Annette wakes up before dawn each morning to exercise. She works very efficiently in the office, ignoring distractions, and devoting all her attention to high-value projects. In the evening, she attends a class online; she’ll be graduating in a few months with her MBA.
How can people like Annette achieve so much, so consistently? And how can we accomplish as much in our personal lives and careers? Part of the answer lies in self-discipline. This pushes us to deliver on our best intentions and goals, even when we don’t feel like doing so. If we have self-discipline, we can put off short-term pleasure (or endure short-term inconvenience or discomfort) in pursuing long-term gain.
This is why self-discipline is so necessary. In this article, we’ll examine what self-discipline is, explore why it’s useful, and look at how to develop it.
What Is Self-Discipline?
Self-discipline is the ability to push yourself forward, stay motivated, and take action, regardless of how you feel, physically or emotionally. You’re showing it when you intentionally choose to pursue something better for yourself, and you do it despite factors such as distractions, hard work, or unfavorable odds.
Self-discipline is different from self-motivation or willpower. Motivation and willpower contribute to it, as do persistence, the ability to follow through on your intentions, and hard work.
Why Work on Your Self-Discipline?
Self-discipline is helpful in many areas of our lives.
For instance, it pushes you to do high-quality work, even when you don’t feel like it. It gives you the strength to stay professional with your clients, even when you’re ready to throw in the towel. It helps you stick with and achieve the challenging goals you set for yourself. Self-discipline also enables you to keep going through great success, despite what others might see as impossible odds.
It can also improve learning and enhance performance. Studies have shown that students with a high degree of self-discipline retain more knowledge than those without self-discipline. Additionally, researchers discovered that students with solid self-discipline are more careful in their tasks, which improves their performance.
Research has also shown that measuring a person’s level of self-discipline is a more accurate predictor of success than measuring their IQ.
How to Develop Self-Discipline
Self-discipline is like a muscle: the more you work on developing it and using it, the stronger it will become.
However, it’s just as important not to start with goals that are too ambitious. Instead, set small goals and slowly increase the level of challenge over time. The more you practice, the better you’ll become.
Follow these five steps to start developing your self-discipline:
Choose a Goal
Begin by choosing just one goal that you want to focus on to develop your self-discipline.
For instance, perhaps you want to start exercising every evening or read one leadership book a week to enhance your skills. You could even practice self-discipline on tiny goals, such as concentrating on a piece of work for an hour without checking your messages or avoiding unhealthy food for one day.
Remember, starting small is the best way to begin developing your self-discipline. As your discipline strengthens, you can spread the focus to more areas of your life.
Make sure your goal is SMART – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound – and break the goal down into smaller sub-goals where possible.
Find Your Motivation
Once you’ve chosen a goal, list why you want to achieve it, and try to express these reasons positively.
So, instead of saying, “I want to exercise three times a week to lose weight,” say, “I want to exercise so that I have the energy to play with my kids and work successfully.” Or, instead of saying, “I want to get this task off my To-Do List,” say, “I want to do this task so that I can meet my objectives, get praise from my boss, and feel satisfied with my day’s work.”
When you list why you want to achieve something, you’ll find it much easier to get the job done.
Now you need to identify the obstacles you’ll likely face when working toward your goal and devise a strategy for overcoming each one.
For instance, imagine your goal is to read one leadership book a week to enhance your skills. In the past, you’ve faced several obstacles in reaching this goal. For example, it’s hard to find time each night to read when you find a book you like. Between work, dinner, and the kids, your time is taken up until late in the evening, and you get distracted by messages coming in while you’re reading.
Once you’ve identified obstacles, come up with a strategy to overcome each one. In this example, you could do the following:
Instead of going to a bookstore, spend an hour looking at leadership books online. Find several that interest you and that have good reviews. Order all of them at once and download them to your tablet so that you always have a book on hand to read.
Find more time in your day to focus on reading. Perhaps you could read during lunch or while you’re waiting to pick your kids up from school.
Turn your phone off when you want to focus on reading.
Our self-discipline often crumbles because we haven’t identified the obstacles we’ll face and haven’t developed strategies to overcome them. When these obstacles show up, we’re unprepared to deal with them, which shakes our resolve. Don’t skip this step!
Replace Old Habits
When developing self-discipline, we often try to break a bad habit and replace it with something more productive. However, failing that habit can leave a hole if it is tied to a specific time of day or routine. If we don’t replace that habit with something else, its absence becomes even more noticeable.
A good example is if you’re trying to stop yourself from shopping online when you take a break at work. This bad habit destroys your focus and attention because you’re likely to be online for 20-30 minutes each time.
Once you’ve resolved to stop, identify a new behavior you can engage in when you need a quick break. Instead of online shopping, you could do some stretches in your office, get a cup of coffee, or take a short walk outside. These behaviors will help to support your goal and strengthen your self-discipline instead of leaving you with nothing to do on your break.
Monitor Your Progress
As you work on your self-discipline, please pay attention to how you feel as it develops and strengthens. You might feel free, happy, proud, and energized.
Also, think about keeping a journal to write down your self-discipline goals and track your progress. This reinforces the positive changes that you’re implementing in your life and gives you a record that you can look back on to see the progress that you’ve made.
Over time, your self-discipline will strengthen, and you’ll be able to apply it to many other areas of your life.
More Tips for Self-Discipline
Try to avoid distractions when you begin to develop your self-discipline. Make it harder to engage in the activity you’re trying to avoid.
It’s important to reward yourself when you experience success. Celebrating your accomplishments will keep things fun and strengthen your resolve.
Don’t let a fear of failure or an occasional setback discourage you. All of us experience setbacks and failures – they’re parts of life! Acknowledge that you slipped up, learn the lesson, and move on.
To develop self-discipline, follow these steps:
Choose a goal.
Find your motivation.
Replace old habits.
Monitor your progress.
Self-discipline is an essential quality, and it’s a critical differentiator between people who are successful in life and those who aren’t.