Why Self-Discipline & Habits Go Hand In Hand

Building positive and healthy habits can be difficult. Learn how you can leverage self-discipline to form any new habit you desire.

Do you find yourself struggling to form healthy habits? Are there certain areas of your life you wish to improve or alter because by doing so, the quality of your life or the level of your play would improve?

We all have habits that have been developed over the years. The question we must ask ourselves is, “Are the habits I currently have propelling me towards my goals or holding me back?”

Whether your aim is to banish bad habits from your life, develop new ones, or maybe a combination of both, the struggle takes place in how you go about doing so. How do you go about disciplining yourself to the point where an act becomes habitual?

That is exactly what we’re going to uncover by the end of this article. By the time you’ve finished reading this, you’ll have a clear understanding of just how you can use self-discipline to adopt any habit you’d like.

Importance of Developing Good Habits

When I say the word habit what comes to mind?

When I hear this term, my mind immediately goes to all the activities I do without even thinking about them. Some of the habits that pop into my head include brushing my teeth, taking a shower, exercising, and drinking coffee every morning.

All of these activities are habitual. I don’t spend too much time each day thinking about whether or not I’ll do them. They have become ingrained into my natural routine of life.

That’s because habits are the routines that shape our lives. At an almost unconscious level, we take part in activities every day without even thinking about them. What are some of your habits right now?

I would say the habits I’ve listed above are all pretty good ones, positively impacting my life. Let’s say I never adopted the habit of brushing my teeth or showering, that would have a negative impact on my life (since no one wants to spend much time with a stinky guy).

Another good habit I have is exercising. Since I was a freshman in high school, I have performed some sort of exercise pretty much every single day. So much so, that at this point, exercise has become simply part of my daily routine.

I don’t have to spend time wondering whether or not I’ll go to the gym. There’s no energy wasted in trying to motivate myself to exercise on any given day. That’s because the activity has become a habit.

On the flip side, there are activities I do that aren’t so beneficial to my life. One I can think of off the top of my head is looking at my phone. Spending time scrolling through social media has become a habit of mine; one that I would like to reduce the frequency of.

When we think about the actions we do on a daily basis, it’s clear why developing good habits is so important. By doing so, we generate habitual actions that are pushing us towards our goals and promoting a healthy lifestyle.

So why is it, if we understand how beneficial cultivating healthy habits is to our lives that we so often cling to bad ones? It all boils down to one word…comfort.

Why It’s So Difficult To Build New Habits

Now, when I say comfort, what’s being referred to is the act of feeling comfortable. This doesn’t necessarily mean the habit or activity brings you comfort, either. I know, kind of confusing right!

It means we are comfortable with the life we have, mainly because the opposite would result in more moments of discomfort. Even if the habits you currently have are keeping you from enjoying life to the fullest, you have gotten comfortable with them.

They have been around so long, you’ve adapted to their presence. Anything we are exposed to repeatedly is something we will become accustomed to. This is what I mean by comfort. We find comfort in our current routines and habits.

One of the main reasons for this is the fact that change is hard!

Rarely do we come across someone who loves change. The habits we have grown accustomed to and comfortable with may not be the best things for us, but at least they aren’t asking us to put forth any effort to change.

Why is it that we are so adept at rationalizing our current habits in order to avoid change? Put simply, change requires work!

“Rarely do we come across someone who loves change. The habits we have grown accustomed to and comfortable with may not be the best things for us, but at least they aren’t asking us to put forth any effort to change.”

It Takes Work To Change Our Habits

Anything in life that involves change is going to also involve work. Whether the work is external or internal (meaning it’s done in the outside world or within yourself) is of little importance. The fact is, change equals work.

Let’s take someone who wishes to lose weight for example. This individual understands their current exercise and nutrition habits are not resulting in the body figure they would like.

When looking in the mirror it’s plain for them to see that something must be done. The current habits driving their behavior need to be replaced with healthier ones.

Okay, so they understand this, great. But what happens when faced with the reality of putting forth the effort to make that change happen?

In order to alter their current eating habits and take on the habit of exercising, consistent work needs to be put forth. They must plan out meals, count calories, avoid junk food they find so delicious, and muster up the energy to get their body moving.

Now we come to the part where their current comfort is being attacked. While they may not like the way they look and wish for a change to happen, they have grown comfortable with their current state.

Developing the habits that would result in a change is going to shove them out of that comfortable state and throw them directly into the grasp of effort.

It’s much easier to come up with excuses and hold onto their current bad habits, rather than put in the work necessary to develop the habits that will result in a healthier lifestyle. That is unless they can muster up the self-discipline to do so.

Self-Discipline To The Rescue

The answer to the dilemma of how to get yourself to develop positive habits, despite the pushback you have to the work required is self-discipline.

When you possess strong self-discipline, so many doors of opportunity open up to you. No longer does comfort hold you back from working towards your goals. No longer do you seek comfort instead of the uncomfortable feeling of change.

Self-discipline is the skill of doing and not doing certain activities for the sake of improving and reaching a goal.

By developing self-discipline we learn to control our desires, actions, thinking, and emotions. Mastering ourselves is the true outcome of a self-discipline practice.

