We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.
What is Self-Discipline all About?
Remember back in class when your teacher told you that you must have self-discipline to succeed at school? At the time, you might’ve sarcastically rolled your eyes. However, today self-discipline probably has a little more meaning than it did back then. In fact, today, you might be here wondering what all the fuss is about.
So what is self-discipline all about, really? And what does it actually mean to discipline ourselves?
On the surface, self-discipline is about finding compelling reasons to do something then committing yourself to see that task or activity through to the very end.
Possessing self-discipline requires having an internal desire, drive, and motivation that propels you forward toward your goal. However, this ain’t just about the pursuit of a goal.
Self-discipline is more specifically about your ability to control your desires and impulses in an attempt to stay focused (for long enough) on what needs to get done to successfully achieve that goal.
Given this definition, self-discipline, in a nutshell, involves committing to long-term gains without falling prey to the pitfalls of instant gratification along the way.
As lovely as this definition is, it doesn’t entirely outline what it truly means to discipline ourselves to complete a task or achieve a goal. We, therefore, need to break this down another way and relate it back to the process of habit formation.
With that in mind, self-discipline becomes a process of building consistent daily habits over time that help us obtain our desired outcomes. Or, in other words, it’s about taking small consistent actions that help you form the habits that subsequently help you achieve your goal.
This definition is undoubtedly better, but it still doesn’t quite give us a complete picture of what self-discipline is all about. So let’s break this down even further…
Having self-discipline isn’t just about consistently doing something, it’s instead about systematically regulating, correcting, and adapting your behavior to the changing conditions and circumstances of your life.
Self-discipline, is, therefore, effectively about proactively training yourself to follow a specific set of rules and standards that help you shape and align your thoughts and behaviors to the task at hand.
Self-discipline provides you with a greater sense of control while working on projects and tasks. This helps you stay focused for longer. Moreover, you develop a higher level of tolerance and can subsequently get more done in less time with seemingly less effort.
What Does it Take to Develop Self-Discipline?
Self-discipline isn’t something that we are naturally born with. It’s rather something that we learn to develop over many years. In fact, it’s very much like a muscle that strengthens as we exercise it over time.
To begin cultivating self-discipline, you do, however, need specific factors to come into play. Some of these factors come from inside of you, while other factors come from your external sources. Let’s explore these factors below.
You Need to Have a Reason WHY!
For starters, to develop self-discipline requires having a strong desire to achieve a specific goal. Without a strong desire, there is very little hope for self-discipline.
Self-discipline needs fuel, and that fuel typically comes in the form of either inspiration or motivation. You need one or the other to fuel self-discipline. Otherwise, you will struggle to stay focused over extended periods of time.
All this essentially boils down to having enough compelling reasons for undertaking each task or project you commit to doing. Ask yourself:
What do I want?
Why do I want this?
Why specifically do I need to follow through and get this done?
The more compelling reasons you’re able to identify, the more fuel you will have driving your self-discipline forward.
Self-Discipline Requires Unwavering Commitment and Accountability
Now, of course, reasons alone are never really enough. You will also need an unwavering commitment to doing whatever’s required to accomplish your goal.
This, of course, is rarely easy. Long-term commitment takes discipline, and typically, this ain’t something that most people are good at doing by themselves. What these people are fundamentally lacking is a little bit of accountability.
A long-term commitment to something requires that we either hold ourselves accountable or we have someone else hold us accountable for our actions.
Either method works, however, when they work in combination, that is when you’ll reap the best results.
Self-Discipline Requires Penalties and Rewards
Our motivation levels often ebb and flow as we pursue our goal. At certain times you will feel extremely motivated, while at other times you will struggle to get through specific tasks and activities.
To avoid falling into these cycles, it can be helpful to put some penalties and rewards in place. Punishments and awards can be used to help direct your behavior throughout the day.
You can, for instance, reward yourself for making particular choices or for partaking in certain kinds of behaviors. Likewise, you can penalize yourself for indulging in other types of behaviors or for making poor choices.
These penalties and rewards will add another element to the furnace that will keep the fuel of self-discipline burning throughout the day.
It All Comes Down to Your Personal Standards
When you lack self-discipline in any area of your life, it’s primarily because you’re not holding yourself accountable for keeping a particular set of standards.
The personal standards you uphold keep you on track as you work toward your goal. They are kind of like unspoken rules that guide your choices, decisions, behavior, and actions throughout the day.
With that in mind, let’s outline what standards of performance you will uphold while in the pursuit of your goal. Ask yourself:
What personal standards will I uphold?
