Discipline Versus Willpower

At the turn of the year I was the heaviest I’d ever been. Looking at myself in the mirror and my son next to me, I knew I needed to change – for his sake and mine. I knew I needed more than a diet. I knew I needed an overhaul of my life’s systems. I knew I needed to become a different person on the inside in order to look different on the outside. Thus began a systematic upgrading of my habits.

For instance, I’ve never eaten much for breakfast. Coffee has been about it. That works for some people, but it left me vulnerable to snacking in mid-morning and eating junk food for the rest of the day. Rather than look for the “perfect” breakfast, I simply decided to start eating food that I knew I could eat every day: sausage egg bake, coffee, powdered greens, and fish oil. I worked to make that automatic, and now it is.

I also knew that I needed to have food on hand that would make my food choices easy. Having soup for lunch in the winter time simplified things. However, making two egg bakes and a batch of soup a week required planning and cooking in advance. Thus the creation of a new system – prepping food on Sunday afternoons after church.

I’ve also added in working out and getting up earlier in the morning to the mix. Progress has been steady, but I’m more pleased at my consistency with my new habits. As much as I like goals, systems are more important.

This focus on systems has made a significant difference in my life. I don’t feel the need to step on the scale every day in order to get a self-esteem boost because I’m focused on lifestyle change rather than bodyweight. I’m more focused on becoming a better person than I am on achieving certain short term goals. Trusting a process rather than pursuing goals is new territory for me. I like it.

I’ve been ruminating on the ideas of discipline and willpower for a little while. Here are some thoughts I hope will interest you.

Discipline is the ability to submit current desires to future goals. Discipline is the ability to sacrifice short term comfort for long term reward. Discipline is a lifestyle, not a resource.

Willpower is the ability to make yourself do something you don’t want to do. Willpower is a finite resource that is drained throughout the day by every decision we make. Willpower, while important, is fallible and should not be relied upon in order to live the life you want to live.

Discipline is sustained through a combination of habits, routines, and structures. While willpower is often needed to get these systems up and running, they are intended to transition to autopilot fairly quickly. Discipline is the systematic upgrading of our habits, routines, and structures and results in an increased quality of life.

I like who I am when I am living a disciplined life. I don’t like who I am when I just go with the flow. I enjoy making myself do something that I have decided is good for me. I like leading myself through conscious decisions rather than through spontaneous desire.

If 50% of my behavior is going to be on autopilot, then I want to ensure that those habits are as good as they can be. I want to leverage my brain’s laziness to my advantage. I want to have systems in place that allow me to be excellent by providing a solid foundation of nutrition, health, and energy. I’m far from perfect in this regard, but I plan on updating this thread throughout the year in order to share what I’ve learned.

Thanks for reading friends.

Ben

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