We know that we need to eat better, move more, spend less time on screens and more time outdoors – but all of that takes discipline.
Self-discipline is one of the most important skills to have in your toolbox. It’s the power to actually do what you should be doing, like getting out of bed, exercising, studying for exams, and eating well. They’re those things we don’t always feel like doing, but can make a big impact on our overall health and quality of life.
Without self-discipline, we’re less likely to do the things we need to and we’re more likely to procrastinate, lose focus, and our health may even suffer.
So apart from actually helping us live our lives in a healthy, functioning way, what else is self-discipline good for? Glad you asked. It helps us achieve our goals, reduces stress, improves our health, and may even make us more resilient.
Results from our recent study – conducted in partnership with Quantium Health – suggest that if the Australian population practiced at least average health habits, such as exercising more, getting regular sleep, and cutting their alcohol intake, that national depression incidence rate could reduce from 6% to 4.7%.
So when it comes to self-discipline, how do we make it a habit? And where do we even start?
Endurance athlete and AIA Vitality ambassador Sam Gash says consistency is key. “It’s important to strategize achievable ways of being consistent if you want a new habit to become a routine,” she explains. “Creating a routine from nothing is the hardest part.”
She also stresses the importance of making your goals achievable. Rather than setting yourself lofty goals around, say, exercise, start with bite-sized chunks that will work for you, like “I’m going to start with getting outside for 30 minutes each day”, rather than “I’m going to run 10kms a day, STARTING NOW!”. The important thing is to start establishing regular ways to physically move your body.
Health expert and AIA Vitality ambassador Dr Jaime Lee has similar ideas. Keep little prompts around the house, like your running shoes near the door, to remind you to get out for a run. It’s about making your new habit as easy as possible.
“Don’t make the habit you want to develop too extreme either,” she advises, “Make it small, but do it consistently. If you’re a little gentler on yourself, the habit can be easier to set.”
It’s something that takes practice, and takes time, so start where you are. Go for a 10-minute run rather than setting a marathon distance. Start your day with a few minutes of gentle stretching, rather than committing to an expensive online yoga program. Commit to having a green smoothie every day, rather than doing an immediate overhaul of your diet.
If you struggle with impulse control, Dr Jaime suggests removing the temptation. “Pick a day, and take the snacks out of the house, or delete the apps from your phone, or whatever you need to do.”
It’s also important, says Dr Jaime, to decide to build new habits “from a place of soul, rather than from a place of ego.” By this, she means that we’re much more likely to be successful over the long-term if we’re making changes for ourselves, rather than for anyone else, or any other external reason. “You might decide to exercise to look good to please your partner,” she says. “But if the relationship ends, what then? The control needs to come from you. Your internal motivators, and knowing that you’re doing it for yourself, really matter.”