What behaviors and choices will I accept?
What behaviors and choices will I not accept?
How will I correct things when I get off track?
This all, essentially, comes down to making simple agreements with yourself. Agreements about what you will and won’t accept are the cornerstone of self-discipline. It then requires holding yourself accountable for following through with these agreements.
All this boils down to regulating and correcting your behavior whenever you get off track. In a nutshell, that’s pretty much what self-discipline is all about. However, there is one more layer that we still need to explore. And that is your environment.
Create a Competitive Environment
The final layer requires that you create a competitive environment that drives you forward toward your goals.
Now, this doesn’t mean that you’re necessarily competing against other people. You can, certainly, put yourself in the frame-of-mind where you’re trying to outwork and outperform others. This is certainly one way to discipline yourself. However, there is also another way to do this.
The other way to do this is to compete against your best self.
Measuring your current results against past performance can be a useful method in helping you stay focused, motivated, and disciplined. In fact, it could be the one key ingredient that continues to fuel your self-discipline when things don’t entirely go to plan.
Six Steps to Developing Your Self-Discipline
Now that you have some clarity about what self-discipline is all about let’s break down a six-step process to help you practice self-discipline.
You can, of course, use this process anytime and anywhere. However, please do keep in mind that, as with any process, it can take time to get into the habit of applying it consistently to your life. Therefore, be patient with yourself and play the long-game when it comes to developing your self-discipline.
Step 1: Define What You Want
The first step of this process involves getting very clear about what it is you want to achieve.
Self-discipline can only endure if it’s channeled toward something specific. In this instance, let’s direct it toward the desired outcome you have in mind.
This outcome might be a goal you want to achieve, a habit you might like to develop or any other type of change you might like to make.
To gain clarity about what it is you want, ask yourself:
What is it that I want to do, be, have or achieve?
What new habit would I like to develop?
What behavior would I like to change?
What is the one thing that I want to focus on in this moment?
Step 2: Describe the Changes Required
Now that you have some clarity about what it is you want, it’s time to describe what kind of habits and behaviors will help you attain this desired outcome. In other words, what kind of person might you need to become to achieve your goal?
Every goal we set brings with it a precise set of behaviors and habits that are intrinsically intertwined with the goal we want to achieve.
Gaining some clarity in this area will help you figure out what it will take to achieve your desired outcome.
With that in mind, have a think about your goal and ask yourself:
What specific behaviors will I need to cultivate to achieve this goal?
What specific habits will I need to adopt to achieve this goal?
While answering these questions, it’s important to also keep in mind your core values.
The behaviors you cultivate and the habits you adopt must reflect your core values. That’s, essentially, the only way to ensure that you’ll stick to your goal over the long-run.
Secondly, the journey toward goal achievement almost always changes people in unexpected ways.
As we pursue a goal, we learn and grow along this journey. This, subsequently, helps transform how we see ourselves, how we see others, and how we interact with the world around us.
What this essentially means is that you will need to change and adapt in some respects to have this goal in your life. In other words, you need to become the person that deserves to have this goal in his/her life.
With this goal in mind, what person will I need to become to achieve it?
What qualities will I need to adopt?
How will I need to think about myself, my life, and my goal?
Answering these questions is crucial as self-discipline grows from the level of certainty you have about something.
When you have more certainty about something, it’s just easier to muster up self-discipline. However, when certainty is lacking, then it’s easy to become sidetracked and distracted along the way.
Step 3: Find Adequate Role Models
It’s time now to look outward for answers to help strengthen your self-discipline. Specifically, let’s identify role models (friends, family, colleagues) who have already achieved the goal you are working towards. Ask yourself:
Who is doing this right now?
Who has successfully achieved this goal?
Who has successfully mastered this habit?
Who has successfully made this change?
Who has the necessary self-discipline in this area?
What can I learn from this person that can help me along my journey?
Take time to ask these people how they disciplined themselves. Ask them how they followed through with specific actions that got them their desired outcome. Then use their experience to help you discipline yourself along your own personal journey.
Step 4: Identify Reasons and Obstacles
You should by now have an obvious idea of what it will take to achieve your desired outcome.
With clarity, of course, comes more certainly. And with more certainty, it becomes easier to muster up the self-discipline needed to get the job done.
Given my goal, what obstacles could stand in my way?
What specific things could sidetrack me along my journey?
The fewer compelling reasons we have for achieving something, the more likely we are to get sidetracked along the way.
