Mastering Self-Discipline: The Power of Meditation for Self Control and Self-Regulation

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Man with his arms in the air after a Meditation for Self Control.

As someone who has struggled with self-discipline, I have found meditation to be a powerful tool for cultivating qualities like self-control, focus, and perseverance. In this article, I’ll share how to develop your meditation for self control in a variety of ways.

Table of Contents

Key Takeaways: How Meditation Helps Self-Discipline

  • Mindfulness, focused attention and loving-kindness meditation build self-control.
  • Mindfulness strengthens emotion/impulse regulation via brain changes.
  • Meditation engages self-discipline hubs like the prefrontal cortex.
  • 15-30 minutes daily provides robust self-regulation gains.
  • Specialized guided meditations target self-restraint.
  • Mindfulness reduces compulsive addictive behaviors.
  • Practices like noting reactions without judging build discipline.
  • Returning to the breath trains stability and focus.
  • Meditation can reduce impulsive spending.
  • Postures like kneeling bolster energetic self-composure.
  • Meditation increases work ethic, timeliness and grit.
  • Brain changes, like stronger prefrontal activity support self-control.
  • Mindfulness lowers emotional reactivity and fosters wise responses.
  • Meditation boosts persistence on boring or frustrating tasks.
  • Many meditation programs, books and teachers specialize in self-discipline.

Types of Meditation That Boost Self-Discipline

There are a few main types of meditation that research has shown can improve self-regulation and willpower:

Mindfulness Meditation

This involves non-judgmentally focusing your attention on the present moment – your thoughts, emotions, bodily sensations, or something in your environment like your breath or a candle flame. Practicing bringing your attention back when it wanders builds self-mastery.

(Learn mindfulness meditation)

Focused Attention Meditation

This type trains concentration and discipline by having you focus single-pointedly on one thing, traditionally your breath. It takes resolve to continually return your attention when your mind wanders.

Body Scan Meditation

This systematically builds concentration as you focus mindfully on different parts of your body in turn. I’ve found it develops patience, care, and perseverance.

(Try a body scan meditation)

Loving-Kindness Meditation

This involves systematically cultivating feelings and wishes of care, compassion, and goodwill for different people, even challenging people. It builds empathy, emotional regulation, compassion, and patience.

(Practice loving-kindness meditation)

How Mindfulness Meditation Strengthens Self-Control

Research shows that regular mindfulness meditation practice:

  • Improves ability to regulate emotions, impulses, and behaviors
  • Reduces addictive and compulsive behaviors
  • Increases healthy self-regulation and discipline

This happens due to mindfulness meditation’s effects on parts of the brain tied to self-regulation like the prefrontal cortex and anterior cingulate cortex. For instance, one study found that 8 weeks of mindfulness training increased gray matter concentration in the prefrontal cortex.

As a long-time meditator, I can personally attest it has helped me better manage difficult emotions, reduce impulsive actions I later regret, like overeating or overspending, think before reacting, and persevere through unpleasant tasks.

Tip: Start slow – even 5-10 minutes daily can produce benefits!

Brain Regions Related to Self-Control Activated by Meditation

Neuroimaging studies show certain parts of the brain tied to self-discipline and willpower become more active during meditation, including:

  • Prefrontal cortex: Involved in executive functions like planning, focus, managing emotions (study)
  • Anterior cingulate cortex: Helps regulate emotions and resolve conflicts (study)
  • Insula: Involved with self-awareness, perception, and decision making (study)

This increased activation of self-control centers during meditation is associated with better emotional regulation and cognitive control in daily life.

For instance, one study found the participants randomly assigned to complete mindfulness training had more prefrontal cortex activation during meditation. They also did better on tests of working memory and attention than the control group (Hernández, 2022).

