Before enlightenment, chopping wood and carrying water. After enlightenment, chopping wood and carrying water.
—A Zen saying, attributed to Xinxin Ming
It’s tempting to believe that, after enough time passes, suddenly you’ll attain enlightenment and acquire permanent, unbreakable self-control.
In reality, there’s no sudden awakening that will happen if you deny temptations for long enough.
Just like today you’re consciously choosing to reject a chocolate bar so you can enjoy an attractive physique a year from now, a year from now you will still need to reject a chocolate bar to maintain the body you attained.
There are no secret powers that self-disciplined people have somehow attained that give them magical powers to resist temptations.
Despite having built a healthy, fit physique, I still fight — and sometimes fail — to overcome temptations. I still need to make sure my plates are full of satiating, healthy foods so that I don’t fill them later on with something less than healthy, yet again. I still need to monitor how much I eat and avoid places where I’m likely to overeat. I still do full-day fasts every now and then to practice selfcontrol that is associated with hunger.
No matter the challenge, I still mostly use the same strategies I’d been using prior to accomplishing my goals. The actions don’t change. What changes is the person performing them .
For example, rejecting chocolate today may feel like the greatest punishment in the world. A year from now, rejecting chocolate is simply a fact of life: you want to stay in top shape, so you don’t stuff yourself with chocolate on a daily basis.
It will still require self-control, but as long as you diligently exercise your willpower muscle, the temptation will most likely be easier to overcome. And in the end, that’s what building selfdiscipline gives you: an easier life, through voluntarily choosing to live it the hard way.