self-discipline is a process, which empowers your will. The control
of the mind shifts to RB, the rational brain in the prefrontal
regions. This becomes possible, when the mind recognizes the real
possibility of success in a venture. Such pattern recognition by the
mind shifts the source of control away from negative emotions to the
forebrain, enabling it to achieve sensible goals - stop smoking, lose
weight, or study hard. Usually, common sense is over ruled by
defeatism and despair, when people believe such goals to be
meaningless, impractical, or not achievable in a reasonable time
frame. Such beliefs take away the vital nervous energy needed for
Learning self-discipline is the process of enlightening the mind on the feasibility of success. Teachers can uncover the benefits of sensible goals, the methods of achieving them and forewarn students of the realistic time frames needed to achieve such goals. The clear knowledge that the goal is achievable is sensed by the reward systems of the brain. The convincing possibility of securing a reward causes the region to release the neurotransmitter dopamine to the forebrain. The process grants the mind the focus and energy needed to manage a disciplined life even in the face of difficulties, fears and disappointments.
Self-Discipline – Knowledge Is The Key
The word “discipline” describes any systematic mode of activity. A discipline may train students in a craft, or trade. It may involve adherence to a particular code of conduct. Military discipline regulates the goals and behaviors of the armed forces staff. Such disciplines quite often compel a person to act ignoring his personal desires and fears. Such disciplines are enforced through social norms, or even through threats of punishment. Such controlled behavior may, or may not lead to sensible goals.
On the other hand, a person can be said to have “self-discipline” only if he defers gratification and takes voluntary actions, which finally lead to sensible goals. Self-discipline is intimately linked to common sense. The mind knows that stopping smoking, reducing weight, or studying hard to be sensible. But a feeling of helplessness diverts the focus of the mind. So, self-discipline is about convincing the mind that Rome was worth building; that it was built; and that it was not built in a day. Qualities associated with self-discipline include willpower, hard work, and persistence.
Learning Self-Discipline – Intuitive Decision Making
RB, the rational brain in the prefrontal regions of the brain, is believed to activate the willed decisions needed for self-discipline. The process is subconscious. A person becomes conscious of such decisions only after they occur. Benjamin Libet discovered that, about 350 milliseconds after your nervous system acts on its decision, you become conscious of it.
You are merely the observer of the complex decision making processes of the nervous system. As Leda Cosmides asked "When a tiger bounds towards you, what should your response be? Should you file your toenails? Do a cartwheel? Sing a song? Is this the moment to run an uncountable number of randomly generated response possibilities through the decision rule?" Every living moment, your mind uses its intuition to decide on your next action.
Intuition, as explained in this website, is a process, which subconsciously makes innumerable decisions by eliminating (inhibiting) irrelevant options. When RB chooses the goal “pass the exams,” the prospect of sleeping after dinner will be intuitively eliminated from your list of options. Such unseen decisions enable you to achieve your goals. They occur before you can even think. As you pass through life, those goals and the route maps needed to achieve them are generated and stored within your brain by an organ called the hippocampus.
Learning Self-Discipline – Goals & Route Maps
Your habits have to change. The hippocampus is a neural organ, which enables an animal to remember the path to a hidden goal. Animals remember and recall the sequences of sensory and emotional signals experienced along the route to reach a distant goal. Each time a person is faced with a decision to decide between several courses of action, he chooses one particular action based on his past experiences and emotions. Some habitual route maps make students focus on priorities, devote long hours studying for exams, while the routes of other people, who may be smarter, or more intelligent, make them shirk the needed effort.
resulting sequences of actions are remembered and become ingrained
for each person. Sidarata Ribeiro suggests that the wake-sleep cycle
promotes propagation of such memories outwards from the early coding
sites in the hippocampus to extensive regions of the brain. The organ
enables the mind to merge and integrate the sequences of events and
ideas, which support particular habits in life. A person, who lacks
self-discipline has established habitual route maps, which fail to
meet his goals.
Learning Self-Discipline – Professor Wolfram Schultz
Your brain has to decide that the task is worth while. Many people see themselves as helpless and undisciplined individuals, who lack the energy to follow through on their decisions. Self-discipline is not a matter of “exerting will.” The level of persistence and energy you can devote to achieve any goal is decided by the approach/avoid part of your nervous system. Tenacious energy depends on the attractiveness of your goal and the time you expect to take to reach that goal. Professor Wolfram Schultz discovered that neurons in the early reptilian part of the human brain release a group of neurotransmitters when they detect signals in the environment, which indicate the possibility of a reward. Dopamine, the most important of these releases reach the prefrontal regions of the brain, increasing energy and problem solving skills.