To avoid getting sidetracked, you must take the time to write down why you want to achieve your desired outcome. For instance, you could ask yourself:
Why specifically do I want to achieve this goal?
Why specifically do I want to develop this habit?
Why is this of primary importance for me right now?
Why do I really want this in my life?
What are the potential rewards I will gain from doing this?
As you’re answering these questions, it’s essential that you don’t just settle for the first answer that comes to mind. Instead, keep building the WHYS!
The more compelling reasons you have for accomplishing your desired outcome, the easier it will be for you to discipline yourself along the way.
Step 5: Develop Your Plan of Action
It’s time now to build a practical plan of action to help you accomplish your goal.
An effective plan of action is comprised of a deadline for accomplishing your goal. It must also be built on the foundation of mini-milestones that break your goal down into manageable chunks.
Mini-milestones will ensure that you’re working toward your desired outcome in small pieces and time blocks. This tactic puts you in the driver’s seat. It gives you a sense of control over the tasks and projects you’re working on.
What you’re ultimately trying to avoid is succumbing to overwhelm. Overwhelm can quickly digress to procrastination, and procrastination can, subsequently, lead to stagnation. And, of course, where there is stagnation, self-discipline cannot exist.
Given this, it’s, therefore, paramount that you take progressive steps towards your goal to maintain control at all times.
Having a clear deadline in place is also essential. A clear deadline will help you discipline yourself as it focuses your mind on a specific end date for the accomplishment of your goal.
With an end-date in mind, all your resources and energy are channeled appropriately to help you maintain the necessary momentum you need to follow through with your actions.
Moreover, a deadline provides you with a sense of urgency, which will help keep you focused and disciplined on the tasks at hand.
Step 6: Make Yourself Accountable
The final step of this process comes down to accountability.
You must not only hold yourself accountable for your daily choices and decisions, but you must also have someone else hold you responsible for your actions and results.
You could, for instance, build a support team that helps you stay focused and on track. Heading this support team could be your personal accountability partner (a close friend or family member) who regularly checks in on you to see how things are going.
Having another voice encouraging and motivating you will help you to persist and persevere for longer.
Ideas to Help Strengthen Your Self-Discipline
In this section, let’s build upon what we discussed in the previous part and explain how to strengthen our self-discipline while in the pursuit of our goals and objectives.
Make a Wholehearted Commitment
Commitment is one of the keys to self-discipline. We must be fully committed to doing whatever it takes to get the job done no matter what challenges get in the way.
You can, of course, make a personal commitment by creating a contract that stipulates the terms and conditions of the agreement you’re making in the pursuit of your goal.
Alternatively, you can also make a public commitment. Inform several friends, family members or colleagues about your plans. This will hold you more accountable for your actions and will serve to help you stay more focused and disciplined along your journey.
Unfortunately, even when using these two methods for accountability, many people will still fail to stick with their commitments. They will fail because they’re just not specific enough when it comes to the details of their contract.
For instance, you have this incredible goal you want to achieve. Committing to this goal is a fantastic first step. However, it ultimately doesn’t mean much because you failed to commit to each individual step.
What you must commit to are all the little actions you will take along the way in the pursuit of your goal.
For example, your actions can come in the form of consistent habits that you must develop to see this goal through to the end. You are, therefore, not so much committing to your goal, but rather committing to building the habits that will help you achieve your goal.
Both these commitments together will help you muster up the self-discipline you need to see your goal through to the end.
Cultivate a Self-Disciplined Mindset
Self-discipline is essentially a state-of-mind. However, to achieve this state-of-mind and practice self-discipline requires the cultivation of certain qualities.
However, it’s not only about the qualities you cultivate, but also about the actions you take.
In other words, a self-disciplined mind never takes a backseat, but instead always keeps moving forward. Moreover, they’re willing to do whatever is necessary to see the goal through to the end.
A self-disciplined mind also thrives in a lighthearted environment where things are pleasurable and fun. As such, it’s essential to find ways to enjoy the process, to enjoy each task you perform, and to enjoy each activity you partake in.
With this in mind, ask yourself:
What do I enjoy about this process?
What is exciting about this?
In what ways does this benefit me?
How can I make this task/activity more enjoyable?
How could I make this more fun and exciting?
The more ways you find to enjoy yourself, the easier it will be to practice disciplining yourself throughout the day.
Visualize Your Desired Outcomes
One of the most effective methods for keeping yourself focused and motivated is to spend time visualizing your desired outcomes and goals.
