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Mindfulness is in the media, a lot. It is also becoming a highly researched topic right across several fields of academia. This can only be a good thing, I hope. Our pace is life can be fast, our mental health can be very compromised and our society is becoming increasingly individualistic. Mindfulness CAN assist in all these areas, but it has to be done diligently and with discipline. So to start off this blog space a few thoughts about discipline.
“The first and best victory is to conquer self” – Plato
So how can we use mindfulness to become more disciplined ? Here are a few useful pointers. Enjoy.
Developing self-discipline requires the willingness to change habits that are not serving you. We can only change what we are aware of. Taking stock of how you think, feel, and act and staying aware of underlying belief systems a good start to understanding what is impeding you from being more disciplined. For example if you are making unhealthy eating choices, you could ask yourself:
When I make these unhealthy eating choices what thoughts are going through my head? What emotions do I feel? What beliefs about myself are being supported by my actions?
Also, it is important to be aware of our temptations, so that you can make sure to get rid of them! Become aware of what tempts you to stray from your goal and get rid of it. For example, if social media and other technology distracts you from being more productive, use tools to eliminate these temptations while you work. Here are a few sites that can help with internet temptations and distractions:
-Block distracting websites – Hey Focus!
-Stop being distracted by your phone – Freedom
-Become more aware of where you spend your time on the internet – Rescue Time
-Regardless of the type of temptation that inhibits your self-discipline, whether it be technology or chocolate, it is important to become keenly aware of them and work to keep them away.
2. Tracking and Reviewing
Expanding your awareness to get a clear idea of your own behavioral patterns will help you become more disciplined.
Track when you are most productive, then schedule difficult tasks during this time so that you are more likely to do them.
Keep a journal of tasks or new habits that you would like to do frequently such as meditating daily. In this example, keeping a meditation journal to track your frequency and insights will help reinforce the habit and give you vital information about your ability to stay disciplined. Also writing down each time were able to be self-disciplined, will act as a self=esteem booster similar to the feeling you get when you cross something off of your to do list.
Tracking is only worthwhile if we take the time to consciously review what we have tracked. Set an appointment in your calendar to go back and evaluate what you tracked. Try to notice patterns such as:
What time of day you are most disciplined?
How frequent are you staying disciplined?
Are you more disciplined when you allot longer periods of time for any given task? Or do you respond to tighter deadlines and time periods?
3. Consciously Challenge Yourself
When we are attempting to break bad habits in order to become more disciplined, it requires a shift in the way we do things. A large part of self-discipline is stepping out of your comfort zone and willing yourself to do something even if it feels wrong at first. Eventually the more we consciously challenge ourselves step out of our comfort zones, these new decisions will no longer be decisions but instead will become automatic.
The key is to initially be as persistent as possible in making disciplined decisions. I suggest taking a conscious approach to making these new decisions by taking stock of resistance and learning from it. For example, say you’re trying to work out more frequently and it comes time to decide to wake up early and go to the gym. Once the high of this new goal wears off there will come a day when you just don’t feel like going to gym. I suggest digging into this resistance by asking yourself the following questions:
Why did I make this goal in the first place?
How will I feel if I don’t make the disciplined decision?
How will I feel if I do make the disciplined decision?
Am I allowing my automatic and comfortable habits win?
Can I forge through this resistance to create new habits?
4. Loving Kindness
Stay aware of internal dialogue on your route to develop self-discipline. See if you can consciously introduce self-compassion when you notice judgmental internal dialogue. Developing self-control is a journey and will not happen overnight, so it is important to be gentle with yourself along the way. This will help motivate you to get back on the horse when you inevitably fall off.
Another great way to offer loving kindness is to reward yourself. Rewarding ourselves acts as positive reinforcement for new self-disciplined habits. Take time to reward yourself for milestones along the way. Give yourself a small treat such as a healthy snack or time to be spontaneous to reward yourself as you develop self-discipline.
“We are what we repeatedly do, excellence then is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle
There is great power in doing something everyday versus allotting one large chunk of time for completing a task. For instance if you are trying to discipline yourself to finish that book you have been working on, it is much more likely to get it completed if you allot smaller chunks of time for writing each day than if you scheduled one day out of the week to write. This is because when we do something everyday, especially at the same time it create neural pathways in the brain that help to make the act automatic.
So make rituals out of what you are trying to achieve and work to make these rituals sacred in your mind. This means not allowing life events or any other work events to stop you from doing them. Make your ritual sacred by committing to stay present during this time and not allowing yourself to stray.
6. Emotional Regulation
We have all been in situations when our emotions get the best of us and kill our self-discipline. Whether it’s relationship issues that kill our productivity or anxiety that impedes our ability to focus, sometimes emotions cannot interrupt our grinding. In cognitive psychology we know that thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are intimately connected and influence each other. Therefore when it comes to developing self discipline and taking action, it is very important to know how to regulate your emotions. Mindfulness is a great tool to help us gain control over our emotions and hence our behavior.
In a study published in the Association for Psychological Science, the authors explain the mechanism by which mindfulness improves self-discipline/executive control. As they describe in the study, by practicing mindfulness techniques like meditation, we learn to become aware of our shifting emotional states. In doing so the more mindful one is, the easier it is to notice changes in emotional states within everyday life. This, combined with the non-judgmental and accepting teachings of most mindfulness practices, gives us the ability to sit comfortably with our emotions without letting them overcome us. Furthermore, this ability to maintain separation from our emotions as the observer, creates the unique ability to control your own behavior in the midst of uncomfortable emotions.