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What do you want to achieve most in this life or in this one moment? To experience more ease, to become more resilient to stress, to improve a relationship, to reach enlightenment, or to make a million dollars? Regardless of our goals, mindful self-discipline is the essential ingredient that helps us get where we want to go. This one skill is applicable to nearly everything we do in life, even as our goals shift and change.
In this episode, Mindfulness Exercises founder Sean Fargo speaks with Giovanni Dienstmann. Giovanni highlights how mindfulness and awareness contribute to sustainable self-discipline, and offers practical advice on how to build better habits, break unhelpful habits, achieve goals, and generally live a more purpose-driven life.
This talk is a brief excerpt of Giovanni Dientsmann’s live presentation to our Mindfulness Teacher Trainees. Learn more about this unique, online, self-paced certification program at teach.mindfulnessexercises.com
What makes mindful self-discipline unique
Self-discipline requires two critical elements, awareness and willpower. But books and teachings on self-discipline often overemphasize willpower. As we know from experience, summoning willpower through sheer effort alone is very difficult, if not impossible. Instead, Mindful Self-discipline puts awareness first. When we are mindful, willpower becomes easier to muster and far more sustainable.
“So instead of willpower feeling like pushing a boulder uphill, it’s more like rolling a boulder downhill. It’s a simple exercise of reconnecting yourself to your purpose in that moment and taking action that advances your purpose, that advances your goals. Action that is aligned with the person you want to be.”
Breaking bad habits vs building new ones
Some of us are interested in letting go of bad habits, while others are more focused on building new ones. The self-discipline techniques of awareness and willpower are applicable to both cases, but there are differences too. By using the technique of cognitive reappraisal, we can work on eliminating the internal and external cues that trigger our habits, or we can focus on creating new cues.
“The idea is if you want to build a habit of eating salad, and you hate salad, you don’t like the taste, you could go and do what most authors in the space recommend, which is to add the reward. They’re like, ‘hey if you eat your salad then you can go and have a piece of chocolate or something else.’ But the problem with that approach is that you are just doing that activity for something that is external to the activity. And overtime it’s not so sustainable. With cognitive reappraisal, you learn to love the salad for its own sake.”
The benefit of intrinsic rewards
Because we are motivated by rewards, most self-discipline coaches emphasize external rewards. But with mindfulness, we can emphasize internal rewards, which are far more sustainable. Giovanni describes 3 types of intrinsic rewards: learning to enjoy the activity itself, learning to enjoy how you feel immediately after, and enjoying the emotional satisfaction of having done something good for yourself.
“They do take a little bit more work of awareness and using your mind to establish them, but once they are established, then you’re good. If you learn how to enjoy going to the gym, if you love to go to the gym because you love how it feels during the activity and after the activity, you’re not going to need any willpower to do that. You do it for its own sake. You enjoy it for its own sake.”
Stress as a motivating factor
Some turn to mindfulness in moments of crisis, while others learn about the practice when things are going well for them. Giovanni finds that approaching change with an urgent desire to cope with pain generally keeps us more motivated. But tough times are temporary. Connecting to a meaningful aspiration can help sustain our motivation once we do feel better.
“I like to always start by talking about the aspiration. The aspiration is your Why. Like, why do you want to do a particular thing? And the stronger your perception of that Why, of that ultimate benefit, the easier it is for you to build that habit.”
About Giovanni Dienstmann
Giovanni Dienstmann is a meditation teacher, self-discipline coach and author. His books include the global best-seller, ‘Practical Meditation’ and ‘Mindful Self-Discipline.’ The latter has a companion website, MindfulSelfDiscipline.com, which helps people learn and apply the skills of meditation to live a life that is more aligned with their values and goals. Giovanni found peace and wellbeing in his own life through the power of meditation. Now, with over 10,000 hours of personal practice under his belt, he teachers others to overcome distractions, procrastination, self-doubt, fear, and other forms of self-sabotage through his Live and Dare programs.