Regular periods of visualization can help provide you with greater clarity about your goals and about the actions you need to take to achieve them.
This clarity-of-mind is, subsequently, likely to provide you with more certainty and self-assurance moving forward.
Create a Supportive Environment
Often, you can be in the right state-of-mind, but if your environment doesn’t support this state then friction will exist, and you will subsequently struggle to find the self-discipline needed to achieve your goal.
Given this, it’s entirely crucial that your work environment fully supports your goal. To be more specific, it must support the habits and the consistent actions you take to help you accomplish your goal.
Have a think about your work environment and ask yourself the following questions:
What habits and rituals are required to help me achieve my goal?
What consistent actions do I need to take to achieve this goal?
How well does my environment support these habits and actions?
What changes might I need to make to build a more supportive work environment?
In the end, your work environment must support the new habits you’re building and the consistent actions you’re taking. At the same time, it must keep you focused, inspired and committed over the long-haul.
Prioritize Your Tasks and Activities
When it comes to self-discipline, priorities are absolutely paramount because they help give your day needed structure and flow.
When you prioritize effectively, you’re no longer wondering what needs to get done. Instead, you already know what’s most important and how you will structure your day.
A self-disciplined mind always works with structure. In fact, the more structure, the better because, the fewer decisions you ultimately need to make. With fewer choices, you are less likely to get sidetracked with irrelevant tasks and activities.
Track Your Progress
A self-disciplined mind thrives when it recognizes the progress it’s making toward a goal.
Given this, it’s essential to build a process that can help you track the progress you’re making using a calendar or journal.
When you track your results and can effectively measure the progress, you’re making, this will instantly help keep you motivated and focused on the tasks at hand.
Even in situations where you’re failing to reach the milestones you’ve set for yourself, tracking your progress can help you make necessary adjustments to stay on track.
When it comes to tracking your progress, it’s necessary to monitor your results along with the temptations that end up sabotaging your progress. Once identified, make the required adjustments to avoid those temptations altogether.
Remember, that rarely, if ever, will things flow perfectly. There will always be speed humps along the way. This is just a part of the process. However, with self-discipline in your pocket, you will successfully manage to navigate through these obstacles.
How to Find Self-Discipline When Facing Adversity
At the beginning of any journey, it’s easy to assume that everything will go smoothly. There is all this excitement, anticipation, enthusiasm, and energy that motivates us to push forward. However, this soon dissipates when, all of a sudden, we face our first big hurdle.
It’s during such times of adversity that we need to dig even deeper to find the self-discipline required to keep plowing forward.
In this final section, let’s take a look at what it takes to keep self-discipline alive when facing the hardships and setbacks of life.
Make No Excuses or Complaints
When dealing with setbacks and adversity, you must throw all your excuses and complaints out the door.
Bad stuff will always happen when you least expect it. But that’s really only your opinion of the situation, isn’t it? For all you know, things might be a little different than you imagine. You just need a shift in perspective.
Jumping to quick conclusions and letting your imagination run wild will only sabotage your efforts. Instead, use your imagination constructively to refocus your efforts on what you need to do to get the job done.
If you don’t take control of your imagination, then you may very well fall prey to anger or frustration. Once in this state-of-mind, it’s easy to indulge in excuses and complaints. After all, they immediately make you feel better about yourself and your situation. However, they provide you no way to work through the situation.
You must, therefore, at all times discipline yourself to keep your emotions in check. When your emotions are in-check, you can refocus your efforts on what needs to get done to help you accomplish your goal.
Avoid the Perfect-ination Trap
It’s undoubtedly easy to procrastinate when facing adversity. Things aren’t going well, and out of fear, you decide to take a backseat to wait things out.
Now, of course, a temporary reprieve might be helpful, however, the longer you indulge in the procrastination cycle, the deeper you sink into stagnation. You must instead, refocus your efforts on what matters most. Self-discipline can then become the grounding force that anchors you to your goal. Ask yourself:
What’s most important right now?
What should I focus on that could help me move forward in this moment?
Focus on small tasks that are within your control — that help you move forward in a big way. Then progressively, discipline yourself to upgrade these tasks as you start building momentum.
When it comes to perfectionism, this is where things get a little tricky. It’s tricky and somewhat deceiving because we often fool ourselves into believing that we’re actually making progress. But this is, of course, just a lie we tell ourselves.
When we indulge in perfectionism, we’re, actually, not making much progress at all. In fact, perfectionism is kind of a defensive mechanism we use to avoid dealing with what actually needs to get done.
When perfectionism strikes, we instead, focus our efforts on trivial tasks that give us some semblance of control in the face of adversity.
The major problem with perfectionism is that we often fool ourselves into believing that we’re actually exercising self-discipline. For the most part, this may be true. However, our self-discipline is being directed on the wrong things — the things that get you nowhere fast.
To break out of this perfectionist trap, it’s essential to get some needed clarity. Ask yourself:
Is what I’m focusing on really that important?
Is this task necessary for the attainment of my goal?
Is there something more important that I should be focusing on?
What should I focus on that could help me move forward in a better way?
The key here is to redirect your self-discipline onto something that matters. However, at the same time make sure that it’s something that you have some semblance of control over. Something that can help build the momentum you need to get you through the tough times.
Simplify, Simplify, and Simplify Even More…
When facing adversity, it’s easy to get angry, frustrated, and overwhelmed. While in the midst of these debilitating emotions, it can be challenging to discipline ourselves. It’s difficult because it just feels as though things are hurtling out of control.
In such instances, the solution is to progressively take back control one step at a time. And to do this, you will need to simplify.
While facing adversity, discipline yourself to begin simplifying everything. Simplify your actions, streamline the habits you’re building, simplify the steps you’re taking to overcome a problem, etc.
By simplifying things as much as possible, you progressively start taking back control over your life, projects, and tasks. Only in this way can you begin once again building the momentum you need to achieve your goal.
Make Things Pleasurable and Fun
Dealing with adversity is never really much fun. However, what if I was to say that if you stopped taking things so seriously that you would actually see adversity in a very different light.
Yes, things still, might not be fun. But it could very well become an incredibly valuable learning experience.
When we stop taking things so seriously and instead begin seeing them from a different vantage point, all of a sudden, it becomes easier to refocus our efforts and discipline ourselves on the things that matter most.
Adversity essentially becomes very much like a game we play with ourselves rather than a frightening obstacle. It just becomes significantly easier to discipline ourselves with this perspective in mind.
Given this, take time to ask yourself:
What’s the value in this experience?
What are the lessons here that I must learn?
How could I make this experience a little more enjoyable and fun?
It’s certainly easier to stay disciplined when things are a little more enjoyable and fun. 🙂
Self-discipline is no doubt an incredible mechanism that we can use to propel us forward toward our goals. If used correctly, it can dramatically expedite our results and accelerate productivity. However, when used unproductively, it can very quickly lead us down the rabbit hole of perfectionism and stagnation. It just depends on how you choose to use it.
Ultimately, self-discipline isn’t really that difficult to nurture. All you need is a little inspiration to kick in.
With inspiration, self-discipline becomes somewhat of an afterthought. Because when we’re feeling inspired that surge of energy naturally drives us forward.
When we’re feeling inspired, we’re more committed to the task at hand. Without inspiration though, our commitment levels tend to waver, and it subsequently makes it more challenging to exercise self-discipline.
Given this, it’s critical that you keep your commitment alive by looking for inspiration in everything you do. You can, for instance, gather inspiration from books, from people, from quotes, from movies, from current events, from magazines, through a vision poster, through journaling your learning experiences, etc. You can even find inspiration through stories of how other people achieved their goals.
In the end, though, inspiration without action leads to nothing. You must use inspiration as a platform to help you take massive and proactive action in the direction of your objectives. Only in this way will your self-discipline grow and thrive as you strive to achieve your goals.
Time to Assimilate these Concepts
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Here are three recommended IQ Matrix mind map bundles that explore how to develop the self-discipline needed to achieve your goals; how to maintain high levels of productivity, and how to cultivate key success habits for the attainment of your life’s objectives.
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Gain More Knowledge…
Here are some additional links and resources that will help you learn more about this topic:
- 5 Habits of Highly Disciplined People @ Fast Company
- 5 Proven Methods for Gaining Self-Discipline @ Forbes
- 10 Steps to Learn Self-Discipline @ Psych Central
- How to Improve Your Self-Discipline @ The Telegraph
- Self-Disciplined People are Happier @ Time
- Self-Discipline: The Critical Factor for Success @ LinkedIn
- The One Key to Success: Self-Discipline @ Inc.
- The Secret to Self-Discipline @ CBS News
- Unconventional Methods to Master Self-Discipline @ Huffpost
- Where Does Self-Discipline Come From? @ Psychological Science
- Why Everything We Know About Self-Discipline is Wrong @ Huffpost
- Why Self-Discipline will Make You Unstoppable @ Entrepreneur