Self Disciplined or Self Controlled: Which One Are You?

The Ascend Book Club just started reading Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin. It’s been on my to-read list for a while, so I’ve enjoyed diving into it. One of the main ideas in the book is that people differ in a number of distinct ways, and that self-awareness about our own tendencies will accelerate any progress we’re trying to make in our lives.

This reminded me of something I’d read about in another book – I wish I could remember which one. This book talked about the difference between self-control and self-discipline. They presented the same idea as Gretchen Rubin – that people are going to be naturally stronger in one of these areas than the other. Knowing our own personal strengths will help us set goals and targets that will drastically increase our chances of success.

How are they different?

People who are stronger in self-control are those who can say no to things that aren’t in alignment with their goals. They’re more easily able to stop doing things and are skilled at breaking bad habits.

Then there are people who are stronger in self-discipline. These people are more skilled at getting themselves to do things – whether it’s the workout they planned for the day or a set of tasks for a personal project they’re working on.

It’s also common for people who are strong in self-control to struggle with self-discipline and vice versa.

I know that I am personally much stronger in the self-discipline arena. Write a novel in 30 days for a challenge? Done. Complete a workout program like P90X or Insanity? Done.

Self-control, on the other hand, has never been my greatest strength. I’m not proud to admit that I once ate my brother’s hockey-sized Reese peanut butter cup at Christmastime when it was supposed to be his present. Of course, I have twin brothers, so I couldn’t eat just one of the Reese Peanut butter cups. That would have been showing favouritism, right? So, I consumed an entire pound of chocolate and peanut butter within a couple hours. I’ve had to re-buy many gifts of the edible variety for people after eating them myself the first time.

Even though self-control is not a strength for me, I know that this is a skill that many people possess. I was talking to one of my clients recently – a very successful, driven client. She was talking about how she can easily decide to abstain from something and follow through with ease. Lent has never been a problem for her because not doing something comes almost effortlessly. However, when it comes to things like following through on an at home workout or meal prepping, she experiences some struggle and inconsistency.

Where is Your Strength?

It’s going to be helpful to pause before continuing to read this and ask yourself: which one is my strength? Am I better at stopping a bad habit (self-control) or better at starting or maintaining a good habit (self-discipline). You might also be better at stopping some habits than others or find it somewhat harder to continue certain disciplines than others. That’s not out of the ordinary, but you should still be able to pick out one of these two concepts that is more of a strength for you than the other.

Once you know your strength, you can use it to create goals that set you up for success.

If you’re stronger in self-control than in self-discipline…

  • Celebrate this strength! We often make more progress not by continually adding in more things, but in taking away the ones that are holding us back.
  • Scan your life for things that are holding you back from progress. Is it too much alcohol or too much sugar or too much screen time right before bed? Start setting challenges for yourself to scale back on these parts of your life. Your goal might be “no more than 2 desserts per week” or “no drinking other than on the weekend” or “no electronics after 8 PM”
  • What if you’re trying to make yourself do something? What if you’re wanting to be consistent in an at home workout program or practicing a hobby on a regular basis? It can be helpful to change the language of this goal just slightly. Instead of phrasing the goal as “complete my weekly at home programs”, rephrase it as “no skipping workouts”. Since self-control is something that comes naturally to you, you’ll be far more likely to keep this goal.

If you’re stronger in self-discipline than in self-control…

  • Appreciate your self-discipline. To be able to get yourself to do something, even on the occasions where you don’t feel like it, is a powerful skill to have that will serve you in every area of life.
  • Recognize that there are probably things in your life that you want to stop doing. But in my experience, just trying to get yourself to stop doing these things is an ineffective strategy. If you’re naturally self-disciplined, you probably don’t have the same skill to just say no to the things that are holding you back.
  • The key for those strong in self-discipline is also to change the language of their goals. Instead of a goal of “I’m going to stop eating processed junk food”, a more effective goal would be “I’m going to eat vegetables and some protein at every meal”. Instead of trying to give up your sugary coffee beverage in the morning, set a goal of having unsweetened green tea each morning instead.

When you know natural tendencies and work with them instead of against them, you will be far more likely to reach your goals, and you’ll also be way less frustrated and way more consistent.

If you’re looking for more, here’s how we can help:

⭐️Join our 21 Day ONLINE Challenge: To get fit and healthy AND support our local community. You can join as little as $10. I know that these are tough times. All the details are here:

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⭐️Free Home Workout Guide: Brought to you by Ascend Fitness + Lifestyle: Unlock your access to home strength, cardio + mobility workouts, adapted to your fitness level, so that you can stay fit and safe at home while we practice physical distancing!

⭐️Free Facebook Group: It’s called Get Fit Chilliwack as its powered by Ascend, and we’re in Chilliwack. But you can join even if you’re not from Chilliwack. The group offers fitness and nutrition tips, live streamed workouts during COVID-19, recipes, and strategies to help us all feel GOOD in our body! (You’ll get the invite as soon as you download the free home workout guide above)

Kayla is a Certified Personal Trainer and Mind Body Eating coach at Ascend Fitness + Lifestyle. She has also published two dystopian novels that tackle the themes of body image and female empowerment. Her area of expertise is helping women free themselves from the clutches of emotional eating and body hate so they can live rich, textured, present lives.

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