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  • Writer's pictureRonald S. Newman, Ph.D.

Seeking balance to develop self-discipline

Whether you are seeking to lose weight, control your anger, discontinue smoking or control yourself for some other moral or athletic goal, the following principles may help you develop the discipline to achieve what you wish. (Courtesy Photo)

Proverbs 25:28 “Like a city that is broken into and without walls, is a man who has no control over his spirit.”

Self-Control or self-discipline is being able to regulate one’s own behavior to progress toward one’s stated goals. This often means being able to resist temptations which would detract from those goals and doing things a person may find less appealing. For example, to compete in any sport, one may need to resist temptations to unhealthy behaviors while spending extra time in the weight room or practicing skills related to their sport. Like a muscle, exercising self-control enables it to grow stronger and more able to achieve the desired goals.

Whether you are seeking to lose weight, control your anger, discontinue smoking or control yourself for some other moral or athletic goal, the following principles may help you develop the discipline to achieve what you wish. Note how acceptance of responsibility for your own choices is central to each step in this process.

Establish personal goals. Frame these in a positive manner. You can make behavioral, emotional and even thought-related goals. Many people establish spiritual goals to add strength to their resolutions. For example, to discontinue a smoking habit, you may decide to be smoke-free (behavioral goal), tolerate the anxiety of not smoking (emotional goal), manage the distress with an “I can do this” attitude (thought-related goal) and pray daily (spiritual goal).

Acknowledge discrepancy between current state and ideal state. Get real. Without criticism or judgment, objectively evaluate how far astray you are from your ideal goals, resisting self-condemnation. Notice where you are emotionally reactive (mindlessly falling back into undesired habits) versus choosing to be proactive in reasonably pursuing what you value.

Find a coach who has knowledge to help you. Someone with knowledge and experience can help you understand step by step what is necessary as you improve your self-regulation skills. A coach can reinforce what you are doing well and point out the challenges you need to overcome.

Develop specific plans to establish objectives which will move you toward your ideal goals. This may involve delaying gratification of some desires and rewarding yourself for specific achievements. Whether it is archery competition, competitive tennis or learning to be a better parent, teacher or speaker, studying to develop the specifics of your plan is essential.

Monitor your progress. Develop a chart to easily monitor achievements. Keep a record of cues which make you react without thinking resulting in negative consequences or set-backs to achieving your goals. Evaluate what is helpful to your progress, and keep a journal for lessons on your journey.

Learn to delay gratification. Research with children has demonstrated the ability to learn self-control through improving their power to hold off on reinforcing behavior, such as waiting for dessert or candy. Acceptance of feeling uncomfortable, while thinking about the prize of achievement, is possible.

Build strength and persistence in moving toward goals. Focus and perseverance with self-discipline are often key ingredients in goal achievement. Developing new habits takes not just time, but must be time doing the right things correctly. Beware of the “rebound effect” where suppressed negative thoughts and temptations can return with a vengeance. Find strategies to address them, such as “I accept the thought and it is passing through my mind, but I will resist the behavior.”

Revise your environment. Whether teaching children or managing ourselves, we need to use strategies to learn from others and to take responsibility in applying those lessons to ourselves. Identifying triggers to negative habits can help you modify those cues to lessen their influence on you. Set boundaries on people who are negative influences. Research shows that social support for encouragement on your journey is essential, too.

Reappraise your thoughts. Review the degree to which you value your wellness. Consider which thoughts draw you to pleasures that are out of bounds for you. Self-denial is part of developing self-discipline. Eliminate negative self-talk in your head which predicts failure, and enhance affirming and positive thoughts which are more present and future oriented.

Develop your problem-solving skills. Improving your ability to focus on one problem at a time, creatively brainstorm options, evaluate and choose wisely, and learn from less successful efforts, all can benefit you in developing self-control and achieving your goals. Research supports this. You want to develop your problem-solving abilities to build more self-discipline in your life.

Ronald S. Newman, Ph.D. is a psychologist available for teletherapy. He can be reached at: or (609) 567-9022.


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