Rosa Weckman: Forget self-discipline, it does not work

Self-discipline is useless tool, says Study Coach Rosa Weckman

Rosa Weckman
News article


"I know I should just do it. But I'm completely lacking in self-discipline," said the student to a friend in the hallway of the campus. He is not alone in his experience. Many students find themselves avoiding unpleasant tasks at some point in their studies. Of course, postponing tasks is a useful tool for prioritizing, but if avoidance is long-term and produces additional stress instead of relief, it is procrastination, harmful avoidance behavior. Students are also not alone in the pain that it is difficult to maintain self-discipline when it comes to unmotivated tasks.

Self-discipline involves the idea of coercion. It may be temporarily functional, but it is not worth building your studies or life on. At worst, self-discipline can appear as self-hurling and ultimately as a decrease in functional ability. Self-discipline is something that we all run out of at some point.

Therefore, as a Study Coach and well-being specialist, I often advise the student to completely forget about self-discipline. Self-discipline is something that we all run out of at some point. It is more useful to focus on something that really helps.

One of them is the development of thinking skills. In its simplicity, thinking skills are the ability to distance oneself from one's own thoughts and feelings. As a result, structuring the situation and finding workable solutions become easier. Thinking skills are useful both in learning new things and in supporting one's own well-being. Here I will focus only on the latter. I divided the problem into four slow, but difficult steps.

For example, imagine a student has a stressful exam coming up. What can he do with his thinking skills? 

The first step is to identify and name the thoughts and emotions that are swirling in the head and in the body. This can be practiced, for example, by writing your own thoughts and feelings on paper. 

The second step is to accept these thoughts, feelings and other practical limitations of life as part of your own life situation. Sometimes it is good to accept that one's own resources are not enough for the best possible performance. Often it takes time to accept one's own situation, and sometimes external support from a friend or professional helper, for example. 

The third step is to analyze the situation and solution options. What can you really influence? What are some ways you can make your situation at least a little easier? 

The fourth and final step is to act. You can ask yourself these questions: What kind of action would be in line with my values? How do I motivate myself to move and act? Sometimes that action can lead to study progress in big or small steps, or sometimes it can mean prioritizing other areas of life. 

If, after these steps, you still feel that they were of no help to you, you can invite a good friend or, for example, a study coach to join you for the next round.

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