Heightened prefrontal activity has the effect of inhibiting and stilling the fear, or annoyance triggered by the amygdala, a major emotions center. The net effect is that while the dopamine release spawns energy, it also quiets vexation. Schultz noted that the release continues for the time period taken to achieve similar past accomplishments. It is it is not the reward, but the expectation of a reward, which releases dopamine and the release reduces at the end of the estimated time period. These mechanisms work even if your goal is something as simple as crossing a road. If you cannot focus on your studies, it is because the reptilian part of your brain feels it to be unimportant, or that it will take impossibly long to reach your goal. As a result, your mind intuitively diverts its attention to other goals.
Self-Discipline – Tamarins & Marmosets
Patience is the key. Self-discipline follows deep rooted mental assessments. The basic drive needed is the avoidance of easily accessible small short term rewards, while focusing on achieving substantial longer term rewards. Among animal species, a study found marmosets to be more “disciplined” than the tamarins. The responses of these animals were tested, giving them the option to pick a lesser reward immediately or wait longer for a more substantial reward.
The marmosets waited significantly longer than tamarins. This difference was not caused by the differences in the life history, brain size, or social behavior of these animals. Since the marmosets feed on gum, which takes a long while to flow from trees, those animals were prepared to wait longer. The tamarins, which feed on easily available insects were less patient. A knowledge of the period of wait for a reward decided the levels of self-discipline.
Self-Discipline – Self Control Itself As A Reward
The growth environment of a child can be a powerful tool for learning self-discipline. in an unpredictable world, where future careers do not even exist today, parents and teachers in conservative communities view self-discipline to be a primary survival tool. George Lakoff suggests that such communities place a huge value on self-discipline and demand it from their children. They see an absence of self-discipline as self indulgence and moral weakness. A child earns family approval by practicing it.
Parents and teachers provide continual and positive reinforcement for successful completion of tasks. They drill students in the self-discipline and hard work needed to succeed. Students are offered methods to succeed in solving academic problems, even when they lack immediate utility. The pride the children feel, when they overcome their weaker impulses, is their reward. The fear of failure and the anticipation of success also provide the dopamine surges, which keep them focused till they reach their goals. Additional successes contributed by their own inherited skills set them into habitual routines which grant them a lifelong sense of purpose and effort.
David Shapiro suggests that such people find life satisfying only by engaging continuously in purposeful activity. Their habitual persistence and patience improve their knowledge and carry them to success. Without externally imposed evaluations, goals, rewards, and pressures their work flows with a sense of autonomy and they don't notice the passage of time. Joy is in the task itself and not in reaching a particular goal. Even when the goal is unknown and hidden in the future, students still delay gratification and become skilled test takers because of their joy in their work. Their self-discipline comes from mastering their urges and transcending themselves.
Learning Self-Discipline – Mental Contrasting
While drilled in self-discipline launches a person on a path to success, numerous competing demands can reduce the available focus and energy. When the brain receives conflicting reports from different control nuclei in the brain, the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) decides the brain region, which should decisively control the motor system. Laboratory tests reveal the function of ACC, when a subject is asked to name the color of ink of a written word. While ACC is passive if the word “RED” is written in red ink, it becomes activated, if "RED" is written in blue ink. ACC detects conflicts and activates those related regions, which can creatively resolve the conflict.
The decisions of ACC are made based on available knowledge.Angela Lee Duckworth suggests that such comprehension increases substantially, when a student visualizes the benefits of completing a project as well as the obstacles he is likely to encounter. Duckworth suggests that “mental contrasting” as a self-discipline strategy for young students to improve their ability to attain long-term academic goals. Students evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of completing a project. They write down the steps to be taken, the possible obstacles along the way and how to overcome them.
High school students preparing to take an important examination were randomly assigned to complete either a 30-minute written mental contrasting essay, or a placebo control writing exercise. Those writing the mental contrasting essay completed 60% more practice questions than the students in the control condition. With better knowledge of all the parameters favoring a goal decision,ACC is likely to devote more resources to the work at hand.
Learning Self-Discipline – Specifying Clear Goals
Goals need to be specified. While a person may have every intention of losing weight, or studying hard, he also requires a concrete plan of action. This requires sitting down to evaluate the specifics of his undisciplined behavior. Over and above his intention to lose weight, the person should identify the actions, which prevent him from meeting his objective. Research has discovered the effectiveness of such consciously expressed intention as “When the waiter asks for an order, I will ask for a salad.” In the presence of the critical situation, Gollwitzer reports that such clearly stated intentions for action usually lead subconsciously to disciplined actions.
