If you are anything like me, you will have times when you are feeling really strong, fit, healthy and well-disciplined, and others when it feels like your healthy lifestyle has gone a little bit awry. I find that healthy behaviour breeds healthy behaviour, while once I start snacking and skipping workouts a downward spiral can ensue.
Following an enforced break from my usual fitness regime I now find myself in this latter camp, and desperate to get back on the right track. While diet and exercise will of course play a key role in this, underpinning my success will be the strength of my self discipline.
The thing is, there is a gap between wanting to be disciplined and actually exercising self discipline, and at the moment that’s a void I’m trying to close.
In search of the secrets of self discipline I found myself undertaking the inevitable Google search. The below are some of the tips that I’ve gathered and I hope these will help me (and you) to rediscover the discipline that I know I have buried somewhere!
Thanks to selfdevelopmentsecrets.com and jamesclear.com for the advice on their sites.
Own your weaknesses
To begin you need to recognise where your weaknesses lie. Do you struggle to say no to treats? Are you swayed by the bad habits of others? Do you talk yourself out of workouts and find that you are justifying behaviour that isn’t in line with your goals? Or discover that all good intentions disappear when you’re tired, hungry or have had a bad day? Once you own, rather than deny, these weaknesses you can begin to correct them, recognising when your resolve may be weak and putting in place strategies to avoid slip-ups.
Reconfigure your choice architecture
‘When you are surrounded by better choices, it becomes a lot easier to make a good one’. These are the words of James Clear in his work on choice architecture. This theory posits that you can reconfigure your environment to promote particular choices and achieve set outcomes. Put simply, hide the chocolate and keep fruit close at hand!
When your willpower is depleted you are more likely to make decisions based on your environment; if you are feeling tired or stressed then you may be more susceptible to reaching out for an unhealthy snack handily placed in your desk draw rather than taking a walk or fitting in a workout. If you know that you are at risk of taking this path of least effort, take a little time each day to organise your kitchen/office/gym bag etc. to guide you towards better choices, even when your willpower is fading. That may mean not having chocolate (or in my case, peanut butter!) in the house and making sure you have plenty of healthy snacks to hand, or serving meals on smaller plates to make smaller portions appear bigger. It may be that you lay out your gym kit or pre-pack your swimming bag in the evening in anticipation of a morning workout, or keep images of your role models around you so you can turn to them when you need inspiration. As Clear states, ‘by making small changes to the physical environment around you, it can become much easier to stick to good habits.’
Make a plan
What are your goals? Write them down and think about how you are going to reach them. Include details about when you will start, what your long and short term targets are and precisely how you intend to achieve them.
It is important to make the details as specific as you can. By having a clear idea of where you are going it becomes easier to make and track progress and to stay motivated.
Don’t let boredom get the better of you
This point from Self Development Secrets is particularly pertinent to me at the moment as I’m spending a lot of time at home with a new born baby. I’m sure we’ve all been in the position when we’ve had too much time on our hands and turned to the snack cupboard, or found ourselves mindlessly chomping midway through a monotonous office task.
While there is a brief moment of feeling good while we eat, feelings of regret and guilt inevitably ensue and the result is that we end up feeling worse than we did before.
Recognising the difference between genuine hunger and boredom is an important step to prevent this mindless eating. I find that making a cup of tea, drinking a big glass of water, taking a walk, or doing some yoga can help to give me a window of reflection when I can identify what it is precisely that I’m feeling and if a snack really is necessary.
What would Kayla Itsines do?
Here Kayla is representative of any role model you may have. Seek out people that you view as successful – be that on social media or in real life – and pay attention to their habits. By reflecting on how they may act in a situation you can draw guidance on how you ought to behave. Would Kayla have that glass of wine or skip a workout? I suspect not.
Tell others what your goals are and be honest with them and with yourself. I find writing this blog is a good way of keeping myself accountable and of explaining my goals so that others are aware of them. Now I’ve told you I’m working to get myself back on track I can hardly secretly scoff a piece of cake, right?!
Let it go
Mistakes happen and we all have bad days. But a slip up isn’t a reason to give up and missing today’s workout doesn’t mean you can’t try again tomorrow.
Take some time to reflect on your mistake, think about what happened and why, learn from it and then let it go.
As a new mum, I know that tiredness can feed into a lot of my bad habits so I’m having to learn to recognise when a coffee or a cup of tea, a walk in the fresh air, a power nap (baby permitting), or simply asking for help is the solution rather than a sugary snack. As the Self Development Secrets website says: ‘are you going to let this one thing defeat you or are you going to learn from it moving forward?’
I hope that you have found this post helpful; thank you as ever for reading. If you have any further tips for strengthening self discipline I’d love to hear them. In the meantime I’m going to grab another cup of tea and clear the peanut butter supplies out of the house!