The secrets of self discipline

If you are anything like me, you will have times when you are feeling really strong, fit, healthy and well-disciplined, and others when it feels like your healthy lifestyle has gone a little bit awry. I find that healthy behaviour breeds healthy behaviour, while once I start snacking and skipping workouts a downward spiral can ensue. 

Following an enforced break from my usual fitness regime I now find myself in this latter camp, and desperate to get back on the right track. While diet and exercise will of course play a key role in this, underpinning my success will be the strength of my self discipline.

The thing is, there is a gap between wanting to be disciplined and actually exercising self discipline, and at the moment that’s a void I’m trying to close.

In search of the secrets of self discipline I found myself undertaking the inevitable Google search. The below are some of the tips that I’ve gathered and I hope these will help me (and you) to rediscover the discipline that I know I have buried somewhere!

Thanks to selfdevelopmentsecrets.com and jamesclear.com for the advice on their sites.

Own your weaknesses

To begin you need to recognise where your weaknesses lie. Do you struggle to say no to treats? Are you swayed by the bad habits of others? Do you talk yourself out of workouts and find that you are justifying behaviour that isn’t in line with your goals? Or discover that all good intentions disappear when you’re tired, hungry or have had a bad day? Once you own, rather than deny, these weaknesses you can begin to correct them, recognising when your resolve may be weak and putting in place strategies to avoid slip-ups. 

Reconfigure your choice architecture 

‘When you are surrounded by better choices, it becomes a lot easier to make a good one’. These are the words of James Clear in his work on choice architecture. This theory posits that you can reconfigure your environment to promote particular choices and achieve set outcomes. Put simply, hide the chocolate and keep fruit close at hand!

When your willpower is depleted you are more likely to make decisions based on your environment; if you are feeling tired or stressed then you may be more susceptible to reaching out for an unhealthy snack handily placed in your desk draw rather than taking a walk or fitting in a workout. If you know that you are at risk of taking this path of least effort, take a little time each day to organise your kitchen/office/gym bag etc. to guide  you towards better choices, even when your willpower is fading. That may mean not having chocolate (or in my case, peanut butter!) in the house and making sure you have plenty of healthy snacks to hand, or serving meals on smaller plates to make smaller portions appear bigger. It may be that you lay out your gym kit or pre-pack your swimming bag in the evening in anticipation of a morning workout, or keep images of your role models around you so you can turn to them when you need inspiration. As Clear states, ‘by making small changes to the physical environment around you, it can become much easier to stick to good habits.’

Make a plan

What are your goals? Write them down and think about how you are going to reach them. Include details about when you will start, what your long and short term targets are and precisely how you intend to achieve them. 

It is important to make the details as specific as you can. By having a clear idea of where you are going it becomes easier to make and track progress and to stay motivated. 

Don’t let boredom get the better of you 

This point from Self Development Secrets is particularly pertinent to me at the moment as I’m spending a lot of time at home with a new born baby. I’m sure we’ve all been in the position when we’ve had too much time on our hands and turned to the snack cupboard, or found ourselves mindlessly chomping midway through a monotonous office task. 

While there is a brief moment of feeling good while we eat, feelings of regret and guilt inevitably ensue and the result is that we end up feeling worse than we did before. 

Recognising the difference between genuine hunger and boredom is an important step to prevent this mindless eating. I find that making a cup of tea, drinking a big glass of water, taking a walk, or doing some yoga can help to give me a window of reflection when I can identify what it is precisely that I’m feeling and if a snack really is necessary. 

What would Kayla Itsines do?

Here Kayla is representative of any role model you may have. Seek out people that you view as successful – be that on social media or in real life – and pay attention to their habits. By reflecting on how they may act in a situation you can draw guidance on how you ought to behave. Would Kayla have that glass of wine or skip a workout? I suspect not. 

Accountability

Tell others what your goals are and be honest with them and with yourself. I find writing this blog is a good way of keeping myself accountable and of explaining my goals so that others are aware of them. Now I’ve told you I’m working to get myself back on track I can hardly secretly scoff a piece of cake, right?!

Let it go

Mistakes happen and we all have bad days. But a slip up isn’t a reason to give up and missing today’s workout doesn’t mean you can’t try again tomorrow. 

Take some time to reflect on your mistake, think about what happened and why, learn from it and then let it go. 

As a new mum, I know that tiredness can feed into a lot of my bad habits so I’m having to learn to recognise when a coffee or a cup of tea, a walk in the fresh air, a power nap (baby permitting), or simply asking for help is the solution rather than a sugary snack. As the Self Development Secrets website says: ‘are you going to let this one thing defeat you or are you going to learn from it moving forward?’

I hope that you have found this post helpful; thank you as ever for reading. If you have any further tips for strengthening self discipline I’d love to hear them. In the meantime I’m going to grab another cup of tea and clear the peanut butter supplies out of the house! 

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Motivation, discipline and true grit

‘Don’t wait around to feel “motivated”, just get disciplined.’

These were wise words of Steve Kamb, founder of Nerd Fitness, speaking in a recent interview on the Runners’ Connect Run to the Top podcast, words which have been doing circuits in my mind ever since.

It’s funny how some things just catch your ear; some pithy refrain that you hear in passing suddenly resonates with you, as if holding up a mirror to your thoughts and behaviours.

