Fall is always a time when I feel energized. I’m not sure if it’s conditioning from childhood – back to school time – or the cooler, crisper days, but I always feel inspired and ready for new ideas and projects at this time of year. With that in mind, the notion of the importance of self-discipline (which often gets a bad rap) came to mind.
I have no idea where I first heard the phrase, “Discipline is freedom.” I do know that it was a game changer for me. Up until that time I think I felt, as many do, that discipline meant deprivation, tedium, no fun at all! In coaching, we use a skill called “reframe,” which means to take information and look at it in a new way, from another perspective. Looking at discipline as “freedom” was a huge reframe for me, and one I’ve benefitted from ever since.
Self-discipline is essential to success, whatever the goal. When you look at anyone who’s achieved a high degree of success in their chosen field, you can bet that being disciplined played an important role in getting them there. In this age of instant and on-demand, it’s to get caught up in “I should be able to have/do this yesterday,” kind of thinking but that’s not how real life usually works. Yes, choosing immediate gratification over long-term accomplishment may feel good – in the moment. Choosing a cupcake over a fruit cup may seem like a good idea at the time, but isn’t going to work in favor of your weight loss goals over the long-term. The new suit that makes you look and feel fabulous may not feel quite as fab when your credit card bill arrives, and there goes your vacation deposit – again. Running a marathon is probably going to challenge your determination – big time – somewhere around mile 20 (give or take a few miles.) Hitching a ride back from your sister may alleviate the immediate pain, but so much for the finish line. You get the idea.
So how can we develop the type of discipline that enables us to not only achieve our goals but enjoy the journey?
- First, some good news to motivate you. A study first published in the Journal of Personality, and reported in Time magazine, found a high correlation between high levels of self-control and life satisfaction. In other words, those among us with higher self-discipline tend to be happier and more content in their lives generally. Think about that!
- Cost vs. benefit. When you find yourself in a problematic situation, ask yourself: Is the short term pleasure I am about to experience worth the long-term price I’ll pay? Focusing on the long-term is the way to go.
- Set yourself up for success. If you decide in advance of your best friend’s big birthday dinner that second helpings are a no-no, you’ve made a decision that will eliminate the need to decide in a moment of weakness. You can go and have a good time knowing you have a plan in place. If you are trying to stop drinking, having lunch in a bar isn’t the best idea. Part of having good self-control is setting yourself up to avoid problem situations in the first place. Not exposing yourself to temptation is a great way to do that.
- You may have heard the saying “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting different results.” Now, no one’s saying you’re nutty, but think about that one. If you want different results in your life, you are going to have to do things differently. That’s just reality. Think about what you’ve been doing so far. Is it getting you what you want?
- Lose the excuses. “I don’t have enough time” is a familiar one for most of us. How about: “I really blew it today, I’ll start again tomorrow.“ The fact is that most of us make the time for the priorities in our life. And if you ate something not on your plan at lunch, starting again “tomorrow” can disguise giving yourself a free pass for the rest of the day. The bottom line is honesty with yourself.
Having self-discipline can make or break you when it comes to achieving what you want in life, whether that’s attaining a promotion, running a marathon, or getting enough sleep. It’s the key to realizing the kind of freedom that ensures you are at your best.