Have you ever heard someone say, "I wish I had that kind of willpower," when her friend orders the salad instead of the fried chicken? It's as if they are convinced some people were born with supreme self-control. But self-discipline is a learned skill, not an innate characteristic.
A lack of self-discipline can be a real problem. According to the 2011 Stress in America Survey, 27% of people believe a lack of willpower is the biggest barrier to making healthy lifestyle changes.
Interestingly, most of the respondents thought they could increase their willpower. But they though they needed more free time to do it.
There's no evidence however, that increased leisure time equates to increased self-discipline. In fact, it doesn't matter how much time you have. What matters is what you choose to do with your time.
Similar to building physical muscle, developing mental muscle requires intentional exercise. Over time, your self-discipline muscles can be built.
Here are six exercises that will increase your self-discipline:
1. Acknowledge your weaknesses.
Ignoring your pitfalls won't make them go away. So whether eating cookies is the downfall to your weight loss or checking social media sabotages your productivity, acknowledge your weaknesses. Recognizing your weaknesses is the first step in creating positive change.
2. Create a clear plan.
You won't magically wake up one day with superhuman willpower. Instead, you need a strategy to help you build mental muscle.
Whether you want to increase good habits--like going to the gym more often--or you want to eliminate bad habits--like watching too much TV--you'll need a plan to turn your intentions into action. Outline clear action steps you will start taking on a daily basis.
3. Remove temptations.
You won't gain self-discipline to lose weight if you keep your house stocked with junk food. Instead, you'll wear yourself out trying to resist every cookie, brownie, and chip.
Limiting temptations can help you slowly build more self-discipline over time. If your weakness involves checking social media every two minutes, find an app that blocks access to Facebook. Or, if you can't resist overspending when you go to the store, leave your credit card at home and carry cash only.
4. Practice tolerating discomfort.
It's natural to try to avoid pain. But avoiding short-term discomfort often leads to long-term problems. And every time you give in, you'll reinforce to yourself that you can't handle distress.
Practice allowing yourself to feel uncomfortable and prove to yourself that you can stand it. Whether that means running on the treadmill for one more minute than you thought you could or resisting the urge to pick up a cigarette, train your brain to see that pain isn't the enemy.
5. Visualize the rewards.
Remind yourself of the things you stand to gain when you resist temptation. Visualize yourself meeting your goals and reaping the benefits of self-discipline.
Write down a list of all the things you'll gain when you stick to your goals. Read over the list when you're tempted to give up. Spend a few minutes picturing yourself being successful and remind yourself how you'll feel when you succeed.
6. Recover from mistakes.
If you're stressed about a big presentation, you may talk yourself into skipping your workout. Or, if you're excited about a big deal you closed, you may convince yourself to let your good habits slide.
Progress doesn't usually come in a straight line. And just because you make a mistake doesn't mean you're a failure. Making mistakes is part of the process to becoming better.
The way you recover from those mistakes is what matters most. Learning from your missteps and committing to doing better next time can help you build self-discipline.
Keep Trying and Reap the Rewards
Boosting your self-control is the key to creating a better life. With a little mental strength training, everyone has the ability to develop more willpower. The best news is, improving self-control in one area of your life can lead to increased willpower in other areas of your life.