Why Can't I Stay on Track?

Discipline and willpower.

Two things that come easy to some and are very elusive to others. Imagine two camps -- the discipline camp and the take-it-easy camp.

One camp has no trouble waking at 4 AM, going through a regimented morning routine, eating a healthy packed lunch while avoiding the office cake, going to bed at the same time every night, getting in its daily exercise, staying on top of bills and putting money away for a rainy day.

Regular haircuts -- high and tight. Immaculate clothes. Shoes shined. Clean house and car.

This camp has no room for slackers. They can't understand how anyone could be so lazy or foolish as to not save money, or stay lean, or do things they say they're going to do.

The other camp? Eh....they'll get around to it. No need to stress over little stuff. They start a diet, then don't stick with it. They plan to save up for a nice vacation, then end up putting it on the card. They rely on caffeine to keep themselves going and use crutches and other pick-me-ups to deal with stress.

Shirt half untucked. Shoes untied. Haven't shaved or exfoliated in a few days.

We all know people in both camps. We can probably all say which camp we live in the middle of or closer to. You may even be someone who goes back and forth between camps. We probably all have characteristics found in both camps to some degree. I know I do.

Is either group wrong because of the camp they're in or closer to? No.

There are jerks and weirdos all over the place, but the reason you're a jerk or weirdo isn't solely based on the level of discipline and willpower you display.

So why are some people so resistant to discipline? Why is it so hard for that latter camp to stick with stuff and follow through with certain things? And to just not eat that food, or go outside and exercise, or open a savings account.

It's actually pretty easy to explain. And let's think of discipline and willpower as very similar terms. Willpower has been shown to be sort of like a muscle. The more you use it, the more you'll have.

Humans have moved farther and farther away from their natural habitats. The farther away the two entities move from each other, more things enter into the equation that are "unnatural" and have the potential to make us very unhealthy.  

Humans in their natural habitat didn't need to exercise. That idea would be foreign to them. They moved to survive within their habitat. Today we have replaced "movement throughout the day" with "daily exercise" which has to be unnaturally forced into the schedule. Time has to be carved out for it.

Humans in their natural habitat didn't need to use willpower to avoid cake and soda and candy...it simply wasn't there. They ate foods that they could find which, oddly enough, just so happened to be the stuff that allowed them to thrive within that habitat ... animals, vegetation, some fruit, etc...

Humans in their natural habitat didn't stay up all hours watching TV and surfing the inter webs. "Lights off" was when the lights went out and it was time to rest. The lights came back on in the morning and it was up and at 'em. Today, instead of getting good sleep, most of us rely on stimulants like cigarettes or coffee or Amp to keep us awake.

Humans in their natural habitats weren't weighed down with non-life-or-death stress. They stressed out about the stuff they were supposed to be stressed about -- fight or flight. Today we have added in an incredible amount of unnatural stressors -- traffic, car problems, the IRS (haha), your phone freezing up on you, slow computer, stuff breaking around your house, and on and on and on...just think of anything in your life that you get upset about which has nothing to do with your survival. For me? LOSING MY STINKING KEEEEEEYYYYSSS!!!!!!!! THEY WERE RIGHT HERE!!!!!!!!

Humans in a more natural habitat worked for what they got. They either hunted or gathered. Or made stuff. Or traded stuff. If they didn't work, they didn't eat. So saving and working had NOTHING to do with willpower. It was part of their everyday lives...their natural habitat. Today? Credit cards. Money now...that you don't have to work to get. Raise your hand if you've ever been in some credit card danger. There now?

So back to the willpower/discipline conundrum. I said earlier that willpower is like a muscle. So let's flesh out that analogy a little bit.

Let's say someone is born and they are immediately put into a body cast. Someone brings them food, water, entertainment, etc. We will call this person Atrophy Man.

When Atrophy Man turns 18, we take off his casts and he sets a goal to walk around the block. Will he achieve his goal? Or will he fall down into a pool of bones and flesh on his first step?

See where this is going? It's not that he doesn't really want to achieve his goal. He just doesn't have the tools to allow him to do it. Hear me again -- he WANTS to walk around the block.

Many humans today have grown up in an environment where discipline and willpower is UNNECESSARY. Their willpower has atrophied and/or never even developed.

Not getting enough sleep? Coffee.

Need to relax? How about a pill or a candy bar for that.

Not getting enough exercise? How about we wrap you up in saran wrap and burn that fat off with no work.

No time to prepare meals? Fast food, baby.

Need your kid to stop screaming? Here's an ice cream bar.

Haven't saved up enough for that shiny new bike? Put it on the card.

Everything is so easy that we don't NEED discipline. We don't need to develop our willpower muscles for any right-now, physical needs.

The problem there is not in the now. If you eat fast food for lunch, you will probably not suffer any life threatening ailments right then because of that food (it's possible but not likely).

You use the card. You get the stuff. No sweat.

The problem lies in the future. Obesity. Financial ruin. Weak bones. Depression. Anxiety. High blood pressure....the list goes on.

Now let's talk about how to fix that problem. And what is the problem?

Is it that we need more discipline or that we're too disciplined?

I don't think so. I think the problem can be fixed by taking willpower and discipline out of the equation as much as possible. Avoid processed and non-human foods for long enough and you will eventually have no response to them as food.

Know what it feels like to get a good night's sleep not affected by artificial lights after dark, then have no interest in being exhausted all the time.

Move all throughout the day and STOP EXERCISING in the way you've always thought you had to.

Stop sweating the small stuff and start enjoying your life right now.

Do that however and whenever you can. Then start flexing your willpower muscle. Start small. Like lifting 5 pound dumbbells.

Set a goal to floss every day for a week. Or to walk around the block every morning for a month. Or meditate 10 minutes a day for 10 days.

Set an achievable goal and DO IT. And your willpower muscle will begin to develop and get strong.

Before you know it, you'll be someone that others look to as a "strong willed" person who can say no to stuff and yes to other stuff that is against the grain (pun intended).

Anyone who has defeated addictions like cigarettes or alcohol or over-eating has heard some of this before. The 12 step programs are designed to workout your willpower. Small, baby steps. Getting you doing things you say you're going to do and setting and achieving goals. THAT'S how you do it. Making your willpower stronger than the cravings you are faced with.

Discipline and willpower. Easy for some. Elusive for most.

Achieve your goals and stick to your guns by getting closer to a more natural human design  and by flexing your willpower muscle with small achievable goals.

And don't wait. Start today.