Self-Discipline: A Skill That Successful People Masterby Jake Smolarek
The world's most successful people, whether in business, sports or academia, all have one trait in common—self-discipline.
These ambitious overachievers use this skill to push themselves when necessary and to establish rules and routines that make them better at what they do. You might argue that they have a lot of help to make them the best at what they do—and they do—trainers, employees, assistants and more—but they never started off with these people around them. It was their own self-discipline that got them where they are, and in every case, this discipline was learned, not inherent.
Many of my clients incorrectly believe that they are innately unproductive, lacking the natural traits to achieve their goals. They start projects, they slow down, they stagnate, and then they give up. They repeat this loop endlessly, thinking that they just don't have what it takes to be disciplined. I always explain to them that much like all other skills in life, self-discipline takes practice and training to master. Those who seem to have it naturally actually have worked at developing it—they've worked so hard at it that they are now at the point where it looks natural.
So, how do you become a person with a lot of self-discipline? Here are a few tips to get started:
Set Concrete Goals
Disciplined people make their goals clear. In 2018, for example, I challenged myself to run for an hour every day for 50 days in a row. It was a specific goal that was challenging, yet achievable for me, and I could envision what it would take for me to do this every day. If you can't verbally define your goal and how you are going to achieve it, then you need to refine and work on it until you can. Write the goal down, make notes on how you plan to achieve it, and think of how you are going to adjust your current life to make room for it.
Achieve the Goal in Moderation
When I started running, I'll admit, I didn't hit the hour mark consistently every time. It was tough, as I am not a seasoned runner, but what helped me keep at it was making sure I had some moderation and flexibility. It was more important that I was outside attempting the run daily, so the moderate goal was just to get outside and start. Once I did this, it became easier and easier to add ten more minutes here, 20 more minutes there, and eventually, the hour was just routine. So long as I got myself out the door and ready to run, I had already achieved much of my goal, and that was the most important part.
All too often, I see clients go too extreme with their goals, and this intensity burns out quickly. When you go too full force, it becomes easier for you to give up because you have pushed yourself too much—unrealistically so. Every goal should be flexible and moderate enough to fit into your regular routine without burning you out.
Make Schedules and Stick to Them
A large part of self-discipline is making a plan and schedule that you can stick to. For my running goal, I carved out an hour every day after work, when it was easy for me to get outside and yearn for some relaxation. I marked this time in my calendar and set reminders and alarms to remind me to start my run—so I'd never forget. I'd also mark down when I completed the runs as this gave me a sense of accomplishment, motivating me not to break my visible exercise streak in my calendar.
Admit Your Weaknesses
People have bad habits that derail their goals all too often. We see it in movies all the time; someone is on their way to success but gets side-tracked by alcohol, drugs, bad influences, addiction and so on. But if there is something we can learn from these movies, it's that those who persevere, isolate their weaknesses, admit to them and work hard to remove them from their lives. By doing this, they have a clear vision of their goals, and nothing to interrupt or distract them from them. If you have vices that you know are dragging you away from attaining your goal, make sure you work to remove them from your routine—whether it's buying junk food at the grocery store or drinking too much.
See the Results
When I started my running challenge, I could see where I wanted to be in the future. I knew how improved I wanted my physical health to be, I knew how I wanted to feel, and I knew why I was doing it. I always thought about my goal and why I was doing it: to feel healthier and fitter.
Understanding where I was headed with this goal motivated me to keep pushing for it every day. I looked forward to the results, I could see them, and this made pursuing the path more encouraging. Because I made the goal flexible, moderate and scheduled, I was able to do it. I ended up doing a bit more than a half-marathon every day by the end of it—and I felt great. Sometimes you do not need a lot of self-discipline to be successful, you just need a little to start, and this little bit can grow into big things.