Discipline is best described as choosing between what you want now and what you want most. It sounds like a simple concept, yet so many of us struggle when it comes time to make that decision.
We’ve all been in that moment where an immediate reward seems to outweigh the consequences and our willpower fails us. Afterwards, we beat ourselves up and promise to never make that same mistake again. Yet despite our good intentions, things seem to change when temptation rears its ugly head and we are faced with the same dilemma.
Our willpower can be threatened with everything from food, alcohol, or cigarettes right through to infidelity, bad work ethic, or lack of exercise. As bad as these things can be, it is often the regret and guilt we impose on ourselves that threatens our lives. Stress is the basic cause of 60% of all human illness and disease according to the American Institute of Stress.
Willpower is not genetic and it can be strengthened like most skills. So bolstering it can help us commit to the decisions we intend to keep with our work, relationships, and personal lives.
Here are four ways to enhance your willpower:
When your willpower fails and you are upset with yourself, how confident are you that you’re never going to make that mistake again? Usually you are pretty certain. In that moment the pain is largely outweighing any satisfaction you had received before.
So in order to change, we must take that pain and associate it back with the original temptation. If we can internally provoke that pain right before we have to make the decision, then we have a chance of altering our course of action.
Write yourself a letter, keep notes, or even record a video of yourself in the difficult moments following a bad decision. Keep it handy to remind yourself of how bad you are going to feel if you make that wrong choice again. Think of it as a way to warn your future self of past mistakes you’ve made.
Before entering into the situation or environment that tests your willpower, break the entire experience down into pieces, hours, or even minutes. Although it may seem obvious, by doing this it can often change your entire perspective on the situation.
Compare how long you would actually enjoy the guilty pleasure, to how long the consequences would negatively affect you afterwards. Is the 10 minutes of enjoying pizza worth the hours of stomach discomfort, mental frustration, and extra time you’ve got to spend in the gym? Is the four hours of drinking worth the hangover that is going to hamper your work at the office for the next couple of days?
Write a list of everything you have to go through and hopefully it will provide a large enough discrepancy to ignite some change.
Despite having our own individual difficulties with discipline, we also have our own sense of willpower over other areas of our lives. Make sure that you continue to follow through with the commitments and plans you are good at, as it enhances your overall willpower.
Body builders have incredible discipline with most things they do in life, as the willpower they utilize to stick to their diet and training routine influences everything else as well.
Willower is most vulnerable when we enter situations that we have no control over. This happens because our confidence has been shaken from previous failures and we know how easily it can happen again. This vulnerability doesn’t just come from our fear of failing; it also stems from our inability to handle the consequences. If we have no confidence in how to deal with our own problems, then it can be hard to think clearly when it comes time to make a decision.
We must understand that how we react to our mistakes is going to determine how many more we make going forward. Just because your willpower failed in the moment of your decision doesn’t mean you can’t strengthen it in the moments after as well.
It will take practice and it isn’t easy when emotions are running high, but start by simply accepting that the situation has happened and it’s over with. It’s out of your control and there is absolutely nothing you can do to change it. As you get better at accepting things, then begin to see if there is anything you can learn and what you can do better next time. Recall the information in this article and remember that every little adjustment you make will build momentum over time. Force yourself to think more optimistically, as doing that will prepare you for the next time you flirt with temptation.
—Graham Young writes about unique strategies that support personal growth, professional achievement and reaching peak performance in life. He is the COO of Graham Theodor & Co., an investment holding company and manages business development for ePACT Network, a technology startup. Connect with him on Twitter @IamGrahamYoung or see more of his strategies at www.grahamyoungblog.com.