People comment all the time on how lucky I am to travel, work less and enjoy life. I take offense.
[bctt tweet=”Designing my life required more than luck. There was planning, scary risks and self-discipline. http://bit.ly/1EXpM9Y”]
Self-discipline, also known as willpower or self-control is what lets me take control of my life and succeed. If you are a procrastinator or get mad at yourself for being lazy, there’s hope! Self-discipline is a skill that can be learned and improved over time.
Here are 4 scientifically-backed tips to get you started on a path to taking charge of your life:
1. Set small but powerful goals
Life is chaotic and demanding enough. Start the road to success with one manageable goal at a time. To increase the odds of victory, have a compelling personal reason why failure would not be an option.
In a study by Mark Muraven, an associate professor at the University of Albany, warm, freshly baked cookies were offered to participants to measure how long the subjects could resist. People that avoided a cookie for personal reasons — like wanting to challenge themselves — did better at resisting the cookie than those who simply wanted to please the study experts.
For improved motivation and self-discipline, forget the result and understand why the change is desired in the first place. And according to willpower researcher Roy Baumeister, PhD, a psychologist at Florida State University, “Willpower is the critical step to achieving the outcome.”
2. Eat and sleep well
Willpower and physical well-being are connected. Being tired or hungry affects self-control. Eating well and getting plenty of sleep increase the chances of success, especially when facing a challenging goal.
Roy Baumeister and John Tierney illustrate in their NY Times Best Selling book Willpower: Discovering the Greatest Human Strength, how balanced blood sugar acts as willpower fuel. As glucose levels drop, so does self-control. Keep self-discipline high by balancing blood sugar with a diet rich in protein and high quality carbohydrates. Good rest is vital — sleep deprivation affects glucose levels.
3. Skip perfection
Goal setting and perfection don’t mix. Perfection is paralyzing to achieving objectives, because the elusive, perfect moment to act may never arrive. Research indicates that, “Striving for perfection can actually reduce — rather than increase — productivity and achievement,” says Dr. Gordon Flett, professor at York University and author of the Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale (MPS), a tool for measuring perfectionist tendencies.
Focus less on the “right way” and more on the small steps and victories. Success momentum strengthens willpower.
4. Keep practicing
Relating self-control to muscles, as Roy Baumeister introduced, is a great analogy. Too many lofty goals require heavy, fatiguing amounts of willpower to achieve. Choosing small goals, one at a time, builds the self-control muscles gradually but powerfully. While muscles become exhausted by exercise in the short-term, they’re strengthened by regular exercise in the long-term. Continue setting goals to practice self-discipline and improve willpower. The more you exercise self-control, the easier it gets.