Self-discipline is very much at the core of a peaceful, fulfilling life. Making decisions in life based solely on what we do and don’t feel like doing won’t get us far. It would be mayhem. If you read the biographies of wildly successful individuals—from athletes to authors to activists—one common theme you will find through them all is self-discipline. They would do the thing they needed to do to move forward, every day, regardless of the circumstance. They didn’t just do it when they felt like it. They didn’t just do it when it was convenient. They didn’t just do it when they’d had a good night’s rest. They didn’t just do it when they were in a good mood. They put in the work, every day, no matter what. That’s self-discipline.
I bring this up because I’ve noticed a major commonality in the lives of my friends whose romantic lives are a sh*t show: their overall lives are also a sh*t show. They’ll bail on work because they’d rather go have fun. They’ll skip an expensive workout class they already paid for because they just don’t feel like it. They’ll sit out the networking event because, in the end, they were a little tired. Meanwhile, their love lives are tumultuous and dysfunctional. It’s all related. It all ties into having the willpower to do what’s best for us, and to not do what isn’t good for us, no matter how appealing. It’s about avoiding temptation (like the temptation to answer the call from an ex). It’s about doing what you said you’d do (like breaking up with someone if he cheated again).
Usually, in life, the very thing that will help us become stronger and more stable is also the thing that is the least fun and the least convenient…in the moment. Later, it pays off in dividends. But in the moment, it requires self-discipline, because it’s not fun. If you lack self-discipline, your love life might look like this.
You keep sleeping with an ex
You keep going back to that ex. After a bad first date, you call up the ex for comfort. After being rejected by someone new you like, you call the ex for an ego boost. It’s the thing that feels good to do now, but makes you feel very bad tomorrow. Then, to try to prove yourself right, you may double down and give it a whole second shot with the ex. But things don’t get better.
You’re in an on-again-off-again thing
On-again-off-again things are a telltale sign of someone who lacks self-discipline. Those who are in this type of relationship don’t have much conviction. They like to get the credit of saying they ended something but…they don’t stick to their guns. They’re back in it again, and again, and again. They believe that just because they miss the person for a moment, that’s a reason to return.
Some breakups don’t last an hour
You know the couples. They break up several times a month. No breakup lasts long. Your friend may text you and say, “My boyfriend and I are done. Can I come over and talk?” Or you’re the friend who does that. If you notice your friends no longer taking your call, it’s because, if they were to talk to you for an hour every time you broke up with that guy, talking to you would become their full-time job.
You overdrink on dates and then…
Lacking self-discipline can have a twofold effect with alcohol. First, you lack the discipline to stop at one or two drinks. Then, because of the drinks, you do things you regret, like over-share on a first date, or sleep with someone too quickly, or lose your temper with your date over nothing.
You don’t create boundaries with exes
An ex wants to just text a little. He wants to grab coffee sometimes. He’s kind of creeping in, but he kind of isn’t. You’re dating someone new, and he gets upset that this weird, half-friendship is there with the ex. But you lack the self-discipline to tell the ex, “Hey, I’m with a new person. I’m committed to him. You and I are going to stop talking.” Maybe it’s because you want to keep him around as a rebound.
You don’t enforce new rules
You say things to your partner like, “If you don’t make more of an effort with my friends, we aren’t dating anymore.” But he makes no effort with them, nothing changes, and you keep seeing him. Or you say, “If you want to see me, you need to drive to my place sometimes.” But the fact remains it’s always you driving to him. Nothing changes. You state rules but you don’t enforce them.
You don’t even uphold your ultimatums
You set ultimatums that you don’t even uphold. “Meet my parents or we’re done!” “Be more affectionate with me in public, or we’re done!” “End things with that other women, or we’re done!” He doesn’t meet the ultimatum and you say, “Okay well, I guess we’re not done. But I’m not happy about it.”
So your ultimatums hold no water
The more and more ultimatums you create that you then do not uphold, the less any of them hold water. Your partners will probably step out of line more and more, because each time you set an ultimatum that you don’t enforce, you just show that you’ll never stand your ground. These guys can get away with anything.
You bail on your ambitions for love
You told yourself you would work on your website/write pages of your book/edit your resume/send cold-call emails but…your boyfriend wants to hang out. So you’re doing that instead. Your personal aspirations are falling to the wayside. All it takes is a, “What are you doing?” text and you blow off all of your ambitions.
You bail on your friendships for love
You had plans to go to yoga with a friend. You were going to see a movie with a friend. You were going to be with a friend, however, your boyfriend wants to hang now. You try to tell him, “I have plans” but he says, “Pleeeeaase. Cancel on them for me” and that’s all it takes. You cancel on your friends.
You’ve slept with a friend’s ex
You have slept with someone you really shouldn’t have. Maybe multiple people on multiple occasions. A friend’s ex. A sibling’s ex. A boss. A friend’s sibling. You do not create boundaries surrounding who it is and isn’t appropriate to have sexual relationships with. That can also be a sign of a sex addiction.
You’ve cheated in a grey area
If there was any wiggle room to stray, you did it. When you, for example, had been seeing a guy for months but hadn’t yet called him your boyfriend, you slept with someone else. You rely on the ambiguity. If you could technically argue it wasn’t cheating, you’ll cheat, and make the argument.
You don’t respect a marriage
You’ll cross a line with married men, or even men with girlfriends. You’ll engage in flirty texting. You’ll send hot pics. You’ll get a “friendly” lunch with them, that clearly has the vibe of something not-so-innocent. You do not take a hard line and say, “You’re in a relationship and this is inappropriate.” Again, you thrive in that grey area.
You yell a lot
Your relationships are loud and tumultuous. There is a lot of yelling and screaming and name-calling and storming out and door slamming. These are the weak tools that individuals who lack self-discipline will assert. When you know you’ll never take real action to make real changes in your love life, you just wind up yelling and screaming out of frustration.
No break is ever a break
When you go on a break from a relationship—as silly as those are—it isn’t real. You talk to the person every day. You’re texting and calling and DMing. You’re meeting up “as friends.” There is no actual break happening here. You don’t actually take any space from the person.