People think that either you have self-discipline or you don’t, there’s no in-between. But that holds as much truth as the theory of flat earth.
In reality, people have different levels of self-discipline. Even the same people have different levels of self-discipline when it comes to different tasks. Some people might have a high level of self-discipline when it comes to working out but very little self-discipline when it comes to doing their schoolwork. Other people might be the opposite: they may be able to complete their schoolwork but aren’t able to get themselves moving.
So what gives you the ability to be self-disciplined in certain areas, and where does it run away in other tasks?
The short simple answer to that would be your ‘Reason Why’.
The reason why explains why you do what you do. It’s like one of those weird questions you get asked in an interview. Even though we make up a random answer for the interview when it comes to self-discipline, you need to answer it and you need to answer it honestly.
Having a mental picture of your ‘Why’ gives you strength in times where you forget why you’re doing something.
Studies showed that a strong motivating reason why allows people to tap into willpower reserves that they might otherwise not have been able to.
In our examples above, the ones who work out have a clear image of why they work out – they might want to get fit, feel better, look better, get stronger, or all of the above. Likewise, those who complete their work may have the goal to be the best academically and get into the best of colleges.
With all this being said, remember that reason why is only a finite resource. A strong motivating reason why may only act as a buffer or a temporary solution to increase willpower and that willpower still does have a finite limit.
This brings us to the next step of developing self-discipline.
Developing discipline through singular activities
Since willpower is a limited resource, it is better to use it effectively on one task than spread it throughout ten.
Focus all of it on one of the however many tasks you want to accomplish.
Then when the first activity becomes a habit, move on to your second activity.
For example, you want to develop the habit of reading a book, exercising, and making your bed.
You can begin by taking up any of these activities, possibly the simplest one first.
Every day you decide on a time to fix up your reading time.
Over a couple of weeks, this becomes a habit and you no longer need to convince yourself to read.
You repeat this for other activities as well.
When an activity becomes a habit it drains a lot less willpower. Thus, the more activities you turn into habits, the less you need to rely on your limited willpower and it can be utilized for other things.
Here’s another thing that can help you remain on track when you’re already low on willpower.
Pre-plan Your Response to Temptations: If-Then technique
As the name suggests, pre-planning your responses means thinking of ways how you’d handle your distractions or temptations before they arise. This way you don’t have to use your willpower in resisting your temptations or in thinking about how to act. Otherwise, we tend to give in to our distractions because we don’t know how to respond.
As an example, your temptations are your friends asking you to hang out and your goal is to exercise during that time. You tell yourself, if my friends call me about the party, then I’ll tell them I am busy and have a couple of important things to do.
Another example, if the urge to play the video game because you feel like taking a break after studying, then you’ll go for a short walk instead.
Self-discipline is like a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it gets. Practicing self-discipline increases self-discipline in subsequent acts. You have to train yourself to be able to strengthen your resolve and get rid of temptations so that you may achieve your goals.
Recap for memory:
- Willpower is a limited resource. A strong motivating reason why allows people to tap into willpower reserves that they might otherwise not have been able to.
- When an activity becomes a habit it drains a lot less willpower.
- Self-discipline is like a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it gets.