I came across an older, but still relevant article recently that suggested that the key to happiness was self-discipline.
I was struck by the article; particularly because it had brought to light a different key to happiness than I’ve been accustomed to hearing for most of my life: The kind of secrets to happiness that we are all pretty much accustomed to hearing, you know; be more grateful, be present, get some supportive friends, have some goals to aspire to, focus on your health, or make more money.
The article I read was published by the Atlantic. It was a synopsis of a study conducted in 2013 by Wilhelm Hoffman at the University of Chicago. If you are interested in digging deeper into the published research, you can do so here: Wiley Online Library.
Don’t Worry, Be Happy Self-Disciplined
The article spoke to me not only because it was refreshingly different from what the rest of the world typically says about acquiring happiness, but because it is something that I’ve found to be true in my own life.
I’ve noticed in my own experiences, that when I let my guard down, when I let my lack of self-control, and lack of discipline drive my life, things always seemed to eventually get worse. It’s not something that happens immediately either; whenever I’ve let off the proverbial (self-discipline) pedal; it has always led to a slow process of degradation.
It typically starts with something small, like having a good habit of going to bed early morph into a bad habit of going to bed late. Having this good habit eventually turn into a bad habit, slowly leads to other good habits, like going to the gym consistently, or starting/arriving to work before schedule, in addition to other habits of mine turning into bad habits all of their own. Eventually, through inertia, even my once chipper and positive attitude would become influenced, allowing it to drift into a realm of negativity.
Unfortunately, this degradation process would even lead to me having less patience with friends and family, in addition to obvious signs of work motivation and productivity being impacted. Eventually, my levels of happiness and feelings of joy would take a very noticeable nose dive.
So needless to say, reading the study was not only like taking a breath of fresh air, but it was also reaffirming of my own experiences and philosophy on the link between self-discipline and happiness (which always feels good).
Get Disciplined About Self-Discipline
I am always aiming to add value to you, my readers, so I did some serious self-reflection and research to come up with the three methods that, you can apply easily, but that will still have the biggest impact on your ability to increase your self-discipline. I intentionally left out any fluff, so you can get moving on your journey towards increased happiness.
This is going to sound like a crazy thought, but it is true. Acquiring discipline requires discipline. None of the steps that I am about to provide to you will take place without you making up your mind to take action on them. So in essence, to get disciplined, you have to have at least a smidgen of discipline to get you moving forward on those actions. I know we all have enough discipline to at a minimum, get started on these small steps towards improving our discipline.
1 – Create a Compelling Reason to Be Disciplined
One of the most powerful catalysts I’ve experienced in improving my self-discipline, was in creating a compelling reason to stick to those disciplines. The best way I’ve found to do this, was to take the time to think about and outline my goals for the next 12 months.
The most important aspect of setting these goals was to ensure that they were goals that really brought me to life. I wanted to ensure they were goals that excited me, goals that if (and when) reached, would add a level of amazingness to my life. So needless to say, the goals you need to create must be so enticing, so exciting, that you will be compelled to take action on them.
When you do this, you will have effectively set the stage to stick to your disciplines a little bit better. Dare I say, that after you do this, you may experience (as I do) an almost magical-like tug on you, to take action on your ideas and plans (when needed) until that compelling reason/goal you set up for yourself is realized.
Check out these resources to help you create your compelling reason:
- A basic how-to outline for goal setting from Psychology Today.
- 4 steps for setting powerful goals from Success.com.
- An effective goal setting template that spans 10 years.
2 – Sleep Your Way To Stronger Self-Discipline
I pride myself on being Spartan-like, and often force myself to work late into the night, instead of sleep. So my wife is going to love that I am recommending the importance of getting more sleep.
Of course, facts are facts, and apparently even Spartans had to sleep too. As such, this step should be an easy one to execute (unless you have toddlers, like I do. If you are in the same boat…fist bump, you can still do it).
Without further ado, the next simple way you can get started on improving your self-discipline is through getting enough sleep. It sounds simple, but when we deprive ourselves of sufficient amounts of sleep, it can significantly impact our ability to focus, it can affect our mood, our judgement, and even our general sense of well-being. Not to mention, when we are not well rested, it can make even the simplest of tasks more difficult to accomplish. So in short, getting sufficient levels of sleep is directly linked with our ability to be self-disciplined.
