In a world that offers little comfort, it makes sense that we want to seek out self soothing and ways to feel happier. This can often involve unhealthy behaviours though such as overeatong, overspending and drinking too much alcohol. The pull of instant gratification can be powerful and long term goals can easily go out the window. When we do manage to be self disciplined, it can help boost us psychologically and help us feel better about ourselves.
Here are ways that I have found to help me improve my self-discipline:
- Know what your weaknesses are. Do you tend to overspend? Overeat? Drink too much alcohol? Under what circumstances do these self-sabotaging behaviours occur? Figuring out what puts you in that vulnerable state is the first step.
- Try to limit temptation. Remove tempting food/alcohol from your home if you plan to diet. Lock your credit cards away and give someone else the key if you tend to overspend. You can be creative but it’s important to limit temptation to increase your chances of success.
- Change your regular patterns of behaviour. It takes a while for a habit to become natural and separate from our conscious decision-making processes. When a behaviour becomes habit, we stop using our decision-making skills and instead function on auto-pilot. Initially, the brain will struggle to go against its usual programming and the change will be challenging. Stick with it though (patience is a virtue) and your changes should begin to feel more natural. A 2009 study by Phillippa Lally, a health psychology researcher at UCL, entitled ‘How long does it take to form a habit’, found that on average it takes 66 days for a habit to become ingrained.
- Remind yourself regularly of the long-term gains. You won’t always get it right but when you to feel tempted, remind yourself of your long-term goals. If you want to lose weight, you could put photos up of when you were thinner or use images of thinner healthy bodies that inspire you. You could create a vision board (a collage of inspiring images) of how you want your life to be and put this up somewhere to motivate you. There are also some good mobile phone apps that help you to keep track of your progress and monitor your habits. Do whatever it takes to encourage you to continue.
- Practise self-compassion if things don’t go well and understand that this is part of the process. I don’t know anyone who is self-disciplined all the time. Nor should you be. It’s important to be kind to yourself if you do slip up and useful to reward yourself when you do achieve your personal self-care goals. Factor in the odd treat too, going completely ‘cold turkey’ often leads to failure. Give yourself something to look forward too even when you are focused on self-discipline.