Success starts when you get yourself out of your way!

Today, I’m talking about:

  • who discovered stress,
  • resources from the Stanford Mind Body Lab to change your attitude and behavior, and
  • how I achieve self-discipline and make changes in myself.

I. Stress is the spice of life

The father of stress is Hans Selye, a Hungarian endocrinologist who emigrated to Canada in the ’30s. He demonstrated how prolonged stress induces an autoimmune hormonal response that eventually leads to ulcers, high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, arthritis, kidney disease, and allergic reactions (asthma, dermatitis, etc.). This laid the foundation for extensive research and literature on stress. Learn more about the stress syndrome here.

II. Change your attitude towards stress

Stanford’s SPARQtools: here you can find resources to help you approach stress healthily, whether individually or at work. These tools are developed by the Stanford Mind Body Lab.

III. Is it stressful to be self-disciplined?

Where are you with the things you were thinking about at the end of 2023? Do you remember your goals? Have you started something, do you have an action plan?

If you’re like most people, you’ve probably forgotten about them. But don’t worry; I’m here to nag you and remind you that you probably wanted something, just like me.

Self-discipline is the ability to control your behavior, emotions, and impulses to achieve specific goals or adhere to a certain set of standards. It involves making choices that are neither easy nor pleasant in the short term but lead to long-term success and personal development. Self-discipline requires focus on the goal, motivation, and the ability to resist distractions or temptations.

For example, if you want to be more organized, it involves:

  • Having a motivation to be organized, making it matter to you.
  • Keeping the goal in sight for extended periods until you develop an automatic behavioral routine (not 30 days, but a year or two).
  • Planning desirable behavior and applying it until it becomes a habit (not 30 days, but a year or two).
  • Having strategies to stick to the behavior even when you don’t feel like it.
  • Starting with the premise that this self-imposed constraint is good for you, not harmful.

In my experience, the nail in the coffin for self-discipline is resolving the internal conflict between the part of you that wants something achievable through effort (almost anything in this world) and the part that doesn’t want to make an effort.

How I do it (in my practice and for myself)

Ever heard the saying, “Searching for a needle in a haystack”? You sift through all the hay, strand by strand, and there’s the needle. Yes, it’s an annoying joke, but the strategy is excellent!

Too often, we try to solve something, make plans, but we don’t look at what hinders what we want to happen, the context in which the problem exists. Usually, the context is what generated the problem. When it comes to the mind and body, it’s crucial to know (there are arguments, not just beliefs) that we have a natural tendency toward health/survival, both physiologically and psychologically. We tend to get better. However, the definition of this “better” can be altered by the emotional or intellectual “garbage” we carry with us, respectively, and the context in which we have evolved intellectually and emotionally.

There’s also the belief that if I have enough willpower and stubbornly persist for a long time, I’ll achieve my goal. I think this is wrong for many reasons, but I’ll limit myself to two. Willpower or stubbornness is not the solution. Willpower is an inconsistent force, appearing randomly and diminishing quickly, so we can’t rely on it (as you probably already know from your own experience). Stubbornness is a form of intellectual and emotional rigidity, incompatible with development.

So, how do I achieve a behavior change that requires self-discipline?

  1. Investigate all beliefs that support the attitude of not doing what I set out to do. For example, with order: it’s hard, boring, I don’t have time, only boring people are organized, the problem is the context, not me, I have more interesting/pleasurable things to do, it’s hard to stick to a habit of being organized, etc.
  2. Select the top 3 problems based on the intensity of the emotional reaction I identify. For example, “only boring people are organized” has the potential to be a significant problem because it attacks my identity. Then there’s the discomfort generated by this new behavior. The third might be the belief that it’s a problem not related to me; I don’t organize because I’m in a context where it’s pointless, or something like that.
  3. Analyze beliefs rationally/cognitively, with arguments for and against, trying to refute them and have a balanced attitude in argumentation (a bit boring, I know).
  4. Calm emotional reactivity (especially the stubborn belief reaction) with tapping technique (tapping acupuncture points on the face, hands, and trunk). This is usually the most interesting and effective. For example, the belief that “only boring people are organized” is related to my reaction to people with obsessive-compulsive disorder encountered in life.
  5. Reframe how I relate to the discomfort generated by the change I intend to make. For example, it’s not a problem that it’s hard, bad, upsetting, stressful, etc. On the contrary, I need some discomfort in my life to constantly increase my resilience. Moreover, I am in the privileged situation where I can choose what discomfort to have and for what purpose. This helps with the specific problem but will also help in situations when discomfort, stress comes unexpectedly. I need it to be difficult. It’s healthy to confront frustration and constraint and make an effort.
  6. At this point, I should have a clear path to the goal I set for myself. I put it on paper, check my reaction, if there’s still something stopping me, I go through the process described above. If not, I create a plan for how I will get from where I am now to where/how I want to be, describe one or more behaviors that will lead me there, create the implementation schedule, and set checkpoints. In principle, I use the SMART acronym. For example, I want to be organized, meaning having order on my desk, in the library, in emails, on the computer, etc. I give myself 6 months to have order in all these aspects. I will clean my desk at the end of each workday, clean folders X, Y, Z on my computer every Friday at 3 pm, etc. I check the last Friday of each month where I am compared to what I set out to do. I examine what didn’t work and go through the process of investigating beliefs and emotional reactions that hinder me if I find that I’m stuck on the way.

Conclusion

Self-discipline is the province of maturity and health. It assumes that you enjoy changing and learning, like challenging yourself, feeling discomfort, and accepting a form of authority, in this case, your authority over yourself. In most cases, we fail because we jump into solving the problem and ignore the context in which our problem exists. My experience is that if you create a conducive context for problem resolution, things will naturally flow toward a solution. If you solve the beliefs that hinder you, the rest is a walk in the park.