It’s been two weeks already since the New Year started. Plenty of time for all the New Year’s resolutions enthusiasts to see if there’s any chance to fulfill at least part of the plan for 2016.
Whereas I don’t criticize resolutions, following small routines that compound over time has made an impact on my life in such a profound way that I couldn’t even predict it with my boldest resolutions. However, in order to stick the routine, you need to grasp the one skill, namely how to have self-control.
Am I the self-control guru who can resist every temptation? Absolutely not. Did I improve a hell of a lot during my journey? No doubt.
If you believe that learning from my experience might be of any value, here is what you can expect from this article:
- the importance of discipline and self-control
- tiny actions that you can take on a daily basis to move forward
- more advanced habits that can take you to the next level
- hardcore routines for hardcore results
- resources that will help you with during each step
Before we get into that, I’d like to leave a short disclaimer to avoid disappointments because it’s 3000 words worth of advice. I won’t share any magic tricks or quick solutions to revolutionize your life. If you’d rather just chill after work or school and take life as it comes, you might not find anything useful in my work. This article is dedicated to people, who just like me, feel the constant need to improve and move forward and I by no means judge those who feel differently. It’s for people who are willing to embrace the discomfort on a regular basis to achieve the long-term fulfillment and happiness.
If you’d like to leave the comfort of a daily life behind and try to get closer to the point you always wanted be at, carry on reading.
The importance of self-control
The are plenty of self-improvement techniques, weight loss plans, productivity hacks and other awesome solutions to drastically improve your life. If you still read my article, you’re undoubtedly familiar with some of them but didn’t experience the transformative revolution that you expected whenever giving them a shot.
Why is that? Whereas we could easily come up with a never-ending list dedicated to external factors that make you fail more easily, I’d start with the elemental principle of self-improvement which is taking the full blame.
You don’t have enough self-control to stick to the plan, that’s it. Let’s say I gather a team of the best scientists in the world to design the ultimate diet and workout plan specifically dedicated to one’s body and give it to 20 overweight people. I bet half of them will fail and I know I’m being enthusiastic.
The reason we fail is simple and so is the solution, though it’s not easy. It’s developing enough self-control and discipline in your life that you can actually go ahead and stick to the life-changing plan that you came up with before falling asleep. Self-control allows you to withstand the emotional discomfort and act now, instead of waiting for the right moment and circumstances.
Most of the solutions to improve the important parts of your life such as health, relationships and wealth are already there, oftentimes for free or a few bucks. But again, it’s not the right plan that will determine the success but your ability to follow the rules over and over again.
In his incredible book named “The Slight Edge”, Jeff Olson said something that absolutely deserves your attention:
The truth is, what you do matters. What you do today matters. What you do every day matters. Successful people just do the things that seem to make no difference in the act of doing them and they do them over and over and over until the compound effect kicks in.
The word self-control wasn’t mentioned a single time though it’s an inseparable part of this quote. You don’t learn how to discipline yourself so that you can eat healthy today. You commit to grasp this skill so you can do it over and over again and learn to love it. You commit because you see the long-term benefit which you’ll only experience when the compound effect kicks in.
I go further on the life-changing power of self-control in this article.
Exercises and Routines To Gain Self-Control
Set A Sleeping Schedule
The importance of sleep on your success is tremendous. To put it simply, if you fail to charge your batteries, you can’t expect anything above average performance. I make sure to sleep for 8–9 hours a day (though it’s a personal thing and depends on how your body’s response). The idea behind a sleeping schedule is not to make you live strictly according to the clock but to just have a plan you can try to follow 80% of the time. Whenever I neglect the power of sleep, it doesn’t take long for me to experience the negative effect on my mood and performance.
The reason behind sleeping properly is not to give you the plan to follow so you discipline yourself, but to make sure that you have enough energy to be productive and feel energetic which is necessary to accomplish challenges from this article.
Make Your Bed Immediately After Waking Up
This is a very simple and easy to execute habit yet it makes a difference. When you wake up, make your bed immediately, simple as that. Don’t check your phone notifications, open your laptop or run to the kitchen. Just make your bed. The reason for doing it is to develop a simple routine that you can easily stick to day after day. Once you make your bed, you’re kind of reassuring yourself that the resting period is over and it’s time to jumpstart your day.
