When it comes to our overall health – both mental and physical – we’re all just an amalgam of our choices. Our ability to choose healthy habits and behaviors and resist unhealthy habits and behaviors is at the core of our head-to-toe wellbeing. And at the core of those choices is our sense of self-discipline.
Forbes quotes a well-known 2013 study which found that “people with high self control are happier than those without.” Good news. But why?
“These people spent less time debating whether to indulge in behaviors detrimental to their health, and were able to make positive decisions more easily. The self disciplined did not allow their choices to be dictated by impulses or feelings. Instead, they made informed, rational decisions on a daily basis without feeling overly stressed or upset,” says Forbes.
When it comes to developing good habits, saying no to bad ones, and involving ourselves in positive relationships that benefit all parties, this impulse control and informed decision making can make all the difference.
But practicing self-discipline is hard – especially in the moment. Whether it’s the temptation of falling back into a harmful relationship or the urge to light up a cigarette, trusting yourself to be able to make constant, in-the-moment disciplined decisions may be asking too much.
Instead, one tip for leading a more self-controlled life is to set your life up to make those temptations irrelevant. If you don’t put yourself in the position to have to test your willpower, you’re less likely to break it.
Time magazine quotes a recent study that backs this up:
“The highly self-controlled showed a distinct difference from those with less discipline over their lives. They tended to avoid creating situations in which their goals would conflict, and reported fewer instances of having to choose between short-term pleasure and long-term pain. The result? They experienced fewer negative emotions. The authors write that ‘one interpretation of this finding is that people use self-control to set up their lives so as to avoid problems.’”
It’s clear that setting personal goals isn’t just about telling yourself you will or will not do something when the time arises. Truly focusing on your self-discipline means planning your life to put yourself in situations conducive to keeping your goals. If you need a quiet space, learn how to create a meditation room in your home. If you need a healthy outlet, sign up for art or music classes. If you need more positive relationships in your life, reach out to family and friends to build a network. Surround yourself with positivity. And, know your triggers and avoid them.
Once you’ve turned your focus to promoting self-discipline, you must work it out like a muscle. Bad habits and toxic relationships are ingrained in our neural pathways. When we make certain decisions for years, we literally alter our brains to make those choices seems normal. Taking control of your life involves retraining your brain to make better decisions.
If you practice self-denial in your everyday life, you’re much more likely to be able to do so when confronted with bigger, more important decisions. Even if it seems like a small gesture it may be helping to develop your “self-discipline muscle”.
“Learn to say no to some of your feelings, impulses and urges,” says the Essential Life Skills blog. “Train yourself to do what you know to be right, even if you don’t feel like doing it. Skip dessert some evenings. Limit your TV watching. Resist the urge to yell at someone who has irritated you. Stop and think before you act. Think about consequences. When you practice self-restraint it helps you develop the habit of keeping other things under control.”
Self-denial may seem like it’s making you less happy in the short term, but in the long run practicing discipline and sacrifice will make you better equipped to handle life’s bigger challenges.
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