No one can force you to eat right and exercise, so you must use self-discipline to get up off the couch and throw away that bag of chips. It's not always easy, but you can improve your self-discipline with practice, just like you get better at sports the more you play. Creating a plan with small, measurable goals helps you maintain self-control for short intervals and to get back on track if you miss a benchmark.
Importance of Willpower
Exercising willpower gives you the self-discipline you need to maintain a healthy lifestyle. If temptations sometimes seem too powerful to ignore, you're not alone. In the 2012 American Psychological Association’s Stress in America Survey, 31 percent of respondents said their lack of willpower was keeping them from making changes in their lives, such as healthy eating and exercise. But willpower is a learned behavior, according to the APA. The more often you resist temptation -- whether it's the urge to eat an unhealthy snack or skip your evening run -- the stronger your willpower can become.
A key to maintaining self-discipline is setting short- and long-term goals that are attainable. Exercising seven days a week might not be realistic; life often gets in the way with crazy work and family schedules. However, exercising five days per week is a more attainable goal. The short-term goals should be benchmarks that lead up to long-term goals. For example, if you want to lose weight, set a six-month goal, but break it down into smaller pieces, such as losing one pound every two weeks. Reaching these mini-milestones helps keep you motivated, which is another factor in maintaining your self-discipline.
Setting Up for Success
In a perfect, predictable and stress-free world, sticking to your eating and exercise plan wouldn't be a problem. That's not reality, however, so you must plan for bumps in the road to keep your self-discipline strong. Taking time to relax your mind and body can help, both by meditating for a few minutes each day and getting enough sleep. Keep healthy snacks within reach; when cravings arrive for food not on your eating plan, grab a healthy snack to stave off hunger and help you fight the craving. Planning short, 10-minute snippets of exercise, such walking or climbing the stairs at work, helps you overcome urges to snack while breaking your exercise goals down into manageable chunks.
To keep your self-discipline strong, don't stress over times when you give into temptation. If you had dessert at dinner last night or decided to sleep an extra half hour rather than getting up to exercise, forgive yourself and don't dwell on it. Instead, use these lapses to help you refocus by examining your short- and long-term goals again, adjusting them slightly if necessary to be attainable. Renew your motivation -- you took a small break, but it's time to get serious again. Worrying about moments when you didn't follow your eating and exercise plan can lead to anxiety, which can keep you from exerting discipline like you were before the lapse. Think about experiences that might have triggered the lapse in self-discipline so you can avoid them in the future.
- Time: Self-Disciplined People Are Happier (and Not as Deprived as You Think)
- Forbes: The Six Secrets of Self-Control
- American Psychological Association: What You Need to Know About Willpower -- The Psychological Science of Self-Control
- American Psychological Association: Stress in America Survey 2012
- Mind Tools: Personal Goal Setting