It sounds basic, but you cannot cultivate self-discipline without the foundation of a healthy lifestyle. You can fuel your willpower by considering how to fuel your body first. There are many different diet philosophies, and they all work, but one thing consistently shown to improve self-control is to maintain stable blood sugar levels.
Chances are that healthy eating is one of the habits you intend you cultivate within yourself by finding enough self-discipline and motivation. But the truth is, it may go the other way around, that is, that self-discipline is a result of healthy eating and not a cause. Your blood sugar levels are directly and closely linked to your degree of self-control and energy, which impact in a big way on how disciplined you can be in your everyday choices and actions.
Willpower is not an infinite resource and gets depleted just like anything else. The brain literally runs on glucose as a fuel, therefore if you’re hungry, you’re simply not going to be as focused as you possibly can be. Studies have shown that low blood sugar often weakens 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 difficult to focus on the tasks at hand, not to mention making you grumpy and pessimistic.
Now, a caveat here: eating a healthy diet is not about strict limitations, staying unrealistically thin, or depriving yourself of the foods you love. Rather, it’s about feeling great, having more energy, improving your health, and boosting your mood. To set yourself up for success, try to keep things simple. Food really is fuel, and when you’re making changes to your life and cultivating discipline, you need that energy, and you need to eat strategically.
Eating a healthier diet doesn’t have to be complicated. But you do need a few key rules to live by, to guide you. Instead of being overly concerned with counting calories, for example, think of your diet in terms of color, variety, and freshness. Focus on avoiding packaged and processed foods and opting for more fresh ingredients whenever possible. Avoid snacks, eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full, and stay away from foods that actively harm you, like alcohol or loads of refined sugar and salt.
Having food rules is not about being on a diet or adopting restrictive eating. It’s more about applying your own values and principles to this super important area of life and taking responsibility for what you put in your mouth. In a way, it doesn’t matter all that much what your food rules are, only that they matter to you, that they are sustainable, and that they consistently allow you to achieve the health and balance you want. Michael Pollan, food journalist and author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, has his own three-part food rule: “Eat real food (i.e., not processed rubbish), mostly plants, not too much.” Simple, huh?
How to Use This in Your Life Immediately
What food rules will work for your life? There is a matter of trial and error, but as far as self-discipline is concerned, the best diet is one that is varied, balanced, and steady. Keep your blood sugar levels as constant as possible and eat a wide range of foods at regular intervals. Avoid bingeing or long fast periods. Take a look at some of these other popular food rules that have served people for centuries and see which can be slotted effectively into your life:
• Eat some protein with every meal
• Have at least five servings of fruit and veggies a day, all different colors
• Home cook most of your meals from scratch
• Drink plenty of water
• Avoid anything with the fiber removed, i.e., opt for brown rice and wholewheat pasta instead of white
• Replace bread, pastry, pasta, and cakes with starchy vegetables
• No food is off limits—it’s all about moderation and portion control
• Cut down on meat and eat more fish and veggie sources of protein
• Eat less salt and sugar, and don’t add any to your meals
• Eat until you’re seventy percent full, eat slowly, and chew well
• A little treat now and then won’t kill you!
Exercise Body . . . and Mind
We couldn’t mention healthy eating without also mentioning the value of regular physical movement and exercise. The two go hand in hand when it comes to creating a solid foundation onto which you can start building success and achieving your dreams.
This point is all about the following maxim: how you do anything is how you do everything. How does physical exercise benefit your overall discipline? If you exercise regularly, your willpower muscle will be stronger, too. When you exercise your physical body, you are also training your strength of will and dedication. You are teaching yourself that you can and will follow through on your commitments, and training your ability to stick it out and get it done.
Exercise is a precious cornerstone to a life filled with good and positive habits and free from bad habits. Not only is it brilliant for your physical health, but it will keep your mental health in tip-top form as well, helping you feel confident, capable, and energized as you move through your day. Instill the keystone habit of exercise into your morning routine, and you turbo charge each day with enthusiasm and focus right from the beginning. Plus, you get to tick something significant off your list and feel the sense of accomplishment that brings.
Exercise reliably reduces your levels of stress and pain by releasing endorphins and neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin. Exercise improves total health by increasing blood flow and the oxygenation of the body’s cells, toning the immune system, and helping it fight off diseases. Your mood will improve, you’ll sleep better, and maybe, just maybe, you’ll look better naked!
Again, regular physical exercise is the result of self-discipline, but it is also its cause. When you practice discipline in one area of your life, it’s inevitable that your dedication will spill over into other areas, too.
How to Use This in Your Life Immediately
As with so many other things in life, don’t overthink it. Start small and stay consistent. If you’re starting from zero, the most important thing is to clarify exactly what you want to achieve—not all of us can be fitness models (or want to be). Once you’re clear on what you want and why you want it, then set a single, realistic, quantifiable goal for yourself; for example, to get through a one-hour HIIT workout class. Then, assign yourself regular tasks throughout the week—it’s best if your workout happens at the same, non-negotiable time of day, every day. Naturally, you want to choose a time when you’re most wired up and ready to move.
In the beginning, just focus on what’s directly in front of you: that day’s workout, that set, that rep. Focus on the immediate short-term gains, not the big transformations you’re hoping to ultimately achieve. Simply notice that you feel good after getting your blood flowing. Reward yourself, track your progress, and let it sink in that you’re on the path. Always have a plan. At all times, you need to know exactly what exercise is lined up for you in the future—don’t leave it up to willpower alone, but schedule it in.
Eat well, sleep enough, and get the people in your life on board so they can support you. Avoid temptations and be kind to yourself—slipping up is part of the process, but don’t dwell on it. Just get back on the wagon and carry on as soon as you can.
Finally, a note about the kind of exercise you should try. That’s simple: pick something that you can genuinely imagine yourself doing day in and day out. You don’t have to do weight training or skipping or jogging or whatever. Choose something you love and which challenges you. That could be yoga, dance, swimming, mountain climbing, or whatever else floats your boat. Just make sure that a) you’re moving your body, and b) you’re doing it every single day.
Keep the words flowing by buying me a coffee.
Show notes and/or episode transcripts are available at https://bit.ly/self-growth-home
Peter Hollins is a bestselling author, human psychology researcher, and a dedicated student of the human condition.
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