How To Stay Disciplined as Your Needs Change

All people have some sort of dependency needs. When these needs aren’t adequately met, it creates a wound. As time progresses, those wounds manifest as different dysfunctional behaviors.

The more you rely on outside people for your internal satisfaction, the less self-control you will have.

Plainly, the majority of our nasty behaviors are based on our dependency on others.

But what happens to you when your dependency needs are met – or you are no longer crushed when some of them aren’t fulfilled? Where do you focus your efforts? What type of needs do you try to satisfy?

The answer: Independency needs.

This is the process of growing up: transitioning from a dependent child to an independent adult.

Healthy adulthood is having the capacity to support yourself without relying on others. Allowing yourself to separate – to individuate – from the old dependency boundaries.1

But what are dependency needs and independency needs? And how do these relate to being a disciplined person?

This article offers insights into our different needs – how they evolve as we grow up. And, how this relates to self-discipline – i.e., how to stay disciplined in the midst of shifting desires.

What Are Dependency Needs?

Dependency needs are “the vital, originally infantile needs for mothering, love, affection, shelter, protection, security, food, and warmth.”2

What characterizes a dependency need are these two:

  1. Something that must be present for the individual to thrive.
  2. Something the individual can’t provide for himself.

As you can imagine, infants have plenty of dependency needs. But just because you no longer wear a diaper doesn’t mean you no longer have such needs.

First, we have obvious biological needs like: feeding, watering, cleaning, and shelter. Secondly, there are emotional needs like: attention, warmth, and affection (known as “maternal warmth”).

For example, a common case we can all relate to is the need for emotional support during challenging times.

Consider a man in his 40s who has recently lost his job. Despite having the skills and qualifications to find another employment opportunity, this person may feel emotionally unstable for a certain period of time.

In the just-mentioned case, the person can do a lot of different things to satisfy his longing for emotional support: he can enter a drinking frenzy to soothe his feelings or search for aid from a trusted friend – or even do both, find a friend to roam the local bars together.

Staying strong and staying disciplined while some of your basic needs aren’t met is hard.

There are countless tales of people who went bankrupt because they were unable to operate for long with certain needs unmet.3

But why is this?

Why Dependency Needs Have a Negative Effect On Our Self-Discipline?

When your needs aren’t met, it feels like an itch you can’t scratch. Like part of your body is missing. Part you want to resurrect with usually compulsive behavior.

But it can be much worse.

It’s way easier to have control over your schedule when you are financially secure – after all, you don’t have to work two jobs to provide for your family.

I think that we don’t get the full picture when we criticize people who smoke, drink, overeat, and/or subscribe to a lifestyle of addictive substances.

Sure, there are rich folks who may start smoking and drinking not because they are missing something, but because they are not missing anything. These folks usually adopt disruptive behaviors out of pure boredom.

However, there is another group – a much larger group – of people who get attached to certain nasty habits because their needs are not met.

The life of a person with two kids living in a small condo and earning an average salary won’t look so bright. This person might smoke and drink because his perception is that this is the only “positive” thing he will experience throughout his day – and maybe throughout his whole life.

And while it’s easy to judge this type of lifestyle, it’s hard to imagine the emotional rollercoaster in the mind of this person.

Of course, these bad behaviors are not addressing the true issue. If you’re feeling stressed, anxious, bored, lonely, sad, or tired, cigarettes, alcohol, food or any other addictive substances won’t fix those feelings.

Usually, people know this.

People know what is self-discipline and recognize the importance of self-discipline. However, they lack the inner strength to pursue a routine life because they are feeling psychologically and emotionally “exhausted”.

Picture returning home after enduring a grueling 12-hour shift, only to be greeted by an avalanche of pending tasks – cleaning, cooking, checking homework, etc. How many people have the capacity to add exercising and maintaining a healthy diet to that never-ending to-do list? Not that much.

When your dependency needs aren’t fully met, it creates a black hole of emptiness that many people try to fill with all sorts of ridiculous – at least for an external observer – things.

Things like:

  • Excessive materialistic pursuits and impulsive shopping.
  • Overindulgence in food, alcohol, or other substances.
  • Seeking constant validation or attention from others.
  • Obsessive engagement with social media or virtual interactions.
  • Escapist behaviors such as excessive daydreaming or fantasy immersion.

All of these behaviors can occur to compensate for the unfulfilled dependency needs.


Here’s a glimpse into my short story:

During my teenage years, I was doing everything possible to fit in. To get others to like me, I put other people’s needs before my own – constantly. When someone wanted to go out, I was the first to raise a hand. When someone wanted a shoulder to cry on, I was the first to offer one.

This lifestyle may have made some people adore me, but eventually made another person resentful – me! Since I was constantly putting my needs last, I have created resentment towards myself.

