Recently I’ve decided to give up smoking and cut back on my drinking. There are many reasons I wanted to pursue this goal — my health being the most important. What it all boils down to is self control . . . making a goal and sticking with it. After a few slips and more than a few angry moments of reflection, I wondered out loud — “How can I become more self disciplined?” It wasn’t just the ability to quit certain subtances or change specific behaviors — I realized I wanted to have more control of my everyday life.
Who among us doesn’t want to be more in control of our behavior, our actions, and our attitudes? Along the path to quitting some nasty habits, I discovered a few simple steps to lead me toward better self discipline — they’ll work for you too.
Write Down Your Goals
Even if your goal is simple “self control” or “self discipline”, write this down. It has been proven, both anecdotally and scientifically, that when we write something it triggers our memories. Actors write their lines down over and over again to memorize their parts, and surely in your own life you remember studying for tests and writing down information to store it better in your brain. Write down your goals, as specifically as you can, and write them in such a manner that they can be kept or displayed. You’re going to want to take a look at this goal or these goals every day to remind yourself of your mission. In my case, I wrote down “I am not a smoker” — the key phrase here is “am not”. I didn’t write “I want to quit smoking” or “I’d rather not smoke”, but the more powerful affirmation that I “am not” a smoker. Every day when I looked at that phrase, I got a boost of confidence, and no matter how small, that boost was often enough to get me going. Perhaps your goal is something like “I will be on time to work” or “I will not raise my voice at my wife”. Whatever the goal is, having a written reminder increases your chances of succeeding greatly, and will be useful in some of the later steps toward self discipline.
Make a Discipline Plan
- Remind myself everyday — “I am not a smoker”.
- Cut back on the number of cigarettes smoked by 2 every day.
- Look at pictures of beautiful white teeth
- When I have a craving — eat a carrot stick or meditate
This is not the entire list, but will serve as a good outline for your own plan of action. We’ve already talked about that first step — the affirmation. The second step is the first part of the real “plan of action”. I made a plan (cutting back on cigarettes), wrote it down, and stuck to it. We’ll talk more later about just how to stick to these plans, but for now concentrate on making your list. The third step is one I’m a bit ashamed to admit — but it worked. Smoking made my breath bad, even though I could always gargle or brush my teeth afterwards I still felt like I had bad breath — and I wanted the white shiny teeth of non smokers. I literally cut out pictures of pretty smiles so I could look at them as motivation. If your goal is to work out more often or eat better, consider similar visual aids. Pictures of healthy bodies or good looking but healthy food will help “train” your mind, and thus help discipline you. That fourth step is another important piece of action . . . if you are attempting self discipline to end a bad habit, you’ll need an alternative at first to “wean” you off your habit. Adapt this last step to your desired new trait, and you’ll be far more likely to succeed. If you have anger issues, squeeze a rubber ball. If you want to quit eating fast food, carry healthy snacks with you during the day. The point of Making a Plan is putting your “Goal” into action. Once you have these visual aids and plans in mind, you’ll be well on your way toward that all important self discipline.
It makes sense that unrealistic goals will almost always fail. If your goal is to gain fifty pounds of muscle in 6 months, you are unlikely to meet that goal, and will probably quit before you’ve even begun. For me, I at first attempted to quit a nicotine habit “cold turkey” — this was unrealistic, and I had to adapt my goal. Self discipline means controlling yourself, but not to an impossible degree. If your goal is too lofty, you probably won’t even get your plan off the ground. There is help, though, and it is in the next (and maybe most crucial) piece of advice I can offer —
Involve a Partner
Someone in your life would love to help you on your path to self discipline. An employee, a family member, a spouse, a boyfriend or girlfriend, even a friendly neighbor — you will probably be surprised at the number of people willing to help you improve your discipline. Bouncing your ideas off a partner will help you keep your goal, remind you of your plan, and of course will help you be realistic. Talking to your discipline partner about your plan will point out any flaws in your plan — my girlfriend (for instance) told me right off the bat that quitting cigarettes “cold turkey” style was completely unrealistic, and helped me formulate a better plan. Who knows — your accountability partner may be inspired by you, and want your help in learning better self discipline. There’s a famous quote from the Bible that suggests “a cord of three strands is not quickly broken” — and regardless of your religious beliefs, this bit of wisdom makes sense. Involve a couple of friends, and the group of you will support each other when you need it most. You and your friends can attack your discipline goals as a unit, and you will all be better off for it.
Learning To Discipline Yourself
Finally, take a daily inventory of your progress. If you slip up in your attempt at learning to discipline yourself, do not beat yourself up over it. Talk with your accountability partner, let them know honestly what happened, and use the slip as a jumping off point for bettering your disciplinary plan. Another example — if your goal in learning self discipline is to be more punctual at the office, keep a record of your arrival time at work, and share this record with your partner. This will not only further cement your goal (remember that writing a goal down is key to achieving the goal), it will allow you to look at your progress and make adjustments as you go.
After asking myself: “How do I become more self disciplined” I realized I had taken a huge step in becoming what I wanted. Just evaluating your life is valuable — and even if you don’t completely achieve your goal the first time through, only good things can come from an attempt to add discipline to your life.
Make a plan, write it down, involve a partner, and take daily inventory. These are the easy steps towards self discipline — and your loved ones will thank you for the improvements you’ve made in your life.