Last I checked, most people crave sleep, so why not allow yourself the luxury of indulging in at least this one thing?
Use these tips to help you get more sleep.
- Start taking naps.
- Stop using a digital device one hour before falling asleep (this one is so hard, but you can do it).
- Sleep no more or no less than 8 hours.
- Have a bed-time routine.
My next actionable step, like sleep, requires you to keep your eyes shut. However, this step takes quite a bit more effort.
3 – Meditate Your Way to Self-Discipline
My third tip to strengthen your self-discipline is to meditate. Mediation is a practice of quieting our minds. When done correctly, it can help put our minds at ease, and drown out our hyperactive thoughts. In essence, meditation is actually a practice in disciplining your attention.
Before reading further, if you find that mediation is just too ‘new-age’ a topic for you to even consider, take a look at any of these scientific reviews from the National Institute of Health, webmd.com, and PyschologyToday.com to help you become a believer.
Once done, come on back and I’ll share with you the powerful benefits that mediation can provide to help you improve your self-discipline.
Self-Discipline Benefit 1
The first benefit, is that your mind will gradually become less noisy, allowing for improved focus and clarity. With an improvement in these two areas, you will have a higher tendency to pay attention to the things in your life that really matter. You will have acquired a heightened sense on what is really important and what needs to get done. If you remove your mental distractions, you will set yourself to get more of the right things done. This will in turn, contribute greatly to your ability to become more self-disciplined.
Self-Discipline Benefit 2
The second benefit is that through the practice of meditation itself, you will be simultaneously improving your mental self-discipline. I say this, because meditation is a practice, and it requires you to make and take the time to do it. The great thing is, when you make time to do something as simple as this, on a consistent basis, you are in effect training your ‘self-discipline muscles’.
Self-discipline, like a muscle, can become stronger the more you use it. Similar to how I mentioned early, that being too casual with our self-disciplines can create a downward spiraling effect in our lives (where all other disciplines start to be negatively affected), the same cascading process can occur, but in the opposite direction when the smallest of disciplines (such as mediation) are practiced.
When you start your sessions they don’t have to take up much of your time either. A quality session can take anywhere from 10 minutes to 20 minutes. Of course, the duration is up to you.
Lastly, if you start this habit, there is a good chance you will also experience other great life enhancing benefits. For instance, people who regularly meditate, have reduced levels of negative emotions, reduced levels of stress, improved immune responses, and an increase in overall mental and physical health. Gaim.com has a terrific beginner’s guide to meditation, so if you are really curious about the ins and outs of this practice, I recommend checking it out.
A mentor of mine once stated that the key to getting all we want in life is through self-discipline. He stressed that for every disciplined effort, there are multiple rewards.
I took his advice to mean, that every discipline affects all other disciplines. When we show discipline, even in the slightest thing, like waking up early, or eating less food, we build our ‘discipline muscles’. These muscles, or rather, habits, start to carry over into other disciplines.
Before we know it, we find ourselves making our bed every morning, making it to meetings on time, actually finishing personal/professional projects we’ve been meaning to wrap up, doing more to help around the house, exercising more, etc., the list will go on and on.
It’s no wonder people who are self-disciplined are happier; they eventually get their lives in order.
The great news is this, you can start working on your increased happiness today. You have a starting point. The three steps I’ve included are not the end-all-be-all of habits to hone to improve your self-discipline. These three steps are simply an ideal place to kick off your new journey towards becoming more self-disciplined.
I’ve given you these bite-sized steps to improve your discipline for a reason. My hope is that it will increase the likelihood that you will actually start following some of these steps. The goal is that you find it easy to begin your new self-discipline project.
If you get started on these three simple disciplines, the day will come when you’d be effortlessly doing those bigger disciplines. The disciplines that truly lead to significant life change, and consequently, significant happiness.
So my last and final takeaway for you is this, that people with high self-discipline are happier than those without. Self-discipline can be your key to happiness.
So, if you are seeking ways to become happier, and if you are open to improving just about every aspect of your life in the process, it appears that there is no faster way to do both, than through the practice of self-discipline.