When the obstacle was a feeling of tiredness, when waking up in the morning, a clear decision to take out the bike keys was seen to set off a chain of activities including a bike ride. When snacking was a problem, the subjects were asked to work out an alternate plan of eating, resulting finally in the avoidance of the habit. Research, with large groups of subjects, proved such actions to be effective.
Tedious tasks may require a renewal of energy. By switching controls, ACC may switch controls to such emotions as boredom, or imagined tiredness causing a person to set aside study to watch television. At such times, sitting back and breathing deeply can infuse energy and switch the subconscious goal back to studies. The establishment of set routines for periods of study can also focus the attention to work. In this case, a habitual commitment to the routine prevents ACC from switching controls away from the study routine.
Learning Self-Discipline – The Search For Excellence
Seek your area of excellence. While people can visualize the benefits of hard work and direct focused efforts, energy and focus will increase dramatically, when a person works in his own area of excellence. Peter Drucker suggested that a person has excellence in an area, if it appears to be easy for him, but is difficult for most people. Having the right skills makes a job both challenging and achievable. The lucky person finds a well-suited career, where success, at each level, provides further focus and energy. But, such jobs, where you can effortlessly deliver results with a high level of competence, are difficult to locate.
Education is a process, which presents many possible avenues for growth to a young person. Wise teachers discover the special abilities of their students and encourage them to follow those careers. There is an element of luck in the process. But, worthwhile careers will not fall into your lap. A person must identify his chances of succeeding and must be prepared to move on if the goal is not satisfying. Self-discipline in work must be accompanied by an ongoing search for the right opportunities.
Learning Self-Discipline – Change Your Routines
Get out of the rut. Regardless of their good intentions some people find themselves unable to follow disciplined routines. They may not be convinced of the need for discipline. They may not find the goals to be worthwhile. Such people become trapped in cycles of failure. Sometimes, the shock of a negative health report may bring about a change in their perspectives. There is always the possibility of joining a disciplined force like the the army to learn a lifelong commitment to a disciplined life.
Consciously shifting away from a negative environment may assist in achieving self-discipline. Constant opportunities to snack regularly, or the diversions of television may divert people from their efforts to lose weight, or to study. If you fail to convince your mind to change its goals, the next best thing is to create conditions, where self-discipline becomes unavoidable. Change behavior by consciously changing the offending environment. Move away from places, where you tend to snack. Remove television, or gaming equipment from study areas. Learning self-discipline requires an awareness of the problems as well as a willingness to plan both your career and your daily routines.
This page was last updated on 25-Jan-2016.
For my peace of mind, I earmarked 20 minutes for meditation on the terrace. With my eyes closed, I sense my hands on the chair and feel the numbness in my feet.
I feel my breath flowing through my nose, my throat, my chest and my stomach. I can hear the chirping of birds, the phut phut of auto rickshaws, the occasional roar of a truck and the insistent hooting of horns.
The wide sky and the treetops come to my attention, when I open my eyes, I see a pale moon over two hundred thousand miles away. I see the nuclear fires, blazing for millions of years in the pale globe of the setting sun. I see a single star millions of miles away in space.
I can see green shoots coming up on a tree, watch the dives and swoops of birds, the great circles of the hawks and flocks of birds flying home for the night.
Diffused light from the sun reflects off a parrot on the tree and enters my eye through a pinhole opening. I sense the bustling mood of the bird, even though it is smaller than a drop of water in my eyes.
All these things are seen and felt by me in a few brief minutes. In the distance, is the head of a man seeming to be no bigger than a pea. Yet, that head too sees and feels such things. Ten million people in this great city see and feel in ten million ways.
My mind wanders to a misty view of postwar London; an exciting glimpse of Disneyland. An awed view of Tiananmen Square. The looming Himalayan ranges. My mind takes me to distant galaxies.
It carries me into the heart of millions of invisible neurons, where electrical charges flash thousands of times a second powering my contemplation. I see the campaigns of Julius Caesar and Alexander. I feel the longings of Jehangir.
Already my mind has taken me to palaces, battlefields and even the stars. If I lost everything, but can just see and feel, in just a few brief minutes, my mind can travel the world, or imagine the cosmos.
While my thoughts wandered far and near, the thought "20 minutes is a long time" also kept floating in. And yet, life has already blessed me with over twenty million waking minutes! I have an infinity of time on my hands. Have I a right to expect more from life?
I really loved the self improvement plan post. Its great food for thought and the steps are actually actionable as compared to many other self help sites out there.
Joe Glen USA.
As a clinical therapist, I have found your site very useful!
I love it. ...
Andrew Montgomery USA.