Whether it's staying on your diet, organizing a neglected closet, finding that better job or simply getting off the couch and getting to the gym, there's no question that self-discipline is key.
But what exactly is self-discipline? We seem to think of it as a commodity, a thing, something that you either possess or you don't.
You tell yourself, "I just don't have enough self-discipline." This, unfortunately, is a tragic misperception. Why? Because if you decide that you inherently lack self-discipline, then eventually you'll reach a point where you throw up your hands and say, "Why bother? I'm just not strong enough!"
If you struggle with a lack of self-discipline, you're probably no stranger to feeling powerless. Truth is, you may feel powerless-but you're not. Feelings are not facts!
A simple self-coaching maxim says it all: What you tell yourself and what you believe is what you become.
And while we're on the subject of self-discipline, let's not fail to see how whining or complaining — telling yourself, "I can't" or "It's too hard" — can impact your goals as well.
Although closely related to a lack of self-discipline, whining and complaining have more to do with self-deception. This distinction — self-discipline vs. self-deception — is moot if you're forever coming up short of your life's ambitions. One is just an excuse for not trying, the other for not persevering.
There's a wonderful line in the musical “Man of La Mancha” that goes: "Whether the stone hits the pitcher or the pitcher hits the stone, it's going to be bad for the pitcher."
Either way, lack of self-discipline or self-deception is going to be bad for you and your goals.
When it comes to neutralizing self-deception, you need to develop a habit of separating facts from fictions. Since feelings are not facts, you can begin by prefacing any inclination to sabotage, excuse, or otherwise sidestep a life challenge by changing what you say.
Instead of saying, "I can't," say "I feel like I can't." Instead of saying, "It's too hard," say "It feels like it's too hard."
You do this in order to get away from the self-defeating, black-and-white reasoning that, until now, has given you a cushion — an excuse — from having to challenge yourself.
Bottom line: replace self-deception with self-scrutiny.
For the sake of developing self-discipline, let's start to think of it as a muscle! You know about muscles. Muscles that aren't exercised become weak and atrophied, whereas muscles that are routinely exercised become strong and resilient.
Just as an atrophied bicep muscle will resist doing curls at the gym, your atrophied self-discipline muscle will try to reduce resistance by getting you to abandon your goals.
But when you handle this discomfort, rather than capitulate to it, you strengthen your self-discipline muscle. Understand the critical importance of perseverance and you'll be less likely to cave at the first signs of resistance.
Starting today, stop thinking of yourself as undisciplined or weak and start recognizing the need for some muscle building — self-discipline muscle building.
Every success you have, no matter how small, is important. Whether it's making that uncomfortable phone call, getting the bills paid, or giving up that ritual nighttime bowl of ice cream, success is defined as handling discomfort long enough to reach your goal.
As your successes begin to add up, you will grow stronger, more confident, more motivated, and of course, more self-disciplined.
Starting now, set up small challenges to prove to yourself that you can set an intention and then handle the discomfort involved in reaching your goal.
Keep a mental list of your successes. Each one will help cancel out the list of your failures that may already run on an endless loop in your mind.
Empower yourself one success at a time. Recognize that fortifying your self-discipline muscle produces incremental growth in confidence and strength.
Rather than whining, complaining, or excusing yourself, welcome every challenge as one more opportunity to handle life as a warrior rather than as a victim. After all, victims by definition are powerless. But you are NOT powerless!
Dr. Joe Luciani has been a practicing clinical psychologist for more than 35 years. He's the internationally bestselling author of the "Self-Coaching" series of books, published in ten languages. His latest book, "Thin From Within" (AMACOM) is a self-coaching, mind-over-mouth approach to achieving lifelong weight mastery. He appears frequently on national TV, radio, and the Internet and has also been featured in numerous national magazines and newspapers. Visit self-coaching.net for more information.