How often have I waited to feel inspired to get up early and go for a run and found myself still in bed gone 6am as inspiration has failed to come? Or how many times have I allowed myself to skip a swim session at the end of a work day on the basis that I just wasn’t feeling up to it?

And how many times have I pushed on to do that workout and discovered that actually, despite a weary mind, my limbs are feeling pretty good, and by the end of the session I’m so glad that I overcame that glimmer of doubt, that moment when I let myself half think that I might not train?

The fact is I’m sure very few of us have actually ever regretted doing a workout. There are of course bad sessions and tough sessions and sessions where the whole time you just want it to be over, but when it is over the emotions experienced are more likely pleasure, satisfaction and relief, not regret. Conversely, if you are anything like me, there are certainly times when a missed workout has left you feeling guilty or flat.

Taking this all on board, the message from Kamb is that motivation shouldn’t be a necessary precursor to exercise (or indeed to applying yourself to, and excelling, in any aspect of your life) and ‘I just wasn’t feeling motivated’ really isn’t an adequate excuse to not do something to push yourself closer to your goals. Yes, it certainly helps on those days when you have that extra ‘get up and go’, but with a bit of discipline, the cultivation of good habits and hacking your lifestyle to decrease any obstacles that may get in your way (for an early morning run Kamb suggests sleeping in your gym kit, or putting your alarm clock at the other end of the room from your bed and next to your trainers for example) then your goals are eminently achievable, with or without that ideal of a motivating force powering you forward.

This all put me in mind of an article I read in the Guardian Family by Paula Cocozza on the power of ‘grit’.

Alongside discipline, grit appears to me as one of the paragons of successful living. I like the idea of pushing myself, challenging my expectations and perceived limits, staying motivated and focusing on goals even in the face of adversity. Of course back in the real world practice doesn’t always follow theory and I’m apt to be taken over by flights of fancy, dead set on some idea one minute and on something totally different the next.

Cocozza’s article is based around a new book by Angela Duckworth. Entitled Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. The book examines the notion that natural talent is not the only path to success. Duckworth uses herself and other successful people, from entrepreneurs to athletes and from chefs to army cadets, as case studies to uncover the traits that have resulted in each of them rising to the top of their fields. Qualities include ‘the commitment to finish what you start, to rise from setbacks, to want to improve and succeed, and to undertake sustained and sometimes unpleasant practice to get there’.

In the book, which is part autobiography part social study, Duckworth reveals that in her own difficult relationship with her father, who was never satisfied by her achievements, grit and the adoption of an ‘I’ll show you’ attitude spurred her on to success.

As a mother now herself, Duckworth also teaches her own children ‘grit’, although in a slightly more palatable way than the one served up to her. She has developed a practice called the ‘hard thing rule’, where each family member must choose a discipline and apply themselves to it, and no one is allowed to give up until the activity has run its course. Indeed, there is a lot to be said for learning to stick with something, particularly when it is something that you find so tricky and I’m thinking of applying this rule myself.

In the book Duckworth also challenges the reader to discover how gritty they are. The quiz questions she uses are below so you can see if you really have true grit. For each question select the answer phrase which best applies to you and make a note of your score (from 1 to 5, as given) for each answer.

1. New ideas and projects sometimes distract me from previous ones

Not at all like me (5) not much like me (4) somewhat like me (3) mostly like me (2) very much like me (1)

2. Setbacks don’t discourage me, I don’t give up easily

Not at all like me (1) not much like me (2) somewhat like me (3) mostly like me (4) very much like me (5)

3. I often set a goal but later choose to pursue a different one

Not at all like me (5) not much like me (4) somewhat like me (3) mostly like me (2) very much like me (1)

4. I am a hard worker

Not at all like me (1) not much like me (2) somewhat like me (3) mostly like me (4) very much like me (5)

5. I have difficulty maintaining my focus on projects that take more than a few months to complete

Not at all like me (5) not much like me (4) somewhat like me (3) mostly like me (2) very much like me (1)

6. I finish what I begin

Not at all like me (1) not much like me (2) somewhat like me (3) mostly like me (4) very much like me (5)

7. My interests change from year to year

Not at all like me (5) not much like me (4) somewhat like me (3) mostly like me (2) very much like me (1)

8. I am diligent. I never give up

Not at all like me (1) not much like me (2) somewhat like me (3) mostly like me (4) very much like me (5)

9. I have been obsessed with a certain idea or project for a short time but later lose interest

Not at all like me (5) not much like me (4) somewhat like me (3) mostly like me (2) very much like me (1)

10. I have overcome setbacks to conquer an import challenge

Not at all like me (1) not much like me (2) somewhat like me (3) mostly like me (4) very much like me (5)

Now add up your points and divide by 10 for your grit score.

If you scored 2.5 you are grittier than 10% of US adults,  3.0 grittier than 20%, 3.3 grittier than 30%, 3.5 grittier than 40%, 3.8 grittier than 50%, 3.9 grittier than 60%, 4.1 grittier than 70%, 4.3 grittier than 80%, 4.5 grittier than 90%, 4.7 grittier than 95% and 4.9 grittier than 99%.

Of course, this score only applies to you as you are at the moment, and you can cultivate more grit based on your weaker answers.

I’ll leave you with another of my new found favourite quotes, this time from Jack Canfield speaking on the Rich Roll Podcast:

‘Do just one thing each day towards your goal.’

It’s that simple. Now go and achieve something!