Every week, I meet with people who are striving to improve their lives in one way or another. Because I’m a chiropractor and wellness coach, naturally, most of the people I encounter are pursuing physical wellness. But occasionally, I’ll meet with people who are working on improving other areas of their lives:
- Mental wellness with education
- Emotional wellness through counseling
- Spiritual wellness through prayer and Bible study
- Financial wellness through working and investing seminars
It’s wise and admirable to always be working on yourself in some area. I always encourage people to set goals for personal growth and go after them. Just a quick look at Google will demonstrate that there are plenty of resources available to guide you. There is no shortage of information, especially on the Internet.
Information Isn’t Enough
But information alone isn’t enough. All of the people I mentioned, with all of their various personal development goals, need one other thing besides information. There is one element that will determine which ones succeed and which ones fail, regardless of how much information they have.
The key to achieving the life you want is having the discipline to apply what you know.
I have friends who are super-smart. They have massive libraries at home and spend hours researching for tips to get past some hangup their lives. And yet they struggle.
I have many friends who have achieved great professional success and still can’t kick bad habits that keep them ashamed of themselves.
Where’s the disconnect?
Knowledge isn’t enough. Knowledge applied to real life is the answer.
Real-life Application Is Where It’s At
If you read somewhere that intermittent fasting could help you lose weight, shed belly fat, treat insulin resistance, reduce inflammation and oxidative stress, and even help your cells repair themselves, but you won’t do it, then that knowledge isn’t helping you.
But it goes deeper. If you tried intermittent fasting for a few days and gave up, you’re still not going to get any meaningful results from it. So, again, that information isn’t benefitting you.
Garbage In, Garbage Out
Any computer programmers out there? You know that, if you want different output, you have to change the input, right? “Garbage in, garbage out,” is the old expression. The same is true in your life. If you want different results, you have to put in different behaviors. To lose weight, you have to change the food you eat and the activities you do. That’s not news to anyone.
The Key To All Personal Development Success
Here’s the key that separates success from failure: anyone can change their behavior for a day or two, but it takes discipline to change the behaviors in a lasting way. You’ve heard it said that it takes 21 days to change a habit. There is some truth in that. I don’t think there is anything magical about that 21st day, but the principle is that it takes a consistent, long-term effort to cut the cords of bad habits and replace them with a new habit.
And that’s another thing that people get wrong all the time. You can’t just end a habit. You have to replace it with a different habit. Each time you perform an action (or think a thought), it leaves a path in the neural networks of your brain. If you never perform that action again, that path will eventually disappear, but if you repeat that action, it reinforces the original path. It’s like creating a path in the woods: every time you walk that path, it stomps down the leaves, grass, and dirt a little more. Repeating an activity reinforces it in your brain.
A New Way To Think About Habits
A habit is just a path in your brain that has been worn down so many times it’s hard to get off the course. It’s not impossible, but it can be difficult, depending on how long you have been repeating that behavior, and how much you enjoy it.
I wish I could tell you that it was always going to be joyful and pleasant, but it won’t. Making significant change in your life requires discipline. Fortunately, discipline is a good character trait to have. As you grow you self-discipline, you grow your character.
If You Don’t Love Discipline
Some of my readers have a hard time with the word “discipline” because they associate it with punishment. If you’ve ever had your backside spanked or your knuckles slapped with a wooden spoon and heard it called “discipline,” I understand why you would shy away from it. Instead, let’s use the word “intentionality.”
“Intentionality” is a choice you make to advance your life. Discipline can be seen as something that is done to you. I don’t want you to have a victim mindset, but a proactive, advancing mindset. So, while discipline (and especially self-discipline) is a powerful way to move yourself forward, let’s call it “intentionality.”
I can be intentional about changing my behaviors to get a desirable outcome. You can intentionally change the things you eat or modify your daily routine to include more movement. My “Move Right Monday” series is a powerful (and free) way to add meaningful movement to your life. Start with one for five minutes and gradually add more. Each one works out a different part of your body without isolating muscle groups from each other. That’s a topic for another day.
Don’t be surprised if the paths in your mind keep trying to talk to you. It takes time for long-held habits to fade, just like it takes a long time for grass to grow up through a well-worn path. But eventually, they will fade away, as long as you practice the intentionality or self-discipline to stay on the new path until it becomes a permanent habit.
Habits Don’t Keep Themselves
Of course, even after it becomes a habit, you will have to be mindful to reinforce it from time to time. As you know, there are plenty of forces at work around you, trying to push you off your good habits and get you to settle back into bad habits. Bad habits are easy because they are built in comfort and ease. Good habits require intentionality.
Success is possible in any area of your life, if you are willing to put forth the intentional effort of self-discipline. It takes self-discipline to:
- Set a goal
- Choose a course to get you there
- Change your behaviors
- Daily practice the new behaviors in the face of internal opposition
- Objectively evaluate your progress
- Adjust your plan accordingly
- Press forward until you achieve your goal
- Stand firm to protect your achievements
- Reinforce what’s working
Nobody can do these things for you, and you are frequently going to want to quit and go back to comfortable habits. But if you will stay the course and daily adjust your thinking, you will love the results you get.
Pushing Through The Pain To Get The Desired Result
I am reminded of the way The Apostle Paul described Jesus pursuing a goal. He said, “for the joy set before Him, [He] endured the cross, scorning its shame” (Hebrews 12:2). In other words, Jesus was so focused on the joy of achieving the goal in front of Him that He pushed past the pain that came with the behaviors required to achieve that goal.
All of a sudden, walking to work to get in my 10,000 steps each day doesn’t seem like such an inconvenience.
I remember the pain of withdrawal I felt when I stopped drinking soft drinks many years ago, but I am enjoying having all my teeth, stable energy throughout the day, and a strong immune system. Make the goal more powerful and appealing than the pleasures you think you are enjoying now.
Who Can You Help Now?
I bet that right now, there is someone who is struggling with overcoming a bad habit or instituting a good new habit and could use this encouragement. Take a few seconds right now to share it on your favorite social media channel. You never know who is going to be encouraged to make the changes that will transform their life.
“At the end of your FEELINGS is NOTHING. At the end of your PRINCIPLES is a PROMISE.” — Eric Thomas