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Don’t fatigue your discipline muscle

WeightLifterI read somewhere recently that discipline is like a muscle. Not only that it gets stronger as you exercise it, but that it fatigues over the course of the day. Every time you call upon your self-control to make the right food choice or push through to the end of a mind-numbing task, your discipline muscle weakens.

With all the decisions we face daily, it’s no wonder that candy bar looks so good a few hours after lunch, or that our motivation to work out has waned by the time we clock out.

My discipline wears out just as quickly as anyone’s, but I’ve found a few things that help.

Timing. If going for a walk after work just isn’t happening, find another time that’ll be easier to stick to. Can you fit it in before your morning shower? On your lunch break?

My problem is ensuring I get my creative time. I work best before nine in the morning and after nine at night. Knowing that helps me make better choices about when to write, when to check email, and when to work out.

Routine. When you make something a habit, there’s no decision to make, no willpower required. It’s just part of your daily routine and you don’t even think about it.

It’s easier to add a new habit to your life if you can replace an old—preferably undesirable—one. Maybe instead of going out to lunch, you can bring your own. It’ll save you money, be better for your waistline, and leave you extra time for that walk.

According to time management guru Brian Tracy, it takes 21 days to form a habit. Just remember to work on only one new habit at a time, otherwise that old discipline muscle will be exhausted before noon!

Schedule. Why are we more worried about letting down other people than ourselves? Schedule your most important items on a calendar and treat them like any can’t-miss appointment. Writing time, workouts, family time, relaxation. Whatever your priority, put it down in ink (or pixels). You’re worth it.

If that’s not enough to make it happen, find a friend to schedule the activity with. We know you won’t let her down.

Remove temptation. Can’t resist the vending machine at work? Leave your cash at home and bring a snack. If the ice cream in your freezer calls to you every night before bed, do your grocery shopping early in the day (when your discipline is still strong) and don’t buy the ice cream!

I often struggle to set aside a good book even when I have other things I must get done. If I have a busy day or week coming up, I won’t even crack open a new read. Or if I'm desperate for some reading time (yes, it's an addiction), I’ll choose a short story or novella that I can start and finish during my lunch break or workout.

And lest you think I have this all figured out, I don’t. My discipline muscle still gives out and I skip the run, eat the candy, and get immersed in a book for half a day.

Sleep helps. Schedules help. Habits help.

And at the end of the day, I just have to forgive myself and keep trying to be better than I was the day before.

Photo credit: RIA Novosti archive, image #497570 / Vitaliy Saveliev / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC-BY-SA-3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

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