Reclaiming Control: The Importance of Self-Discipline in My Life With MS
Last updated: August 2023
I’ve always understood the value of self-discipline in life. It can be the difference between success and failure in your endeavors. However, even with my disciplined nature, managing my multiple sclerosis (MS) posed new challenges.
It took time, but I realized that discipline is essential in sustaining healthy habits and managing MS. I quickly came to believe that one of the reasons so many people with MS were able to maintain all the healthy habits needed to manage their MS, was because they were motivated and disciplined. At first, this wasn’t difficult for me, but in time I would start to find it more challenging to maintain.
The role of self-discipline in MS management
Self-discipline allows you to do something difficult while resisting impulses and distractions that will prevent you from achieving your goals. To me, this is basically a description of trying to live a healthy life with MS.
Staying on top of medications, eating healthy, and maintaining physical activity (to name some general examples) aren't always easy, especially when you don’t feel so great. It can be very tempting to just lie on the couch all day watching TV instead of going to physical therapy. But if you want to achieve your MS health goals, you have to resist such temptations and continue to work at managing your MS. In my own experience? That requires self-discipline — a lot of it.
Where did I fall off track?
One day, somewhat recently, it kind of just clicked...I was just sitting there feeling like garbage, wondering how I got where I was. I used to be so self-disciplined! I ate well, experimented with different diets that might help ease my MS, and was on top of all my medications and supplements. I started each day with a cold shower. Then I stretched, walked about a mile every day, worked out about 3 times a week, and worked on balance exercises I had learned in physical therapy. How did I go from that to, most days, not wanting to even get up unless I absolutely had to?
After thinking about it for a while, I came to the conclusion that my well-cultivated self-discipline started to derail when the COVID-19 pandemic really took off. Like so many others, COVID affected almost every aspect of my life! I even moved in with my Uncle for a while to better isolate myself from possible exposure. I was pretty terrified, to say the least. I’m certain this chaotic horror of daily uncertainty caused me to lose focus on my goals and, especially due to the sudden drastic changes I was experiencing, slowly start to abandon all of my routines in favor of more “comfortable” habits.
Rebuilding my self-discipline
After recognizing where and how I probably fell off track, the first question I had for myself was obviously how I could get back on track. In the past, what I’ve found to be the most important first step in building self-discipline is determining what my goals even were. Next, I would need to devise a realistic plan of working towards them.
It’s difficult to not immediately come up with some grand plan that involves drastic changes to daily life, but doing so only makes it easier to give up. Think of how many people only make it a few months in before abandoning their New Year’s resolution.
In my opinion, the key to successfully building discipline is to start slow, setting achievable goals that will gradually lead to your ultimate objective. This way, progress doesn't seem so daunting, and you can celebrate small victories along the way to help keep you motivated. Before my MS got too bad, I used to reward myself by going to a local coffee shop with my laptop and a good book to read and write. Nothing crazy, I enjoy the simple pleasures in life.
Maintaining my discipline while continuing to build it up was the real challenge. I eventually found it to be extremely important to identify my strengths and weaknesses so that I could avoid things that might cause me to fail, and instead focus on things that would lead to success. This is something that I feel is important to consider when making modifications to my plan when something just isn’t working. You see, I don’t like to think of my self-disciplined plans as rigid and set in stone. I prefer to think of them like they are living creatures that constantly grow and adapt to change as time goes on.
Getting started is where I struggle
As a creature of habit who thrives on routine, the real hurdle for me is initiating a new regimen. Right now, I have so many bad habits that I’ve picked up during and since the pandemic. Where I’m struggling is getting all of this started because I’ve always been a bit of a procrastinator. So, on top of the difficulty of breaking old habits, I’m dealing with the whole “later, tomorrow, next time” game in my head (that’s a whole other problem). However, I know that once I do actually get things going, it won’t be overly tricky to stick to the plan.
My final thoughts for others
If you’re also trying to improve your self-discipline and reach your MS goals, my advice on getting started would be, building and maintaining self-discipline is a learning experience. What strategies do and don’t work for you will ultimately be something you have to discover through trial and error. Everyone’s advice, including mine, can only point you in the right direction. You still have to find the actual path.
There will certainly be times where you slip up or where something you thought would work, doesn’t. When MS inevitably decides that it has its own plans. It’s frustrating, but it’s all part of the process. Just focus on whatever your main source of motivation is, and like a child learning to ride a bike, get up and try again when you fall. That’s what I’m trying to do because I really want to feel like I have more control over my life with MS.
What is your experience?
Do you feel like self-discipline plays a large role in how you manage your MS? What strategies have you found to work for you when it comes to building and maintaining the discipline needed to maintain your health habits? Do you have advice for others in the same boat as me? Share in the comments below!
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