Now, self-discipline in and of itself is a habit. Through the process of improving your self-discipline, the act of being able to regulate yourself and push yourself even when you don’t feel like it becomes habitual.

While it may be a habit itself, it’s also the key to unlocking your ability to develop any new habit you’d like.

But to understand the resistance we have to being more disciplined, and the pushback we often face, let’s examine the two areas within ourselves that are at odds in relation to self-discipline.

“By developing self-discipline we learn to control our desires, actions, thinking, and emotions. Mastering ourselves is the true outcome of a self-discipline practice.”

Authoritative vs Weaker Self

Did you know your mind is split in two in terms of self-discipline?

This makes sense when we think about what it means to discipline someone. If I say a teacher was disciplining a student, you immediately think of two characters in this scenario.

First, you have the teacher (the disciplinarian) and then you have the student (the one being disciplined). There must be two different individuals present for this sort of interaction to take place.

But what about with self-discipline? This merely involves us and only us, hence the term self-discipline. Well, while it may only involve ourselves, there are still two characters at play.

We each have two levels to our minds when it comes to self-discipline: the authoritative self and the weaker self.

I don’t mean that you’re weak per se. It’s simply the best word to describe this side of ourselves. It’s the part that enjoys comfort and winces at the sight of change.

On the other hand, we have the authoritative self. This is the part of us we need to call into action when our desire is to be more disciplined. This is the disciplinarian who is seeking to control the weaker self.

Who we are is going to be answered by asking ourselves one simple question:

“Which part of your mind are you giving more control to?”

It’s easier for us to give in to the weaker self since it’s the part of us that strives for comfort. However, if your aim is to build healthier habits, ones that will push you towards your goal, the authoritative side of you must become dominant.

How to Use Self-Discipline to Form New Habits

Self-discipline can be leveraged in a way to help you form a new habit. To do this, we are going to first focus on the concept of the authoritative and weaker self.

You first must decide to take the side of the authoritative self. That’s the only way you’ll be able to make the habit stick.

You are to think of the process you are about to follow as if you were working to get a child to adopt a new behavior. It all starts with convincing them to take the first steps.

Getting Started With Your Habit

Whenever wanting to form a new habit, the first step is always going to be action.

There is no magic formula or secret sauce to building new habits. It’s merely the process of repeating an action over and over until it becomes engrained in your natural routine of life.

If you know that you want to build a new habit and that through action this can be accomplished, why is it so difficult to get started?

The answer lies in the two selves we have been talking about. The authoritative side of you wishes to get started if only that pesky weaker self would stop pushing back. As we’ve said, this is the part of you that seeks comfort, so taking action is not always a top priority.

That’s why it’s your job, as having taken the side of the authoritative self, to coerce the weaker side into doing so. So how can this be done? Through the appropriate use of rewards.

“There is no magic formula or secret sauce to building new habits. It’s merely the process of repeating an action over and over until it becomes engrained in your natural routine of life.”

Set Reward Targets

We know that our weaker selves love comfort, so we can use this to our advantage. Set yourself some rewards for getting started working towards a new habit. Ones that you would otherwise not give yourself.

For example, if you want to form the habit of going for a run every day, tell yourself that if you run, you can watch an episode of your favorite television show when finished.

Another example is eating healthy. If your goal is to adopt the habit of healthy eating, give yourself the reward of going to your favorite restaurant or eating some of your favorite junk food after a few days of clean eating.

The idea is to not be too strict on yourself in the beginning. You want to leverage your weaker self by rewarding it for its efforts in getting started working towards the formation of the new habit.

From there, it’s time to allow the concept of compounding action to unfold.

Compounding Action Turns into Habit Formation

After a while of focusing on disciplining your weaker self, the behavior you’ve been working on will start to become habitual.

This will usually occur after a month or so of consistent action. That is why it’s crucial to ensure your self-discipline is locked in at the beginning. If you are able to force your weaker self into action, then after some time, discipline will no longer be needed.

Since the weaker parts of us love comfort, all we must do is be disciplined up to the point where the new behavior becomes part of our routine.

Once it’s a natural activity for us, comfort will take over. As we grow more comfortable with exercising regularly or eating healthy for example, our weaker selves begin to grow accustomed to the new behavior.

Final Thoughts

Through the compounding action you’ve put forth, as a result of disciplining your weaker self, a new habit has formed. From here, you no longer will need the rewards used in the beginning, unless you truly want to.

Because the truth is, our goal shouldn’t be to completely rid our lives of the small pleasure the weaker or more childlike parts of us cling to, here should be a healthy balance.

The important part is, you know the power your authoritative self has over your weaker self. When you want to, you can leverage this concept through self-discipline to form any new habit you’d like.

Which part of yourself is operating your life?

I hope you enjoyed this article and if you did, please feel free to share it with your friends.

Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of success in all that you do.

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Eli Straw

Eli is a sport psychology consultant and mental game coach who works 1-1 with athletes to help them improve their mental skills and overcome any mental barriers keeping them from performing their best. He has an M.S. in psychology and his mission is to help athletes and performers reach their goals through the use of sport psychology & mental training.

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