A few years back I had really bad stomach problems.
I won’t go into excess detail, but my stomach always hurt and I had terrible acid reflux on a regular basis. I couldn’t even take a sip of water in the morning without my throat burning a minute or two later. Sometimes I’d go days without eating—partially because I was sick of the reflux, and partially because I simply wasn’t hungry.
As a college athlete, it was devastating. The offseason between my sophomore and junior year was when my stomach really started to take a turn for the worse. At one point, I could barely get through a conditioning session without serious nausea, and couldn’t eat anything more than 6 hours before any exercise or I’d surely vomit.
I ended up missing practices and lifts, which hurt my opportunity to see more playing time. The worst part is, I couldn’t even try and gain the weight I so desperately needed to put on (I played football and was always relatively undersized) because eating is what set my stomach off in the first place.
My parents took me to see doctors, GI specialists, nutritionists—none of whom could figure out the source of the problem. I was tested for ulcers, Chron’s disease, had a number of blood tests done, upper endoscopies—the whole nine yards. My symptoms persisted over months; the lack of progress was disheartening.
Luckily, a friend and mentor at the time who was well-aware of what I was going through recommended I follow a super strict paleo-autoimmune protocol. It was a plant-based diet that eliminated all processed foods, dairy, any potentially inflammatory items like wheat or nuts, all starches (no rice, potatoes, bread)—even black pepper and other common spices.
Figuring I had nothing to lose, I gave it a shot.
“I’m going to be disciplined,” I promised myself.
And I was. Extremely disciplined.
Actually, it was probably the only time in my life I can remember being ‘all in’ on something outside of sports.
Wanting my life to go back to normal, and sick of doctors not being able to figure me out, I went from eating everything under the sun to eating like my life depended on it. I treated the dietary guidelines like the Bible and followed them religiously. I cut out foods I ate on a daily basis—sugar, coffee, bread—and only ate what foods fell within the ‘yes’ category on the diet plan.
I started the diet cold-turkey on a Monday. The first week was brutal. The lack of sugar made me irritable and the lack of carbs kept me hungry—which made me even more irritable. I was constantly tired but still had a hard time sleeping. I had serious headaches, mood swings, and had lost seven pounds by that weekend—exactly what I didn’t want to happen.
But, I was committed, because about three or four days in, through the irritability and fatigue I noticed I actually did feel better. I wasn’t having as many random stomach pains and my acid reflux had calmed.
Noticing the diet’s effectiveness kept me motivated to stay disciplined.
For the following 12 weeks—three full months—I stuck to the same dietary guidelines, and the majority of my problems were then suppressed or subsided completely. Even though I had lost some more weight than I intended to, I finally felt better.
In the end, everything turned out to be fine. I met with a couple of great functional nutritionists who helped me sort out my issues and get me on a diet plan that keeps me healthy and feeling good.
But that’s a story for another day.
What I want to share with you now, is the lesson about self-discipline I learned while trying to get myself better.
There’s a simple mindset shift anyone can use to immediately improve self-discipline.
It might sound elementary, but trust me, it works:
Whatever it is you’re doing, do it like your life depends on it.
That’s what I did, and doing so proved that “pretending” your life depends on your self-control is the best mindset shift to truly practice discipline.
For 12 weeks, I ate exactly as instructed, not once eating outside of the dietary guidelines. Even when I’d go out to eat with family or friends I’d meticulously pick my meal, or refrain from eating at all if there were no available options.
Convincing myself that my life depended on how strictly I adhered to the diet wasn’t all that difficult. Looking back, I really was afraid something was terribly wrong, and the diet was my only viable option to feel better. Oddly enough, fear is what drove my self-discipline so much during that time.
Since the diet was the only thing in my control, I became obsessed with it. The only way to test its effective was to follow it as strictly as possible.
So I pretended my life depended on it.
I quite literally started viewing things I wasn’t supposed to be eat as poisonous in my mind. If I’d eat it, I’d die.
Ridiculous right? Probably. But it worked.
Not once did I eat outside of my dietary guidelines. I didn’t have any coffee—something I was heavily addicted to as a busy student-athlete. I didn’t have any sugar outside of the minimal fruits the diet allowed for. I didn’t pick at snacks that normally would eat by the handful. I was literally too scared.
Of course I didn’t believe I’d actually drop dead on the spot if I ate something I wasn’t supposed to, but I did believe even the slightest deviation would shatter the progress I made up to that point.
And that’s the mindset you need to have if you want to master self-discipline.
Deviation from your goals or plans due to sheer weak-mindedness is the quickest way to shatter all progress.
Since the goals you set revolve around future success or bettering yourself in some way, the life you’re aspiring for really does depend on your ability to be self-disciplined. If you deviate from your plans because you can’t hold yourself accountable, you’re not going to achieve the outcome you want—or, at the very least, it’ll take far longer than intended.
Reminding yourself why you’re staying disciplined is hugely important. For me, the constant reminder in the form of acid reflux and stomach pains prevented me from reaching for sugary snacks, dairy, or anything else that bothered me. For you, reminders might not be so glaring.
For instance, if your goal is to read more books, and you want to remind yourself to stay discipline, pinpoint exactly why you want to read more. If your reason is to become more articulate, then remember every time you skip a day, you’re inherently less articulate than you would be if you were to be disciplined and stay on track with your goal.
The life you want depends on your discipline.
Remind yourself of that every day to keep moving forward.
Thanks for reading :)