- by Damian Pros
“Watch your thoughts, they become your words. Watch your words, they become your actions. Watch your actions, they become your habits. Watch your habits, they become your character. Watch your character, it becomes your destiny.” – Chinese proverb
Have you been wondering how to discipline yourself? If you did, then well done!
Achieving your goals in life depends a lot on your discipline level. Discipline is the power to do something whether you feel like it or not, because you know it will be beneficial for your personal growth.
But if you know that something is beneficial, why don’t you naturally do it? Why do you procrastinate?
There are 2 reasons behind that.
The first reason is that if you want to be disciplined you have to engage in the process of doing. Discipline is nothing more than a muscle. It’s like your triceps. The more you work your triceps the stronger they get.
When you don’t work your triceps they remain the same. When you don’t work your discipline it doesn’t grow. There is no magic formula behind the development of discipline. Discipline is the outcome of continuous action and creation of new neural pathways(more on that later).
The second reason is the classic suspect of almost every failure and hears to the name “Instant Gratification“.
Avoiding action is easier than taking action.
Forcing your brain to do something requires energy and your brain is naturally programmed to save energy. Falling in the temptation of smoking another cigarette, watching TV one more hour or staying home instead of working out is the easy solution.
But the easy solution doesn’t develop your discipline. It weakens it. It also reduces your drive and motivation..
How to Discipline Yourself Through Action
Every new experience in your life has the power to change your brain’s neural circuits. These circuits consist of different neurons which communicate with each other. The connections of these neurons change every time you learn something new.
For example, when you learn a new word your brain has to change the way these neurons interact or even create new neural pathways.
The only way to remember this word is by repeating and using it many times because this strengthens the connections between the various neurons in your brain. If you use the word only a few times the connections between the neurons will be weak, thus you won’t be likely to remember it in the future.
This is the simplest example to understand how memory works. Imagine learning a new language. When you engage in this process your brain builds thousands of new connections between neurons. These become stronger if you use that language every day.
That’s why you forget a new language if you stop speaking it. The neural connections weaken as time passes because you don’t use them or they weren’t developed enough from the first place.
Do you know what happens when you learn a new language? Your brain becomes more disciplined in learning that language. You develop discipline to carry out this specific activity.
Discipline is the outcome of action. Some people say that to develop a new habit and become disciplined it needs about 30 days of continuous repetition.
Neural Pathways & Connection With Becoming Disciplined
The 1st time you do something it’s difficult because you don’t have your discipline developed. But as time passes and you do it more times it becomes easier because you develop the habit of doing it.
Let’s get into the scientific part now.
Did you know that your brain has the power to rebuild itself based on your experiences? This is called neuroplasticity and was first addressed by the great psychologist William James.
The idea of neuroplasticity is that each time you live a new experience; you receive a certain stimuli which can change your brain. As a result, by changing your experiences and becoming conscious of your actions you can reshape your brain.
Each new experience has the power of creating a new neural pathway in your brain. The more often you activate a neural pathway(do a certain action) the stronger the connections between the nerves become. Actually that’s how you learn and remember things.
According to what is neuroplasticity:
It was believed until recently that the human brain, which consists of around 100 billion neural cells, could not generate new ones(the generation of new neurons is also known as neurogenesis).
The old model assumed that each of us was born with a finite number of neural cells and when a cell died no new cell could grow. This old model of the brain’s inability to regenerate new nerve cells is no longer relevant. It has been proven that certain areas in the brain can generate fresh cells.
This new understanding of neural cell generation is an incredible discovery. Another misconception was that the brain had an inability to create new neural pathways.
It was once believed that the human brain had a relatively small window to develop new pathways in our life span, then after that the pathways became immutable. This old theory thought our ability to generate new pathways dropped off sharply around the age of 20, and then became permanently fixed around the age of 40.
New studies have shown through the use PET, and MRI brain scanning technology, that new neural cells are generated throughout life as well as new neural pathways. Even the elderly are capable of creating measurable changes in brain organization. These changes are not always easy but can happen through concerted focus on a defect area.
How to Discipline Yourself With Neuroplasticity: Two Real Life Examples
The Sea Gypsies of Asia are semi-nomadic people with unusual underwater vision. Actually their underwater vision is twice as sharp as Europeans even though they have no difference in eye structure or vision in land.
This “power” makes them able to gather shellfish from the ocean floor at depths where normal people would need scuba gear.
When you and I dive deep into the sea we can’t see clearly, we see a blurred image. On the other side the Sea Gypsies have adapted their eyes and see clearly.
Is this a genetic advantage? Neuroscientists believe that anyone could do that. The brains of the Sea Gypsies have adapted to the constant use of their eyes inside the water. As a result they can instinctively shape their pupils, narrowing them so they can see clearly.
London taxi drivers have been found to have larger hippocampus (part of the brain related with navigation) than bus drivers. Bus drivers who are driving the same route every day don’t need to exercise this part of the brain.
On the other side, taxi drivers rely on their hippocampus for navigation and need to activate it constantly.
Another interesting fact is that the hippocampus of older taxi drivers was even larger. Those who were driving taxis for more than 40 years had a more developed hippocampus. It seems that the more they practiced and activated their brain the more they strengthened the existing neural pathways.
Boom! Taxi drivers discipline!
Habits Develop Discipline Because of Repetition of Actions
Repetition of action builds discipline because neural pathways become stronger and more complex after each new action. That’s how Sea Gypsies are able to see twice as good as normal people when they are underwater.
Babies use neuroplasticity to learn walking. A baby’s brain goes under huge cognitive development as it grows up. Because they constantly try to walk they constantly build new neural pathways related to walking. As these pathways become stronger the baby finally learns to walk.
After that point the habit of walking is completely unconscious.
Do you ever think of walking? Of course not, you do that without thinking.
The same happens with being disciplined. For example, let’s take the habit of eating healthy. When you are completely unused to a healthy lifestyle it will be hard to make the swift from hamburgers and pizzas to broccoli and chicken.
The first time you eat broccoli it will taste like rubbish. The second it will be slightly better. The more times you eat it your brain gets used to the taste and after dozens of broccoli you actually start to like it.
Have this ever happened to you? Think about a food you could never it when you were a child but as you grew up you had no problem eating it. That’s because you have developed the habit of being used to the specific taste.
When it comes to developing discipline it’s exactly the same thing. The only thing you have to do is to don’t be a coward and do what you have to do. The more times you repeat a specific action the more easy it will become.
After many repetitions it will become almost unconscious. Discipline is like a muscle.
Every time you “use the discipline” you create a new neural pathway related to the activity you are doing. For example if you think about going to the gym and you decide to go, you create a new neural path.
The more you reinforce this habit the more natural it becomes because the path becomes more dominant.
That’s why you have to support good habits, like going to the gym, by constantly doing them whether you feel like it or not.
If you don’t feel like going to the gym and decide not to go, you create a negative neural pathway and you will be more likely to skip your workout again in the future.
Becoming disciplined isn’t an easy thing but it becomes easier as long as you engage in the process of doing. The more times you take the same decision you either create a positive or negative neural pathway.
Direct your energy to creating positive neural pathways and strengthening them by repetition of action. Then your discipline will skyrocket.
What do you think is the most effective way to develop your discipline? Have you ever heard of the neuroplasticity concept? Let me know what you think in the comments below!