Self-Discipline is the Key to Success & Well-Being
Updated: Apr 17, 2020
Research has shown that self-discipline is a greater predictor of success than intelligence.
The skill of delaying gratification in order to achieve something longer-term - despite the time and effort it takes to build - is key. It requires committing to a goal and then sticking to it. Researcher Angela Duckworth calls this perseverance and passion for long-term goals: grit.
It sounds simple and it is simple but it means doing things we may not feel like doing.
It’s about having a solid vision and not being distracted. Nike knows: Just Do It. But human nature wants things to be fast and easy. It takes patience and maturity to not allow the laziness and procrastination to win.
"You need to see the difference in not being willing to and not being able to." – Eckhart Tolle
Everyone can commit to doing something small each day to work towards a goal.
It means laying a brick every single day towards what you want to achieve. And then tomorrow another. Depending on what you are trying to build, you will have many days of laying bricks where the growing structure may look nothing like where you want to end up. But it’s not about this day or tomorrow. It’s about a day in the future when you’re standing atop all you’ve built. It’s about holding a picture in your mind and being willing to do what it takes to make it real.
Life moves fast. Tracking and documenting any daily progress can be a helpful tool. It gives you confidence and builds momentum in those days when the results may not yet be tangible.
With technological advances, society overall has shifted to expect instant gratification. Today, we are a click away from virtually anything we want. It lends itself not at all to the concept of working towards anything really. If that button doesn’t deliver something immediately, we just move on to another button that will.
Impact on New Generations
The impact of this on new generations that have never had to wait or develop patience or the ability to work and plan and save, will no doubt be dramatic. Dr. Robert Kornfield nails it: “Expecting everything to come quickly has major ramifications. Hard work becomes intolerable.” He discusses that the concept of starting at the bottom and working your way up as foreign and unacceptable to younger generations.
Not everyone wins.
Research also confirms that real self-esteem comes not from the participation-medal, 'everyone-wins' phenomenon. Turns out, being told how great you are does not in fact, make anyone effective.
Instead, self-esteem and confidence are derived from the pride in one’s own effort and capability. They come only from actually trying and trying and failing and getting back up and gaining confidence and in the overcoming. They cannot be bought, only earned.
“Through discipline comes freedom.” - Aristotle
True confidence feeds the next success and the next. But it takes self-discipline. It takes patience. It in fact takes not one, but two 4-letter words: hard work.
The Benefits are Many
People focused only on obtaining the stuff at the end of the climb miss the true benefits.
The ability to delay gratification is the key to physical health, to financial success and is linked to higher life satisfaction. Self-discipline in children contributes to learning and less risky behaviors.
This ability to control oneself is the main difference between people with and without massive consumer debt. People who can control their own behavior, work hard and view themselves as responsible, have even been shown to be less likely to develop dementia later on.
The ability to play the long-game, avoid the distractions thrown at all of us each day and stay laser-focused on whatever we really want is the point. All the cumulative hours spent scrolling through images or binge-watching the achievements of others will do little to get you there yourself.
The real questions: What do you want? How bad do you want it? And what are you willing to give up to get there?
People willing to hunker down day after day in pursuit of a dream will eventually succeed because inertia is a powerful force that will hold the majority of people in place.
If it were easy, everyone would do it.
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