How to Be More Disciplined - 6 Ways To Master Self-Control
Hi, I’m Dr. Tiffany Shelton Mariolle, neuropsychologist, published author and founder of modambition
Ever felt lazy, unproductive, or just have no energy to get stuff done? Or have ever set a goal for yourself but let temptations or distractions veer you off track?
Whether you’re trying to stop procrastinating, stick to a diet, work out more, or even quit drinking, whatever your goal is, if you don’t have self-discipline life can be very difficult and you’ll find yourself carrying the guilt of constantly breaking promises to yourself.
In this epsiode you are going to learn how to master self control, and harness the power of self-discipline and will power to finally step into enter into your season of self-mastery. Self-discipline may be to the missing link to your success, and I want to give you the tools to be more disciplined.
I know you have big goals, but sometimes it’s just hard to wrestle ourselves to stay on track with these goals. Not only have I extensively studied the intricacies of self-discipline in my role as a neuropsychologist but my life demands a high level of self-discipline to be able to juggle being a psychologist, published author, business owner, wife, and mom of two. And self-discipline is an integral part of how I am able to get so much done.
The first thing you want to do is identify the culprit of yourself defeating behaviors. When it comes to self-discipline there are a couple of things that happen in the brain in order for us to exhibit self-control and willpower. And when we find that our self-discipline is a bit faulty it's helpful to look at what may be malfunctioning and contributing to these behaviors.
So firstly, as a neuropsychologist I want to share a little bit of brain science with you if you'll just bear with me. You may find that self discipline is difficult because you struggle with a faulty prefrontal cortex. This is the front part of our brain that is responsible for things like impulse control self-monitoring, decision making, and reasoning. In recent article, What you need to know about willpower: The psychological science of self-control, the APA cites research examining self-discipline and stated, “When presented with tempting stimuli, individuals with low self-control showed brain patterns that differed from those with high self-control. The researchers found that the prefrontal cortex (a region that controls executive functions, such as making choices) was more active in subjects with higher self-control. And the ventral striatum (a region thought to process desires and rewards) showed boosted activity in those with lower self-control”.
A very common disorder that affects this part of our brain is things like ADHD and you'll see folks with ADHD struggle with self-discipline because things like impulsivity or being easily distracted gets in the way of the adhering to what they've set out for themselves to do. And although ADHD is very popular in our pop culture right now, there are only about 4% of adults that struggle with ADHD, however there are many disorders that can cause problems with the prefrontal cortex including things like anxiety, substance use like alcohol or marijuana use, depression, and even things like OCD or bipolar disorder. Whatever is the cause of poor prefrontal functioning it's important to know that this is the case because then you can do things to compensate for impulsivity and poor attention using things like planning and organization and many of the tips I'm going to share with you in today's episode.
On the other hand the culprit of yourself defeating behaviors may not lay specifically in your prefrontal cortex functioning, but more so in unconscious drives that are diverting your efforts. For example, the temptation that is pulling you away from being disciplined is soothing an underlying and untreated anxiety that's lurking underneath the surface. A good example of this may be that you're trying to stick to a diet but you keep falling for temptations to have a piece of chocolate because it soothes your anxiety that you're dealing with throughout the day. In this example you can see how treating the underlying anxiety can help you be more disciplined with your diet and feel more successful in your goals to stick to more nutritious eating habits.
The second thing I want you to do is replace your need for instant gratification with falling in love with delayed gratification. There are a couple ways you can consider doing this:
- You can consider how can you make the delayed reward more sexy than the instant reward. For example if you need to sit down to do something for work but you find yourself wanting to procrastinate you can ask yourself what is it about doing this work now that is more tantalizing than the temporary satisfaction of slacking off.
- Another way to make delayed gratification more sexy is to find meaning in your initial goal, the thing you're trying to be disciplined about, by asking yourself why is this goal important to me. So for instance if you're trying to cut back on drinking alcohol, before you go out with friends you can review to yourself why is this goal of drinking less important to you and having that in mind before you set out for the night can help you resist the temptation to drink.
- Which brings me to my last point which is this type of thinking is very important to do beforehand not in the midst of Temptation or trying to be disciplined. Instead be really intentional preparing for being disciplined by thinking about making the late gratification sexier, and defining why your goals are most important to you prior to getting into those moments of temptation. This is helpful because in those moments where we are struggling to have self-control the reasonable parts of our brains are not fully functioning like the prefrontal cortex that I mentioned earlier, and instead we're in the more emotional parts of our brains so if you can do the rationalizing beforehand this takes out that needed component in the moment.
And I know firsthand that this works because I use this strategy to get through my Ph.D.. So when I was studying to get my PhD I had already obtained a bachelor's degree as well as a master's degree and quite frankly there were many times that I was sick of going to school and I just wanted to be finished so I could have a real job already and be making money like my peers. So it really took me falling in love with the delayed gratification staying very close to the reason why I was getting my PhD in the first place for me to be able to be disciplined enough to persevere during those moments that I just wanted to give up.
The third thing I want to share with you when it comes to becoming more self-disciplined is being very effective in goal setting and planning strategies which have been proven to help people be more disciplined and successful.
