more likely to have a weakened sense of self control in all areas of our life – diet, exercise, work, relationships… you name it. In order to stay on track, make sure that you are well fueled throughout the day with healthy snacks and meals every few hours. I personally make sure to always have some almonds or Muscle Milk on hand. These snacks ensure that I can get a dose of healthy protein and fats throughout the day when needed. Eating often regulates your blood sugar levels and improves your decision making skills and concentration. Allow you brain to focus on your goals and priorities instead of on your growling stomach.
3. Don’t wait for it to “feel right.” Improving your self discipline means changing up your normal routine, which can be uncomfortable and awkward. Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, explains that habit behaviors are traced to a part of the brain called the basal ganglia – a portion of the brain associated with emotions, patterns, and memories. Decisions, on the other hand, are made in the prefrontal cortex, a completely different area. When a behavior becomes habit, we stop using our decision-making skills and instead function on auto-pilot. Therefore, breaking a bad habit and building a new habit not only requires us to make active decisions, it will feel wrong. Your brain will resist the change in favor of what it has been programmed to do. The solution? Embrace the wrong. Acknowledge that it will take a while for your new regime to feel right or good or natural. Keep chugging along. It will happen.
4. Schedule breaks, treats, and rewards for yourself. I tend to pick up my guitar and practice for half an hour when I want to reward myself for accomplishing a school task. Self discipline does not mean your new regimen needs to be entirely cold turkey, hard core, or drill sergeant-like in execution. In fact, giving yourself zero wiggle room often results in failures, disappointments, and giving into your old ways. While practicing self control, schedule specific breaks, treats, and rewards for yourself. Dieting? Designate Saturday as ice cream sundae day. Trying to lose weight? Treat yourself with a fancy massage after a month of gym trips. Working on controlling your spending? Allow yourself a $25 splurge at the mall on Sunday. (Leave the credit cards at home, and bring cash only). Self discipline can be hard. Reward your effort.
5. Forgive yourself and move forward. As much as the turkeys WILL try to bring you down, simply detatch and don’t allow them into your headspace. Mind you, instituting a new way of thinking won’t always go according to plan. You will have ups and downs, fabulous successes, and flat out failures. The key is to keep moving forward. When you have a setback, acknowledge what caused it and move on. It is easy to get wrapped up in guilt, anger, or frustration, but these emotions will not help build improve self discipline. Instead, use the hiccups in your plan as learning experiences for the future. Forgive yourself, and get back in the saddle ASAP. The longer you’re off your game, the harder it is to keep going in a positive direction.
Oh….and have a beautiful day, ok? 🙂