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Forging Discipline as a University Student

Updated: Aug 23, 2021

"Discipline: The ability to do things you know you should do, even when you don't want to do them."

Fairly comprehensive.

They say university students around the world have more in common with each other, than they do with their own cultures, families and friends. For students fresh out of high school, living off cup noodles, leftover pizza and takeout becomes the norm. Those who diligently go to class in their first year, eventually find themselves sleeping in every time their calendar alerts them of a 9am lecture. Procrastinating assignments up until the last night to when they're due becomes a habit, one that is fuelled by Red Bull cans and double shot espressos. Now thanks to Covid-19, introverts have rejoiced in their own world of solitude through Zoom meetings, where many discovered their hidden talent of multitasking.

Photo by bantersnaps on Unsplash

I'm not one to generalise, but based on what I've seen and experienced, these descriptors do make up a healthy majority of university students today. When addressed one by one, it's not surprising to see what factors are truly behind these. As students:

  • We live off cup noodles, takeout and leftover pizza because it’s cheap, convenient and some would say, delicious. The truth is that many of us don’t know how to cook and are too lazy to learn. We watch Gordon Ramsay and Masterchef videos to admire food, but struggle to cook even the basics of dishes.

  • We procrastinate our assignments, because we think we’re smarter than we actually are. Our minds have become wired to hedonistic behaviour, or seeking pleasure in search for short-term gratification. Therefore, staying home working on a report when the whole university is going out to the clubs, doesn't appear to be too pleasurable.

  • We go to class in first year, only to skip it a while later, because lectures are boring. Of course, lectures don’t offer the same thrill, excitement and dopamine hits that our Snapchat streaks, Facebook memes and Instagram highlights do. Some of us were also busy announcing to the world how unfair university is because we have two assignments due in quick succession. That, added to our lack of sleep since we were procrastinating that report from earlier, made it easier to skip class for whatever it is we prioritise that day.

A study of over 14,000 students worldwide found that university undergraduates are more likely to have lower levels of health & wellbeing than all the other young people aged between 20 and 24. Secondly, 17% of students felt that their life was highly worthwhile, a number that was previously 22% in 2016. Additional research by the Collegiate Mental Health Report found that 1 in 5 university students suffers from anxiety and/or depression, with excessive cigarette smoking, drug use and alcohol consumption being positively associated with these conditions. Although there was no cause and effect relationship stated, something doesn’t add up. 

Photo by Ali Yahya on Unsplash

The core principle that I believe is missing in most university students' lives today, is what might be causing these prolems: Discipline. Upon first glance, the term 'discipline' might invoke thoughts of obeying the law and following the rules, or even being in the army. I believe that there's more to discipline, so I’ve broken it up into 3 categories. Each of these types serves its own purpose at the right place, and at the right time:


Mental Discipline:

Lack of which, typically includes, but is not limited to:

  • Procrastination

  • Hedonism

  • Saying ‘yes’ to every opportunity that comes your way, without a second thought.

People struggle with mental discipline, because of how easily accessible everything is around us these days. Social media makes it easy to procrastinate, recommending new content that appeals to us every time we open a site. We’re influenced to take drugs because our peers lecture us about the various medicinal properties Marijuana has. As for drinking? Well, it's well known fact that you absolutely cannot go out at night and have a good time, without getting tipsy first. Right?

So how do we forge mental discipline? 

When it comes to getting tasks done efficiently, tackling them a day, week or even a month at a time can help. What worked for me has been to make a note of all my tasks for this week, so that I know what needs to be done. As a result, I manage to get work done beforehand, and spend the rest of my free time doing whatever it is I wanna do.

With regard to hedonism and saying no, think about how valuable your time is. It’s easy to say yes to your friends the next time they ask you to go out clubbing with them. However, maybe look at your schedule and decide if you can afford to spend a few hours at night, and the first half of the next day hungover. If there's an assignment due within the next few days that you haven’t started, maybe that’s more important. After all, isn’t that part of why you’re at university in the first place. Your friends won’t leave you if you say no and refuse to indulge with them. If they do, well that tells you a lot about them.


Physical Discipline:

Lack of physical discipline is indicative of the following:

  • Consuming high amounts of fast, processed foods

  • Consuming excessive amounts of alcohol, or resorting to drug abuse

  • Insufficient movement, exercise and rest.

