How to develop discipline

by Jake Smolarek
Game tiles put into words YOU SAID TOMORROW YESTERDAY

Have you ever watched a friend easily do something that you've been struggling to do? Like they suddenly decide they are going to lose weight, and they do. Or they choose to quit smoking, and they manage it.

It can be super disheartening. What do they have that you don't? Why can't you do it too? Why is it so easy for them and so hard for you? What is wrong with you?

Nothing. Nothing is wrong with you.

Anyone who has ever succeeded at doing anything will tell you that consistency is critical. From Olympic athletes to businessmen to dietitians, writers, actors, and more, the self-discipline to do the same thing over and over again until you see results is the difference between failure and success.

But if you're anything like me, motivation lasts for about a week at the most and then mysteriously vanishes. This means that although you may have been motivated, you lack the self-discipline to follow through you your plans.

Self-discipline means doing things that aren't easy or necessarily enjoyable but will get you one step closer to your goal. But more than that, self-discipline means doing these things regularly. It means following through and being dedicated to your goal in the long run.

So, how do you become more self-disciplined? Read on to find out!

Can self-discipline be developed?

In a word? Yes.

Some people might seem like they are naturally disciplined. Self-discipline is like any other muscle in your body. It can be trained, developed, improved, and used.

People aren't necessarily born with a considerable amount of self-discipline and control. The truth is, you can become more self-disciplined over time. You can teach yourself tips and tricks and fool your brain into becoming disciplined and dedicated.

Eventually, you'll reach a stage where the willpower and desire to be disciplined and work towards your goal becomes more enjoyable and more straightforward than not doing it. This is why some people seem more self-disciplined than others. They aren't. They aren't fighting hard to get the job done; they genuinely enjoy it. These people thrive off the adrenaline of progress, so they find it easier to be disciplined because it feels good. But more on that later!

Don't mistake motivation for self-discipline

One of the most common mistakes people make when trying to be more self-disciplined is they think motivation=self-discipline.

It doesn't.

Have you ever decided to make a radical lifestyle change? Maybe lose weight, overhaul your diet, quit smoking, or redo your wardrobe? Once you've chosen, you might start buying health magazines, create a Pinterest board, tell all your friends and family, and go out and buy new trainers.

All these things are great. But only if you then follow them up with actual work. Usually, we call this productive procrastination. It's when you do everything except the main task you actually need to do. The result is, you get stuff done, and importantly, you don't feel guilty about not doing the thing you need to do.

This means you have effectively tricked your brain into thinking you have been very productive and efficient when in reality, you are motivated but lack the self-discipline to follow through. Studies actually show that if you spend a lot of time planning and visualising, you are less likely to achieve your goal because your brain already thinks you've done the work!

Many people fall into this trap and end up mistaking motivation with discipline. Self-discipline is taking that motivation to reach a goal and turning it into consistent action. The dedication, determination, and willpower to reach a goal is self-discipline. The desire to change and the motivation to act is not self-discipline. Don't get confused.

Game tiles put into words PLAN DISCIPLINE GOAL

How to turn motivation into action

The first step to developing self-discipline is to turn your motivation and enthusiasm into meaningful action. I don't mean the kind of positive procrastination we've already discussed; I mean meaningful actions that you can repeat over and over again to get results.

Developing self-discipline won't happen overnight. Just like you won't get results overnight, you need to be patient. But if you can start making small changes and actively working towards your goal, you're on your way to becoming self-disciplined. As they say, every journey begins with a single step.

Here are some top tips to turn motivation into action:

Set a realistic goal: The first thing you need to do is re-examine your goal. Is it realistic? It can be difficult to really focus on a plan if it seems unattainable. You might need to break down a larger goal into smaller, more manageable goals to focus on one at a time. If your plan seems too challenging to achieve, you will find yourself procrastinating because you already believe you will fail. If you don't think you can achieve your goal, why on earth would you bother trying? Be realistic. Take small steps, and you'll find it easier to actually act regularly.

Give yourself a deadline: Deadlines are crucial for developing self-discipline. Self-discipline is built over time, but to begin with, when you find it hard to commit to regular work, giving yourself a deadline can mentally prepare you. Working to a deadline can increase motivation because you know that if you haven't achieved your goal by then, it's futile. But working to a deadline can help with self-discipline as well. A deadline lets you know that even if you don't enjoy doing this regularly, it will be over soon. This means you are more likely to get up and get on with it. Do that enough times, and you might just find you are starting to discipline yourself.

Break up with "cheating": The idea of "cheat days" is beneficial for some people but can be very harmful to others. The concept of "cheating" can make you feel guilty or like you've ruined all your hard work so far. In reality, a cheat day where you eat a doughnut or fail to work out won't set you back that far; it will only affect your mental outlook. Cheat days can make you feel like you've failed, which is more damaging than any doughnut will ever be. If you feel like you're back to square one every time you mess up, you'll be demotivated and unable to commit long term. You need to understand that mistakes are part of life. Self-discipline only comes in the face of mistakes. Don't let a cheat day get you down. Start again the next day and appreciate that one bad day won't ruin all the hard work you've already done.

