This year I decided to undertake a 30 day challenge, Lent had passed and since I am not particularly religious don’t really feel any allegiance to this event. However after hearing several people talk about their reasons for abstinence I started thinking about areas of my life I felt I would benefit from more discipline in. That weekend I was on a course and was struggling to concentrate following a terrible sleep brought on too much caffeine followed by too much alcohol the day before. There and then I decided that I had to do something and give up both for a short period.
The key thing initially for me was a real commitment – a 100 percent, nothing-will-get-in-my-way determination to do this. And what helped me was building up a really compelling picture of what my end game was, in my case feeling fitter, full of energy, more alert and capable of anything! And this was ‘locked in’ further by sharing this with another supportive person who would hold me accountable for sticking with my vows. Reflecting on this made me realise why so many people fail to stick to New Year’s resolutions…all too often they are made half heartedly without any true commitment at the outset.
But it is all very well setting goals and having the support of people around you…what happens once you enter your period of abstinence? Afterall anyone can have great intentions, it’s the action that counts. Giving up alcohol particularly for 30 days was always going to be a challenge. Whilst I certainly don’t classify myself as a heavy drinker I had become accustomed to a glass of wine, sometimes two most nights, just to help me unwind…a habit I have had for as long as I can remember.
The first couple of days felt easy, I had such an overwhelming sense of determination that there was no other option. My first hurdle came when it was my husband’s birthday, a time for celebrating and sharing, including a bottle of wine. I value connection highly and felt this was being somewhat compromised. We often underestimate the role our values (in other words what is most important to us) play in creating and breaking habits, and it is certainly helpful to have a clear grasp of what is driving our behaviour from the outset. If one value is at the root of our behaviour (for example you may value a sense of belonging, so by giving up a social habit it may help to create a sense of isolation) you need to find alternative ways of honouring this value.
Throughout this period I also became aware of my saboteurs in my head, always ready to trip me up with their words of discouragement – ‘you won’t be able to go the full mile,’ or ‘you’ve given up for a week now so why not just chill out!’ I had to put these to one side and stick resolutely to my commitment, at all times remembering my whole reason for doing this.
But probably overall the conclusion I drew at the end of this 30 days period is that it is all about discipline - pure and simple discipline. I have been used to making choices, free to do as I please, probably compounded by the fact I have not followed a particular faith, which in itself often requires levels of personal discipline. I then reflected and wondered where else in my life this lack of discipline was showing up. And unsurprisingly perhaps there were a number of areas.
So where do I take my learning from all this moving forward? I realise now the value of discipline – and having faced one of the toughest challenges I now feel far more equipped to tackle other challenges – in fact anything seems possible. I see discipline is a muscle to be exercised…the more we use it the more powerful we can become.
So next time you make a vow, whether it is part of your faith or even a commitment to your lifelong partner remember that discipline will be part and parcel of it, but instead of seeing this as a burden, view it as a gift of strength that will help you achieve anything.
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