Staying disciplined in the midst of adversity
by Jennifer Xue
The one thing that distinguishes a winner from a group of losers is self-control and self-discipline in making and keeping hard decisions. It requires internally-driven incentives because when adversity comes, often discipline evaporates and it becomes harder to maintain. By “adversity,” it refers to anything that causes distraction and discomfort.
The thing is, we are distracted and experience discomfort on a daily basis. Only when someone lives an uneventful life, it is easy to maintain things as he or she is and stay committed.
In this article, we use various scientific studies to provide solutions on maintaining self-control and self-discipline in the midst of adversity.
One of the most popular cases used to study the issue of self-discipline is weight maintenance, as obesity occurs when someone doesn’t have sufficient physical activity and doesn’t eat healthy foods. Being obese is more a matter of self-control and self-discipline, rather than medical conditions.
According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 36.5 percent of U.S. adults are obese. And the gym membership statistics provided by International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association, also shows that 67 percent of gym members never actually use them.
Considering these figures and the fact that only a few legitimate medical conditions truly cause extreme weight gain, it’s safe to assume that almost half of U.S. population own limited self-discipline to develop physical activity and healthy eating habits.
Apparently, at least in the United States, getting some exercise isn’t a matter of having access or lack of it. It’s a matter of not giving it a priority. The most common reason for skipping exercises is due to “busyness.” Being busy with work, school, family obligations, and chores are frequently considered of higher priority than one’s health.
This resonates with an important pioneering study in self- control and self-discipline, which was named the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Led by Professor Walter Mischel at Stanford University, children were given a choice between having one marshmallow now or getting two or more marshmallows (or other delicious foods) after 15 minutes have passed.
Those who didn’t wait to consume the marshmallow showed lower SAT scores, had higher weight, and experienced overall lesser life achievements over the years. On the contrary, those who delayed their marshmallow gratification enjoyed higher life achievements and good body weight.
Now the question is: How can people improve and maintain self-discipline? Maintain intrinsic motivation and be committed.
Intrinsic motivation works better, according to researchers at the University of Rochester and the University of Southern Utah. In their experiment, one group of students participated in Tae Kwon Do classes and the other group in aerobics classes.
The first group had better attendance because they focused on enjoyment, competence, and social interaction. Reference: Ryan R.M., Frederick C.M., Lepes D., Rubio N., Sheldon K.M. “Intrinsic Motivation and Exercise Adherence,” International Journal of Sports Psychology 1997; 28: 335-354.
Having an intention “to have fun” motivated the student to first attend the Tae Kwon Do class and maintained the attendance. On the other contrary, those who attended the aerobic classes did so for fitness and appearance, which weren’t intrinsic motivations. In other words, things that make you happy would last longer and would turn into a long-term habit.
In another notable study, Rena R. Wing and Suzanne Phelan wrote in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, “a general perception that almost no one succeeds in long-term maintenance of weight loss, research has shown that approximately 20% of overweight individuals are successful at long-term weight loss when defined as losing at least 10% of initial body weight and maintaining the loss for at least 1 year.” There is, however, an exception to this finding.
Members of National Weight Control Registry who have lost an average of 70 pounds and maintained the loss for more than five years have one similar trait: being committed. These individuals retain their new weight by monitoring diet and calorie intake, being consistent with their eating patterns, and exercising regularly.
Wing and Phelan concluded that when an individual has been able to keep the weight off for in two to five years, most likely they would be able to maintain it long term. Reference: Wing R.R., Phelan S., “Long-term weight loss maintenance.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2005; 82 (1): 222-225.
Maintaining self-control and self-discipline is a prerequisite in making and maintaining hard decisions, which is key to a successful life. The thing is, distraction and discomfort are parts of life as well, which must be managed to nurture the path to success. Studies in Psychology and Clinical Nutrition revealed the two important elements of self-control and self-motivation: intrinsic motivation and commitment.
Image Source: Pixabay