In this time of great pause for many activities and things in our lives, due to sheltering at home for the pandemic, we have the opportunity to build up our vital aspects of our character or be victim in their absence or weakness. This insightful article by our blogging associate, Gabriel Olver, focuses on ‘self discipline’ which plays a huge role in our personal success and fulfillment. If this is a character muscle you would like to flex and build, this will be a valuable guide.
The Value of Self Discipline
One of my favourite poems is called “If” by Rudyard Kipling. If you have not heard of this poem, I invite you to read it for yourself. In this poem, the author writes to his son, lessons on how to succeed in life and become a mature adult. Many of the lines of the poem involve delayed gratification and remaining disciplined and committed even in tumultuous times.
While working remotely from home due to Covid-19 I reflect on this poem and the necessity of self-discipline. The following are the strategies I found resourceful in beginning to expand this trait within my life.
Defining Self Discipline
Self-discipline to me means “doing the thing you are supposed to do when you are supposed to do it whether you feel like it or not”. This is a simple concept however not necessarily easy to consistently implement each day. Developing a new trait begins with our thoughts and how we view or relate to the concept of discipline.
Shifting the Way We View Self-Discipline
How we view self-discipline can have both positive and negative associations. The negative associations with self-discipline include viewing it as repressive, limiting, uncomfortable, and consistently saying NO to things. When viewed through this lens, developing any character trait is far less appealing.
Instead, actively choose to view self-discipline in its positive form. Rather than repressing, self-discipline PRIORITIZES our most important goals and commitments over lesser ones. Rather than limiting, self-discipline brings ORDER to our many wants, goals, and desires. The act of saying NO really means saying YES to something else more important to our lives.
This often is the case when doing what feels good or comfortable in the moment goes against a greater more overarching goal or commitment. Saying yes to these goals and commitments requires self-control and the ability to delay gratification.
Value of Delayed Gratification
When we consistently say yes to our most important priorities (family, career, health, etc.) even when doing so does not feel comfortable in the present moment, studies show that our achievements and happiness levels increase significantly. A 2013 study conducted by Wilhelm Hoffman concluded that those with higher levels of self-control wasted less time, made more rational decisions, and indulged less in activities detrimental to their health.
One of my favourite studies on the value of delayed gratification is the famous Stanford Marshmallow experiment. In this experiment, children were offered a choice between a small but immediate reward and a bigger reward if they waited 15 minutes. During this time, the child was left alone with one marshmallow and could choose to eat it now or wait and be given two marshmallows when the researcher returned. Years later in follow up studies, it was shown that the children that were able to wait for the second marshmallow had better life outcomes in their career and health.
- Write out your most important goals, priorities, and commitments. Next rank each in order.
Audit yourself, is the time you spend each day or week reflecting what you hold most important in your life? How much time/energy do you spend on things that are momentarily gratifying but take you further away from the main priorities you wrote down.
- Consciously reallocate your time/energy to better reflect your initial list. Focus on one item until it becomes an ingrained habit in your life. This could be waking up earlier to exercise before work or turning your phone off while spending quality time with your loved ones.
- Until that time of habit formation, you will encounter resistance that requires you to exercise your will to remain disciplined.
- Willpower has been shown to deplete over the course of the day. Mitigate this by proactively avoiding temptations all together specifically at the end of the day.
- Reward yourself along the way. Begin small and celebrate your tiny victories with scheduled breaks, treats, or other rewards after you remain committed for a preset time.
In a world becoming increasingly filled with distractions and immediate gratification self-discipline is integral to your success. Deciding what is most important and investing time and energy into them, regardless of how we feel in the moment, will not only bring greater results but promote long term happiness in our lives. Start small and seek to go to bed just a bit more committed and disciplined each day.