Ideal Daily Meditation Time for Self-Discipline Gains

Research suggests 15-30 minutes per day is ideal for seeing meaningful improvements in qualities like self-control and focus:

  • meta-analysis found mindfulness programs under 30 minutes weren’t as effective for increasing attention.
  • One study saw significant increases in self-discipline after just 11 minutes daily meditation.
  • Personally, I find 20 minutes is my sweet spot – enough time to settle in but not too demanding.

Ultimately consistency matters more than length. So starting with 5-10 minutes daily can still bear fruit. Slowly building up from there allows the meditation practice to organically strengthen your self-mastery and concentration.

Guided Meditations to Develop Self-Discipline

Ancient ruins at sunset where meditation was born.

There are many excellent guided meditations focused specifically on cultivating self-restraint, discipline, focus, and related virtues like patience, integrity, or moderation. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Developing Discipline Meditation (10 minutes) here
  • Meditation on Virtue (17 minutes) Helps instill principles and noble qualities. Listen here.
  • Running with Patience Meditation (10 minutes) Fosters perseverance and endurance. Available on apps like InsightTimer.
  • Overcoming Craving Meditation (15 minutes) Helps deal with addictive impulses mindfully. Find it on Headspace.

How Meditation Reduces Compulsive Behaviors

Research shows mindfulness training helps reduce compulsive behaviors like overeating, smoking, gambling, Internet overuse, substance abuse, and more:

  • A meta analysis of over 40 studies with over 2,400 participants found mindfulness significantly decreased addictive behaviors.
  • One study had participants randomly assigned to mindfulness training or a control. The training group had less overeating driven by emotions, boredom, or habit.

As a former smoker, mindfulness helped me better manage nicotine cravings by watching sensations come and go without reacting or judging. I learned to pause before giving in to the impulse to smoke. Over time this reduced compulsive smoking.

Meditation Techniques That Teach Non-Judgmental Awareness

Certain meditation techniques can specifically help cultivate self-discipline by teaching non-judgmental, accepting awareness of our moment to moment experience. This builds self-mastery with difficult thoughts, emotions, or sensations. Key examples include:

1. Noting Practice

This technique involves quietly labeling thoughts, emotions or sensations when they arise during meditation, e.g., “planning,” “joy,” and “tension.” This helps teach non-reactivity.

2. Urge Surfing

When strong cravings or urges arise during meditation, mindfully observe associated sensations, allowing them to rise and fall without getting caught up in them. This reduces habit reactivity.

3. Open Monitoring

This open, non-judgmental awareness helps meditators witness even unpleasant emotions/urges without suppressing or being dominated by them, weakening their hold.

Studies show these sorts of mindfulness practices that cultivate non-reactivity even with challenging inner experiences boost self-regulation skills that support self-discipline.

How Returning to the Breath Builds Self-Mastery

Focused attention meditation’s core practice of continually returning your attention to the breath when the mind wanders trains concentration and discipline.

Each time you notice your attention has drifted and gently guide it back develops the “mental muscle” of self-restraint. Regular practice makes it easier to return attention to the present when distracted.

Over time this spills over to daily life, improving your ability to redirect attention from enticing distractions, habits, or impulses back to what is most important in that moment with self-command.

Studies confirm regular meditators have increased activity and connectivity in brain regions tied to executive control and self-discipline like the prefrontal cortex compared to non-meditators (Study).

Meditation Reduces Impulsive Spending

Emerging research suggests meditation not only reduces impulsive behaviors like overeating but also helps increase financial responsibility by lowering impulsive spending.

For example, one study had participants complete 8 weeks of mindfulness training (Caldwell, 2022). fMRI scans taken while they performed shopping tasks showed changes in regions involved in self-control.

Questionnaires also revealed they engaged in less impulsive spending after the training. This suggests mindfulness improves self-discipline with not just addictive impulses but also shopping habits. Personally, noticing urge sensations come and go without getting swept up in them has helped reduce spur-of-the-moment purchases.

Meditation Postures That Support Self-Restraint

Meditation for Inflammation. Man overlooking a large mountain range at sunset.

