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The truth about self-discipline and willpower

When I was younger I believed I didn't have any self-discipline. I grew up with parents who would tell me if I had any, I would be able to loose weight, be better at school, excel at playing the piano and generally be a more 'successful' person.

In my early twenties I was quite harsh on myself. Constantly jo jo dieting, working very hard - the results were good, but not great for all the sacrifices I made. I truly believed the only way to attain success is through loads of self-discipline. 

A flatlay of a variety of vegetables, cauliflower, lettuce, tomatoes, garlic, parsley,

Fast forward many years and I learned the truth about self-discipline and apparent success. And by the way, a lot of people think of self-discipline as willpower.

These days I'm seen as someone that has plenty of self-discipline or willpower when it comes to my lifestyle and my work. The naked truth is that it's taken many years of trial and error, of understanding what works for me and what doesn't, of tweaking, of experimenting and of failing - a lot!

I've learned that self-discipline and will power are words that make us fail, feel bad about ourselves and actually carry a lot of shame. I used to carry A LOT of shame.

Who has started a diet and not seen it through? What about dieting, loosing the desired weight only to put it back on with some added 10% interest? Or maybe starting a morning routine, meditation practice, a workout schedule and failing at the first hurdle? Yes, any of those resonate with you?

So, if self-discipline or willpower don't work and we DO want to make changes, what is the answer? Well, what I've learned over many years is the following:

• stop blaming yourself for being human. 
• work on your 'shame'.
• it's really important to have an incentive.
• accept your feelings of hardship or wanting to throw in the towel.
• accept there will be pain.
• find something you think you can work at until it becomes more of a habit.
• baby steps all the way.
• lower your expectations and then lower them further.
• have accountability and support (I cannot stress this enough).
• keep rewarding yourself for every small, even minute, achievement.
• surround yourself with people on a similar self-development journey.
• Try and find some joy in the process.
• Find meaning and purpose in the change you want to make.

Everything in my life that I have wanted to change has started with baby steps. I just slowly chipped away at it, failing and starting again •differently• - having learned from the previous failure. Instead of beating up on myself I would purposefully congratulate myself for even attempting the change. Can you see how attitude has a lot to do with the end result? At all times though I knew that I would benefit from the change. It had meaning and purpose for me from the onset and that's what has often kept me going. If your heart isn't really in it, you'll most likely give up at some stage. And that's what most people do - they give up too early.

Let's take starting a small business as an example. The reason most small businesses fail is not only because they might have run out of money - it's mostly because the founder gives up too early. At the earliest setback they make the decision that 'it's not working.' But running a business has ebbs and flows, like making changes in our lives. You have to stick at something, experience the ups and downs and push through to the other side. Once you do, you have every chance to 'make it'. And here's the clinch, your heart has to be in it and if it also has meaning and purpose, then even better!

Once you see some changes, that will give you confidence to carry on. Now, here's the secret ingredient that many people don't talk about. At some stage, like with forming a new habit, a change you've wanted to make has become like second nature. There is no longer any hardship. You've crossed to the other side, where the new change has turned into 'comfortable', 'joy', 'a real pleasure'. Yes, this is the truth.' So you no longer need self-discipline or willpower. It now will come naturally to you and you'll want to do it every day. That's the secret and that's the reward.

Inspired to make some changes?