Making your bed is one of the mini habits that will actually compound over time and make you a disciplined person. See this article for more mini habits ideas.
Self-control is born in your head and the best exercise to strengthen your mind is meditation. But don’t worry, it’s nothing close to a monk-like 2-hour meditation session. I don’t meditate for any longer than 15 minutes but it still does the job.
One of the reasons for meditating is that it’s been shown to improve your focus and self-control (source). Every day, we face countless distractions and temptations that make us go off the course without even noticing. Meditation increases mindfullness and awareness of your current situation so you’re less likely to let the distractions take over.
Resource to help you with the challenge:
Plan Your Life
This involves living with a to-do list. No, it’s not boring or unspontaneous. This is how you actually move forward and achieve what you want. Less guessing, more action, more discipline, better results. If I set myself a goal to write a book, I might as well forget it. I won’t write a book in one go and just thinking about it is too overwhelming. On the other hand, if I split it into simple tasks like writing every day first thing in the morning for 30 minutes, this is how I can make sure I’m getting closer to my goal.
Once again, being able to accomplish tasks from your plan requires a smart and sensible approach. If you’ve never been serious about fitness but as a part of your New Year’s resolutions you commit to training 5 times a week, it’s very unlikely that you’ll stick. It takes huge amounts of self-control and discipline for such a gigantic switch. You need to find the right balance between being ambitious and realistic.
If you’ve read so far, I bet you have dozens of goals that you try to accomplish. Let’s say you want to learn Java so you can program Android apps and land a great job/release a lucrative app. But you know nothing about Java and you have all those responsibilities like work and feeding your dog. Well guess what, so do I (except for the dog). In 2015, for a period of a few months, I was the master of my entire schedule, without work, school etc.
Currently, I work a 9–5 (here is why I love it), train at the gym and have loads of responsibilities since I’m alone in a city 1000 miles from home. Yet, I’m still able to work on my personal goals and I truly love it.
All it takes is hacking your life according to your needs. For example, I usually devote 30 minutes of my break at work to writing. When your schedule is loaded and you try to accomplish that one more task instead of giving up, you’ll soon become a disciplined individual.
Resources to help you planning your life in a better way:
Read More Books
Whenever you read a good book, somewhere in the world a door opens to allow in more light.
There are countless great books that discuss the concept of self-discipline and teach you how to have self-control.
But how do you read all those great books when there are so many things on your schedule? Personally, I read during commute which is an effective way to get more out of it. It gives me at least an hour of reading 5 times a week.
It doesn’t take long hours in the library to go through amazing books quicker than you can imagine. If you read 20 pages a day, you’ll read more than 30 books at the end of the year! And it’s just another small habit to improve self-discipline.
My personal book recommendations related to the topic:
- The Marshmallow Test: Understanding Self-control and How To Master It
- The Slight Edge
- 5 Weeks To Stronger Self-Discipline (free)
Resource to help you read more:
Sweat Your Ass Off
Whether it’s lifting weights, running, yoga or tennis, you should train regularly (I aim at 3–5 workouts/week). If the incredible health benefits alone didn’t convince you to make exercising a habit, I hope to change your mind with some extras that positively affect your self-control.
Personally, I love bodybuilding so I don’t have to convince myself to go to the gym. However, I run into moments when I come up with excuses and would rather do something lazy and self-destructive instead of sticking to my workout plan. This is the key point when you strengthen the habit of discipline. If you come home after a hard day at work or school and you’re still able to get your blood pumping and release some happiness hormones, you’ll win in life. It’s that simple and if you don’t believe me, hopefully, Will Smith’s words will convince you:
The keys to life are running and reading. When you’re running, there’s a little person that talks to you and says, “Oh I’m tired. My lung’s about to pop. I’m so hurt. There’s no way I can possibly continue.” You want to quit. If you learn how to defeat that person when you’re running. You will how to not quit when things get hard in your life. […]
The single workout won’t move a needle, there will be no unicorns and rainbows on the sky. But pushing that one more step is what separates you from the weaker version of yourself.
I realize exactly that even if I feel like the most tired person on this planet, when I push myself to go to the gym, the feeling afterward makes you feel like you’re unstoppable and that’s the aim of improving self-control. To make you immune to your mind’s weakness.
