It was Thanksgiving day. My father, brother, one- year old nephew, and I were in front of the TV. Represented at that moment were three generations of men. There was a football game on, but none of us were watching. Instead, my father, brother, and I were all attempting and failing, to wrangle my nephew. Of course, with him being a 1-year-old, he was all over the place. It took every ounce of our energy to make sure he didn’t hurt himself.
A particular idea entered my mind at that moment. Young boys have zero concern with what is going on around them. They have one drive in life, have fun. They will have nothing to do with an activity or person that does not bring them the enjoyment they desire.
Then, another thought entered my mind. Why do men become detached from the insatiable desire for a good time? Why do men (the good ones at least) sacrifice their enjoyment for the well-being of their loved ones?
Discipline, otherwise known as self-control, is what turns a boy into a man, and it is the most important characteristic that a man can possess. As a man, you must be the foundation that your family stands on. How can a man be a strong foundation if he is swayed by every circumstance and situation that he encounters? How can a man protect his family when he can not even protect his character?
What is a discipline muscle?
I am a self-proclaimed gym rat and a masters kinesiology student. That said, I tend to analogize concepts that work inside the gym with ideas that work outside, and building discipline is no exception. Becoming disciplined is much like building muscle.
You cannot expect to possess complete self-control overnight, much like you cannot expect to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger after working out once. Also, the amount of effort that goes into becoming disciplined is astronomical. Any person with an impressive physique will tell you that the hard work that went into their body can not be quantified. To become disciplined, you must train yourself diligently.
How to train your self-discipline muscle
To build muscle, you must apply resistance to that muscle. Training for discipline is no different.
There are many types of resistance that you can use to build up your self-control, but my personal favorite and the method that I strongly suggest is a physical activity that involves mental battle.
You could choose any sport. Weightlifting, powerlifting, basketball, football, and mixed martial arts are just a few examples. The most important characteristic is that, to reach success in this activity, you must overcome mental barriers.
Let me use myself as an example. The sport I chose is powerlifting. Every single time I step into the weight room, I experience fear and self-doubt. I continually question whether or not today will be the day that I can’t lift more weight than I did the week before. Maybe, today will be the day that I break my back or pull a muscle off the bone.
Over the years, I have learned to accept fear in a version of a keep your enemies closer type of relationship. I pull that fear close to me and question it. “Why are you here right now? What purpose do you serve? What are the potential consequences of heeding or ignoring your assertions that I might fail?”
I no longer force myself to question self-doubt. Questioning fear, and then conquering it, occurs naturally at this point. I have trained my discipline muscle to react and push back against fear.
My battles with myself in the weight room have facilitated the growth of my discipline muscle.
What works inside the gym also works outside.
Over time, I began to notice that the discipline that I had developed in the gym had started to improve my life outside the gym. What works in the gym, on the field, or on the court, will work in your office and your relationships.
Dr. Fred Hatfield developed a set of rules for weight lifting programs known as the 7 Granddaddy Laws. Dr. Hatfield created the Granddaddy Laws after looking at a long list of research and popular literature written about lifting weights. He found seven commonalities in all successful weight trainees.
All seven laws have applications to improving the state of your life, but let’s focus on the progressive overload principle.
Many people make attempts to change their negative behaviors, and most of them come up short because of a lack of discipline. Progressive overload is the absolute best way to establish the self-mastery necessary to maintaining habit changes.
Progressive overload, in the gym, means consistently making your workouts more difficult. However, if you ramp the intensity too quickly, you will find your progress coming to a complete stop. The key to successfully implementing progressive overload is raising difficulty slowly. For example, instead of adding 20 more lbs to the weight you did on your last bench press session, add 5.
The concept of progressive overload works the same way outside of the gym. Instead of pledging to drink a gallon of water every day, vow to drink 1/4th a gallon, and as your discipline grows, drink half, 3/4ths, and so forth.
Tests of your mental fortitude will occur. Here are some hacks to help you push through.
Don’t think just do. It’s as simple as it sounds. The very second that you realize that you need to perform a particular deed, do it! Don’t give yourself time to wonder if you are doing the right thing.
People often use the concept of immediately taking action in the context of beating approach anxiety (the fear that men have for approaching women). However, immediate action can be used to overcome fear in any context.
Get your clothes ready the night before. If you train in the morning, put your gym clothes at the door the night before. When you wake up, roll out of bed, take care of your hygiene, go to the door, put your clothes on, and keep going right out the door.
Find someone who will hold you accountable. Having an accountability partner is life changing. Consider an individual who isn’t afraid to tell you that you are slacking. Tell this person what you are trying to accomplish, in detail, and ask them to stay on your back until you take action.
Please don’t get caught up in the specific examples used in this article. The applications of the methods described above have limitless applications. The bottom line is, with the use of sport and weight training, you can facilitate the growth of your discipline muscle. Every man must be disciplined if he intends to lead a productive and fruitful life. With that being said, get yourself to the gym. You’ve got work to do!
Wilfredo Thomas is currently a kinesiology masters student. He has two aspirations, become the most interesting gym rat in the world, and help as many people as possible on their fitness journey. You can help him reach his aspirations at wilfredofitness.com.