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A dose of discipline

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Avinash is off for his early morning run even before most people’s alarms whirr them awake. He then practises the violin for half an hour, before jumping into the shower. Most days, he eats fruit and an egg-white omelette that he whips up for himself. As he doesn’t have to commute to work because of WFH, he uses the extra half hour to practice his Japanese. A software engineer by profession, he hopes to grow more proficient in the language so that he can impress his Japanese clients.

At work, Avinash has a reputation for thoroughness and turning in projects on time. Even before the pandemic, Avinash would usually wriggle out of invitations to join his colleagues for a drink, especially on week nights. Once in a while, he would accompany them to pubs on weekends, but wouldn’t indulge in more than a peg. His friends often teased that he was as disciplined as a soldier or even a monk. He was often at the receiving end of advice that exhorted him to “chill” or “just be happy.” But what his well-meaning peers didn’t appreciate was that Avinash was actually content.

Exercise restraint

In an article in the Time magazine, writer Maia Szalavitz describes research conducted by psychologist Wilhelm Hofmann and colleagues that found a link between self-control and life satisfaction. Contrary to popular belief, exercising self-restraint doesn’t necessarily tarnish a person’s happiness, either short or long-term. In fact, measured and methodical people set themselves up for happiness by proactively avoiding tempting situations that are likely to stoke unhealthy cravings and intemperate behaviour.

In one study, the researchers compared self-disciplined people with their more lackadaisical peers by asking them to list three goal conflicts they experience in their daily lives. Examples of conflicting goals include whether you indulge in the double-fudge cake or pick a fruit salad for dessert, or whether you opt to go running instead of lazing in front of Netflix in the evening. Compared to their more laid-back peers, those with high self-control tended to experience fewer conflicts. In others words, they engineered their lives so that they had to make fewer difficult choices. By having to make fewer tough choices, and thereby making healthier decisions, those who exercise high self-control end up experiencing fewer grey emotions such as guilt and regret.

The take-home lesson for people who often make decisions that they later rue, is to try to set up your choices such that less salubrious or satisfactory ones aren’t in the immediate vicinity to bait you. Examples may include keeping your phone on silent in another room while you work uninterruptedly; meeting your friend at the park instead of the mall, if you tend to splurge foolishly on things you don’t need or even want; or placing your alarm clock a few feet away from the bed so that you cannot hit ‘Snooze.’ A disciplined life, instead of being dull and boring, can free you from the shackles of your impulses and cravings.

The writer blogs at and her book, Zero Limits: Things Every 20 Something Should Know, will be released by Rupa Publications.

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Printable version | Apr 20, 2021 4:56:18 PM |

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