To make it work smoothly, I highly recommend you to choose a form of exercise that you enjoy. I’d probably wouldn’t be eager to play ping pong for an hour 3 times a week but I crave lifting weights like crazy. Work hard but play it smart.
Resource to help you with the challenge:
Reduce refined sugar in your diet
Sugar, salt and fat (read how the food giants hooked us) are used by the food industry to increase your cravings. Selling food is a business like any other but in this case, in order to make more profits, food tycoons neglect the health consequences. It’s you who’s responsible for what lands on your plate.
Why would you reduce the amount of refined sugar? Simply because it makes you much more likely to overeat which is a pure sign of lacking self-control. At the very beginning, while your body is still used to sugar, you’ll experience huge cravings. Fortunately, after a few more days they will fade away and you’ll start enjoying more plain and healthy products.
Improving your diet is just another way of strengthening your self-control. But it’s even easier if you… remove the potential obstacles which is what the next paragraph is all about.
Remove Temptations From Your Life
Self-discipline is nothing but a good habit practiced over and over again. In reality, however, everyone has their own Achilles’ heel that is a trigger point for a series of bad tendencies. Self-destructive habits which lead to having no control over yourself are caused by triggers that you need to discover and eradicate.
It’s tough to stop eating doughnuts for breakfast if you pass by your favorite bakery every morning on your way to work. If you know that video games might distract you from learning Java, uninstall them all and sell them on eBay. Increasing self-control is not about refusing to eat chocolate when it’s on your countertop, it’s about getting rid of the chocolate in the first place.
Resource to help you with the challenge:
Switch To Intermittent Fasting
In today’s world food is no longer just a source of nutrition and energy. It has become an integral part of your entertainment. The problem is, if you entertain yourself with food, you’re on an easy way to lose control over your plate and become a slave of it.
There are plenty of diets that could definitely help but I’d rather give you a long-term solution that I benefited from the most from.
The idea behind intermittent fasting goes against what most of the fitness industry experts preach which is eating every 2.5–3 hours. Personally, I’ve noticed that my cravings are much higher when I eat so frequently and I’m more likely to snack.
Don’t panic, there’s no starving involved behind this pattern of eating! There are different approaches but my favorite is 16:8. There is a 16-hour fasting period during which you only consume calorieless drinks. You guessed it right, 8 means 8-hour eating window. I like to keep it to 2 large meals a day and a small healthy snack whenever needed.
Whenever I do intermittent fasting (IF), I experience following things:
- my focus and mind clarity increase drastically
- I feel fewer cravings and less hungry in overall
- I lose fat (if you massively exceed your daily calorie intake then I wouldn’t expect wonders)
- I literally feel happier
There’s a lot of evidence on why IF is so good for various aspects of your life. Not only will you become more disciplined when it comes to food (something that vast majority of western societies struggles with), but you’ll experience countless health benefits that you can read about all over the internet.
Resource to help you transition to IF:
Start Taking Cold Showers
I mentioned the incredible power of taking cold showers many times on my blog but they’re worth bringing back over and over again. Without a doubt, this is a hardcore method. Letting the freezing cold water run down your body for a few minutes is the best metaphor for embracing short-term discomfort to achieve long-term goals.
If you can wake up in the morning and take a freezing cold shower, even though you’d rather stay in the warm and cosy bed, you’ll eventually be able to overcome other mental obstacles. Taking a cold shower is not about physical toughness. Sure, the feeling isn’t the most comfortable thing in the world but it won’t hurt you. Your biggest enemy hides in your head. When your body starts to panic, it’s your mind that helps you go through 2 minutes of discomfort.
I can’t guarantee you that after a month the freezing cold water starts feeling warmer. It’s still freezing! But the process is more automatic and the results become visible, which just helps you stay on track.
Resources to help with the challenge:
Let’s face it, we are not robots who can run endlessly on the same settings. Regular breaks and treats will actually help you improve performance and find even more joy in the process. Allowing yourself a moment of less control when you can enjoy a cake and 2-hour Netflix session won’t kill you and is a great way to recharge batteries.
If you eat healthy for the entire week, a Sunday cheat meal will only make your diet more enjoyable while you still get your results.
This is it, my personal guide to improving self-control with all the tricks and tweaks that I learned on my journey of self-improvement. I highly appreciate the time you devoted to read my article. Now it’s time to take action and become the better version of yourself.