Author: Nino Bekaia
“On Monday I’m starting a new diet”, “I’m giving up smoking tomorrow”, “I’ll start working out after the New Year”, “I’ll start learning English once the summer is over, and I’ll get a certificate too” – are familiar phrases for many.
Why Monday? Or after the New Year? Or tomorrow?
As it turns out, people are more motivated to pursue their goals on particular dates. Also, after many Mondays and New Years have passed, the failure of unfulfilled goals can be left in the past and the goals can be linked to some new dates, hoping that this time they will be fulfilled. Holidays and the beginning of the week are a great example of this.
What happens on Monday, after the summer, or after the New Years? The Monday plans have shifted onto the next week, New Years have passed and the goals are still waiting for the next summer to arrive, or the next New Years. Now the pandemic is in the way, so let’s wait for next spring, or might as well wait till the spring is over as well, and so on. Months and years pass by and we keep circling things around, as our plans are rescheduled every once in a while.
Research done by American Psychological Association (APA) showed that the respondents considered the lack of willpower to be the main reason of failure to make significant changes. In such cases people start to feel that everything depends on their efforts/willpower and if there is a lack of those, they are weak and cannot achieve set goals. All this is reflected on our self-esteem. As a result of the frustrations that followed failure, they may even give up on setting new goals. They continue smoking and consuming alcohol, engaging in destructive behavior, not learning new languages and not exercising. As a result, the quality of life and health deteriorates.
In the last few years scientists have been studying the concept of willpower and they’ve come to a conclusion that, in fact, willpower is usually not the reason that prevents us from achieving our goals.
What are some main characteristics of willpower?
Resistance – going against one’s strong desires.
A limited timeline – willpower has a limited timeline. It’s not a statistical concept that was given to us at birth.
Willpower is not permanent and it has its own limits. For example, in a stressful situation, no matter how strong our willpower is, it runs out or reaches a milestone. We can’t always depend on something that’s exhaustible, because that’s not a fair fight. The same way that one’s muscles will get tired after hours of working out and lose the ability to perform, willpower cannot work permanently.
Here I’d like to emphasize that willpower is the best tool to achieve short-term goals. Of course, it’s great to have a strong power of will, and if you’re one of those people that have it, congratulations. However, long-term goals, such as overcoming addictions, are dependent not only on willpower, but on planning the process, knowing what to do or how to act in particular situations.
Apart from willpower, achieving goals is related to discipline. Discipline is the process of acquiring a combination of skills and behaviors. In the process of bringing up children, the regime discipline has a crucial role, because it involves learning such tasks as eating, sleeping at home and outside. Since the child has no control over their regime, and therefore – does not possess the ability to fulfill those tasks independently, the parent has the critical role in the development and realization of a daily routine and regime. What happens when the child fails to follow the routine? – they do not consume enough food/consume it in inappropriate times; do not get enough sleep; fails to play and function properly. All this might lead to some long-lasting consequences. Is the case similar with adults?
The lack of a daily regimen and discipline has an effect on adults as well. Inadequate / unbalanced diet, disturbed sleep patterns, inactivity and consumption of psychoactive substances obviously have negative consequences. Discipline, like willpower, is attainable; it is not innate for anyone from birth and no one is endowed with the gift of discipline. Discipline is developed during childhood years and this process continues into adulthood. Family, school, community, etc. play a big role in this process.
Discipline is one of the fundamental cultural values that ensure the functioning of the social system and is closely related to the level of civilization of a society. On the example of Georgia, the existence of discipline, to be more precise – the absence of it, manifests itself in different directions and applies to all areas – for example, going to sleep late. I cannot cite the official statistics on late sleep and sleep disorders in Georgia, but probably many of us remember the noise of children from the yard late in the evenings (obviously their parents are awake as well, and they go to work in the morning); being late everywhere and all the time, missed deadlines, chaotic private lives, and the consumption of psychoactive substances (here we can bring some statistical examples: the minimum age for tasting alcohol is 10 years. The study found that 1.6% of the general population due to alcohol abuse need to seek appropriate medical services. 31% of the population in Georgia consumes tobacco. The minimum age for first use of tobacco is 7 years for men and 9 years for women.
I have often heard phrases: “It was so nice in that country, no one ever made me wait”, “I want the same level of cleanliness and driving etiquette in Georgia too” and so on. Even I, as a more-or-less disciplined person felt comfortable when I was in Germany, where I didn’t have to wait and be upset because someone was late. I saw children that go to sleep on time and people that go to work early in the morning, that finished their jobs at 17:00 o’clock. I was jealous of the orderly transportation system and the high quality of life. However, I still understood that we are different. People, countries, cultures are different. The thing that makes Georgia a unique place, along with the beautiful nature and tasty food, is the freedom-loving creative people that do not like overly-orderly daily routine. Of course, there’s nothing bad about this. I would even say that I love the freedom and attitudes. However, balance is always somewhere there, between the military-style discipline and extreme disorganization. For a better quality of life and to live in a more benevolent and comfortable environment, for our own well-being, there is a need to become more disciplined.
