Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Disciplined Choices: The Search for Good Habits

 I seem the remember reading somewhere that it takes 3 months to build a new habit. I assume that was a good habit because a bad habit takes only a few seconds in my experience! And therein lies the problem. As far as I can tell, and from my own experience, some good habits don't just take time to become fixed, they take discipline. A lot of discipline, and quite a bit of failure too.

I'd argue that failure is possibly an intrinsic part of the process of learning the importance of discipline. You learn, through failure, that will power is the stuff of dreams whereas discipline belongs to the world of reality. Some people think that the two are synonymous, but I'm not convinced. 

When I changed my eating habits some years ago I was told I must have a lot of will power, but that simply wasn't true. In fact I'd say I had very little will power at all. What I did have was a goal, some data and the ability to make disciplined choices. Every day began with a disciplined choice and proceeded with a series of discipline choices. No magic bullet, no trying to suppress cravings. Just a series of choices.

Any good habits I now have are sustained by disciplined choices. That's the essential difference between good and bad habits. Bad habits take no discipline at all. Good habits demand continued vigilance. It's so easy to skip a day which then becomes two days and so on. Being lazy takes no effort, dragging yourself out of bed on a cold, wet, dark November morning to run or walk a few miles requires a massive effort for most of us. Who wouldn't rather curl up under a warn blanket than have freezing rain driving into your face? 

So how do you become a disciplined choice maker? At the risk of sounding trite or simplistic, you just do it. You set a goal, and then make decisions that support that goal. If you want to walk 10k steps a day, then make choices that help you achieve that goal. It might mean getting up 30 minutes earlier so you can walk to the station rather than catch the bus or get a lift. 

Being a disciplined choice maker goes beyond weight loss or exercise or giving up smoking etc. It can be about something as simple of developing a new skill, learning a language. Or it could be about becoming an encourager rather than a critic, reading 10 books a year, keeping a journal. Whatever it is I'm pretty sure that it will take discipline to achieve.

And when you fail? Well you just start over. Every day is a new opportunity to make new choices. If you make it all about will power it becomes easy to succumb to the idea that you just don't have enough of it to succeed. On the other hand everyone has the capacity to make disciplined choices. Even you. Even me.

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