Have you ever wondered what true discipline looks like?
We all have a vision of what it means to be disciplined. For some, it’s the image of a Military Drill Sergeant demanding perfection from day one. For others, it’s the dreaded Supply Teacher who tolerates nothing but silence. Yet applying discipline and being a disciplined individual often get misconstrued. Discipline as a trait, is not about rigidity and absolute obedience to authority, it’s about having the capacity to master oneself from a world built on short-term temptations and immediate gratifications that remove us from the types of person we’re striving to be.
In our previous article we spoke about applying an infinite game mentality to our health and fitness, where the goal is not to “become” a fitter, healthier individual for a moment in time, but recognising that this process is life-long and will require constant upkeep. We can’t apply finite goals to an infinite game.
Health and fitness in the context of lifespan, is an infinite game.
This process requires each of us to turn one-off behaviours into habits, that become ingrained into the fabric of who we are as individuals. Moving from “I exercise” to “physical activity is a part of my everyday life”, “I eat healthy” becoming “eating healthily is part of who I am”, and “I wake up early” transforms into “being an early riser defines my approach to the day”.
So in the context of health and fitness as an infinite game, and discipline being the capacity to master oneself from a world of short-term gains, what characteristics should we aim to develop to help along this journey?
The Essence of a Disciplined Individual
Discipline acts as our internal compass, guiding us in our decision-making and behavioural choices, ensuring we remain aligned with our overall beliefs, visions and goals. Yet we live in an age of incessant distraction. Whole industries and the most wealthy companies in existence today, are built on stealing away from you your time and attention. The chime of a notification, the seduction of a fast-food restaurant, the lure of Netflix’s auto-play that keeps you binging way longer than intended. It has never been harder to remain undistracted. Yet the disciplined individual rises above.
- A health-conscious commitment: Think of it as building a character in a story. In our analogy, workouts are no longer a burden but a commitment. We recognise that not every session is perfect, we may not reach our intended goal, in the intended timeframe, with the expected level of effort, but our commitment to a greater lifespan recognises that our individual health transcends finite boundaries. Each completed workout, meal choice, step we take, and successful nights sleep, are signs of continued growth. We’re moving forward each day.
- Precision in goal-setting: Our character doesn’t wander aimlessly. It’s easy in an infinite mindset to overextend the time horizon of our thinking. That a behaviour change today won’t have an impact in the future, or more damagingly, that not addressing a limiting barrier or belief now, won’t have consequences on our future selves. A disciplined person sets clear tangible goals which they pursue relentlessly, yet they recognise that these goals require constant updating and adjusting as situations and circumstances change.
Navigating External Distractions
Modern society is a technological marvel. Even the poorest individuals today likely still have lifestyles that exceed most of the wealthiest 100 years ago. This is in no small part due to the agricultural and technological revolutions that have occurred in that timespan. Yet instant gratification is no longer a luxury, it’s an expectation.
How therefore does one remain disciplined, especially with regards to our health and fitness, in such an environment as the one we live in?
- Understanding immediate vs long-term gratification: This is easily one of the biggest challenges we all face, myself included, on a day-to-day basis. A tug-of-war between immediate pleasure and long-term beneficial outcomes. A second slice of Cheesecake is the obvious choice for satisfy our immediate pleasure centres in the brain, but we know deep down that a nutritious meal contributes greater to our long-term health overall. It’s in these fleeting moments that we firstly recognise the immediate, and choose to prioritise the long-term, that sets us apart.
- Create deliberate opportunities for specific focus: How would you feel in a room alone, with no technological connection for let’s say, a minute? An hour? 4 hours? A day? We live in an always-connected world, but it remains essential to carve out moments of space and time for singular focus. In which we can actively practice the actions of observation, recognition and prioritisation for our long-term benefit. Be it a walk in nature without headphones in, a dinner time with family free from phones or alternate distractions, or even an hour in which you silence all but the most essential notifications.
A poor life this if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare – William Henry Davies
Blueprint for Self-Discipline Cultivation
Building discipline as it relates to our health and fitness, isn’t about sudden resolutions (hence why the vast majority of NY Resolutions go unfulfilled…). It’s about constructing a solid foundation from which we can build upon with each passing day.
- Craft a vision for your long-term self: Define your terms. What does it mean to you to be healthy? Fit? What standards do you hold yourself to? Be realistic. It’s incredibility unlikely that any of us will ever be the Worlds Strongest Man or Women, run a 2hr Marathon, or win an Olympic Gold Medal, but regardless we each have the capacity to define health and fitness on our terms.
- Barrier identification: Recognise and understand what the bottle-neck is to your progress. Is it a time-barrier? financial? behavioural? environmental? Once you’ve identified the barrier, strategising becomes an awful lot simpler.
- Consistent commitment to return your vision: Discipline by nature is not a one-off act. It’s not saying “no” once only to say “yes” the next time you’re faced with the same challenge. That’s not to say progress is linear with a 100% attainment record, we all face these challenges, some we pass with flying colours, some we fail at adhering to miserably, but discipline is a daily commitment come rain or shine, to return back to the path we’re invested in being on.
- Celebrate each small win: In an infinite game there appears to be no clear end goal. Without a clear end goal and ultimate reward, we must embrace and celebrate each small milestone along the way.
Challenges of a Disciplined Existence
Part of this journey towards a commitment to self-discipline in our individual health and fitness, requires us to make healthier choices and alter current behaviours. This may come at the expense of shifting the social dynamics that surround us.
- Isolation: Altering a behaviour that may have come to define you can leave you feeling isolated. If you social circles involve nights out, fast-food, and excessive alcohol, your withdrawal from these behaviours may alter the dynamics of your relationships.
- Holding Up a Mirror: Your behaviour changes can act as a catalyst to others to reflect back on their own behaviours, making them more conscious of the habits they currently have ingrained, and the inability or unwillingness to embark on similar challenges.
- Evolving Social Circles: Over time, the journey towards a more disciplined life involves developing a social group of like-minded individuals which may evolve to include those who likewise share your passion for health and fitness, or those who are both empathetic and supportive of your willingness to change.
It can sometimes feel like the majority of our daily behaviours, thoughts and actions are simply on repeat, below the level of our awareness. Yet, the disciplined amongst us understand that we have the capacity to mould every choice we have for our future selves both for the positive and the negative.
Are you ready to rise above, observe limiting patterns, and take consistent steps towards a fitter, healthier you?