Certain meditation postures are especially supportive of cultivating vigilant self-discipline:

1. Kneeling

Kneeling with an upright torso helps energy flow upward, aiding mental alertness.

2. Sitting

Sitting with a straight spine fosters energetic stability and determination. (Learn to sit properly.)

3. Walking

Slow mindful walking develops focus and consistency in movement.

Whichever posture you take, setting the intention to remain present and composed will boost self-restraint. Combining focused breathing with an uplifted posture trains the nervous system in disciplined stability.

How Meditation Helps Procrastinators

Many studies confirm mindfulness training reduces procrastination and improves focus, work ethic, time management and persistence.

For example, one study had students undergo five 40-minute mindfulness trainings. They procrastinated less and started work sooner on academic tasks than the control group afterwards (Sirois, 2022).

Personally, noticing feelings of boredom, frustration or aversion toward tasks helps me work through them instead of avoiding work. Meditation has made working steadily easier, rather than binging shows for “just 10 more minutes”.

Not reacting to distractions or self-criticism helps me return attention calmly to work. By improving self-awareness, equanimity and focus, meditation makes diligent effort more sustainable.

Tip: Start work sessions with 5 minutes of mindfulness to increase engagement!

Brain Changes from Meditation That Boost Self-Discipline

fMRI studies reveal regular meditators develop beneficial brain changes supporting qualities like self-control, patience, and grit. These include:

Increased gray matter in prefrontal cortex regions behind planning, problem-solving and managing impulses (Kurth, 2014). This expands mental capacity for self-discipline.

More prefrontal cortex activation when faced with cravings, frustration or distractions (Papies, 2015). This bolsters ability to self-regulate impulses and emotions.

Less amygdala reactivity to unpleasant stimuli that trigger bad habits (Desbordes, 2012). This supports calmly managing stress rather than reactively self-medicating.

In essence, meditation helps rewire both brain structure and activity patterns in support of self-discipline and composure.

How Meditation Reduces Reactive Responding

Research suggests mindfulness practice helps people respond more thoughtfully vs emotionally react in challenging situations:

  • Brain scans show meditators have less amygdala activity when provoked, linked to calmer responses (Lutz, 2014).
  • After mindfulness training, people report reduced emotional reactivity when facing criticism or rudeness (Keng, 2013).
  • During arguments with their partner, meditators display lower defensive emotional reactions (Hinton, 2022).

By improving awareness and objectivity regarding thoughts, emotions and impulses, meditation empowers more skillful, responsible choices rather than knee-jerk reactions. It provides mental space to consider best responses.

Meditation Increases Persistence and Resolve

Studies suggests mindfulness training bolsters grit and persistence on challenging, tedious or boring tasks:

  • One study had participants do an extremely boring computer task requiring sustained attention for 45 minutes after listening to either a mindfulness tape or a control tape. The mindfulness group was less bored and showed greater persistence (Morrison, 2014).
  • fMRI scans show the anterior cingulate cortex activates during meditation’s boredom, frustration or confusion. This may strengthen ability to handle these states in daily life with discipline (Brewer, 2011).

By improving distress tolerance and self-talk around tedious tasks, meditation likely supports perseverance and diligence on responsibilities requiring sustained effort over time.

Top Meditation Teachers and Programs for Self-Discipline

There are many excellent meditation teachers, courses and books focused specifically on using mindfulness to build qualities like self-control and integrity. Here are some of the best:

Books

  • The Science of Self-Discipline by Peter Hollins – Practical guide to building self-control through mindfulness and evidence-based strategies

Apps/Sites

  • Unwinding Anxiety – Courses on reducing anxiety, perfectionism and procrastination through self-compassionate mindfulness

Meditation Teachers

  • Tara Brach, Ph.D – Blends Western psychology and Buddhist mindfulness to heal difficulties with self-discipline stemming from self-judgment (Videos here)

Conclusion: Meditate – A Path to Mastering Self-Control

In reviewing the compelling research across neuroscience, psychology, and first-hand practitioner accounts, the message is clear – consistent meditation practice can profoundly transform our capacity for self-discipline.

