I posted a previous – albeit brief entry on the importance of self-control about a month ago, and today I want to talk about it again, but within a larger context.
I want to tell you about my journey to self-mastery, but first let me give you some of the key quotes from the video on self-control, which served as the centerpiece of the aforementioned entry.
On Self-Control (by Leo Gura of Actualized.org)
“When you master your own psychology it becomes easier to influence the world, otherwise the world is always influencing you. “
“Developing self-control, self-discipline is not easy and this is why most people do not do it and why most people’s lives are shit, because they do not take the proper steps to develop self-control and that’s because there is emotional labor involved – there is struggle involved with building self-control.”
“Self-control is difficult to develop and the way to develop it is through work. You’re looking for opportunities to improve yourself, to grow. And what happens is that you start to build these additional layers – and those build extra self-control into you. And you start to notice that you get more awareness, and more ability to control your feelings, more ability to control your emotions, more ability to control your behaviors, more ability to persist in spite of the fear, to have courage, more ability to learn, more ability to introspect, to be very honest with yourself – and this is a great thing, and it just kind of snowballs and you start to build more and more self-control. On the other hand – if you’re not being undisciplined, if you’re not observing the practices and you’re not doing the things that you need to be doing in life – then what happens is you kind of have the reverse process. Your brain turns to mush, your Prefrontal Cortex becomes weak and you are not able to execute on the things that your higher-self wants to execute on, and so what happens is that your lower-self takes control over your higher self – and that is a very bad place to be in, in life, because even though that lower-self got what it wants, it got comfort, it feels good – that higher-self is still there, it’s not dead, and it wants you to be living to your full potential, and when you’re not living to your full potential you feel guilty, you feel horrible – you feel like your soul has been drained. And that’s one of the worst feelings in life.”
So what are some of the things you can do to build self-control?
One – Disciplined Practice:
“Have disciplined practices. That means that you’re getting up at a certain time in the morning when you want to be getting up. That means if you the intention to brush and floss twice a day – do that. If you have intentions to meditate – do that. If you have intentions to journal – do that. If you have intentions to show up on time – do that. If you have intentions of eating healthy – do that. If you have intentions of going to the gym – do that, and be very disciplined and consistent about it. That practice – with whatever area of your life you point it in – if you’re just disciplined and you’re executing consistently, that trains your brain. It requires the build up of Prefrontal Cortex just to do it. It’s like going to the gym and pumping your biceps, it builds them up – that’s what it does to your brain. So, have disciplined practices and stay on top of those. That’s the bottom-line, quickest way to build self-control. Follow through on your disciplined practices – set a few new ones every once in a while, and build those up into habits.”
Unhook from Media and Stimulation:
“You are overstimulated right now; most of you are overstimulated with television, radio, gossip from your friends, advertising, negative influences from family, from friends – all over the place. You’re overstimulated by it. You need to unhook yourself from it. Get back to your source. Spend some time by yourself in solitude; think about things. Be introspective. Raise your level of consciousness. When you do this you start to develop a level of self-control that’s just amazing. You cannot have self-control when you’re plugged in – when your plugged into the grid, because what happens is your mind becomes a lazy slug and it plugs into the grid and what you’re looking for is that cheap source of energy that you can just plug into. You just want to plug into that TV and let go. You just want to plug into that chocolate ice cream and just let go. You want to plug into that relationship – that comfortable relationship and just let go. And you want to plug into sitting there on the internet all day and browsing all day, and browsing Facebook, and chatting with your friends, and gossiping about the latest celebrity news. You’re just plugging in – you’re letting your brain to to mush. How can you have self-control when you do that – you can’t. You got to snip that stuff off – cut it all off – spend some time thinking, being alone, introspecting, coming up with goals,, coming up with visions, coming up with ideas for what you want to accomplish in your life. That is how you get your self-control back.”
Note: Definitely check out the videos from Leo at Actualized.org
My Personal Journey with Self-Control
In the past month, since publishing the initial entry on self-control, I have fully heeded the above wisdom. The effects of this have compounded upon the already significant changes I have made in my life this year.
Just in the last half of this year I have completely given up all:
- Sweets and processed / junk food
- Pornography and self-pleasure (a topic deserving of it’s own entry – and one that has nothing to do with morality).
- All news websites
- All entertainment websites and purposeless internet surfing
- Negative / Unhealthy relationships
Each of these things has required a considerable measure of emotional labor, but I can proudly say that I have exercised complete and total self-control.
