Self-Discipline: a 4-step strategy to consistently do the right things.

What Is Self-Discipline?

A Self-discipline definition might is the ability to make the right decisions about what to take action to archive your goals. Being able to take action in the activities that will move you forward to reach your goals instead of procrastinating by focusing on short-term unrelated tasks is what makes self-discipline so important.

Zimmerman & Kitsantas, 2014 defined self-discipline as a conscious control oriented towards successful outcomes by overcoming obstacles or impediments.

Duckworth & Seligman, 2006, defined self-discipline as “the ability to suppress prepotent responses in the service of a higher goal… and such a choice is not automatic but requires conscious effort”.

Examples of Self-Discipline

  • Time Management – Being great at time management is challenging and will require a tremendous amount of self-discipline.
  • Money Management – Making wise financial decisions includes being self-disciplined with money.
  • Emotion Regulation – Expressing your emotions in healthy ways and learning to manage stress and disappointments requires reasonable control of self-discipline.
  • Healthy Habits – Maintaining good health habits such as sleeping, eating nutritious food, exercising and avoiding bad habits like smoking or drinking alcohol require significant self-discipline but have fantastic mental and physical health benefits.

Why Is Self-Discipline Important?

Self-discipline is vital because big and meaningful goals in life require an unmeasured amount of daily consistency during long periods.

Making the right decisions about what to focus on is, most of the time, not the most pleasant thing, but instead, the ones that will produce the results to archive your goals require a significant level of self-discipline.

Not only will self-discipline in the long term help you achieve your most ambitious goals. It will also improve the quality of your work. The self-discipline to work on something consistently will make you better at it.

How to Develop Self-Discipline – 4-step strategy

Developing self-discipline is like developing muscles. If you practice consistently, more strength will be developed in the muscles you train. The key to success in developing self-discipline is similar to developing a habit. Small steps consistently taken every day will compound great results.

A simple way to develop your self-discipline is these steps:

If you would like self-discipline exercises that will help strength your self-discipline, iterating in the following four steps for a few things you would like to set yourself to achieve is a perfect start. The steps are:

1. Choose what you want to develop your self-discipline.

To start developing your self-motivation, the first step is to decide on a goal that you would like to archive by developing your self-motivation.

Although not perfect but an excellent place to start is to define a goal in the SMART – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound format and break it down into smaller sub-goals. Small steps have more probability of being completed than big goals.

Let’s take, for example, that you would like to be more disciplined in the information you consume. Cut on social media and traditional news and move more to reading books.

A good goal might be “I would like to read every day, for at least 30min before sleep, and maintain this routine for the entire year”.

This is a worthy goal to develop your self-discipline. It is well-defined. It is relatively small, even though you can start even smaller with just 5 min every day or even just two pages and increase day after day.

2. Find the reasons why you would like to archive that goal.

The second step is to define why you would like to archive that particular goal. This will help in the long run to keep consistency. Strong motivation and desire to achieve a goal will help you stay consistent and develop self-discipline.

Try to keep the reasons positive and focus more on the process than on outcomes.

For example, for the goal defined before, “I would like to read every day, for at least 30min before sleep, and maintain this routine for the entire year”, instead of saying, “I want to read every day to be smarter than everyone else” say “I would like to read every day to acquire knowledge that will make me better personally and professionally so that I can deal with situations more calmly and make better decisions”.

You will find that when you list why you want something, it will be easier to archive those goals.

3. Identify obstacles that might prevent you from archiving that goal.

Now you have a goal you would like to achieve, and you have a list of reasons for achieving that goal. The next step is to identify obstacles that might get in the way of allowing you to archive that goal by putting in the work consistently over time and defining a strategy to minimise their impact.

Taking the goal that we defined before, “I would like to read every day, for at least 30min before sleep, and maintain this routine for the entire year”, there are many obstacles you can face working toward your goal. For example, it’s hard to find time at night to read once you research a book you would like. Between work, dinner and kids, your time is taken up until late in the evening. After that, you are tired and can easily give up and scroll across your phone until you sleep.

Let’s take these obstacles and create a strategy to minimise their impact on arching your goal.

  • Find the books you want to read instead of spending hours in a physical bookshop. If you don’t have time, find an online website with curated book lists with reviews and order a physical copy of the book or instead, buy an electronic version and download it to an ebook reader.
  • To focus on reading to make the best of the short time, avoid using electronic devices other than your ebook to minimise distractions.
  • Find time in your day to read more. Are you scrolling social media while waiting for an appointment? That might be 15 min or a couple of pages that you progress. Try to multitask, for example, by using audiobooks. If you are going for a walk or gym, why not listen to the audio version of that book?

This is the critical step. If you cannot accurately and honestly define the obstacles you might face and the strategies to overcome them, the process of developing your self-discipline will crumble. When these obstacles show up, you are unprepared to deal with them, and you will skip one day, then two, then three and when you notice you are entirely off archiving your goals.

Allow yourself to make mistakes, and it is ok if you don’t find all the obstacles and strategies that work on the first try, but you need to be honest with yourself about this step to make sure that you are processing as you need.

4. Monitor your progress

Monitoring and reflecting is the next vital step to developing your self-discipline. As you develop your self-discipline, reflect on your feelings as it develops and strengthens. Ideally, you will feel free, happy, proud, and energized.

For monitoring your progress, it might be helpful to keep a journal where you can write your goals and track your daily progress and reflections. This practice will reinforce your accountability to do what you need to do to archive your goals. Additionally, in case you don’t archive one of your goals, you have a record your what you did that will be very helpful to reflect on how to attack that goal from a different angle.

Self-discipline is a skill that can be developed. Therefore, once you strengthen your self-discipline, you can apply that skill to other goals and areas of your life and work.

What else can you do to be successful in developing your self-discipline?

1. Identify Your Strengths & Weaknesses

Early in the process of purposely strengthening your self-discipline, reflecting and being as transparent as possible on your strengths and weaknesses is helpful to define the right goals and strategies to archive them.

What things do you do well without much effort? Where do you get challenges to get motivation? What has been holding you back from focusing on developing your self-discipline in the past? How do you respond when things get tough or when obstacles and tempting distractions appear in your way?

Another aspect to cover is asking for feedback from family, friends and colleagues about your biggest strengths and weakness. That will close the loop about what you need to know to get a good and realistic start.

2. Develop Success Habits

The build of self-discipline is closely linked with developing good daily habits. If you have daily habits that contribute and move you toward archiving your goals without distractions, you are on the right path to archive your goals.

To develop great habits, an excellent resource to help you is the fantastic book Atomic Habits by James Clear. It’s on my list of recommended books, and I also have a summary that you can look at.

3. Connect with a Mentor or a Coach

Someone else will already accomplish any goal you would put yourself to the archive. The good news is that there are people that can help you that already walked the path you are trying to walk. They can share their experiences and give you invaluable advice on what to do and, more importantly, what not to do.

Seeking out mentors and coaches who can keep you accountable and motivate you as you work on your self-discipline will have a tremendous impact. Relying on family and friends to hold you accountable for your goals is usually less effective as a mentor or coach will have real experience achieving success and won’t let you get away under challenging moments making excuses or blaming others for the results that you get.

Last Words

Keep going. Creating an excellent self-discipline level is not a straight line. The ability to accept and learn from your mistakes means that you are growing and should be seen as positive, not negative.

Check out my recommended books, as they contain self-discipline books that will help you with more detailed information.

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Further Reading

Wikipedia | Discipline

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