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Why Self-Discipline is so Hard

Dopamine and rewards

When we're deciding between immediate and delayed rewards, our brain chooses how much dopamine to send to each part of the brain (the limbic targets for immediate rewards and the frontocortical targets for the delayed ones) pragmatically by how pleasurable the reward is and how much time would take us to get to that reward.

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IDEA EXTRACTED FROM:

Why Self-Discipline is so Hard

Why Self-Discipline is so Hard

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Key Ideas

The virtue of self-control

We have hold self-control as a high virtue since the earliest times, and that's why it is a staple in most religions and the moral of many myths.

Defining self-discipline

We usually use this term when we describe a person that makes positive long-term decisions, by overcoming short-term temptations.

We associate this process with some sort of "will" or "willpower", though what these really mean is not that obvious.

Making decisions

In every moment of our lives, we are making decisions on how to act. Problems arise when we have to choose between what's immediately gratifying and what is not, but will be in the future. 

The difficulty thus lies in delaying gratification.

Behind decision-making

There are different factors behind every decision we make: genes, hormones, social environment, physical environment, past experiences, the context of the situation, etc. 

But the most immediate cause of any of our actions can be traced back to our brain activity.

The role of dopamine

The neurotransmitter called dopamine is more about the anticipation of a reward than it is about the reward itself.

Some specific cues found in our environment hint to a potential reward and dopamine starts to raise anticipation. So dopamine is the one responsible to make us take action towards a specific goal.

Self-discipline and habits

Habits are the ones that mediate the relationship between our desires and our environment.

To change a habit, both we and the environment have to change, and that's why self-discipline is so hard.

The role of education

An individual can be changed through education.

We have so little control over the biology that determines our desires. But the part of our biology that is more malleable is our brain.

The product of our environment

Self-discipline is both an environmental and an individual problem: we can change our behaviors and beliefs through education, but the resources available for education are provided by our environment. Also, our habits are a product of what's available in the environment.

By acknowledging this, we can start finding alternative opportunities for learning and for satisfying our needs.

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SIMILAR ARTICLES & IDEAS:

First Principles
A first principle is the fundamental building block of an idea, the most indivisible part that we know to be true and that we can use to build more complex thought...
First Principles: Not A New Idea

Thinking from first principles is not a new idea. It's actually the single most consistent factor among great thinkers.

For example, Aristotle believed that you could not possess true knowledge without first understanding the first principles. He thought that everything could be divided into categories and sub-categories (the smallest of them being the equivalent for first principles).

Reason And Experience

An empiricist is a person that believed all true knowledge is based and obtained through experience.

The process of seeking knowledge through experience and making use of reason to give it structure it how we can find the first principles of a subject.

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Self-Reliance

It's "a reliance on internal resources to provide life with coherence (meaning) and fulfillment” (Baumeister, 1987: 171)."

Ralph Waldo Emerson and Self-Reliance

Self-Reliance is the topic (and title) of an 1841 essay from US philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson.

He argues strongly that self-reliance, self-trust, and individualism, amongst other things, are ways that we can avoid the conformity imposed upon us.

Examples of Self-Reliance
  • Thinking independently: The ability to think autonomously goes hand in hand with trusting your own instinct.
  • Embracing your individuality.
  • Striving towards your own goals, bravely.

It’s important to remember that self-reliance is not about cutting yourself off from everybody.

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Self-control
Self-control

It’s your ability to resolve conflicts between your short-term desires and your long-term goals.

For example, successful self-control means sacrificing immediate pleasure (cookies a...

Why self-control matters

People who have high self-control aren’t missing out on enjoyment. Not being able to resist temptation and enjoying life are not the same things.

They tend to eat in a healthily way, exercise more, sleep better, drink less alcohol, smoke fewer cigarettes, achieve higher grades at university, have more peaceful relationships, and are more financially secure.

Biological limits to self-control

Research showed that self-control is ultimately limited by our biology. We can’t exercise effortful self-control indefinitely – the brain has to do regular maintenance to remain functional.

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