Choices, Observations, and Small Steps to Self-Discipline

Self-discipline is a trait most of us wish we had more of. But what exactly is self-discipline? How can we nurture it in our lives? Despite its seemingly elusive nature, it’s a concept that can be dissected and understood better, helping us to make more constructive choices in our lives.

Yes – Sometimes, We Know What’s Right then We Do What’s Wrong

We inherently know what we should be doing. Be it eating healthier, exercising more, or avoiding procrastination, our inner voice regularly advises us on the path to righteousness. Yet, this same inner voice often encourages us to stray for the sake of immediate gratification — candy instead of salad, a Netflix binge instead of a workout, or social media wandering instead of work.

Yes – We Struggle with Urges

When urges visit us, the choice we face often becomes a mental tug-of-war. One common approach to combating these urges is to fight them head-on. However, fighting the urges often proves counterproductive, giving them even more power and making them more formidable. Another strategy is to replace troubling urges with more-productive thoughts or activities. While this can provide temporary relief, the troubling urges often return with a vengeance.

The Importance of Observing Our Urges

When we are anxious or stressed, our body chemistry changes, making it even more challenging to control urges. Breathing strategies – techniques like the Navy SEALs’ box breathing – can be effective in these situations, fostering calmness and allowing us to focus. This calm state enables us to observe our urges rather than immediately acting upon them. The act of observing can often diminish the power of an urge, making it easier to make rational choices. Of course, the process of observing urges must be repeated to undo the bad habits tied to the urges.

Navy SEALs and Self-Discipline

Interestingly, Navy SEALs are taught the “40% Rule,” which suggests that when you think you’ve reached your limit, you’re actually only achieving 40% of your capability. Applying this to self-discipline means that there’s a lot more room for you to grow and resist urges than you think.

Atomic Habits and Small Steps to Permanent Changes

Author James Clear’s concept of “Atomic Habits” emphasizes the value of taking small, incremental steps to achieve success. Instead of setting lofty, often unattainable goals that lead to failure and discouragement, aim for tiny improvements. These “small wins” accumulate over time, offering sustainable success and easier-to-manage self-discipline.

Adding Pearls to a String of Good Habits

Dr. Phil Stutz uses a striking metaphor to describe this journey of self-discipline: adding pearls to a string. The idea is not to dwell on past successes or failures but to focus on the present. What can you do right now, today, or tomorrow, that will add another “pearl” to your string of disciplined decisions?

Your Path to Greater Self-Discipline

Self-discipline is a planned process, involving simple repeated measures that build willpower. One proven simple method for building willpower is calmly observing your urges until they naturally subside, enabling you to make better choices. By employing techniques like box breathing to maintain calm, acknowledging the “40% Rule” to tap into hidden reserves, and taking small, atomic steps towards your goals, you can be well on your way to a more disciplined life.

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