Developing the discipline of self-discipline

February 24, 2022 - 17 min read

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What’s discipline?

Why should I care about building self-discipline?

6 ways to be more disciplined

Self-discipline examples

Self-discipline quotes and affirmations

Final thoughts

 

Ah, the age-old quest that your teachers and coaches pushed you to take on: the quest for self-discipline.

For many, self-discipline is a shiny goal on the distant horizon — a time when we finally master our messy, imperfect selves. With self-discipline, I will finally be able to stick to my goals (stop eating sugar, work out every morning, learn a new language) and achieve my dreams. 

For others, it is a measuring stick we use to judge ourselves, our character, and our actions. We confuse it with willpower. (Usually, we come up short).

Learning discipline isn’t a destination or a yardstick: it’s a practice. Practices never end, but we do become more skilled.

Many strive to practice discipline, but mastering this form of self-control is harder than we think. Our mental well-being, upbringing, personal habits, and present circumstances impact our handling of ourselves.

Learning how to become disciplined requires deliberate practice, just like self-love or facing our fears. Though it may seem like an unbeatable dragon, getting better is always possible. With practice, you learn how to work with who you are and what you have to develop the self-discipline that matters for you and your goals. 

It doesn’t help to beat ourselves up or compare our “lack” of self-discipline to others. Let go of viewing it as a character trait and focus on developing self-discipline as a tool to achieve the life you want to live.

What it means to be disciplined looks different for everyone, from athletes to CEOs. We’ve created a brief guide about self-discipline to help you achieve it.

 

What’s discipline?

 

Discipline encompasses training people to adhere to certain behaviors and rules. The definition of self-discipline is similar, except that we turn these efforts inward and train ourselves to control our behavior, mind, and body over time. That's what staying disciplined is about.

Discipline training often also implies obedience, rigid rules, and punishment. Unfortunately, this disciplinary aspect explains why we judge ourselves harshly around our own actions.

Learning how to build discipline doesn't mean tearing yourself down, and disciplining yourself isn't about having zero self-compassion. Self-imposed threats and punishment aren't effective for developing discipline within ourselves.

Self-discipline is a soft skill, meaning it’s applicable in a wide variety of settings and situations. Like replacing a bad habit, learning to practice emotional self-regulation is a constant process. This is closely related to self-management, which is when you take personal responsibility for your behavior or actions and any rewards or consequences that arise from them. 

Improving your self-discipline improves your will; you can’t have one without the other. Where self-discipline centers around maintaining control and exercising restraint, your will — more commonly referred to as “willpower” — is an innate response and refers to your ability to push yourself to continue. 

Resisting chocolate cravings might result from your willpower — but choosing not to buy chocolate at all is about practicing discipline in making decisions that anticipate future struggles.

And it turns out that people who reach their goals are far more often practicing discipline rather than relying on the strength of their willpower. Power requires discipline, which is something to never forget.

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Why should I care about building self-discipline?

Learning how to self-discipline has many benefits:

1. It reduces anxiety

When we feel in control of our own emotions and reactions, we can focus on what we need to do instead of worrying about what could go wrong. Decision-making is easier and your mental health improves.

2. It increases your ability to achieve short-term and long-term goals

Having self-discipline means you can proactively remove temptations and avoid self-sabotaging behaviors. When it comes to studying, working, or managing money, you’ll be able to prioritize, focus, and work harder and smarter.

3. You’ll be happier

Discipline leads to progress, which leads to success. When you cultivate discipline, you'll be happier and more confident in yourself because of how far you've come.

Research has found that when you learn how to be more disciplined, it positively impacts your attitude, assertiveness, and conscientiousness with your tasks. It helps improve your mood and outlook on things you have to accomplish, whether at work or home.

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4. You’ll be more resilient

We all have moments where we're unmotivated and want to go on social media, watch our favorite show, or take multiple breaks. The more you resist distractions, the easier it becomes.

Rewiring your mind and your body is challenging but rewarding. If you're wondering, "How do I begin to discipline myself?" just know that this isn't something you have to do alone. At BetterUp, our coaches are here to help you succeed and unlock your greater potential. We're all capable of self-improvement, and with the right tools, you can achieve that and much more.

6 ways to be more disciplined

Discipline is an ability that you must hone. It benefits from creating habits and routines that eventually make practicing self-discipline the easiest path. In the beginning, establishing the routines and structures to help yourself takes effort. 

It takes time, but practicing self-discipline can change your life in more ways than one. Here are some tips to show you how to build self-discipline:

1. Write out your goals

Jot down where you want to be in two, five, or eight years, and hang it somewhere you'll see it each day. Visual reminders are wonderful motivators

One study found that students fall short of their intellectual potential and academic goals when they don't have self-discipline. Their lack of self-discipline made it difficult to identify their goals and how to achieve them. But when students have self-discipline, it helps them focus on what's important and succeed at their goals.

