Yesterday, I planned to quit sugar for the day, but then a colleague brought a delicious cake into the office that I simply had to try. Intentions postponed. Today, I wanted to hit the gym, but the weather was so great, that I couldn’t turn down my friends’ suggestion to enjoy the sunshine at the riverside. Workout rescheduled. Last Saturday, I really wanted to eat healthier but was invited to a birthday party in a local burger place with great cocktails… you get the idea.
If any of this sounds familiar to you, then you belong to the people, who really struggle with staying disciplined when it comes to making healthy choices. Our intentions are high and yet we miserably fail every so often to stick to them. But why is it so hard to retain discipline and what can we do to reverse its continous loss?
Before I jump into random standard advice on how to fight the lack of discipline, I would like to take a somewhat differentiated view on this topic and tell you more about my own experiences.
It is crucial to know that the foundation of healthy living is based on the three pillars food, exercise and sleep. They work in unison and are equally vital for lifelong health and wellbeing.
If we take care of a balanced wholesome nutrition, plenty exercise and movement and finally restorative sleep, then we are on a great track toward health and wellbeing. Point taken, as this is really no groundbreaking news.
Despite this knowledge however, I find myself struggling with how to implement all this knowledge seven days a week and stay continuously disciplined! Temptations are everywhere and while it’s usually easy for me to start my day with healthy foods, I find it harder to stay strict with myself as the day goes by. Cookies and candies in the office, the sweet treat after lunch or the glass of wine in the evening – I can literally watch my discipline slip away hour after hour.
My continuous experience with loss of discipline inspired me to write this post and finally speak the bare truth about how hard it really is for some of us to remain disciplined when it comes to making choices for a healthier life. In my case, this especially concerns food choices, but also prioritizing my workout days. Suffering from some food intolerances (lactose and fructose), I know I have to avoid dairy and almost all kinds of sugar. However, since my reactions are only mild and my sufferings usually tolerable, I often ignore my intolerances.
On days, when I schedule a workout in the gym, I would rather go out with friends and reschedule my workout, even though I know that my chronic rheumatic condition in my lower back will probably get worse. I don’t always feel bad about those “poor” decisions (fruits simply taste too good and I genuinely appreciate spending time with my friends) but when they add up, I feel my body getting unwell pretty quickly. Unsurprisingly, I get really fed up with myself every time this happens, which makes me realize that I have to approach the problem at its root cause instead of working on the surface all the time.
It’s the old battle of knowledge vs. application: We all know what would be smarter when it comes to making healthy choices, yet we oftentimes miserably fail in complying with our good intentions. It doesn’t matter if this concerns specific goals like losing weight and quitting smoking or more general choices like eating healthier and doing more exercise – somewhere along the way, we simply lose our discipline and don’t get back on track.
Now I won’t bore you with a typical guide of how to stay disciplined, since I bet you have already asked our good friend Google about it on more than one occasion. To refresh your memory, here comes a little summary of what you’ll find in the search results:
- Be specific about your goals
- Visualize your healthier self
- Start with baby steps
- Reward yourself
- Work on your weaknesses
- Start with less not with none
- Become part of a group challenge or community event
- Keep a record
I’m not saying that these tips are bad advice or that they don’t work. On the contrary, I believe that internalizing and applying suggestions like these can definitely support you reach your objectives. However, I can tell from experience that even though you try to memorize them, it remains tough to follow them all the way through. After all, leading a healthy lifestyle, building lean muscle mass or sustainably losing body fat is nothing that is accomplished within two weeks. It is therefore all the more frustrating to fall off the wagon and realize how your discipline slips away all too easily. Bye bye good intentions, see you next new year’s eve!
You might be wondering what the solution to more discipline is, or, if there is one at all! Truth be told – there is no bulletproof solution! I know that this might not be what you wanted to hear but I am getting tired of articles that promise to magically raise your discipline with a sure-fire solution on how to avoid losing it again. There are ways and methods, which are helpful along the way, but the biggest enemy you’re facing is yourself or more precisely your mind and your very own will! No guideline and no health expert can ever be able to turn your habits upside down if you alone are not willing to do so. It sounds harsh, but I figured it’s time to speak the truth and not let you stumble upon these misleading guides that promise the world but never mention how to overcome the hardest obstacle: your tricky self.
I believe it helps to change your perspective by finding out what really lies behind your difficulties to stick to your plans and intentions. According to my own experience, there are multiple things that come together and lead to less willpower: Bad mood, peer pressure, the lack of motivation, the power of habits and complete surrender. But the ultimate force that can be made responsible for your choices is you. Only you decide what you put into your mouth, whether to say no to that glass of wine or cigarette, and how to organize your day leaving enough time for some exercise. It’s easy to blame the circumstances and people in your life: Family, friends, your employer, the weather, vacations, general conditions et cetera. But at the end of the day, you will look into the mirror and there will only be you who’ll be looking back, asking, if you have achieved what you planned to achieve on this very day.
I will give you a very simple and yet probably the hardest advice on how to adhere to your willpower and perseverance. Listen to yourself, to what your body tells you and don’t let yourself be distracted by other people or uncomfortable circumstances whatsoever. Focus on your inner strength and power to succeed and you will master the tasks that lie ahead of you. It might be others, who try to persuade you to be less strict with yourself, but you are the one to give in to that treat that you terribly tried to avoid all day and you will also be the one who will regret that decision later. This feeling of regret is poisonous for your mind and body, a condition, which you want to avoid by all means.
Remember also that you are a leader for people in your environment. Your children, your siblings, your friends, and your partner might all look up to you in one way or another and consider you an example. Once you achieve your goals by remaining disciplined, you will become a more confident and satisfied person with strong beliefs. Not giving in to social expectations by breaking your precious rules will allow you to stay true to yourself and experience a rewarding sense of accomplishment.
Believe me, I am well aware of how difficult my advice appears, but it might be the most powerful advice because it changes your perspective. Every other advice is based on your weaknesses, whereas this one highlights your strengths and willpower. It might just be the perspective that you need to change. You should ask yourself: Can I do this and not do that because I am strong? rather than ask yourself: What can I do to best cover my weaknesses and trick myself?
Always remember that you’re only human and giving in to your cravings every now and then is just a lost fight, not a lost battle. There is always a tomorrow, but don’t let this excuse lure you into giving in too often. Know that you are strong and that you can master the rocky road towards a healthier you by believing in your own strength and cherishing your very own wishes.