And what of these changes – how has my wellbeing been impacted as a result of exercising self-control in these areas of my life?
Well, I could write at length about this but I’ll save that for a future date as there’s yet a considerable amount of benefits to reap and still a great amount of change at work, but I’ll say the following:
Beyond looking better (My bodyfat is dropping to BAWSE levels) and feeling better (my confidence is at an all time high), the greatest thing is that my self-awareness is eons above what it once was. I’ve been able to go within my psyche and perform the kind of deep self-work that produces the rare type of quantum change available once – maybe twice within a lifetime. This has also opened the doors within my soul for a spiritual awakening, which I am massively grateful for. And my identity as a practicing Stoic has benefited immensely, and of course, my mindfulness, and meditation practices have blossomed through this as well.
But simply the increase in self-awareness alone is in itself reward enough to suffice as motivation for me to continue on this path indefinitely. It’s an amazing feeling to be deeply connected to your inner intuition and to experience the alignment of the heart and the mind that this brings. This deepening and awakening of my self-awareness has given me the gift of being able to live from my highest truth – spiritually, physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, professionally, intellectually – I’ve given myself the gift of stepping into my highest self.
No More Palliatives
But why? How can self-control be this transformative? Well – the italicized notes in the beginning of this entry do an excellent job of shedding light onto this – but in addition to that, I have come to see that these things were my way of numbing myself to who I am and how I really felt. When you become aware of all the things you are plugging into, and you stop plugging into them, you start to see that they were merely a palliative.
Those palliatives we habituate ourselves to indulging in become automated responses to any disturbances in our mental equilibrium. So we become in a sense very amateur neuropharmacologists, doling out the brain chemicals we feel we need to feel okay. And as a result our mental and emotional awareness is never fully allowed to properly achieve a natural state of homeostasis.
I can’t tell you how many times over the past few years I simply wished I could cry – but I couldn’t; although, I intuitively knew I needed to. That’s no longer the case now that I am emotionally and mentally 100% organic. Music moves me more, I connect more deeply to others, I laugh more, I cry when I need to cry, I dance more, and I feel innocent – like a child.
And I’m centered and I’m grounded; my moods are linear and I am more resilient than I have ever been. And on the rare occasion I do get angry, I can sense just how much that anger has lowered my self-awareness, and it’s just gotten to the point that it’s not even worth it for me to get angry anymore. And I no longer get depressed. Period. Additionally my ADHD has pretty much disappeared. Perhaps my brain has learned that no amount of pain, suffering, discontent, or boredom will earn it the synthetic sources of Dopamine it once was addicted to, and so these things no longer serve a purpose in my life. It’s as if my emotions have gone from existential to experiential – meaning, I am no longer angry – I’m just experiencing anger.
It should be stated that in the past I had temporarily given up these vices individually at one time or another, but it never stuck, and I never gave up everything altogether. I truly believe that mindfulness and meditation has been one of the biggest keys to the breakthroughs I have experienced on the road to self-mastery.
Why I Choose to Unhook From These Things
Obviously before I made the decision to exercise self-control in these areas of my life I had no idea just how profound the changes would be, so why did I choose to begin exercising such consummate self-control at this time in my life?
It’s complicated – but I suppose it was time. Not that I suddenly said to myself, okay – time to grow up, but there is a season for everything in life and for me I entered a point in time where I was tired of being less than I could be and I knew that the version of myself in my head that I was deserving of being was already within me. And the big change for me came when I decided to start living my life for myself and to turn within for the answers.
Again – I have quoted this multiple times in the course of my writing, but Baron Baptiste’s words from the intro of Journey Into Power come to mind:
So many of us are striving so hard to be better, to know more, do more, be more. We have been conditioned to believe that we are not good enough the way we are. We’re afraid that if we do less, we’ll be less, so we read all the latest self improvement books, take the seminars, follow the diets, go to the gym, but nothing seems to really get us where we want to go. We still weigh too much, worry to much, and race around searching for something that will soothe whatever it is that we see as our problem.
But I believe we all just have one problem. Yes, you read that right: Every single one of us is suffering from the same problem. Of course, your life looks different from mine, or your friend’s, or your neighbor’s. You might even think your problems are completely unique, but for those of us who feel dissatisfied with our bodies or our lives, there is only one explanation: We are not living from our authentic selves, from our truth. We are asleep to who and what we really are and can be.
