• Have a healthy attitude toward control—though there are things in life we never have control over, we are always in charge of our own reactions and actions. Try the Stoic exercise to help you identify what you can change, what you can’t, and practice the wisdom it takes to know the difference.
• Self-disciplined people know that their success in life is their own responsibility, and they own it. They don’t blame others, complain, or wait for permission. They embrace the freedom of responsibility.
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Let’s take a closer look at control. No, you don’t always have control over things, and when you do, you seldom have complete control.
But what you always do have is ownership and responsibility.
“Owning” something means maturely recognizing that something is, in fact, yours and not someone else’s. It’s not someone else’s job to make you happy or productive, and it’s not someone else’s fault that you’re not. If you feel lazy or angry or undecided or fearful, those feelings belong to you and only you. And that means that you and only you can work to change them. This book is about self-discipline, and not discipline. This is about taking responsibility for your own actions. You are not controlled or maneuvered by anyone else or by your environment or events. Yes, events happen and other people choose what they choose, but we are always, always responsible for what we do with our own lives and what we choose.
When you are not responsible for what happens in your life then it means you are a victim. Taking ownership can feel scary if you are used to avoiding or blaming or making excuses, but taking responsibility is actually a kind of freedom, and it connects you to your power in a way that nothing else can.
How to Use This in Your Life Immediately
Taking real responsibility can be lifelong work, but it’s something we can constantly hold ourselves accountable to, in every moment.
Firstly, get in the habit of asking, who does this belong to?
When you have an emotion, when you speak, when you act, when you think something—who does it belong to? Some people take on too much responsibility and assume that everything is theirs. This question will help you identify that pattern, too. Nobody can make you feel or do or say anything, and similarly, you can’t make anyone else do or say or feel something—not without everyone’s permission!
Secondly, notice when you’re tempted to complain—complaints often hide blame. If you’re unhappy or angry, don’t forget to ask what your role in the situation is. What are you doing to cause or maintain the problem? Forget about what others should or shouldn’t do and look to yourself: what is your scope of action? When you complain, you are disempowering yourself. Stop and immediately ask what action you can take to improve your situation. This will take you out of victim mode and into responsibility.
Another, more subtle way we can fail to take responsibility is to passively wait for better days or assume that someone or something is coming to save us. Watch if you often say “one day” and constantly look forward to the future rather than making the present all it can be. Life is right now. When you assume the good thing is coming later (or already past) you forfeit your own responsibility. Ask instead, “What do I want right now? And what I can I do right now to make that happen?”
Finally, we can all learn to take more responsibility in life in the way we choose to interpret events, where we chose to put our attention, and how we respond to stimuli in our environment—or not. You don’t have to take every insult personally. You don’t have to agree with other people’s interpretations or priorities. If someone projects onto you, you don’t have to accept that projection as true. You don’t have to be crushed by failure—you can choose to learn from it. When you pursue your own values and seek your own meaning, you are owning your own life. This will give you conviction and courage that will strengthen you more than anything else.
Being grateful is not merely a favorable emotional state of mind to be in. When you practice gratitude, you are also affecting your cognition, your perception, your problem-solving ability, your creativity, and your resilience. Practicing gratitude is one of those things that looks kind of sweet and nice on the surface, but when practiced daily, starts to show the full force of its power. It can be a game-changer.
You might not think that gratitude has much to do with self-control, but the two go hand in hand. When you practice gratitude—and also compassion, connectedness, contentment, and even pride—then you are effectively building a store of good feelings and wellbeing that almost inoculate you against future temptations, obstacles, and setbacks.
When you have an ongoing gratitude practice, you are basically cultivating a kind of spiritual immune system that will protect you from disappointment, impatience, fear, and so on. When you can become aware of and relish all the good things in your life, you feel “full”—and this fullness allows you to tackle life’s difficulties with a bit more grace.
Consider an example: In the morning, you make yourself a healthy breakfast of oats with blueberries and a delicious cup of coffee. You don’t rush and gobble it up though, but pause and savor every bite, truly relishing just how lucky you are to eat such a nice thing in the morning. You leave your house on a positive note, feeling content and satisfied. Later, when you encounter some cake at the office, you’re tempted for a moment, but then again, you’ve already had a nice breakfast and feel good already—what could cake add?
Importantly, nothing’s really changed—only your attitude. You have taken the time to notice what is already wonderful in your life and so are less tempted by distractions. You have more self-discipline because you are coming from a place of abundance and contentment, rather than negativity and looking for the worst. Later in the same day, if you hear some bad news, it may sting, but it will probably sting less.
Living your life with gratitude helps you notice the little wins like the bus showing up right on time, a stranger holding the door for you, or the sun shining through your window when you wake up in the morning. Each of these small moments strings together to create a web of well-being that, over time, strengthens your ability to notice the good. And more than that, it helps you spot opportunities or solutions to problems that might have been invisible to your more shut-down, pessimistic brain.
How to Use This in Your Life Immediately
A gratitude journal is a thing of beauty, and it’s free and easy to do, right now (Hooray! Let’s be thankful for the existence of gratitude journals). Simply open a notebook and get into the daily habit of noting the things you’re grateful for. The nice weather. Your cat being a darling. The fact that you got a discount on your burrito. Your back hurt yesterday and it doesn’t hurt anymore. You found a penny on the floor. The color pink exists.
Don’t limit your spirit of thankfulness to your journal, though. Try to have gratitude glasses on all throughout your day, deliberately looking for all the ways that things are pretty awesome right now. What can you brag about or be proud about? What lucky break have you received? What lovely things in your immediate environment used to give you joy until you got bored and forgot about them? Look for things that are beautiful or funny or comforting. Notice what makes you smile—even tiny things. Say thank you—out loud or just internally—and thank even the items in your house as you use them. Isn’t it nice that you have your faithful coffee mug, always there for you? Thanks coffee mug.
Don’t just do lip service; really cultivate the feeling of gratitude. Pause and let that feeling of thankfulness and contentment settle in. Feel blessed. Soak it up and imagine yourself storing up those good vibes to carry into the rest of your life.
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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