The True Definition of Self-Discipline

Somewhere out there, I’m confident there is a statistic about a large percentage of people who lack self-discipline.  (I don’t feel like searching for it, because I don’t need it written down to know it’s true!) As alarming as that would-be statistic sounds, I’m not surprised because I am surely one of these people.  My continual lack of follow-through reminds me daily – Yes, DAILY – of how much I struggle in this area.

And what’s worse is that this ongoing battle within me was a major contributor to my feelings of low self-confidence in my adult years.  It still is.  (If only people around me really knew how much I get mad at myself for what I don’t accomplish.)

For me, it is always a domino effect: I get excited about a new idea or venture that I want to take on. The categories range from improving my eating habits (Goodbye, Popeye’s Chicken and Cracker Barrel!) to controlling my emotions.  (Hello, mature conversations.) Maybe it was the newness of the idea that set my heart ablaze.  It’s like a natural high of new opportunity and potential.  But shortly after, whether that be weeks later or a few months later, my pursuits wouldn’t go much further than the initial lift off. Then, that fire that I once had felt more like a puff of smoke that occurred as a result of a crash and burn.

One of the most frustrating things to deal with in your own life is watching the same domino effect occur over and over.  Each time, you are hoping for a different result. But it turns out to be the same. Every.single.time.

The act of figuratively beating up on myself increases when I see that acquaintances of mine are actually accomplishing what they set out to do. Thanks, Facebook, for giving people the platform to show off and make me feel worse!

One evening, I was watching an infomercial (of all things to watch on t.v.) and heard the speaker say something that made me drop the remote, and my bottom jaw:

“Discipline is simply doing what you don’t want to do.”

What?! Are you joking??!! All this time, I thought this 10-letter word was a scary monster, but it’s not.  It’s simply pushing ourselves beyond what we feel like doing in the moment.  That’s it.

Think about the areas we hear people struggle to change the most:

  • Diet and exercise
  • Finances or debt
  • Emotional behavior
  • Career moves

Imagine the difference in output if we changed our outlook on what it takes to achieve our goals? I believe this would be a completely different world as a result.

Being the person that I am, I had to test this out this notion. I decided to do it with one of my areas that requires much discipline: Exercise. Exercise was the one thing that I always knew I had to do, and would even convince myself to do it, but when the alarm clock went off, , I convinced myself that it would be best to do it after work instead.  After work, I convinced myself that tomorrow would be a better day.  Needless to say, tomorrow rarely happens.

So, I started to say to myself the mantra I heard: Discipline is doing what you don’t want to do. I said it repeatedly – in the bathroom mirror, anytime I had those “I don’t feel like it” thoughts, anytime I needed an extra push of energy and focus.  Soon after, getting myself to the gym didn’t seem so daunting.  For the past six months, I can say that I’ve successfully developed the self-discipline of exercising on a weekly basis because I started out by pushing myself even when I didn’t want to. Ultimately, it was about taking it one step at a time until I realized there was change happening.

Where does your self-discipline fall short? I’d love to hear from you.  Feel free to share in the comments below on how you overcame a lack of self-discipline. You never know, there may be someone among that would-be statistic who can learn from your strategy!

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Elana Cole is an author, educator, and coach who is passionate about helping others in their personal journeys towards a more beautiful life. She is the author of "The Midnight Experience" and creator of Empowered Narrative, a blog about transforming the way you live and love.

2 thoughts on “The True Definition of Self-Discipline

  1. Great blog post Elana!! This is so true! One of my lack of self discipline is in taking time out the day to read my bible and really pray. Similar to your start up in working out I would always push it off til tomorrow and it never happened! So even though I’m making better moves with this and really being more intentional with my Quiet time with God it’s still a struggle. One thing that I do is write out my idea when I’m feeling that mountain top moment and my why this is an idea that is important to me. So when I do have those moments of I don’t feel like it come around I look back at them and remotivate myself back to that mountaintop feeling. It works majority of the time!

    Thanks Elana!

    1. Thanks for sharing, Jamesa! Even today, I still struggle with self-discipline and I realize that it’s going to be an ongoing struggle but an intentional change if I work hard at it everyday. Your strategies sound like they work! I may have to try that some time. I’m always looking for new ideas. 🙂

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