At times, self-discipline can feel like hard emotional labor. In pursuing an ideal, you may need to let go of things that you like and accept some physical or emotional discomfort. Be prepared. Some sacrifice will almost always be required.
You only develop muscles by going through effort, sweat, and pain. You only write a great book by squeezing your mind and bleeding your soul through every sentence. You only develop inner strength by going through suffering with an open heart.
Discomfort is a form of pain—and our lizard brain is programmed to avoid pain at all costs. By giving in to the lizard brain, we shelter ourselves from pain, but also from life and growth. Our potential remains untapped.
Charles Duhigg, in The Power of Habit, explains that the “habit” part of the brain is not linked to the conscious, decision-making part of the brain, but to other areas. This means that when something becomes a habit, you are not making conscious decisions about it anymore; it just becomes second nature. Thus, expect that changing your habits will feel difficult—perhaps even wrong. It will feel like you are going against your nature. Your brain wants to save energy, and it does that by relying on your existing patterns of behavior. Changing your behavior, on the other hand, takes effort, and can feel like swimming upstream.
After some time, a new behavior becomes the new normal, and inertia works in its favor. Until then, discomfort is inevitable.
Once you commit to an activity, don’t assume that you will feel like doing it. Assume that the activity will often include some discomfort or pain. This prepares you to act regardless of any discomfort, fear, or hesitation.
In the first months of my daughter’s life, the shift from 4am to 7am was mine. Before starting that schedule, I knew that waking up at 4am would involve fighting with myself just to get my eyes to stay open, then dragging myself to the bathroom—without hitting snooze!
I embraced the pain. Every night before sleep I said, “Tomorrow, the first ten minutes of my day will feel like hell”. It worked perfectly. The first ten minutes never really felt like hell, which was a relief. By exaggerating the pain and being ready for it, I was allocating more willpower than the task demanded, and it thus felt easier than expected.
So adjust your expectations. Expect that you will need to act despite not feeling like it. Expect that it will be painful, and be ready to face that without fear, without hesitation, without shying away.
Mindful Self-Discipline is about taking consistent action in the direction of your goals. Self-discipline doesn’t ask, “How are you feeling about this?”. It asks, “What will you do about your goal?”. The emphasis is on action, not mood; on commitment, not motivation. You act in integrity with your aspiration, with your ideal self.
Whatever your aspiration may be, some level of discomfort will very likely always be part of your path—you will need to do things that you don’t necessarily feel like doing.
Learn to love the process, if you can. If not, at least see how you can go through the experience without running away. The trick is learning how to be inside that pain without letting it control what you do. It is about releasing the resistance toward it. Doing this will expand your limits, little by little.