Things can get in the way or hinder us from achieving a goal:
Past Experiences: Attempting and failing to achieve a goal, or planning it and postponing it several times. Thinking about past failures only hinders our present performance. Last year, last month and yesterday we were in a different situation, with different experiences. Now, that we have a chance to plan and approach the process differently, the chances of achieving a goal increase as well.
Fear of failure. Fear is absolutely normal – an emotion that everyone experiences. But constantly fearing that we will fail does not benefit us. Fear does not let us try again and increase the chances to achieve a goal. The fear of failure can be overcome by taking the first step. It can be a small step; the main thing is to take it.
Severe psycho-emotional state. If, for example, you are depressed and you find it hard to get up in the morning, take care of yourself and function properly, it is hard to set goals and implement them. As I said already, there are several resources needed for this. In such situation, the first stage is to get help – from a friend, family member, or a specialist.
Willpower and discipline, for many people, is associated with an impossible mission and extreme difficulties. But in fact, it is quite possible to become more disciplined, and it is not very hard and doesn’t require many sacrifices. It requires a desire, making the decision, getting information, planning, and making an effort. As a professional working with nicotine addiction, from personal experience I can say that planning a concrete goal and visualizing it in a clear way is very helpful in achieving a set goal. For example, if I want to start exercising regularly, it is a great step toward the goal.
Firstly, identify, what is that goal for? How will the exercise benefit me, why do I need it? Will physical activity make me healthier, better-looking, more productive? Or maybe everything at once? What will I be like, once I start exercising regularly? What will I look like? Imagine everything in detail: see what you’ll be wearing, where you will be, what you will feel.
Next, find information about the exercise (e.g. running). What should I do as a beginner? Should I start by power-walking or go straight to running? Are there any risks?
Find information on safety and equipment (for example, what kind of shoes are best for keeping my tendons safe?), what kind of clothes are best? And so on.
Let’s say, at first you are starting with power-walking for 30 minutes. The next step is to plan the date and time for when you’ll start running. Also calculate the time that it’ll take you to leave the house, walk/run and come back. If you have work at a particular hour, how long does your pre-work routine take, etc.
Once all of the above questions have been answered, start going outside on the planned day. Do you know the exact days that you will be going out on? What will happen in case of bad weather? Will it be postponed or will you work out at home?
There are days on which laziness, lack of time or other things might make you think – “I won’t exercise today, I’ll do it some other time”. Sometimes it’s necessary to put extra effort into it and still go out (unless you’re feeling unwell). Consistency is crucial in forming a new habit.
I have given this example to illustrate that planning precedes the achievement of a goal and is a necessary component. By working consistently and following the process step-by-step, we can achieve the goal.
Set one goal at a time – If I want to give up smoking and adjust my sleep patterns, I will first work on one goal, and afterwards – on another one.
Writing down a plan – that are in alignment with our values.
Work on your motivation – motivation is extremely important in acquiring new skills. Understand well the internal reasons for achieving a goal, which means that we make a decision because of something important and change our lives in a positive direction. I recommend that you write down all the reasons on a piece of paper. There may be even one, the quantity does not matter.
Know your strengths and weaknesses – by identifying them you’ll get a powerful tool for your journey.
Practice every day – here I don’t mean physical exercise (which is very useful in acquiring discipline), but the repetition of a behavior in practice. For example, if I want to start meditating, I have to do it at least a few days a week. I have to set some time aside for this, sometimes even force myself to do it. Once my brain has learned this behavior and the habit has formed, the goal is achieved.
Familiarize yourself with other people’s success – Find and get specific advice from those who have already gone through a similar path to achieve the goal. Often, most of these people can help us even with a small suggestion or encouragement. And if your goal is to involve a specialist, if you have the means, you should surely to include get their help.
In case of failure, accept it as a normal fact – and continue moving forward. Success is achieved by those who do not give up and have several attempts.
Celebrating victories – the path to a great goal consists of the realization of small goals. Be sure to mark each small step that brings you closer to the goal.
Find companions – get a consultation, get help and share your experiences. There are people that prefer doing some activities on their own, for example – exercising. However, most people like having companions in order to stay motivated.
Visualize success – See yourself clearly in relation to the goal. How did you feel when, for example, you adjusted your diet, how does regulating your sleep affect your productivity, temperament or appearance, what is the result of systematic exercise for you, etc.?
Being better and living in a better environment is everyone’s desire and right. By knowing how, we can acquire new skills, have better discipline and achieve our goals. Developing discipline helps us to have a better quality of life, to be healthier, happier and to create a comfortable environment for others as well.