We blame external factors for our woes – our parents, our careers, our hectic lives, our spouses, out thighs, our lack of time to exercise or eat right – but the only thing that is “wrong” with us or our lives is that we are disconnected from our core. We are programmed to believe that things like status, money, achievement, and a perfect body would make us happy, or better yet, a complete person. We were taught that these goals were more important than honoring our authentic nature; the timeless and universal truths within us, just waiting to be awakened. Our only task is to relinquish the luggage of life and accept what was there from the start: the light in our hearts and the power within.
Michelangelo used to say that God put a statue within every slab of marble, and his job was to remove all that was not part of the statue. He claimed he merely freed the statue from the stone….
…Journey into power is not about seeking the answers from some outside source. It’s not about piling on muscles, or gaining more knowledge, or finding a better relationship. You have been taught your whole life to look outside yourself, to parents, teachers, experts, maybe even gurus, but all you need is already within you. It’s time we wrap our arms around the truth! The goal here is not to go out and find yourself, for you were never really lost. Forgotten maybe, but not lost.
This year I realized that I was pretending to be a lot of things that I wasn’t, and that I had let the lives of others, and my opinion of their perceptions of me determine my definitions of happiness and success. That single sentence, as an experience, was powerful enough to cast off years of psychic baggage from my persona. From there I wanted to see who I was beneath the chatter of my thoughts. So, I stopped reading the news, I gave up alcohol, I gave up my late night cigarettes, then I gave up coffee, then I gave up sweets and junk food, then I gave up porn and self-pleasuring (save the best for last haha), and the results of these exercises in self-control have been nothing short of phenomenal. And whenever I felt weak I simply focused on the positive benefits of eliminating these habits from my life. There’s a lot to be said for vanity and the desire to be truly happy as motivation.
Making the Shift from Chasing Pleasure to Pursuing Fulfillment
Now that I have begun to practice mastery over my vices, I’ve become aware of the things that trigger my behaviors – namely, the desired emotional state I am trying to achieve, or the underlying emotion influencing my impulses. I’m no longer just a mass of nerves, there’s a method to my days, and dare I say – a routine. The driving forces in my life are no longer compulsive addictions designed to make me feel better. I’ve come to clearly define my mission, my vision, and my purpose, and these are the impetus for my actions today.
Now when I’m on my computer and I feel the need to check Facebook I pause to introspect on why I’m feeling the need to “plug in”. It wasn’t even until giving up my other sources of instant Dopamine that I became aware of the palliative purposes that so many of the habits in my life were serving. I’m simply more interested in the pursuit of lasting fulfillment than I am in chasing short-term pleasures; after all, boys chase pleasure, men pursue fulfillment, and the difference between pleasure and fulfillment is that pleasure only lasts as long as you are engaged in the pleasurable activity producing it; whereas, with fulfillment, you are enriching your life at a deeper level. You’re getting in peak experience and flow, and you’re experiencing true relaxation in a way that has long term benefits.
It’s not that I’m anti pleasure, but as a man I have learned to tie my pleasure to my fulfillment because I know that fulfillment truly increases the quality of my life at a level that engages both my soul and my higher consciousness. It’s all about understanding that chasing pleasure modifies the reward system in your brain that makes it possible in the first place – so while pleasure can in itself be fulfilling initially, it eventually turns into a mindless action that you perform because you have habituated your brain to an expected stimulation or reward. In the end, pleasure leaves you feeling empty. But, not all pleasure is evil, it just needs to be aligned with fulfillment in order to serve your highest self. It’s not that I’ll never enjoy sweets again, but I will as a reward to myself for a healthy diet. I’ll save the champagne for toasting and christening my new sailboat, thank you.
Where to Now? From Self-Control to Self-Discipline
When we talk about self-mastery, we’re talking about two core areas. Self-control, and self-discipline.
Self-control is not doing the things you want to, but know you shouldn’t do.
Self-discipline is doing the things you don’t want to, but know you should.
So, as I’ve chronicled above, I’ve taken big steps towards self-mastery in the form of self-control and these have greatly increased both my self-awareness and my self-knowledge – but self-control is not the same as self-discipline. Ironically, in the past my self-discipline was much stronger than my self-control. I often worked incredibly hard, and even went to the gym, but I had a total lack of self-control in many areas of my life. Today I see that self-control is far more important than self-discipline when it comes to your internal state of wellbeing – but self-mastery cannot exist without both – and without self-mastery, you cannot live from your highest truth, and you cannot be your highest self.
