Just Say No: Self-Discipline for Dummies

A lot of blogs around this time of the year, including one written by my friend Amber, have pushed the power of saying yes. Yes is a great word. Yes will get you places in life. Yes makes you feel all kinds of warm fuzzy inside. Yes can be a great word to have as your motto. But I am a firm believer that you should also make it a regular practice to just say no.


Because saying no is good for you, that's why.

Whether you're coming from a religious point of view or a completely secular one, I think we can all agree that our natural instincts are not always our best instincts. I mean, if I was left to my own devices and didn't persistently tell myself no, I would spend all day eating chocolate and tacos, drinking wine, and watching reruns of Gilmore Girls on Netflix.

But I do not. I use a significant amount of my so-called free time to write fiction and blogs, read for research, plan and cook healthy meals, work out, clean the house, and do general life admin. Seriously, no one warned me as a kid just how much admin there would be in everyday life. Bills to pay, emails to read, previous residents' mail to bring to the post office, shampoo to buy. WHO AGREED TO THIS?

In order to get all of the above done, I need some serious self-discipline. I need to get up earlier than I feel like, do things that I don't want to, and like I've already said, say no to myself an average of 12 times per day.


Recently, I started using Habitica after a recommendation from one of my Twitter friends, Emma Trevayne. Basically, you set daily goals, habits you want to start or drop, and tasks you need to do, and the website makes it like a game for you. You get health and experience points just for doing the everyday things you're supposed to do anyway, and you lose those things if you forget to tick tasks off the list. Oh, and you get to fight monsters. Gold.

It's a new year, right? This is about the time of the new year where people's resolutions start going out the window. You get tired of going to the gym and having all the gym bunnies look at you like you're a poser. You get sick of drinking those kale smoothies every morning and spending the afternoon picking green sludge out of your teeth. Bumming around on Facebook seems infinitely more exciting than writing the next chapter of your novel or putting together a date night with your spouse.

I feel you.

This is why you've got to just say no to yourself. The best way to get in the habit of doing that is to say no even when you don't have to. Sometimes it's okay to go without something you want. Going without something you could have is good practice for when you want something you can't take.

That doesn't mean you should live a life without rewards or pleasure, by the way. This doesn't mean you should never say yes. Don't go crazy on me. It just means using your ability to decide whether you need something or you just want it -- and whether wanting it is a good enough reason to take it.


It could be this simple:

Today, I ordered a coffee at a cafe. While the barista made it, I stared at a giant glossy case full of giant glossy pastries and thought, "I want one of those." But I'm trying to cut back on sugar and unnecessary spending. So even though I worked out today and probably could have spared the calories, as well as the extra $3, I stuck with just the coffee.

The point is, you don't need to live poor and destitute in the name of self-discipline. If you make a habit of telling yourself no over the little things that you really don't need, that builds character. Being able to delay gratification has been shown to lead to higher intelligence and success as an adult.

Self-discipline might even make you that friend that people want to spend time around because you motivate them to be better. Boy, we all secretly love/hate that person, don't we?

But that's the friend I want to be. So when the alarm clock goes off at 5:30 a.m. and all I want to do is snooze for half an hour instead of doing my workout DVD, I don't always win. But sometimes, I just say no to that useless extra 15 minutes of sleep and roll out of bed into my sneakers and knee braces, not because I'm perfect -- but because I'm trying.

What small things can you do to build self-discipline? Do you think it's really necessary, or is it just something people do to torture themselves instead of having a good time?