I was drinking, smoking, and overconsuming to satisfy my unsatisfied needs. But was this the lifestyle I wanted for myself? No, but I was way too distracted to know this.

I didn’t have self-discipline because I lacked emotional support. And the only way to get that satisfied was to constantly put the needs of others in front of my own – or at least I thought so.

Did it work? Not at all.

My relationships constantly suffered. I would start resenting a partner for a problem that was really my own fault: Not taking care of my own needs in the relationship.

In other words, I approached relationships from a transactional standpoint. I was giving attention, care, and emotional energy to the relationship. However, I sensed a disparity in the emotional contribution of the other person. All of this caused a growing sense of resentment within me.

Realizing that it’s not them, it’s me. Opened my eyes.

Furthermore, realizing that a dose of selfishness and pursuing independence – care for the self – is required to have a thriving life was revolutionary. It was the initial path to becoming and staying a disciplined person.

Independency Needs – The Opposite of Dependency Needs

While dependency needs are things the individual can’t provide for himself. Independency needs are 100% obtainable by the person.

We can say that independency needs are…

Independency needs are a set of personal emotional, psychological, and practical requirements that foster self-reliance, autonomy, and personal growth.

A simple example of an independency need is alone time. While during your first 10, 15 years – even more – you may loathe spending time all by yourself. Eventually, you start to crave it. The need is triggered by your desire to pursue your own goals.

You start to realize that only you can make progress on your goals.

When you purposefully schedule time for yourself, you create an opportunity to plan, introspect, and become aware of your deepest desires and wants.

Here are a couple of characteristics when your independency needs are satisfied:

  • Self-reliance: Self-reliance is the ability to rely on oneself for emotional and practical support. When you have self-reliance, you make decisions and act without requiring the help or the approval of others.
  • Personal responsibility: Personal responsibility means holding yourself accountable for your own actions and exercising self-control. You take ownership of your actions, choices, and their consequences.
  • Self-regulation: Self-regulation is the ability to steer yourself towards good behavior when bad things are happening around you. Self-regulation is about practicing self-discipline, emotional regulation, and the ability to manage one’s behaviors and impulses effectively. (Read more on the topic here: Self-Regulation Strategies.)

The process of satisfying your independency needs is a process of self-actualization.

You transition from relying on others to relying on yourself.

Striving for personal development, fulfillment, and the realization of one’s full potential.

The bad news about striving towards satisfying your independency needs is worth mentioning here.

As you become more interested in your own agenda, you naturally become less interested in what others are doing. While this may not be a problem per se. It can create some inner and outer tension.

First, others start to avoid you. They may not do it intentionally, but since you are no longer interested in what they are doing. It’s normal for them to stop calling you.

(Here’s something interesting: Usually others whose dependency needs are not met are doing this. They want attention, and since they are no longer getting it from you, they start to interact with others who can satisfy their inner craving for recognition.)

The second component is often due to the first. Your priorities shift towards self-actualization. However, in the process, you may find yourself alone – too alone.

As your friends stop calling you, the need for emotional support only grows. This creates the following situation:

You want external emotional support, but it’s becoming harder to get it because, in the process of becoming independent, you’ve distanced yourself from your friends.

The above is what happened to me. Or, at least, this is what I’ve concluded.

Up till the age of 25, I can’t say that I was an independent adult. My wants were tightly related to the wants of my friends. I was feeling good only when we hung out. Eventually, however, as I started to set goals and became more interested in self-improvement. Our paths slowly but surely began to take different trajectories.

Fun for me now means learning, reading, training, and running. Fun for my friends remained visiting restaurants, partying, and going to exotic places.

Yet, since I can’t satisfy all of my needs – after all, they are called dependency needs for a reason. I often feel disconnected and look for unhealthy ways to quench my cravings – food or shopping.4

All of this leads to…

How To Stay Disciplined When Your Needs Aren’t Met

How to stay disciplined?

One word: Freedom.

To be free – to prioritize your own projects, to create, to imagine – requires freedom from. To be free from dependency needs – free from trying to please others, free from unbearable schedules, free from toxic thoughts usually positioned by toxic people.

Still, there are some needs that you can’t fully satisfy on your own – despite how free you are.

As in my case, the need for emotional support is an absolute must for a thriving person.

The act of talking to someone who will actually listen to all of your problems and give you guidance is hardly a thing you can do by yourself.

So, what can you do?

Here are three things:

1. Recognition

Staying disciplined starts with recognition.

Your first step is to recognize what’s the situation.

What are the needs that are unmet, and how are you trying to satisfy those needs currently?

This part is very important and usually something you will want to avoid doing.

For example, if your need for connection and appreciation is at an all-time low. Your response to this may be sporadically posting half-naked pictures on all major social media channels.

