The Power of Discipline by Daniel Walter
Improve your self-discipline and achieve your goals.
If you’re like most people, at some point in your life you’ve set yourself goals with the hope of improving yourself. Most likely, having done that, you’ve gone on to fail to reach those goals – consistently. You should take cold comfort from the fact that this is something most of us struggle with.
Setting goals is relatively easy, but achieving them can be quite difficult. You probably quit when you realize how much effort it’ll take you to get there – especially when that effort is mentally, emotionally, and physically straining.
It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the goals you’re setting but there is something wrong with the system you’re using to try to achieve them. So what exactly is it that’s holding you back from achieving your goals? Your self-discipline – or rather, the lack of it.
In Daniel Walter’s The Power of Discipline, you’ll discover the power that self-discipline has in making you a more productive individual. If you want to change your life, you first need to learn how to take responsibility. That responsibility requires you to look at where you are now and where you want to be in the future.
Others may be able to help motivate you, but ultimately it’s up to you. You – and only you – have the power to change your life. So let’s find out how.
Your first step to success is knowing what your goals are and what you want to accomplish. Take a moment to think about what you want to achieve and then what you’ll need to do to achieve that. You’re going to need to put in some real effort if you really want to achieve those goals, right?
To stay on track and push yourself forward, what you need is great self-discipline. That self-discipline requires you to take full responsibility for your actions and persevere against any obstacles that might come your way.
Actually, having great self-discipline will help you to be successful in every area of your life – from helping you build better relationships to increasing your work productivity, and even to managing your finances.
Conversely, if you’re lacking self-discipline, you’re more likely to suffer from low self-esteem, have difficulty understanding what you need to be successful, and be unable to control your desires.
Self-disciplined people are more confident in themselves, too. They believe that they can achieve their goals. After all, if you lack confidence, how can you expect to accomplish anything?
So let’s look at how can you go about strengthening your self-discipline.
The part of your brain known as the prefrontal cortex is responsible for your cognitive behavior including cognitive flexibility, adaptability, memory, impulse control, and social behavior. This also includes self-disciplinary functions like prioritizing tasks, setting goals, and filtering distractions.
Studies have shown that activity levels in your prefrontal cortex are higher when you’re making beneficial long-term decisions rather than ones which would provide you with instant gratification. This is particularly interesting because, effectively, it means that self-discipline is an acquired skill.
When you focus on the cognitive functions we mentioned you exercise this part of your brain and strengthen your self-disciplinary skills. When you make better decisions and continue to do so, your self-discipline strengthens. But when you continually make poor decisions it diminishes.
It’s also possible there’s something else holding you back. We’ll find out what in the next section.
Your Status Quo Bias
Do you ever feel like there’s some invisible force holding you back from reaching your goals? Well, actually, there is – your status quo bias.
Your status quo bias is a collection of negative factors that affect your psychology and prevent you from achieving, or even pursuing, your goals in the first place.
The first of these factors is the sunk cost fallacy. This describes why people often continue to remain in a situation simply because it’s what they’re familiar with – an unhealthy relationship or a poor employment environment, for instance. They might desire change but their fear of the unknown catches up with them.
The second factor is loss aversion. Often people are afraid of making a change because they don’t know if ultimately that change will benefit them. It’s easier to perceive that a change will harm them than improve their lot in life.
The third is the fear of regret which goes hand-in-hand with the sunk cost fallacy and the loss aversion theory. A person might know exactly what they want to achieve but they’re afraid they’ll end up regretting it.
The final one is the mere exposure effect. This explains the phenomenon of why the more you experience something, the more you’re likely to accept and like it.
Your status quo bias might well keep you safe and risk-free, but effectively, it’ll also stop you from achieving your goals. So look out for when your status quo bias is holding you back, and use your critical thinking skills to overcome it.
What is it that sets apart successful people from less successful ones? The answer is actually simpler than you might think: the habits that they follow each and every day.
But if you want to change your habits, you first have to recognize that your current habits aren’t working. You might not even realize that your habits or behavioral patterns are affecting you negatively. So it’s important to train your mind to recognize what is and isn’t working for you. When you do that, you can throw out the bad, old habits and develop new, good ones.
In particular there are at least three practices that successful, self-disciplined people adopt including gratitude, self-control, and daily routines.
Gratitude and self-control have a strong relationship with one another. In one study, for example, participants were offered a choice: they could accept a small amount of money immediately after completing a task or a larger sum of money at a later date. The more grateful the participant was, the more self-control they had in waiting to accept the larger sum of money.
