When it comes to self improvement, in any form, most people inevitably think about willpower. Achieving your goals usually results in having to perform certain activities that aren’t comfortable or enjoyable, which comes down to having the discipline.
But how do you improve your discipline? Is it possible or are you genetically stuck with what you were born with.
I was inspired by this fantastic video by Jeff Nippard to cover this topic. In the video, he brings on various experts to destroy certain fitness myths.
Some of those myths are that:
- you need a certain fad diet to lose weight and one fad diet works a lot better than the rest.
- you need to just brute force use willpower to achieve your goals, and if you can’t, you’re just not good enough.
When you think about, it’s just not true. People love these fancy, new gimmick diets, but research has shown that none of them work better than the rest. Adopters quit after a couple weeks, only to move onto the next fad. And studies show that willpower only helps a little at the start of adopting a diet. What matters more is training your habits and building an environment that serves you.
So while I clickbaited you a tiny bit with the title for your own good (it’s not just willpower that you need), some of these tips are on improving willpower, while some are on what’s most effective in achieving results. Willpower doesn’t always work. (Don’t just trust me. Check out Ben Hardy’s book Willpower Doesn’t Work: Discover the Hidden Keys to Success.
1. Set Up Systems to Avoid Needless Willpower Draining Events
You can set up environments and systems to conserve and protect your willpower so that you can use it when you need the discipline the most. Along with this, I want to share with you some mindset shifts that can improve how you progress.
Studies have shown that willpower is like a muscle or battery: it drains within a day from overuse. Set up systems to avoid needlessly using it.
Terry Crews uses a four-step process called HALT. Stop when you’re Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired. These are when you are at your weakest and will most likely make the worst decisions, you need to moment a break to chill, connect with a friend, or eat something.
Also, remove any form of needless temptation in your life. The most famous study to illustrate this is the chocolate chip cookie experiment. They found that just resisting eating a plate of fresh cookies for five minutes before an exam negatively affected performance.
Avoid or change triggers. Studies have shown that bad habits start because of a trigger.
Realize that a certain day of the week, object, word, or person could cause a trigger. Here are some examples of them and how to stop them:
- If you know you have an addiction to donuts, go to a different coffee shop that doesn’t have donuts out front.
- If you know there’s a woman that flirts with you on your way to work even though you have a wife, take a different route.
- If you know a certain social media platform triggers your porn addiction, download a free browser extension to block that platform.
- If you keep avoiding the gym, set up your clothes out the night before to remove resistance.
- If you know Halloween or Friday’s trigger you to remember that everyone else is partying except you (which causes you to watch porn), change that belief or change your routine so that it doesn’t happen.
2. Work Towards Doing It Yourself
Go ahead and use trainers or accountability partners. But realize that your goal should eventually be to work up doing it yourself. Discipline means being able to do what you need to. If you always rely on someone else to help you, you’re not progressing.
The actor Terry Crews (net worth $9 million) emphasizes this point in his video on self-discipline:
3. Realize Discipline isn’t Punishment, it’s Training
Terry says that discipline isn’t not something that hurts you. Realize that it’s helping you become better. Once you realize that, you will start to welcome self-discipline.
Research shows that willpower is a muscle, which means the more you use your willpower over the years, the stronger it becomes! Any activity that exerts discomfort that you have to get over, even brushing with your opposite hand, can help train your willpower!
So, at least partially, Ben Hardy is wrong! Willpower does matter. You can improve it like a skill. And the best part is that it’ll pay dividends down the line. Research shows that those with more willpower make more money, have healthier romantic relationships, end up in jail less, have more social status, and live healthier lives.
4. Embrace Discomfort and Realize It’s Normal
“Don’t wait for it to feel right.” -Terry Crews
The Basal ganglia is the part of your brain where all your habits are stored. The Prefrontal cortex is the part of your brain where decisions are made.
You can feel this right now by trying to write with the opposite hand.
When you make a decision that’s not in aligned with your habits, it won’t feel right even if it’s the right thing to do.
It won’t feel good initially, but if you keep doing it, you will built it into a good habit.
5. Reward Yourself To Reinforce Great Habits
In the book The Power of Habits, you learn that all habits (good and bad) are formed and trigger through the same sequence: a trigger or cue -> the routine -> the reward.
Schedule treats, rewards, or breaks to reinforce a habit. Choose a healthy, productive reward that you enjoy.
This is how you change bad habits into good ones. Instead of using drugs or junk food as your reward, choose a healthy reward that gives you the same pleasurable feeling, like a day at the spa, a healthy snack, or a walk in the park.
6. Forgive Yourself When You Screw Up
Don’t beat yourself up too much if you skip a day you committed to. It’s OK if you screw up and eat some junk food once in a while. As long as you’re moving in the right direction, that’s what matters.
If you do it enough, you will stop messing up.
I got a lot of these tips from Terry Crews, so if you don’t want to read this, you can watch his video:
7. Make It Fun
When something’s fun to you, you don’t need willpower. Do you ever procrastinate because you don’t want to play video games? No! Because you enjoy games.
You usually procrastinate on stuff you don’t enjoy. So find work around your passion or at least make stuff you don’t enjoy more pleasurable some how. Make it a game!