Another example is if your financial needs are unsatisfied. To cope with this, you may start gambling or drinking.

In the above two cases, you don’t think that your behavior is faulty due to the unsatisfied need. You may conclude something totally unrelated to rationalize and justify your actions – i.e., “I post shirtless pictures to motivate others to train.” Or, “I drink because I like the taste of liquor.”

2. Create Alternatives

Once you know how you currently respond to your unmet needs, think about alternatives.

What else can you do to address your unresolved longings?

Of course, here we are talking about healthy responses.

To give an example, let’s look at this question:

What do you think you can focus on if you crave social connection and attention?

Here are a couple of suggestions:

  • Creative pursuits: Instead of vacuuming content online like a scholarly researcher on a caffeine high. Engage in creative hobbies like writing, playing a musical instrument, or painting. The idea is to create space for self-expression.
  • Outdoor activities: Instead of slouching like a professional idle enthusiast on your settee. Get up and get active. Consider hiking, visiting a gym, or another type of sport. You will not only fix your body but you will fix your mood, too. Engaging in sports activities is a great way to have in-person social interactions.
  • Volunteer work: Instead of incessantly whining about the world’s failure to meet your lofty expectations. Get up and do something. Participating in volunteer activities is a great way to foster a sense of purpose, contribute to the community, and build meaningful connections with others.

3. Be Present In Whatever You are Doing

A sure way to drift toward unhealthy thoughts and actions is a lack of focus in the present moment.

Being present will not only help you concentrate better and do your job faster. But will also allow you to catch yourself when unhealthy thoughts arise.

For example…

Review for a moment your thought process when you are busy with mundane tasks like filling a spreadsheet or doing the laundry.

Are you actively thinking about the present action, or your mind is somewhere else?

Commonly, our minds wander while we engage in routine or repetitive tasks. We daydream, plan for the future, think about our next to-do item, or let our headspace fill with concerns about relationships, work, and/or finances.

While occasional mind wandering is a natural cognitive process. If you let your mind wander all the time, it will lead you to places you don’t want to go.

Here’s an example from my own life…

When I am writing in the morning, my mind constantly pushes me to some sort of problems – work-related issues I’ll need to tackle in a few hours or a recent fight with my spouse. If I stay with these thoughts for too long, I start to feel a dose of unpleasantness occupying my whole body. When this happens, I catch myself going to the fridge to fix my mood. All of this interrupts my alone time for writing, which is quite scarce.

The simplest cure I have for random thoughts that try to sabotage my current work is the following: When a thought arises that I can’t shake off in a few seconds, I write it down in my notebook. This removes the thought from my mind and clears the space so I can concentrate, again, on the present moment.

Why is this important for staying disciplined?

Well, if you allow all of your thoughts to explore every tiny ripple in the fabric of reality. You will act like a restless toddler in a candy store – oblivious to the concept of moderation or restraint. You will jump from one topic to the next, never finishing anything and always chasing short-term sensations.

Some Closing Thoughts

How to stay disciplined in an undisciplined world?

Essentially, it’s about being fully present in what you are doing right now.

But achieving this monk state is easier said than done.

The number one reason we roam the online world looking for quick mood fixes is caused by unmet needs.

Probably you want a bit more admiration from your friends. But since you are not getting it, you go to your favorite social media network and post a bunch of photos hoping to receive an abnormally high number of likes.

While the aforementioned action may initially uplift your spirit. The transient satisfaction from the likes swiftly fades away, renewing your longing for attention.

Attaining independence is required in order to stay disciplined.

You need to feel in control of your actions and thoughts.

And to reach that level of control, you need to have the perception that you don’t need others to live a good life. That you can 100% rely on yourself for your progress.

Of course, this transition from relying on others to relying on yourself requires a lot of work.

Solitary work where you delay immediate rewards for the sake of long-term gains.

“There is no magic wand that can resolve our problems. The solution rests with our work and discipline.” Jose Eduardo Dos Santos


Add to your self-discipline toolset by reading the following:

Trouble Saying No to Temptations?

Join Farview: A newsletter fostering long-term thinking in a world driven by impatience. Trusted by over 4,300 thinkers, Farview is a concise, thoughtfully organized newsletter helping you handle the self-sabotaging thoughts trying to corrupt you.


Footnotes:

  1. For more on the topic, see: Subject-Object Relationship: Or Why You Should Strive to Be Independent
  2. Dependency need. Wikipedia. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dependency_need
  3. O’brien, T.L. Why do wealthy people go broke? – business – international herald tribune, The New York Times. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2006/09/18/business/worldbusiness/18iht-broke.2848250.html
  4. That’s what triggered me to write: The Reason We Buy Things We Don’t Need
Share with others: