It’s not the self-discipline but the struggle to celebrate

Self-discipline, don’t you also hate that word? For me it means that I have to hustle every day, doing only sensible things and work my fingers to the bone. While I write this, I notice a whiny voice somewhere in the back of my mind that tells me: “I don’t wanna be self-disciplined.”

Being self-disciplined in the way I just described is a value a lot of people strive for. For some reason, we want to be self-disciplined but find it really hard to be so.

But did you know that you apply self-discipline already?

From the moment you were born and then later when you tried to walk and talk and write and read, you’ve been very self-disciplined. You developed habits and beliefs and ideas along the way.

Your brain helps you in a way by taking over the most repeated things and turn them into habits. That is why you now find it pretty normal to be able to read this, but once when you were about 6 years old, reading wasn’t all that easy.

But you persevered, and now you can read. You find it so normal that you can open your eyes and decipher letters that you think nothing of it anymore. Your brain just does it. It has become a subconscious process to understand that an E is an E and an A is an A.

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Self-discipline makes life easy

Your brain is focused on conserving energy. What if it had to think hard to make that decision every time that an E is an E? So once it has found out that an E is an E it makes it a habit. So habits are there for your brain to spend less energy.

Another thing is that your brain loves it when things are predictable. That is why there isn’t a cloud in the sky when you get up right when your alarm clock goes off, and you *know* that you have enough time to get ready to go to work.

It’s not the self-discipline but the struggle to celebrate


Shower – dress – make-up – breakfast – coat – bag – keys – car – drive – work. Your brain goes all relaxed when you do it like that. I even take 90 minutes for that because I just don’t want to run around like a headless chicken in the morning.

But have you ever noticed what happens in your mind when you sleep through your alarm clock, and you only have like 20 minutes to go through the whole cycle? I have! I go mad! And even though I can still do what is needed to get ready in 20 minutes my whole energy reserve can be spent in those 20 minutes leaving me drained for the rest of the day.

Negative habits

It’s the same with habits that work against you. Your brain likes it when you build a habit of eating a bag of chips every evening. It will even remind you to get it. It loves it if you veg out at home watching tv every evening. It loves it when you eat too much every day.

It is not the eating that your brain loves. It is the habit, the repetition and the predictability that you give it. It couldn’t care less about the chips or the food or the tv show. In short: your brain loves your self-discipline even though it might not bring the results that you’re after.

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So then comes the day that you want to improve your life. You want to lose weight, read a book instead of watching tv, go for a run instead of staying home. For this, you have to be willing to give up the comfort of the habits you now have.

To do so, you’ll have to become conscious of your current situation. You’ve got to find out:

  • what your habits are now,
  • when you do them,
  • how you do them,
  • how they make you feel,
  • what the thoughts are that you have around them
  • and so much more

Because you are on such an automatic pilot, you have to understand where you come from. Decide your starting point, in a way.

Change is unsettling

Way too many people skip this phase and do not know how big their #win is when they are going through the unsettling phase of changing their habits.

Especially when things are still a bit difficult, it can be so helpful to see that you are doing a good job even when you still struggle big time. Understanding that you’re struggling is indeed a big #win because you already see that you are on your way. Struggling is good! It is a sign that it works!


See it like this: while going through that implementation phase, you have so many decisions to make. Every night again you’re on that couch and when the clock strikes 8.30 pm your brain will ask you: don’t you want some chips? And in the beginning you’ll answer “no thank you, I’ve decided not to eat that anymore.” And it asks you again and again and again and again and again [fading repetition of these same words..]

You can handle that for a night or two. The third night it becomes difficult, and your brain is starting to annoy you. You struggle not to listen to the suggestion of your brain. So every time it asks you: don’t you want that bag of crisps? I know you have some back that in that cupboard…  you’ll have to decide if you are going to get it or not. Your new habit is still very very conscious. It is decision time: which discipline are you going to follow from now on?

And most of all, which story are you telling yourself right there and then? If you tell yourself the story that you can’t eat chips because you are on a diet, your chances are much slimmer than when you tell yourself that don’t eat it because it will help you to create a healthy body and wear a size 6 in the future (or whatever great goal you have).

Which story do you choose? Which creates the most positive feelings? Which will help you to become comfortable with your new habit? I’d choose the positive one any time!

Celebrate your struggle

This is what I want to advise you: celebrate your struggle! Don’t think I’m good at it yet! As a recovering perfectionist, I really need to implement the habit of telling myself that struggle is good; that I’m on my way to create self-discipline in another habit. I may not be a 100% yet, but I’m getting there!

Too often we think that 100% is the only goal to reach to allow ourselves to celebrate. But it is such a black and white way of thinking! If you can only celebrate when you have perfected the habit you’d better focus because by then your habit has become so normal again that your brain will make it subconscious again.

It is the phase of a struggle that I love and when I live out my life value of growth and development where I can celebrate my habits. I’m still very conscious of them, and I can still see that I’m doing a good job instead of blindly ticking off a tracker of things that I do without even thinking about them.

So if you notice that you’re struggling, and you are able to choose the upper path of your new habit: celebrate! Even if you are not able to choose the healthy habit, still celebrate because you were conscious of the moment of choice!

The struggle is the thing to celebrate!

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2 replies
  1. Cynthia
    Cynthia says:

    So true how uncomfortable it feels working on replacing an old habit with a new one! Boy that old habit whines and complains! And true that some late evenings it does still win. However, the new one needs to be patiently persistent.
    Thanks for your thoughts Jolanda!


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