It’s Up To You

Self-discipline is a means to reject the traits of reaction and retreat. It gives you something to actively work on every day and forces you to make decisions and take actions based on what you really need. Through that process, you will learn more about yourself than you ever have before. You’ll see why you made certain decisions in the past, and you’ll understand what kind of person you really are.

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The obstacles to self-discipline as we’ve outlined them so far might seem like a big load to handle. And they are; most people never break through any of them and it reflects in their lives. You yourself might be wondering if it’s beyond your reach or capabilities: “Am I really capable of breaking through and developing the willpower I need to do what I need to do?”

As the saying goes, “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right.” When it comes to developing willpower, the most important factor might not be your mental or physical abilities or the range of what you can accomplish. Rather, it may simply be your belief that you can develop willpower.

A study by researcher Veronika Job examined university students over a single scholastic term. Job asked the students to evaluate themselves on their ability to maintain willpower over the course of a given task—whether they need to take a break after a run of tough work or whether their endurance “fueled itself” and allowed them to keep going.

Across the board, the students who believed that their willpower was unlimited did better in several measures. They regulated their activities better, kept procrastination at bay, got better grades, and were even better at eating right and maintaining physical health. On the other side, students who said they needed to recharge themselves from time to time were especially beset by procrastination, often made poor dietary decisions, and found themselves easily distracted. They even spent more money—theoretically while they were distracting themselves with online destinations.

Job’s results indicated that those students who were convinced of their own abilities and really believed they had more willpower actually did. Their self-messaging turned out to be a crucial element in their superior performance, to the point where it couldn’t simply be coincidence. Score another point for the placebo effect.

This is great news because it implies that although building willpower is a challenge, a huge part of the solution is simply believing that you can do it. We have exactly as much willpower as we think we do. Building self-discipline is your choice and yours alone—it’s all up to you. Nobody and nothing else have as much influence in the attainment of your goals. It doesn’t matter how your brain is wired or where you are oriented with regards to time. What overrides those is your belief in yourself.

Ultimately, this ends up being a good thing because it places the power in your hands. Whether you can or cannot be disciplined is up to you. For some, this is a freeing thought to determine one’s behavior and actions. By producing your own incentive and making self-discipline its own reward, you’ll see positive effects unveil themselves on a daily, gradual basis. These benefits include the following, which you can also feel free to factor into your pleasure principle cost-benefit analysis.

Avoiding temptation. The self-disciplined mind knows that fighting temptation is a Herculean task. Even the strongest-minded person might feel a tinge of enticement when they’re walking past the window of an ice cream shop where there’s a huge color display of a towering sundae hanging in the window. Unless you hate ice cream, you’ll feel a twinge.

But what self-discipline helps you do is avoid the temptation—pass the shop by without feeling the need to indulge. This is because self-discipline helps you control and direct yourself when there are clashing internal forces at work. Your mind won’t focus on the deprivation aspect: it’ll concentrate on the good you’re producing.

More life satisfaction. Those who practice self-discipline frequently report that they’re happier than people who don’t. This reality flies in the face the idea that self-discipline means not having any fun. What you’re trying to get on the pathway of self-control will be a thousand times more gratifying than the rewards of an immediate thrill—it’s just going to take a little longer.

Patience can be frustrating. When you live in a society like we do, where instant pleasure is relatively easy to pursue, it can really be hard to walk a line of restraint and control, especially when you have friends who constantly live for the moment. But what you’re after is bigger than that: you want to create a more satisfying and contented lifetime. That’s something that only self-discipline and continued focus will bring. When it does, it’ll be much more meaningful and satisfying than those brief, isolated diversions.

You do more of what you want. On a similar note, those who take up a life of self-discipline are often imagined as “not doing” things. They’re not up to date on the current hit TV shows; they’re not hanging out with their bar friends on a nightly basis; they’re not traveling to Fort Lauderdale on spring break. In some way or another, they’re perceived as being left out—but that’s only according to other people’s concept of fun.

In reality, the self-disciplined person is giving themselves more opportunity to do what they actually want to do. This comes about in two ways. First, you have the ability to position yourself for success and do what needs to be done. This leaves time for the interests you want to pursue, and it can even be just a lazy afternoon of television.

Second, you have the discipline to do challenging things that you want. You might want to climb a set of mountains or run a marathon. Self-discipline is how you do them. They’re doing activities that are rewarding and enriching—and they’re doing them because they’ve disciplined themselves to be able to do them and appreciate them.

You gain ultimate freedom.

Actually, you’re MORE in the moment. Taking the road to self-discipline is a constant process that frequently requires you to make choices. You need to be fully aware of the decisions that can help you the most. Sometimes opportunities will arise out of nowhere: a chance to talk with someone who’s been down your path before and can give you some advice or support or an activity like yoga that can help you develop more mental stamina and concentration.

These opportunities seem to arise for people who are working on self-discipline, but it’s not magic. It’s because you’re more aware and attuned to things that will help you get to where you want to go. The self-disciplined mind isn’t shut off—far from it. It’s looking for and recognizing those chances all the time. You’re more aware of what’s happening around you. You’re not missing anything. You’re just making a different choice.

Setting boundaries. Chances are, you have at least one or two good friends or relations who will be thrilled to support you in any way they can. But let’s face it: there will also be a few of them who will try—knowingly or otherwise—to knock you off your path to self-discipline. “C’mon, you can miss a gym session. There’s beer and a game of Call of Duty with your name on it.”

Self-discipline helps you identify those conflicts before they begin and can make you stand your ground. It can also build your resolve to resist the pleadings and guilt-tripping of others who might not be that understanding of your goal to improve yourself.

Knowing yourself. Finally, self-discipline is one of the best ways to find out who you really are and what you really value—in a real-world setting. At times, our situations can seem so bothersome or troubling that we can’t imagine any course other than escape. But in those scenarios, you’re not just escaping hardship or the world: you’re also escaping yourself.

Self-discipline is a means to reject the traits of reaction and retreat. It gives you something to actively work on every day and forces you to make decisions and take actions based on what you really need. Through that process, you will learn more about yourself than you ever have before. You’ll see why you made certain decisions in the past, and you’ll understand what kind of person you really are.

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Peter Hollins is a bestselling author, human psychology researcher, and a dedicated student of the human condition.

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