The path to a healthier lifestyle is not always straight. There are days when we lose sight of our goals. What we often lack then is self-discipline. Discover in this article why we fall back into our old ways and how to learn self-control.
What is self-control?
Self-control describes the ability to control one’s actions, to weigh one’s decisions and to orient one’s behavior according to one’s own objectives.
Take the following example: You’re at a birthday party and you politely refuse the slice of cake you’re being offered because you’ve made the decision to stop eating refined sugar. Saying no means in this case that you are appealing to your self-discipline instead of giving in impulsively to your cravings for sweets or social pressure.
In other words, you have the situation in hand. This is called self-control or self-discipline or even self-discipline. The principle is as follows: you pursue your own goals, regardless of internal or external obstacles.
Why is self-discipline important?
You’re going to run even if it’s raining outside or you refuse a glass of wine even though everyone else takes one. A person guided by their impulses would either skip or simply skip the jogging session and have a drink. The result is therefore clear: you fall behind in your training program, you feel remorse and, on top of that, you have a hangover.
Conversely, self-control helps you make good decisions, live healthier lives over the long term, and get more done. You exercise self-discipline because you value your physical and mental health.
Psychosocial experience: Self-control is the key to success
The “marshmallow test”, conducted in the 1960s and used to date as a benchmark, shows how self-control can help success in life. Under the direction of the American psychologist Walter Mischel, scientists faced young children with the following choice: they could either eat the marshmallow immediately, or wait for the experimenter’s return and then receive a second as a reward.
The majority of the young participants accepted the deferred gratuity and took patience, while a small number immediately succumbed to the temptation. Almost 14 years later, the life courses of schoolchildren have been studied in more detail: the patient children then proved to be confident, socially competent and able to cope with setbacks. The impatient gourmets displayed uncertain, indecisive and socially more incompetent behavior. Regardless of their level of intelligence, they also performed worse in school.
It has therefore been concluded that being able to wait and give up, that is to say to control one’s own actions, can stimulate success in a decisive way. Self-discipline is even more important than IQ.
When is self-control counterproductive?
Self-control also has its limits
Up to a certain point, discipline helps us lead a healthier existence, achieve better life and be happier. However, if you want to be in control too much, the opposite effect can happen.
Indeed, if self-discipline is synonymous with long-term renouncement of the type “From today, more sugar, alcohol and coffee”, the pressure can, after a while, prove too important. People who are constantly in control and do not allow themselves any deviation may fail to meet their excessive demands.
This is also revealed by a study by Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, published in the scientific journal Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Scientists working alongside Christy Koval have shown that self-discipline has many advantages and allows people to progress towards their personal goals, but that many also suffer from this skill. In fact, they work harder and harder (on themselves) than others, are the subject of high expectations from their peers and push their limits more often. And this can in particular lead to burnout.
Partial conclusion: self-control can be the key to a healthy, successful and happy existence. However, from time to time, we have the right to let go of the bridle a bit and follow our impulses.
What factors influence self-control?
Self-control is based on two essential factors: the definition of objectives and the force of will.
Set realistic goals
Self-discipline simply means giving up one thing because we aspire to something more important. We are moving towards a concrete objective for which we gladly make sacrifices.
You give up making morning grace to go to the gym before going to work in order to progress towards the silhouette of your dreams. Or you give up meat because animal welfare is more important to you than teasing your taste buds.
If you find it harder and harder to stick to your good resolutions, then the problem may come from your goal. It may be too ambitious, not concrete enough or just not important enough to you. Or it may not be your goal at all, but that of your partner or your inspiration model on Instagram.
Work on your strength of will
To persevere in something, you also need strength of will. Patience and renunciation require surpassing oneself. The greater your willpower, the easier it is for you to exercise self-discipline. The good thing is that the will works like a muscle.
This can be accomplished, among other things, by regularly outdoing yourself, for example by showering in cold water, performing two more repetitions, or running five more minutes. Even small things can have big effects. In addition, it makes more sense to take a small step out of your comfort zone on a regular basis rather than pushing your limits on an ad hoc basis.
There is also another way to strengthen your willpower:
By giving your body enough energy. Like your muscles, your brain needs glucose to be able to function optimally. But sugar is not a solution here, because even if its action is rapid, it is short-lived. Instead, choose foods with a low glycemic index, such as whole products, legumes, dairy products, nuts, and fresh fruits and vegetables.
Sleep is just as important as food: If we don’t get enough sleep, our brains are struggling to metabolize the energy supplied, which affects your will and weakens it.
What factors can undermine our self-discipline?
Besides these internal criteria, there are also a whole series of external factors that can sabotage your self-discipline:
Why do we fall back into our old ways?
So far you’ve managed to stick to your training or meal plan and suddenly it’s a tragedy: after work, there’s no way to motivate yourself to go to the gym and you’re having trouble to refuse a second piece of cake.
The situations that you once had under control are now governed by your impulses. Why is this so? Why do we do things so often that we don’t really want and fall back into our old ways instead of pursuing new, healthier routines?
In general, anything new and unusual is first considered a “danger”. Our brain is designed to function as efficiently as possible. On the contrary, everything that is usual and can be done automatically and impulsively is proven and therefore represents a safe bet. Every delay or not in the unknown could cost us our lives, this automatism has been ingrained in us since the dawn of time. No wonder it is so difficult for us to make changes.
In addition, there are other obstacles that can lead to resignation or stagnation:
Your repertoire of new behaviors is not yet sufficiently supplied and, at the fateful moment, no other alternative comes to mind. That’s why you’re having cake, for example.
In any case, it is important not to speak of regression! No process is ever linear, every change has setbacks. You may feel like you give up when you end a session or overeat, but you never start from scratch. Your precious experience is always greater than yesterday and you can build at any time from your skills. As they say so well: fall, get up, persevere!
Learn self-control: tips for more persistence
Building muscle or training for a marathon. But it’s often easier said than done.
When you scroll through your news feed on Instagram or when you look around you at the gym, you certainly wonder from time to time: but how do they make them look like that, to feed themselves that way or to work with such determination?
We have before us people who are following their own path, true to themselves. They have one thing in common: not only do they exercise self-discipline at the decisive moment, but, above all, they manage the so-called setbacks. People who manage to live the life they dreamed of are not resigned, they persevere at all costs, despite all the obstacles and moments of laziness that can sometimes get in their way. Because it’s human and completely normal.
Wondering what successful people can still teach you? Here are tips for gaining self-discipline:
1. Identify your motivation
Before you start a project or download yet another training program, ask yourself the following question: why am I doing this? What motivates me to pursue this goal, and does this motive come from the bottom of my being? To persevere over the long term, your decision must be 100% yours. You shouldn’t take it to please someone else.
2. Make a decision and no longer question it
Everyone is in the grip of doubt. What matters is the importance you place on it. Once you’ve expressed a wish and your goal stands before your eyes, then go to it without questioning your decision.
Tip: write your engagement down on paper and sign it as if it were a contractual agreement with you.
3. Progress step by step
You probably know the expression: “the tree often hides the forest”. If a task seems too complex to us, we lose ground and do not progress. Divide your resolution into small steps. To do this, you can test a new vegan recipe every week, try to drink tea rather than coffee every morning, or continue your training program week after week. Adopt routines that will take you step by step towards your goal.
4. See the positive side
A drop of ink colors the entire glass of water blue. Likewise, a single thought can affect your perception of something, either negatively or positively. Your change in diet should not be synonymous with deprivation or punishment, but health, self-confidence and well-being. Also, don’t say that you will “never eat” meat again. Rather, put it this way: “Today I give up animal products. These little verbal twists can have a huge impact on self-control.
Tip: Save a quote that particularly motivates you or an image that you positively associate with your resolution in the background of your smartphone.
5. Find your own rhythm
Each person has their own performance window. Some prefer to work out or work in the morning, and others are more effective in the evening. Don’t go against your predispositions by forcing yourself to do your morning workout. On the contrary, find your own rhythm. It’s not necessarily the same as your training plan. It will be much easier for you to exercise self-discipline if you go at your own pace and follow your own rules.
6. Reward yourself at every key step
Take advantage of delayed gratification, as in the marshmallow experience. The children in the study saw their patience rewarded as they were given not one, but two sweets. Gifts, compliments and recognition can be extremely motivating and help you progress. You can reward yourself in different ways: if, for example, you refuse a piece of cake now, you can then prepare your favorite meal for dinner. Or, after another successful week of training, you can take a day off and eat protein pancakes, which are good for both morale and muscles.
7. Be committed
Commitment is one of the decisive factors in self-discipline. You can get it by setting yourself a set schedule, for example for shopping, meal prep, workouts, and taking it all as seriously as it was professional duty. It can also be very helpful to find a community to share your goals and progress with. The excuses that come to get in your way will no longer have to be.
Advice: find a group of enthusiasts and choose a model among them that you will not copy 100%, but which will serve as a source of inspiration. It’s an extra boost!
Self-discipline: our conclusion
Self-control is the key to a healthy, happy and successful lifestyle.
It means reacting not in an impulsive manner, but in a controlled manner at decisive moments.
Self-discipline presupposes having defined concrete objectives and showing strength of will.
If you are master of yourself, you weigh your decisions and always act to progress towards your goal.
According to studies, self-control has more impact on a person’s success than intelligence.
It is quite normal to fall back into its old ways. Self-control also means seeing the so-called defeats as an opportunity and continuing on your way anyway.
It is possible to learn and strengthen self-discipline: with realistic goals, clear decisions, positive affirmations, rewards and commitment.