But what does gratitude actually mean? Well, put simply, it means being thankful and appreciative – something we should all practice more often. It’s easy for us to take the simple things in life for granted but we need to be more appreciative of those small things. Why not start a new habit of writing down five things that you’re grateful for every night before you go to bed and reflecting on them?
When it comes to changing your habits, you don’t have to do anything too drastic. At first, you can simply start changing your habits by getting yourself into a daily routine – especially a morning and evening routine. A good morning routine can boost your productivity levels during the day while a good evening routine will help you get a good night’s sleep which, in turn, reduces the stress that you’ll carry with you through to the next morning.
Why not try incorporating these two suggestions into your evening routine? First, eliminate caffeine after a certain time in the evening, and second, turn off all your electronic devices an hour before bedtime. Both of these are likely to help you get a more restful night of sleep and the next morning, you’ll wake up more refreshed and ready to go.
When it comes to the morning, successful people like Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey have incorporated two specific habits into their routines: reading, and prayer and/or meditation. We’ll take a more indepth look at meditation in the next section.
Zen and Meditation
Zen originates from the teachings of Buddha. It’s a great foundation for a life of self-discipline.
Zen Buddhists believe that it’s important to focus on the present rather than the past or future. The past has already happened and we can’t change that, they reason. It’s just a collection of our perceptions and memories. And the future? Well, it hasn’t happened yet and we shouldn’t self-restrict our present activities by worrying about what it may bring. When we focus on the negative possibilities of the future we allow fear to consume and restrict us in the present.
Zen teaches that we can control our thoughts and use them to appreciate what’s going on in the present moment. This doesn’t mean getting what you want right away; it’s about delaying gratification so you can enjoy the long-term results.
Practicing Zen meditation helps reduce stress, enhances calmness, and promotes better decisions-making. Breathing techniques associated with it will also help you remain calm in anxious moments. And understanding your thoughts will allow you to acknowledge them and redirect them to what’s important to you. When you practice consistently, you’ll be able to achieve inner peace.
Now, you might be thinking that meditation is just sitting down with your legs crossed and trying to think of nothing – but there’s much more to it than that.
If you’ve never meditated before, or tried and failed, why not try what’s called the “just sitting” technique. First, sit upright however you’d like; in a chair, on the floor, or in the lotus position. Don’t use this technique in bed, though, because you want to make sure you stay awake – sleeping isn’t meditation!
Next, allow your mouth to relax and keep your eyes open. Keep your back straight but not rigid and focus your eyes on a spot two feet in front of you. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Breathe from your stomach, allowing it to rise and fall. Allow your mind to relax through your breathing. Breathing this way will also help you bring your anxiety levels under control when you need to.
You can also explore what’s called the Shikantanza technique. It’s similar physically to the “just sitting” technique but a bit more complex mentally. Focus on the thoughts flowing through your head and sift through the information. Don’t judge yourself for what’s on your mind but focus on what each of your thoughts mean. Eventually, this will enable you not to let any negative thoughts affect you. Instead, you can simply let those thoughts go and redirect your energy elsewhere.
Regular meditation will increase your concentration and prevent your thoughts from wandering. Expect to see the benefits within seven days!
Utilizing Your Negative Emotions
While you’re pursuing your goals, you’ll inevitably feel a flood of emotions like sadness, pride, anger, courage, and frustration. But there’s some good news: you can use these negative emotions to harness your self-discipline. Yes, really, those negative emotions can actually help you!
When negative emotions arise, you probably feel like shutting down or quitting and using them as an excuse to get out of situations that make you feel uncomfortable. Don’t just ignore your negative emotions – that’s not healthy. Instead, use them to help ignite a positive change. Try to understand why you’re feeling them.
Remember that it’s totally normal to feel discouraged when something that you’ve put your time and energy into isn’t working out. But never think of your time as wasted because even if the results aren’t what you expected, you’re still doing something productive.
So whenever you start feeling any negative emotions, write down what it is you’re feeling and think about whether you need to reevaluate your goals. If you’re experiencing jealousy, ask yourself why. If you’re anxious, sit down and take deep breaths; in through your nose and out through your mouth. Don’t focus on the worst-case scenario, instead, think about the subtle steps you can take to solve your difficult situation.
If you’ve noticed that fear, low self-esteem, and poor habits are holding you back from accomplishing your goals, it’s most likely that you lack self-discipline. Self-discipline is a critical skill that can be acquired by targeting your prefrontal cortex through continuous practice. It can help you learn to prioritize tasks, filter distractions, and build better habits by getting in touch with your inner thoughts through deep focus and meditation.