A journal article in the Perspectives of Psychological Science, entitled The Science and Practice of Self-Control touted goal setting and planning strategies as one of the helpful ways to make self-control more approachable. Specifically they cited a 2013 study that helped students become more disciplined and academically successful using a specific goal setting and planning strategy. Simply put this study helped children identify positive thoughts and images about their future and convert them into effective action. They did this by having them mentally contrast their future goal with relevant obstacles of reality and create if-then plans to specify how they might overcome these obstacles. Compared to children in the control condition, children that applied this goal setting and planning strategy were disciplined throughout the school year and significantly improved their grades.
So you're probably wondering how can I apply this to my own life? Well being the psychologist that I am I infused the modAmbition planner that I created with proven mindset strategies just like these and in the planner there are several opportunities to not only set goals but to plan to achieve them in a way that will help you be more discipline including learning from challenges and implementing those learnings in the future.
Another particularly helpful way to implement the learnings from this study comes from a technique I learned from Brendon Buchard. Now I will say that when I first learned about Brendon Burchard I was dragged to one of his seminars by my husband who was my boyfriend at the time, and I was very cynical and felt like it was going to be a lot of motivational talk but nothing really valuable. However I had quite a different experience at this 3-day seminar I believe it was. And I learned so many helpful techniques to perform at your highest level. I was also introduced to one of my favorite psychologist at the seminar, Dr Daniel Amen, and had an opportunity to hear him speak which was great. But the technique that I learned that stuck with me and I still Implement to this day me and my husband ask each other this each morning is to ask yourself the following questions at the beginning of the day:
- “What’s my intention for the day?”
- What might get in my way?
- And what am I going to do about it?
Now if you're a fan of the Law of Attraction like I am you might be thinking well this is just going to invite negative experiences into my day however it actually does quite the opposite because you're not just bringing up an obstacle that might happen you're bringing up your ability to overcome the obstacle and seeing yourself being disciplined no matter what comes in your way so your mind attunes with the fact that I have a goal in mind and I'm going to get it done even if there's things that come up in life that might get in my way. So it's less about hanging on to the negative obstacle that might happen but it's more about helping your brain get on board with the fact that you're still going to get done what you need to get done even if certain things come up throughout your day.
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The fourth thing I want offer you to be more discipline and master self-control is to make it easy to be disciplined. The truth of the matter is we only have so much willpower and willpower really is a finite resource it's not infinite. Things like the time of day, our mood, our energy levels And even our beliefs affect how much willpower we have at any given moment. So the easier we can make it on ourselves the more disciplined we will be.
So focus on using situational strategies that make temptations less obvious and adherence to self-discipline more obvious. Practically speaking this means don't have any cheat food in your house if you're trying to eat well, or laying out your workout clothes the night before so it's easy to just throw them on and go work out the first thing in the morning. I remember when I was a new mom I was also writing my first book and I had strict deadlines for myself and also I had deadlines from my publisher to finish my book on time. I made it as easy as possible for myself by setting up my laptop wherever I would pump that way anytime that I had a breast pumping session I also had a writing session. So just think about ways of how can you make it easy for yourself to be disciplined and whatever goals that you have for yourself.
The fifth thing that I want to share with you that's really important if you want to increase yourself discipline and really walk into your season of self Mastery is self-regulation. Being able to regulate your mood, thoughts, and behaviors is essential to being able to follow through on your promises. You're going to get dysregulated throughout the day whether that's getting anxious about a deadline or getting upset about an email or whatever it is it's going to make you feel disregulated or thrown off track that's just part of life and being a human being. The key is to have tools in your toolbox to regulate yourself so that you can continue to take committed actions towards what's most important to you even in the face of discomfort, challenges, and difficult emotions.
So here's some things you can consider adding to your toolbox to help you self regulate:
- Diffusion. Learning to separate your identity and experience from your thoughts
- Thought restructuring. Learning to choose more helpful or positive thoughts in the face of negative thoughts
- Committed Action. Accepting and processing difficult actions while committing to take value driven behaviors even if those difficult emotions are still there in the background
- Radical acceptance. Accepting life challenges and figuring how to make the problem the solution.
Next, I want to introduce you to the idea of Learned Industriousness, which is the exact opposite of learned helplessness. The advice I'm going to share with you regarding this tips comes directly from an article in psychologycompass.com called, How to build self-discipline with joy, meaning, and challenge. Whereas learned helplessness occurs when people stop trying because they've learned that their efforts don't matter, learned industriousness occurs when you train your brain that effortful work is rewarding.
In the article he mentions two ways that we haven't already discussed to do this. The first way that you can teach your brain that challenge is a good thing is to practice rewarding challenges. The article states: “Think about what challenges you have enjoyed in the past or always wanted to try, and start doing them! Perhaps as a child you enjoyed word puzzles, you are scared of running but like the idea of participating in your office’s yearly charity 5k, or you’ve always wanted to learn basic carpentry. Use this as an excuse to make yourself do them. Complete word puzzles on your morning bus ride, begin a “none to run” program, or sign up for a weekend beginners woodworking class.
They also suggest taking time to remember times in the past when your efforts paid off. Our brains are wired to focus on the negative in order to protect us, so it takes some priming and some conscious efforts on our parts to help it shift to acknowledging positive things in our past. And particularly, remembering past events when you were disciplined and your efforts paid off will help train your brain to lean into being more disciplined and having more self control.