For students who've never had to cook while growing up, coming to university where their mums are not available to help, can be overwhelming. As a consequence, fast food, cup noodles and takeout food become the only, viable option. With exercise, it's often a sight to see people join a gym as a New Years' resolution, or because it's trending. This incentivises others to join as well, rather than for their own physical development.

When it comes to eating healthy, I've found that devoting some time every week to diligently go grocery shopping can help. The profit-driven nature of most food manufacturers these days has had one upside, that they've realised the growing trend for healthy food consumption. Therefore, there are plenty of healthy, natural alternative food options in the market for us to choose from. It also doesn't have to be complicated. It's best to start with the basics:

  • Whole foods

  • Fruits & veggies

  • Meat, fish and eggs if possible

  • Grains, lentils and beans if you’re vegetarian.

Typically, these foods are found towards the outside isles of a grocery store. Processed foods are full of artificial additives and do nothing to keep you satiated. I don’t believe in total restriction, and so incremental reduction of certain foods that you excessively consume rather than complete avoidance may be ideal. For eg. if you consume ice cream everyday, try having it every other day. Maybe try an alternative like frozen yoghurt, or an açai bowl.

Investing in good food that’s beneficial to your body is an investment with low risk, high return. Assuming you avoid any other avoidable expenditure like a $5 bubble tea, or a $15 entry fee to the clubs, it does become quite affordable; definitely more than eating out. Cooking together with a friend can be a great way to make the activity enjoyable. The internet is filled with exciting, delicious recipes for a variety of dietary requirements. Recently, I came across this link to some of Jamie Oliver's own healthy recipes, quite a lifesaver!

The same applies to working out. Having a friend to keep you accountable can be a great way to stay consistent, while keeping it enjoyable. Nowadays, 30-40 minute group fitness classes are trending and can help get a quick workout in when you're short on time. Visualising yourself achieving your goal, whether that’s to lose/gain weight, build muscle, whatever is a useful way to stay motivated.

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

I never advocate for complete abstinence, so when it comes to drinking and drug abuse, I try to limit my alcohol intake to a few times a month. Personally, I feel that knowing my capacity and when I should stop is paramount to ensure I don't lose my senses. There's nothing worse than dealing with an out-of-control drunk that could potentially jeopardise the friends' lives. Before consuming something you’re unsure of, ask yourself: "Should I putting this inside my body? Would I encourage my family or siblings to consume this? Would this do me any good?"

Everything is fine in moderation, as long as you stay on top of it. 


Emotional Discipline:

Emotional discipline is bit of a grey area, and can include hanging out with the right people, those who want the best for you and who are not pessimistic 24/7. There seems to be a trend going on these days, where criticising something, or someone is considered to be a sign of intellect. Everyone, everywhere is criticising something or the other. Whether that’s the government for its poor handling of policies, the university faculty for its management, the lecturer for his ignorance with marketing, the barista at the local cafe for forgetting the whipped cream, friends who break snapchat streaks, parents or grandparents who forget birthdays, it’s never-ending. Is our world really that bad?

Hanging out with people who are always negatively biased in their approach, can tend to bring you down and feel as if your life is bad. The reason why emotional discipline lies in a grey area, is because cutting off friends for your own well-being can be one of the hardest things we can do. But doing so if necessary, if those people make us nothing but lazy and pessimistic could help us in the long run. 

Emotional discipline is also the ability to stay accountable, and take ownership for your life’s decisions. For me, this comes through self-reflection, and helps prevent attribution bias. This is the tendency to blame others for our failures, but reward ourselves for our successes. For example, failing an assignment not because you didn’t study enough, but because the lecturer hates you. You aren't seeing results from the gym, not because you cheated on your meal plan and didn’t go, but because the trainers were bad, or because your metabolism is shit. Self-reflection can help with avoiding this, by actively revisiting your daily decisions and thinking, whether they were right or not. Revisiting your day's moments and interactions and questioning your behaviour can help identify how you reacted, how the other person might've felt and what you can do better next time.

"Taking ownership for your actions and being accountable, is the single most valuable trait one can have, and is the cornerstone for forging discipline."

Often because of an inflated sense of self-importance, blaming ourselves for our shortcomings can be difficult. The moment we accept that we’re no more important than the person in front of us, and that our actions are 100% in our control, we’ll start appreciating our life much more than we despise it. 


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