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Your Focus Needs More Focus

The best way to manage your world is to master yourself

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Discipline. Ugh. There is no other word that can be uttered to personal training clients that so instantly and visibly elicits a cringe. For me, the word conjures memories of a particular Seinfeld episode about a bet among the four friends, based on self-mastery: not 15 minutes after making the bet, Kramer bursts through the door and slaps his money down on the counter, declaring, “I’m out!” (Cue canned laughter.)

No matter your current relationship with self or discipline, there are significant benefits to focusing on its development, and plenty of interesting ways to do it.

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The power of one

While seemingly the same, self-control and self-discipline hold one important difference: time.

Self-control is the ability to override impulses (“I’m not going to touch the stovetop”).

Self-discipline is the ability to commit oneself, over time, to a plan, regimen, or program, often related to achievement of a goal.

Both of these are important, of course, but they’re not mutually exclusive; control over the former doesn’t necessarily lead to mastery over the latter. Indeed, self-discipline is the gold standard, and it’s the more challenging of the two to ingrain.

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Unravelling the secrets of self-discipline

Mental health therapist Kate Borsato specializes in supporting moms in their transition to and through motherhood and creates self-help educational resources for moms globally. As a high-level athlete, self-discipline has played a large part in her life and success; but over the years, she’s recognized that what lies underneath that self-discipline is what truly guides us toward the life we want to live.

When I think about self-discipline,” Borsato says, “I’ve often been confused about how some goals are almost easy and exciting to work toward, whereas others feel like a total slog. Were those goals even mine? And was it just about self-discipline? I don’t think so.”

Instead, Borsato believes the energy required to achieve a goal needs to come from our values. “What is it that we actually want? What will that get us? What’s the feeling underneath that specific goal? When we ask these questions, we can get closer to understanding our values, which is what really drives us toward a fulfilling life,” she says.

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How to infuse more self-discipline into our daily lives

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First, get clear about what you value, and how you want to feel.

Borsato asks, “So, you want to work out five days a week? But why? How will that create the life you truly want?” Or, “maybe you’ve set the goal to meditate daily. But why? Maybe you’re working on being a calmer and more grounded parent so that you can create a peaceful home for your family. Great! Write that down. That’s your real motivation.”

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Practise living intentionally rather than on autopilot.

“We can’t just coast through the day without paying attention to what we’re doing and expect that, magically, we’ll make aligned choices,” says Borsato. Rather, she instructs us to pause and be in the moment and to check in with ourselves often. “We have to make our goals and values explicit (literally write them down) so we can quickly notice when our choices are taking us away from those goals,” she says.

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How to practise self-forgiveness when self-discipline slips

Self-compassion (which is the opposite of self-criticism) is a tough thing to learn. But, Borsato says, “Self-criticism isn’t actually motivating. It creates a stress response in your nervous system and makes it even less likely that you’ll make positive changes in your life.”

Self-compassion, on the other hand, is when you treat yourself with kindness and understanding, especially when you make mistakes. This allows you to learn and grow, and ultimately move toward your goals.

“Self-compassion isn’t being easy on yourself,” adds Borsato. You’re not letting yourself off the hook or dropping your expectations. “Instead, it’s about acknowledging when you’re having a hard time, and then asking yourself what you need to get back on track.”

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Harnessing the power of self-discipline

“When we live in alignment with our values, saying yes to what lights us up, and no to anything else, we can create a life that is uniquely fulfilling,” says Borsato. “We have to expect that there will always be bumps on our path, waxing and waning motivation and discipline, but with time and intention, we can keep inching toward what matters most to us.”

Baby steps to building an iron will

Remove temptation

Seems like a no-brainer: if you don’t have Ben & Jerry’s hiding in your freezer, it won’t pop out and ambush your Friday night. But perhaps it isn’t as intuitive in the other areas of your life that require self-discipline.

Find your why

If you’ve got no skin in the game, you aren’t as likely to stick to your guns. Link your self-discipline intentions to a cause to bring adherence some meaning.

Start small

Is your goal to hike Machu Picchu, but currently the most hiking you do is from the couch to the fridge? Start with small, manageable goals (like walking for 30 minutes outside every Monday without taking a break) and build on each success to reach your greater goal.

Supplementing a clear mind and a clean heart

Disallow a tired body or a tired mind from preventing you from achieving your goals. You might find the following supplements beneficial on your path to discipline mastery; now, if you can only remember to take them …

Creatine monohydrate

Historically used to improve strength and physical performance, recent research has shown cognitive benefits as well!

Vitamin B12 and folic acid

Feeling tired? Believe it or not, it may be due, in part, to your healthy plant-based diet. Deficiencies in folic acid and vitamin B12 (found in abundance in meat) can lead to poor cell growth and proliferation, contributing to low energy (among other problems).

Calcium and magnesium

Who doesn’t want dense bones and strong muscles? Cal/mag supplementation may help support both!

Vitamin D

Deficiency in this critical vitamin is linked to many issues, but mental health-wise, it plays a role in depression and experiencing depressive symptoms. If you live in an area low on sun exposure at certain times of the year, it may behoove you to consider adding this little fella to your diet.

Cold plunging

Once reserved for professional athletes, marines, polar bears, and psychopaths (just kidding), cold plunging, cold-water immersion, and ice baths are the hottest (coldest) health trends hitting the mainstream.

Essentially, you submerge yourself (generally up to your armpits) in very cold water and remain there for a short period of time, even while your body is screaming at you to get out. Currently, the science is soft on the physical benefits, but stronger science backs benefits to self-regulation and mood enhancement.

Don’t plunge in blindly with both feet, though

Given the shock of frigid temperatures, you’ll want to make sure you’re healthy enough before plunging in. Talk to your doctor, and if you get the nod, start slow: try beginning your morning shower with 30 seconds of cold water, progressing to a minute, and if you’ve still got the drive, hit the open water. Happy shivers!

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