How to Build Self Discipline

Easter eggs // Ostereier

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Do you believe that Self Discipline is important if you want to succeed?

The background

There was a study done a number of years ago with a group of 4yo children and a plate with a single marshmallow on it.  The children were told they could eat it, but if they waited until the experimenter came back after an errand, they’d get TWO marshmallows instead of just one.  The experimenter left, and came back about 15-20 mins later.

The result

About a third of the children grabbed the first marshmallow straight off.  Another third tried to wait, but gave in.  The final third were able to wait, and enjoyed their doubled marshmallow treat.

The study had a follow up.  Years later, they checked to see if there was any difference between the children who’d given in to temptation, and the ones who’d delayed gratification for a bigger reward down the track.

There was.

The children who resisted temptation and held out until the experimenter came back, ALL achieved much higher levels of success than the children who gave in and ate the single marshmallow.  They were not just better off financially, either, but had higher levels of satisfaction with their lives.  In other words, they were happier.  You can read a summary of the study here.

The Lesson

The moral of the story is not that two marshmallows are better than one.  The lesson of this study is the sheer power of discipline – not just to shape your internal world, but to create a better external one as well.

Being Easter, now is a time when most of us are facing temptations.  For me, it’s having lots of chocolate lying around.  I know I’d need to spend about 36 hours on the exercise bike to work it back off again, but that doesn’t actually help much.  What is helping, though, is the work I’ve done over the past couple of years in building my resistance to the chocolate temptation.

Self-discipline, like any skill, isn’t often in-built.  For most of us, we have to learn it.  The key to learning any skill, as you would already know, is practise.

The Process

First I placed public limits.  Chocolates my bf gave me were kept so that we’d only eat them together.  I told him I’d be saving it, so he knew that it should be still there when he came over.  Because he knew about it, I couldn’t cheat.  I set myself up, and the best part was that I got an automatic reward if I had restrained myself, because we’d enjoy one (guilt free) when we had a night together.

Next I put limits on myself.  These weren’t public, so the consequences weren’t so obvious.  I could cheat, but I would know it.  Occasionally I’d give in and eat something I’d wanted to save, but over time I got better.

Then I started challenging myself.  I spent a week without sugar.  I defined exactly what I could and couldn’t have (if it was one of the top 5 ingredients, or in foods with 5 or less, the top 3, it was out), and discovered even my favourite soups and noodles were loaded with the stuff.  The time limit, though, helped me.  It was only a week.  (Funnily enough, since the week was up several months ago, I’ve only had those soups or noodles a couple of times, when there was nothing else available.)

After my last 30 day challenge, when I could have raw cacao beans, and even tried raw chocolate (not easy to get, and definitely not cheap!), but couldn’t indulge in the charity box of freddos at work or other easily available commercial stuff, I built that knowledge that I could resist another notch higher.

The Challenge

Now, with easter eggs everywhere, it’s another step in the challenge.  Last year I had one egg that I was still eating 3 weeks later.  This year I want to beat that record.  I’ll probably ‘give in’ and indulge myself occasionally, but I want at least one egg (or bunny) to survive that long.  By allowing for moments of weakness, but having an overall target or goal, I’m strengthening my willpower against temptation.

For me, I know from my past experiences, feeling like I can’t do something is almost a red flag to a bull – so I have to create a situation where I feel like I CAN choose to do it, but have a reason why I wouldn’t.  That’s the kind of personal knowledge you build up over time, and with practise.

Step by step.  It’s the only way to make a journey; it’s the only way to climb a ladder; and it’s also the only way to build a strong and lasting structure – like the kind of self-discipline that will shield you in future times of temptation.

The Question

Is self-discipline your challenge too?  What weakness is your downfall, and what would be the first step in strengthening your resistance against it for you?  Share your stories (or successes) in the comments below.

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