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What is Self-Discipline and How to Strengthen it

A fresh look on self-discipline: it helps you to reach goals and to get rid of bad habits.

It seems that self-discipline helps people suppress their impulses. For instance, to avoid overeating, to keep away from social media, not to get distracted from the job, etc. The simplest way to visualize self-discipline is to think about it as of resource.  The more you use it, the less of it is left and the more you get tired.

Self-Discipline Strengthening

This vision has been a common one till recent times. Roy Baumeister’s jobs on willpower exhaustion were thought to be the proofs of this theory. Still, other psychologists could not repeat his results in their researches. We share our opinion about this happening.

Cooperation of Habits and Attention

Habits compel people to perform actions. For instance, they make them change a pose, distract, solve the problem. Attention wants them to do the opposite thing: to concentrate on the ongoing task.

Self-discipline enters the game when the habit demands an action to be done and attention wants you to refuse going in for the habit.

Imagine that you hear many children who are crying and asking you for something in their way. At any moment of time you can give your attention to one kid. You can please them, dissuade them or calm them down. You can refuse any reaction, too. The same thing works for impulses.

When you ignore an impulse, it does not disappear completely but gradually weakens. Impulses are not permanent, just like any thoughts and feelings. They get quiet if not receiving your attention.

But if an impulse is stronger that concentration, your temptation wins. No resources are spent on that. Just one of processes competing for control upon your organism dominates the others.

What Decreases Self-Discipline Level?

Why can’t people resist endlessly? Two main reasons don’t allow them to do that.

1. Signals from the Environment

Impulses always get fed by feelings. For instance, if you are slightly hungry, that is easy to ignore hunger feeling. When the hunger is strong, you can’t think about anything but food. The same thing works for discomfort from a long-lasting lack of movement. It is not that difficult to sit in one place for 20 minutes, but if you try doing that during two hours…

Your resistance time depends on the strength of this or that habit and external signals. Various signals influence habits with different intensiveness.

2. Your Perception of Time

When you feel discomfort, the wish to get rid of it appears, especially if you know it to last for long. This habit gets strengthened when you look at the watch or try to determine the time left intuitively, with your inner feelings. The longer the discomfort period is, the stronger the impulse gets.

What’s the Use of This Approach?

You can learn the following things if you perceive self-discipline as a way to control your attention, not as a resource:

  • Living in present. People perceive unpleasant conditions as somewhat irritating if they think them to last for a very long period of time. For instance, a dull task seems to be unbearable. Try to work in a room with no watches or clocks. You won’t check time constantly, and the habit of distraction would get weaker. Change clocks with a timer. It will let you know when the time devoted for a certain task expires. Switch to another thing only after the bell rings.
  • Ignoring impulses. Habits get strengthened through actions. I mean when you interact with them somehow: suppress them, give up to them or just feel ashamed of them. Train to ignore your impulses.
  • Developing attention. People often suffer from an internal conflict when doing not what they should do: for instance, when they procrastinate instead of working. You can develop attention and power-up your useful habits with the help of self-discipline. The conflict will disappear gradually.

Practical Self-Discipline Development Tips

If you are very bad at self-discipline, start with simple habits. Try to control your impulses somehow. On this stage, you need to make minimal efforts.

Tips on Discipline

With time, your dependence on fleeting impulses will decrease. Now you can introduce a long-term discipline system: GTD, performance schedule, systems of daily and weekly goals, etc. It will help you deal with the wish to distract when the unpleasant task lasts for too long. You will feel it easier to work with a clear system with deadlines and terms put in advance.

You will overgrow these systems on upper levels. Your wish to distract is going to become minimal. You will be able to go in for your favorite business almost with no brakes as it gives you satisfaction.

This does not mean you should work with no breaks. There are other things in your life. But with the self-discipline habit, you will get rid of the wish to quit the job and go resting when you don’t like the task.