And although I wrote a series called Real-Life Limitless, what I missed completely within my formula for limitless success was self-mastery. (I have since updated these entries to reflect this). You simply cannot live your life to your full potential without self-control and self-discipline.
Just for a moment, I want you to imagine what you could accomplish in a year if you had complete self-control and self-discipline. As I sit here writing this in my 29th year, it’s clear to me that the one commonality between the most self-actualized and most successful people is true self-mastery. On the other side of that coin, think of the people you have known who have almost no self-control or self-discipline. They are masters of nothing, least of all themselves. And some people just seem to innately have more self-control and self-discipline than others. Whether you want to view your own disposition as a blessing or a curse is up to you, but I’m here to tell you – both self-control and self-discipline require consistency and practice.
Don’t think you can attain total awareness and whole enlightenment without proper discipline and practice. This is egomania. Appropriate rituals channel your emotions and life energy toward the light. Without the discipline to practice them, you will tumble constantly backward into darkness. – Lao Tzu
Self-discipline must be practiced to cultivate a disciplined attitude. Like self-control, it must be exercised in order to strengthen it. Without doing this you’re going to be weak willed and you’re going to lack the willpower necessary to be disciplined in doing what you don’t want to do, but need do be doing.
Coinciding with the rise of self-control in my life, I’ve begun to practice self-discipline by creating basic disciplined practices that I take time to do each day, whether I feel like doing them or not.
- 10pm bedtime and 5:30 – 8am wake up
- First thing upon waking, drink 8 ounces water – also throughout the day
- Morning and Evening Gratitude
- Morning Affirmations
- Morning Walk and Meditation
- Evening Walk and Journaling
Once you’ve decided to exercise self-control in your life, the above things are a great foundation for practicing self-discipline and building your willpower. But they are only a foundation. Self-discipline is doing exactly what you need to do. Living up to your full potential through right action. The discipline of a positive routine is the first step to living up to your potential.
Look. we all know what we need to be doing. We all know more or less what it takes to get in better shape. If you’re a business owner, you know what you need to be doing in order to make more money. But things like fear, and discomfort, and procrastination prevent us from executing on what we need to be doing. We end up being limited by our comfort zone. And if you want an extraordinary life where you aren’t ruled by fears and aren’t limited by your comfort zone, then you need to cultivate self-discipline.
How to Cultivate Self-Discipline
1. It Starts With Self-Control
Eliminating negative habits that don’t serve your highest-self is the first step towards self-discipline. Without self-control, you will be a slave to your desires. If you’ve been reading this far, then I don’t need to restate the benefits of self-control.
2. Establish Consistent Habits and a Positive Routine
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” — Aristotle
Create a written routine and begin following it each day. Be sure to add to this list and experiment – using your self-awareness to listen for intuitive feedback on what works and what doesn’t. For instance, I originally wanted to meditate not just in the morning, but in the evening as well; however, I found a walk and some breathing exercises along with journaling was the ideal evening routine for me – not to mention a significant time commitment in itself. So, if I make the extra time to get some meditation in as I watch a sunset, then great! If not, it’s okay because I have still meditated in the morning, and I am still doing positive activities each evening that connect me to my highest self.
And remember, a routine takes time to develop, establish, and perfect – not to mention emotional energy to follow. So, don’t try and create the super jedi daily routine to follow from the outset. Start with some key things, and add additional practices in over time. It’s about succeeding with what you have committed to yourself that you will do – this is how a strong and positive self-image is built. Taking on too much is going to be unrealistic and your self-image will suffer when you fail to stick to your routine.
3. Anchor New Habits to “After”
This comes from BJ Fogg at Stanford University. The idea is to connect a new habit to an existing behavior. By anchoring a new habit to an existing one, we are chaining something new to an already established habit i.e., if you already eat breakfast but want to start taking vitamins, then establish the practice of taking your vitamins after breakfast.
BJ Fogg explains in this two minute video.
4. Don’t forget the Power of Tiny Habits
Again from BJ Fogg “When you know how to create tiny habits, you can change your behavior and your life”.
The idea isn’t to get obsessive or compulsive about habits, but to understand that tiny habits can compound into significant change.
5. Utilize the Power of Visualization and Rehearsal
By visualizing the outcome and mentally rehearsing yourself successfully performing a desired action you are reducing the friction involved in performing these actions. Take it from the Navy Seals.