Don't beat yourself up for your lack of discipline at times. Practicing self-compassion will help you stay motivated and persevere. With self-compassion, you stop viewing yourself as the enemy or the obstacle to achieving your goals. Start by setting small goals. This way, you won't get overwhelmed, and you'll build your confidence.

2. Practice prioritizing

Making a to-do list or an action plan will help you stay organized, and you’ll feel accomplished with every task you cross out. Put the less exciting or the most demanding responsibilities at the top and do those first. Then your best energy goes to your priorities; you won’t need to sweat the small stuff.

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3. Know your weaknesses

Acknowledging where you struggle is the first step to changing your habits. Be proactive. If you know music, apps, or TV distracts you, turn them off while studying. If you need to catch up on work but have multiple plans on the weekend, reschedule. Don’t get in your own way, and don’t lie to yourself about who you are.

4. Get others to hold you accountable

We all need that extra push now and then. Family, friends, colleagues, mentors, and coaches can help keep you on track and be there to support you when things get busy or hard. They can give you feedback and make you aware of your habits. 

5. Change your perspective

Expecting a person to act or a situation to unfold in a certain way, and when it does, is called a self-fulfilling prophecy. Our mindset is everything. It determines what we do and how we push forward. 

It’s okay to stumble. Learn from your mistakes and focus on doing better next time. Stay positive.

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6. Be mindful of your urges

We all have urges to avoid things that are difficult or uncomfortable. Coming out of our comfort zones. Set a timer, permitting yourself to do nothing but a specific task. Doing this will make you more aware of procrastination or your instinct to run away from a challenge. 

7. Forgive yourself and move forward

As a self-disciplined person, you shouldn't beat yourself up for past mistakes. Instead, acknowledge what went wrong and move forward. Mistakes are learning opportunities. Understand that nobody's perfect, be kind to yourself, and know that you can do better next time.

8. Have a backup plan

Creating an action plan is great, but sometimes things fall through. That's why having a plan B comes in handy. Rather than worrying about what to do when road bumps pop up, your backup plan will help you pick up right where you left off. It'll help you stay organized, focused, and motivated to work on your goals.

Self-discipline examples

You exercise self-discipline everywhere in your life — at the grocery store, on vacation, in your relationships, and more. But even though self-discipline is seemingly everywhere, it might be difficult to narrow down when and where you want to exercise it. 

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If you want to know how to learn discipline but need examples, we have you covered. Take a look at these six examples of self-discipline:

  1. Going to the gym in the morning before work each day
  2. Practicing self-care in some way each evening
  3. Having solid time management skills at work
  4. Regulating your emotions when you express yourself 
  5. Reviewing and updating your financial budgets each week
  6. Upholding a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset

Self-discipline quotes and affirmations

Some days you might feel like learning how to have discipline is too difficult or that it's not worth it. But it is. Learning how to have self-discipline is a skill that takes you to the next level with your goals, purpose in life, and how well you treat yourself. The payoff is huge, and you aren't going to give up.

On the days when it's a struggle to be disciplined, here are some affirmations to tell yourself:

  • Today, I'll create new habits that help my well-being and break ones that cause me harm
  • I'm going to develop an action plan to help me work hard on my tasks
  • Even if I start small, I'll set clear goals to follow
  • I'm disciplined and in control of my thoughts and behavior

Perhaps you need to hear about discipline from some successful people. To give you some inspiration, here are a few quotes from people who see the value in learning how to get discipline:

  • "Passion is energy. Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you." - Oprah Winfrey
  • "We don't have to be smarter than the rest; we have to be more disciplined than the rest." - Warren Buffett
  • "It doesn't matter whether you are pursuing success in business, sports, the arts, or life in general: The bridge between wishing and accomplishing is discipline." - Harvey Mackay
  • "Your ability to discipline yourself to set clear goals, and then to work toward them every day, will do more to guarantee your success than any other single factor." - Brian Tracy

Final thoughts

You deserve to be your best self and live your best life. Whether you want to get promoted, lose weight, fulfill your dreams, or fix your relationships, self-control is one of the most significant factors. Establishing healthy habits will serve you well now and in the future. 

Learning how to be disciplined is all about expanding your comfort zone. Focusing takes repeated dedication.

It's tricky for everyone. Start with baby steps: work for 30 minutes, take a break for five, then slowly increase your work time as your body and mind adjust.

Whether it takes books, podcasts, talking to a mentor, or personal diligence, how you achieve self-discipline doesn't matter. What matters is that you're taking steps to build good habits

We won't sugarcoat it — building discipline is hard. But if you're willing to put in the work, we'll support you every step of the way.

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Published February 24, 2022

Maggie Wooll

Managing Editor

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