The many types of meditation each build important mental muscles for self-mastery – the mindfulness and self-awareness to know our own minds, the focus to direct attention skillfully, the patience to handle difficulty, and the integrity to align actions with principles.

By activating and reshaping key brain structures tied to qualities like conscientiousness, equanimity and impulse control, meditation leads to enduring positive brain changes that embed self-regulation habits. We can overcome lifelong struggles with distraction, cravings, procrastination, and reactive habits using meditation’s power to open our eyes to the workings of our own minds.

The journey requires dedication – most studies point to 30 minutes daily as the key threshold for robust gains in self-discipline. But starting with even 5 minutes and gradually building consistency lays the groundwork for self-transformation. A wealth of guided meditations, books, courses and teachers offer support tailored specifically to cultivating discipline.

I invite you to join me in using this extraordinarily empowering practice to tap into our innate capacity for self-restraint, integrity, and mastery regardless of our past habits. Your future, wiser self will thank you.

FAQ on Meditation for Self Control

Q: How does willpower help with self-discipline?

A: Willpower is a limited resource that can be depleted throughout the day. It is crucial in helping us withstand temptations and resist distraction. While it helps with self-discipline, focusing on strengthening our willpower isn’t the only way to improve self-discipline. Meditation helps with self-discipline too as it trains the brain and improves our inner control.

Q: Can meditation help build self-discipline as strong as willpower does?

A: Absolutely, meditation helps with self-discipline profoundly. It not only strengthens our willpower but it also improves effortful control. This means we’re better able to regulate our responses and actions, even when we don’t feel like it.

Q: How does meditation helps us build self-discipline?

A: Meditation trains the mind to focus on anything at hand without judgment. By practicing meditation, we gain better control over our thoughts and feelings. This can reduce negative self-talk and enhance our self-discipline.

Q: Are there proven ways that meditation helps with self-discipline?

A: Yes, there are many benefits of meditation related to self-regulation. For instance, meditation improves activation and connectivity in the areas of the brain responsible for self-discipline. These changes can help us gain better control over our reactions.

Q: What are the benefits of combining self-discipline with meditation?

A: Self-discipline with meditation can drastically improve our psychological well-being. Some benefits include increased focus, better emotional management, and enhanced productivity, all of which provide a practical pathway to achieving personal goals.

Q: Can mindfulness help control my thoughts and feelings?

A: Yes, through the practice of mindfulness and meditation we can take control of our thoughts and emotions. Rather than being swept away by negative thoughts or overwhelming feelings, we learn to observe them without judgment. This allows us to respond calmly rather than just reacting.

Q: What are some easy steps to build self-discipline with meditation?

A: You can start by setting aside a few minutes of meditation each day. Use this time to simply observe your thoughts and feelings without trying to change them. Gradually increase the duration as you get comfortable with the practice. It’s important to follow through with this activity regularly, as consistency is key to building self-discipline.

Q: How does practicing meditation improve my control condition?

A: Practicing meditation improves your control conditions by increasing activation and connectivity in brain regions involved in self-control. This can lead to better regulation of emotions, enhanced focus, and increased ability to withstand distractions — all of which benefit your self-discipline.

Q: Can lack of self-discipline be associated with a lack of willpower?

A: While there is a connection, lack of self-discipline isn’t always due to a lack of willpower. Other factors can also contribute such as negative self-talk, unchecked emotions, or lack of a consistent routine. That’s why alongside boosting willpower, it’s important to practice activities like meditation that can help on multiple fronts.

Q: Can I focus on anything during meditation, or are there specific areas that can help build self-discipline?

A: When starting out, it’s fine to focus on anything that helps you stay present and aware. Over time, as you notice and understand your thoughts and emotions better, you can start directing your focus to areas where you need to build self-discipline, like managing stress or curbing impulsivity.

 

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