Recognise your progress: Developing self-discipline takes time. It is complex and requires strong willpower. So, you needed to take a minute and recognise how far you've come. Self-discipline requires strong mental fortitude, and so giving yourself encouragement and recognition can be the push to keep you going. You should consider self-discipline as a journey. Often this means there isn't an end. The self-discipline to go running three times a week will continue long after you've reached your target weight or beat your best 5km time. As a result of the continued work it takes to maintain and improve self-discipline, you may not celebrate specific goals. Looking back on how far you've come can be a valuable tool to ensure you remain committed to the journey, even if you've already achieved your goal.

Make a practical plan: Perhaps the most important thing you can do to inspire regular action is to make a real plan. If you only work out when you are motivated, you aren't using your willpower. You will likely be irregular and will find it challenging to work out when you feel unmotivated. This is because motivation isn't self-discipline. Self-discipline is about finding the motivation to act when you don't want to. Tell yourself when and for how long you will take action and then stick to it. Even if you only go to the gym and do a light workout, it's better than nothing, and, most importantly, you will begin to develop the discipline to go, even when you feel like staying home.

How to become more disciplined?

That's a question I get asked ALL the time. Seriously. How to develop self-discipline is regularly typed into Google. If this is something you find yourself wondering, know that you aren't alone. We all feel like we aren't doing a good enough job sometimes. And how to improve self-discipline isn't easy.

Learning how to become disciplined doesn't happen quickly or overnight. It takes time, mistakes, and patience. However, there are a few things we all do which inhibit our ability to improve our self-discipline.

Here are a few things to look out for if you are trying to be more disciplined:

Blaming yourself

No matter what you are trying to achieve, you will fail or experience a setback. It's not necessarily a bad thing. But it can become a serious problem if you start blaming yourself. Saying "I failed because I'm a terrible person" or "it went wrong because I am rubbish." This can lead to a negative thought cycle in which you start to believe you won't ever succeed. You'll start believing the old story that some people have willpower, and you just don't have, and you just can't do it. Stop blaming yourself. Setbacks happen. Move forward.

Lost sight of your reason

As you continue to push yourself over time, it is easy to lose sight of why you started. This can lead to a lack of motivation and a loss of self-discipline. You can't expect yourself to use your willpower and push through difficult situations if you have no idea what you are doing it for. Take a second to refocus on your goals, think about your "why," and then use this to keep going.

Find the positive

If you base your self-discipline on negative thoughts, you'll find it harder to keep going. You need to use positivity as your foundation. Don't think about how hard it is to go running or how unhealthy you currently feel. Don't think about the time you didn't follow through on your actions. You need to start thinking about how far you've come, how good it feels to move your body, and how much better you'll feel tomorrow. Find the positives and let them become your motivation rather than wallowing in the negatives.

You're alone

The social pressure of being around others can be a wonderful thing. Sure, it's a little stressful, but no one wants to be the disappointment in front of others. If you are struggling to hold yourself accountable, get a friend or family member involved. Tell them what you are trying to do, and give them a reason to hold you responsible. If you want to write 1,000 pages of your book a day, tell them that if you fail to do it, you'll buy them dinner. Or, they can borrow the thing they have always wanted to borrow if you snack on chocolate this month. Social pressure can be hugely motivating, and having a cheerleader can make a huge difference.

How to build willpower and self-discipline?

Once you start to commit to a plan and become more self-disciplined than before, you'll notice a significant shift in your mindset. As you begin to see results and notice changes in your body, health, and happiness, you'll find it easier and easier to be disciplined. Suddenly, you'll find yourself waking up early and getting that morning workout, and you won't hate it.

This is because once you begin to associate positive feelings with consistent behaviour and then seeing results, you'll find that you'd rather do the work, even if it's complicated than deal with the guilt and shame that you place on yourself for not doing the work.

Once you begin to acknowledge the negative feelings that were holding you back, you can move through them until it's easier than ever to be self-disciplined. At this stage, you'd rather eat a salad, go to the gym, write another page of your book or declutter your office than go back to the dark place you were in before. Moving through your emotions into a positive place means your mind suddenly finds it easier to be motivated and disciplined. There is no going back.

It takes a while to reach this stage, but when you get here, other people will look at you and claim that you have fantastic self-discipline. But in reality, you'll find it almost effortless because it's easier to get healthier, fitter, more accomplished, and happier than to do nothing at all. This is true self-discipline, fighting against yourself to be better than you were before, and succeeding.

About the Author

Jake Smolarek

Life and Business Coach & Entrepreneur

For over 10 years I have been helping people achieve their personal, professional, and financial goals faster and easier than they've ever imagined.

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