6. Take Right Action
Right action is doing things that are positive and that you should be doing. Every time you make your bed, or hang up a sweater, or rinse a dish, or pay a bill, or do anything positive that requires self-discipline, you are strengthening your will. Right action is about building a man of action mentality by consistently doing what you should be doing.
7. Apply the Pareto Principle and Focus on Undoing
The Pareto Principle states that 80% of the results come from 20% of the actions. Focusing on undoing means eliminating the things that do little to contribute to your results in life. Sometimes this means budgeting limited time for these tasks, and other times it means eliminating them altogether or delegating them to someone else. By focusing on the 20% of your actions that are responsible for 80% of your results, you are able to leverage your time far better than if you weigh all your actions equally.
8. Eliminate Procrastination – Eat the Frog and Face the Fear
“Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” – Mark Twain
By doing the thing you most do not want to do first thing in your day, you are eliminating procrastination and facing your fear. This forces you to do it. Don’t read into this too much, but rather just do it. Eating the frog is the key to eliminating procrastination.
9. Prioritize and Set Daily Goals
There is only so much time in the day, so much energy, and so much willpower. Prioritizing means creating a written list of your actions and prioritizing them according to what must be done. This way you are focusing on getting the most important tasks done first. Some people like to make a list at the end of the day for the next day, and some people like to make a list for the day at the start of each day. Experiment with what works for you, but make sure you stick to this practice. Otherwise you have no daily goals.
10. Work in Pomodoros
I first heard about The Pomodoro Technique in the tech start up community – specifically from programmers who used it to significantly boost their productivity. So what the hell is a pomodoro?
Here’s what you do: you pick a task, then set a timer – a tool celebrated previously in this space – for 25 minutes, no exceptions. Cirillo uses a kitchen timer shaped like a tomato, and is Italian, hence “pomodoro”. Work. When it rings, stop for five minutes. Repeat three more times, then take a longer break. That’s just about it. Yet it works.
Half of all those reading that last paragraph will blink in confusion: “Why do you need a technique? Why can’t you just do stuff?” But the rest of us know that such tricks can be hugely effective, slowly strengthening the self-discipline muscle. They are, literally, tricks: the ticking clock takes an internal desire to get something done and fools some part of the brain into thinking it’s external, that the clock must be obeyed. (Stopping dead at 25 minutes also creates useful momentum for starting again five minutes later.) Even the hokey language – Cirillo calls each 25-minute period a pomodoro – helps, by making the time-blocks seem like “things”, out in the world. Another geeky productivity scheme with an online following, Autofocus achieves something similar using cleverly structured to-do lists to “force” the user to confront the tasks they’ve resolutely been avoiding.
I personally use this (there are browser extensions and apps available if you do not have a kitchen timer), and it’s wonderful for many reasons – namely it”s ability to greatly improve your focus and boost your productivity, but also because it allows you to quantify daily productivity beyond output. By tracking how many pomodoros you complete in a day you get a sense of how productive and focused you were, and this also helps you to plan your future workdays using pomodoros to block out time in 25 min increments. Give it a try, and remember, like all habits – it’s going to require work, but it is definitely worth it.
10. Delay Gratification and Keep Your Eye on The Prize with Big Goals
“Self-discipline is an act of cultivation. It require you to connect today’s actions to tomorrow’s results. There’s a season for sowing a season for reaping. Self-discipline helps you know which is which.”
– Gary Ryan Blair
Successful, no limits people know how to delay their gratification by setting big goals and keeping their eye on the prize. By setting big goals you are creating finish lines, which can also be used as the basis for smaller, more segmented goals – a topic [goal segmentation] covered here. Also keep in mind that big goals can be reverse engineered into the right habits required in order to achieve them.
Bonus: Listen to The Science of Self-Discipline
I’m currently listening to this and really enjoying it.
What’s Next? Putting Self-Discipline into Practice
The reason I spent my Friday night writing this is because I know that greater self-discipline and consistency would transform my life as significantly as my habits of self-control have. I’m committed to going full Jason Bourne in my approach to self-discipline the same way I have approached self-control. Self-discipline may not seem like the sexiest thing in the world, but when combined with self-control, it’s the key to self-mastery, which is not only sexy, but extremely empowering. I hope in another month or so I’m writing about how self-discipline has taken my life to the next level.