David Eagleman, author of Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain, argues that our behavior is the result of many battles between short-term and long-term desires. Self-discipline is your ability to choose which part wins the battles that matter.
Self-discipline is your core personal power. It is self-mastery. It’s the source of all other powers.
Every time you exercise this power, you strengthen it. And you have the satisfaction of knowing that you are doing your best. Do this day after day, expressing the best there is in you, and you can live with the peace of mind of having no regrets—no “what ifs” or “should haves” roaming around your brain.
Every time you are distracted or tempted by instant gratification and say no to your goals, you leak part of your power. It happens whenever you say, “I don’t feel like it” or “I’ll start next week” or “let me make an exception just this time” or “today doesn’t really count”.
You are fooling yourself. And every time you do that, you’re giving away part of your soul, and becoming powerless. The day soon comes when you begin to feel that your decisions and words don’t matter anymore—since they are not respected even by you. This can easily lead to feelings of victimization, depression, and regret.
Instead, honor your personal power. Cultivate it. Exercise it wisely.
Self-discipline is a form of self-regulation, self-control, or self-mastery—the benevolent exercise of power within yourself. Like a good king/queen leading a country to a happier, desired future.
This exercise of personal power is good for you. It leads to happiness, not repression. Research shows that people with better self-control eat more healthily, exercise more, sleep better, drink less alcohol, smoke fewer cigarettes, achieve higher grades at university, have more peaceful relationships, are more financially secure, and enjoy stronger physical and mental health. They have higher self-esteem, better interpersonal skills, and more optimal emotional responses.
Honoring and cultivating your personal power also deepens satisfaction with yourself, confidence in your capacity, and influence in society. A person with strong self-discipline exudes a natural sense of authority, respect, and trust.
Consider the different aspects of your personality as citizens living inside your kingdom, each with different desires, fears, and agendas. There are conflicting interests for sure. Then ask: What does my kingdom look like? Are most citizens harmoniously working toward a mutual goal, or are they fighting themselves? Is there a wise and benevolent ruler sitting on the throne?
In the words of Friedrich Nietzsche, known to deliver his philosophy with a hammer: “He who cannot command himself must obey.”