Developing Mental Discipline
February 8, 2016
I think you can develop discipline. You can develop mental toughness. I think of it as a muscle, like any other muscle, and you develop it by using it.
Listening to the Jocko Podcast the other day, Jocko answered a similar question by saying (paraphrased): How do you get up earlier? You… get up earlier. How do you stop eating sugar? You… stop eating sugar. How do you go to the gym/work out regularly? Go to the gym and work out regularly.
I think this is 100% true, but that doesn’t change that for many folks, this is not enough advice. They want a step, or steps. What do you do that first time you’re tempted to quit? What do you tell yourself that first time (or second, or third) that you’re tempted to get off the program? To make an exception? Is there a technique? Is there a way to get over that?
In one sense, I think it still does come back to Jocko’s advice. The way to do a thing is to do it. The way to not do a thing is to stop doing it.
There are things you can do that will help, I think. You need to change your mental associations. And I think you can do this. I don’t think it’s magic; it’s practical.
For example, if you overeat, and you know you overeat, and you know you shouldn’t overeat, but you still do, it may seem as though you don’t know how to stop doing this. You already know you shouldn’t. You never seem to follow your own, internal, knowing about this. One way of seeing this is that you still associate more pleasure with overeating than you do with the (potential) pleasure of losing weight or being healthier. You’re associating more pain with not eating as much as you want, than you are with being overweight or unhealthy. If you can change this association, if you can value, and actually feel pleasure from pushing your plate away before it’s empty, and if you can begin to feel the pain of the inevitable consequences of overeating more than the temporal “pain” of not getting to eat all you want, you can stop overeating.
This type of thinking is not original to me. This is pure Anthony Robbins, and I’m pretty sure that he would say it’s not entirely original to him, either: he developed those ideas by combining ideas from other places, and applying them.
Another, somewhat related, way is to change the way you see yourself. There was a study done where they had a group of people tell themselves “I can’t… [do whatever]”, and then presented them with a temptation (a bunch of chocolate bar, for example). A different group was to tell themselves, repeatedly, “I don’t … [do whatever],” and then this group was presented with with the same chocolate. The study found that a much higher percentage of those who had told themselves “I don’t [do whatever]” resisted the temptation to have cookies.
So? So, telling yourself “I don’t” is telling yourself something about your identity. Who you are. Saying “I can’t” is simply making a statement about desires, or your willpower. The statement about who you are is a much more powerful one, and the study suggests that it’s much more effective. (See the study from the Journal of Consumer Research here, if you like.)
These things might sound hokey or corny. Listen. I am completely okay with you thinking I sound corny, if I can get results. If I’m able to change my habits, and change my thinking, and change my life, why should I care that if someone rolls their eyes at the way it’s done?
You shouldn’t care either. Your life is too important to throw out valuable tools for changing it just because someone will think it’s corny, hokey, cliche, or weird.