At the heart of every successful person, you’ll find self-discipline. Whether it’s success in their personal or professional lives, the key to victory is their ability to control the desires that may knock them off course.

Self-discipline is about showing restraint when faced with temptation. It’s choosing reflection over acting on impulse. It’s a willingness to face obstacles in order to accomplish our goals and realize our dreams. But for some of us, self-discipline has a bad reputation.

When we exercise self-discipline, we say ‘no’ to that slice of cake. We force ourselves out of bed to exercise. We skip the Friday night party to deal with some other, less enjoyable, responsibility. We control ourselves emotionally. Exercising self-control can feel like we’re either depriving or punishing ourselves. It can feel like we’re not getting what we want. In other words, self-discipline can be a real joy kill.

So how do we cultivate our self-discipline without feeling like we’re being deprived, restricted, or punished?

Through self-love and acceptance. Yes, really. It might just be that straight-forward.

Say you’re trying to add meditation into your life. You’ve heard celebrities such as Jerry Seinfeld, Oprah and maybe even some people you know, and respect sing the praises of mediation. You’re curious. You’ve set your alarm but keep hitting the snooze button. You try going to bed early, but that doesn’t work either. No matter what you do you can’t seem to stick with it, and you judge yourself for it. You beat yourself up about not having the willpower. Maybe you even resort to shaming or guilt-tripping yourself.

That’s problem #1. Being self-critical. We all have vulnerable moments. We know we have given into our temptations from time to time. We act on impulse. We ignore our promises to ourselves. It’s human nature, not a character flaw. Enjoying the occasional (or even habitual) indulgence doesn’t make you a terrible person. Who doesn’t like a good sleep in, after all?

Whatever that inner voice says to you (“I slept in because I’m weak, and I’m a terrible person”), that judgment does two things; one, it makes you feel bad, and two, it lets you off the hook for your behaviors. The ‘logic’ might look something like this, ‘Since I’m a terrible person, it’s out of my hands.’ This makes you a victim and gives you an out. How surprising is it then, when we behave as if we are not in control, and we abdicate our responsibility? Not surprising at all.

So, what should you do instead? You can feel bad without deciding you are bad. This is an important distinction. Don’t let your bad days define you. Be gentle with yourself and make a simple, judgement-free promise to start fresh tomorrow.

You can also use your temptation as a doorway for reflection. ‘I feel like sleeping in instead of meditating, again.’ Why are you choosing sleep over mediation? Maybe you’re just tired. Maybe it’s something deeper. Maybe sleeping in is a way to comfort yourself, like emotional eating, binge watching, or retail therapy.

We numb ourselves with these behaviors to avoid feeling something else. What’s really troubling you? And how can you address that issue, so that you stop self-sabotaging your self-discipline?

Once you shine a light on that darkness and begin to meet the underlying need, your self-sabotaging behaviors will dissipate. You become awakened to the idea that self-discipline can feel good. This makes space to replace your unhealthy choices with new, nourishing ones.

In this new state, creating new habits doesn’t feel so much like a chore or a punishment. You may discover that new habits like meditation not only calm and replenish you, they become something you look forward to. You realize that exercise isn’t something to dread and that it doesn’t drain your stamina but increases it. You may discover that rather than feeling deprived, eating healthily supplies you with more energy. When self-discipline comes in the form of self-care, new habits can feel easy, or almost effortless to adopt.

Genuine self-discipline, when done right, doesn’t need to feel restrictive or punitive. It doesn’t hurt. It helps. Your inner resolve is a critical ingredient in helping you achieve and experience a desirable life.

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For Our Greater Health
Dr. Steve

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