People see ‘discipline’ as a bad word, like it’s a party-pooper – “I was having a great time there, free to do/eat whatever I wanted but, ugh, need to get serious and disciplined now, knuckle down, stop being a wingnut”.
But if you think about it, being disciplined, having some self-control, getting the stuff done that you need to get done, actually gives you freedom. Freedom to THEN mess about in your new-found spare time and BE that wingnut. Discipline shouldn’t then be seen as the party pooper, but rather as a welcome party guest who will make everything run smoothly.
Why I’m like a toddler
Right now most of us feel overwhelmed by everything we have on our plates. Work, family, your own personal goals/pursuits – they all have ther own mini to-do lists don’t they? I can’t say I’ve always been much good at ticking things off those lists.
I think at the end of the day if I watched a film of my actions during that day, I’d be unimpressed at how childish I am. I don’t mean playing with LEGO (that’s only at weekends for a start…), I mean how pathetic I am at acting on whims, what I want right there and then, listening to my immediate ‘feelings‘ telling me I should totally do something, and that I am SO right in coming to that conclusion. It’s a bit pathetic really.
It means at the end of a day where I had told myself I would do X and Y, and would stop myself even thinking of doing Z, I actually end up doing X (woohoo!), convincing myself Y can wait and decide to actually do Z, and also starting Projects A, B and C that are totally the right things now for me to focus on now y’know actually come to think of it, and I’ll work on A, B and C tomorrow definitely…
Why we are a bit crap and being disciplined
I mentioned ‘feelings’ there and put them in their own wee quotes for a reason. It’s important to understand the difference between ‘feelings’ and ‘beliefs’ when it comes to trying to be disciplined.
Feelings are basically our initial reaction when faced with something happening, some choice we have to make. Feelings are what we immediately WANT to do in that situation, driven by emotion rather than logic, e.g. Person annoys you: Punch them in face.
Beliefs, in contrast, are conclusions you have come to about the way things SHOULD be – conclusions you’ve come to over time, not on a whim. Like “I will take better care of my health, because I only get one body and I have to take care of it”, “I will spend more time wth my kids/partner to improve those relationships”, “I will eat less crap because I want to lose weight”.
Feelings and Beliefs are like those two familes in Romeo & Juliet that I can’t be arsed wikipedia-ing to find out the names of. I blame West Side Story, because I now constantly get mixed up between what happens in that and what happens in the Shakespeare play. Like, Romeo doesn’t sing “Ma-ri-aaa…”, right? But I digress, Feelings and Beliefs don’t get along at all. It’s like they can’t be in the same room/brain without it all kicking off.
We run into problems because, when it comes to getting anything done, Feelings can lead you to rationalize things to yourself, almost trying to convince you that your Beliefs are misplaced and wrong: “I know I told myself I would cut back on junk but I WANT CHIPS NOW!” – and then we start convincing ourselves why having chips is ok, and actually the right thing to do, and we can be extremely persuasive at times like these can’t we?
How to stop acting like a child
What changed things for me was when I saw that my kids act this way, acting on emotions constantly, always wanting things NOW. But the thing is, they are all under 12 years old, and are already growing out of it to some extent – what was my excuse?
I didn’t have an excuse. So once I reframed acting on Feelings rather than Beliefs as an immature way of living, this gave me a jolt. When I pause and realize I’m about to go against a Belief just for some short-term boost, I tell myself “Grow. The. F-ck. Up.”
Now you don’t have to throw in the F-ck (though profanity helps sometimes), but these few seconds of pausing and acknowledging what you’re about to do, is what can help keep us on track with those things we’ve decided to try to improve in our lives. Self-discipline involves putting your immediate Feelings to the side, to check on your Beliefs before making a decision. Some examples:
Feeling – Oooh crisps! I feel like crisps, and these are Texas BBQ Pringles, I am all over you Mr Pringles, come to Papa…
Belief – I’m trying to lose weight, and I told myself I would have a blow-out every Saturday. Today is Wednesday. Your day will come Senor Pringlo, I’ll wait until Saturday then you’re mine. I will pop. I will not stop…
Feeling – This sofa is so cosy, I am knackered, it’s cold outside and I feel like watching these Friends repeats on TV – screw my workout tonight, it can wait, sure there’s no point unless I’m really in the mood.
Belief – I am trying to get in shape. I need to stick with my schedule to make any progress. Something will come up tomorrow too if I ditch the workout tonight and aim to do it tomorrow. I need to get my workout gear on and go work out. It’ll be an hour of my time tops, then back to this sofa, and Friends will still be on some channel somewhere.
This pausing and acknowledging thing isn’t easy though. We’re so used to stuffing the cookies in our mouths/downing the tequila/skipping workouts without thinking about it, that it’s a hard habit to break.
Although we now recognise that acting on Feelings and ignoring Beliefs is a recipe for inactivity and incorrect decisions, we can’t just click our fingers and “Be Disciplined”.
How to build up your discipline muscles
Discipline is like a muscle that in most of us is extremely weak. And just like a muscle, if you wanted to get stronger you don’t pick the heaviest weight in the gym and expect to lift it 20 times straight away. You need to start light. And ‘light’ in a discipline sense means not asking too much of yourself to begin with.
We need to take baby steps first, and build from there. As well as just taking a few seconds to consider whether we’re about to do something based on feelings, that goes against our beliefs, we also need to start small when trying to be disciplined enough to make some positive changes and build healthier habits:
Go for a walk every Sunday to start getting some structure into your exercise regime. Just Sunday. Even if it’s only for half an hour. This will get you used to the concept of exercise happening at a set time every week, like an appointment.
Drink a big glass of water with every meal to start being more conscious of digestion, hydration and looking after yourself. This will get you used to the concept of consuming something that isn’t the tastiest thing ever, but the RIGHT thing for your long term health.
Stop watching TV by 11pm during the week to make sure you get a half-decent amount of sleep. This introduces the concept of realising your hormones, energy levels, skin and brain function the next day are more important than 1 more episode of Dexter on Netflix.
Leave a Post It note on your desk at work at the end of the day with the 1 non-reactive thing you have to do the next day. This introduces the concept of you taking control of your working days, rather than just letting each day ‘happen’, then getting stressed at all this shit on your ToDo list that’s never getting done.
See what I mean? Don’t start with “Must run 10 miles a day 7 days a week and follow this Celeb Diet I’ve just read about”. Start light.
After a few weeks you can start adding in more/different exercise, more healthy diet additions, more lifestyle tweaks, more things on your next day to-do list, etc and you’ll be amazed how your life looks 6 months down the road. But give yourself a chance at succeeding, and strengthen your discipline slowly but surely.
Remember, if you walked into a gym, decided you WANTED to be able to squat 150kg, got under the bar, collapsed in a heap injured, what would you say to yourself –
A. Ah for f-ck sake. You dick! Why can’t you squat 150kg on your first visit to the gym! You are useless. Pathetic. No point in any of this.
or B. Well, that was clearly too much to begin with, I am weaker than I thought. Ah well, need to start a bit lighter, build up strength gradually. I’ll squat 150kg eventually though.
Choose B every time you’ve found you’ve aimed too high. Start being nice to yourself, push yourself to improve but within reason. The rest of the world honestly doesn’t really care about you, but at least YOU should. And looking after yourself never includes constantly berating yourself for not being fitter, better at your job, a nicer person, slimmer or whatever.
Careful prodding, taking a second to consider those beliefs rather than acting on feelings – Yes.
Expecting yourself to have iron discipline overnight and berating yourself when you don’t – No.