How to Build Self-Discipline like a Pro! (with minimal stress)
Self-discipline is a must-have for everyone, no matter your age or career. It’s what makes or breaks your lifestyle. However, in order to build self-discipline, you must first understand what it is and why it’s important.
The dictionary describes self-discipline as:
the ability to control one’s feelings and overcome one’s weaknesses; the ability to pursue what one thinks is right despite temptations to abandon it.
So, I think it’s safe to say that it is not an easy skill to master.
As for why it’s so important, answer this: How would you go about exercising if you don’t enjoy it?
The answer is self-discipline. Without it, we’re left to give in to our worldly desires and the possibility of accomplishing difficult goals becomes unmanageable. People with a higher degree of self-control spend less time debating whether to indulge in behaviors that are detrimental to their health and are able to make positive decisions more easily.
So, now that you know the basics of what it is and why it’s important, let’s get into the fun stuff: how to build your self-discipline!
Identify key Components to Build Self-Discipline
Set short and long term goals
Before you even think about strengthening your self-discipline, you must figure out why you’re doing it! Without clear goals, you will fail before you even begin. With that being said, take a minute, fetch your notepad and pencil, and determine what you want the outcome to be once you build self-discipline. So:
What are your goals?
Are they short-term or long-term?
Another important factor concerning this is that your goals are realistically achievable. There’s no one stopping you from completely cutting sugar out of your diet. But, if you’re used to eating a tub of ice cream a week, is that realistically achievable for you?
Chances are, it’s not. Setting unrealistic goals is one of the biggest reasons that people fail to make positive changes in their lives. Therefore, when you set your goals, make sure they’re not too challenging.
Tip: Don’t make them too easy either! Referencing the last example, it would not be challenging at all if you were to cut ice cream out of your diet for once a week. Make a goal you’ll feel proud that you’ve accomplished!
After you decide what your goal is, set a course of action.
Temptations and Weaknesses
Time and time again, I have set the goal to start eating healthier…and then didn’t. Why is this? Because I would not remove temptation from my life. I knew my weaknesses, yet I gave in to them anyway.
This is a valuable lesson that most people have to learn the hard way. When you set the expectation to do something better, you must also accept that you have weaknesses that may prevent you from doing so.
As such, it is never a bad idea to get a sheet of paper and start writing down any weaknesses or desires you may have concerning your goals. If you have a particularly difficult time resisting temptations, it’s not a bad idea to construct a game plan for when you encounter them.
There’s a reason behind advertisers displaying well-known celebrities and models on their products. Most of society strive to be more like their icons and, consequently, sales rise when advertisements utilize this technique.
So, take a look at your most successful idols, or even someone you personally know and decide which ones are definite role models for you. Afterward, research the habits that brought them to their success. What do they do every week that allows them to accomplish their goals?
It may turn out that some of their habits don’t differ too wildly from yours. If anything, you’ll feel more inclined to try some of their habits out. After all, if it worked for your idol, why couldn’t it work for you?
Stop these habits
We all have that one annoying friend who always makes excuses to go out.
You: “Hey, do you want to go see a movie with me in an hour? I can pay if you’d like.”
Them: “Ahh. I would…but my mom needs me to help her unpack. She just moved into her new house last night. Sorry.”
And maybe she does need help unpacking. But we all do this, just because we can. I know I missed the occasional school assignment simply because I kept saying: “I’ll just do it tomorrow”. Don’t do it tomorrow. Do it today, right now.
The longer you wait, the longer it will take to get done. Once you start procrastinating, it is difficult to ever get out of that trap.
Furthermore, nothing has to be perfect. Do it the best you can, but don’t make it perfect. Perfectionism goes hand in hand with procrastination and will only lead you deeper into a cycle of excuses and complaints.
Giving in to Impulses
Similarly to temptations, we also have sudden impulses. If you’re at home laying in bed, you may have the impulse to log in to a social media app on your phone. There goes half your day in the blink of an eye.
Instead of picking up your phone, turn it off and do something productive.
BAM. Automatic strategy to build self-discipline, you’ve leveled up.
And yes, it’s definitely not this easy. It will take practice and it will take failure to resist these impulses. But you’ve accomplished it one time, so what’s to stop you from doing it again?
Tip: Studies have proven that an “Out of sight, out of mind” technique works with helping avoid impulses. If you know that going into a store may persuade you to buy something, don’t go into that store.
Create and Strategize
The repetition of positive habits is what leads us to immense growth as a human being.
We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.
For example, you’ve gotten into the habit of watching Netflix every time you eat, which leads to you watching T.V. for hours on end. Instead of falling into this pitfall, set a timer of 20 minutes every time you eat and turn off the television as soon as you hear that alarm.
Or, instead of watching Netflix while you eat, read a book. As soon as you finish eating, finish the chapter and work on your goal.
Tip: Use a Tracker to mark the progress you make! Whether it be your calendar, notebook, or computer, no one can deny that visualizing your habits helps build self-discipline. If you complete a habit or goal, mark it off!
A Backup Plan
So, you’ve set your plan for exercising for the week, and have the motivation to follow through with it. Unfortunately, your boss calls you later that night and asks you to go on a business trip, as your coworker has fallen sick and can’t attend.
Do you ditch your routine for the week? No. That’s called making excuses.
You exercise, as much as you feasibly can, while on the trip. If you’re at a hotel, research local parks and go on a short jog early the next morning. It’s that easy.
If there are any obstacles you may encounter while reaching your goal, write them down in a notebook. Get your computer out, and brainstorm ways you can overcome these obstacles. By making a backup plan ahead of time, you are preparing for and accepting that things may not go the way you want.
Just because life got hard doesn’t mean that you have the luxury to give up. You can do this!
Schedule Your Routine
Routines are a godsend in the world of a lowly procrastinator, i.e. me.
When I don’t feel like doing something and am on the edge of making excuses, all I have to do is take a look at my to-do list. Oops, if I don’t get up now, I won’t have time to do my yoga, and my day will be ruined.
Twenty minutes later, I’ve completed my yoga routine.
By scheduling your short term goals for the day, you don’t give yourself the option to procrastinate, and as a result, get more things done. It helps you focus on your priorities and gives you more willpower to avoid impulses.
And you don’t have to stop at scheduling times to work on your goal, you can also schedule rewards for if you complete them. By doing this, you build a positive relationship with routines and with that goal. Think Pavlov’s Dogs, condition yourself to look forward to those tasks.
If this proves difficult, don’t set a goal for that specific time, and work on the journey of self-discipline rather than the reward. By doing this, you get yourself in the routine of working on productivity and self-discipline at that time of the day.
Tip: Focus on starting a task, rather than finishing it. By doing so, you minimize the risk of procrastination.
Bonus Tip: Try time-blocking instead of a To-Do List. I find it easier to get things done using this method, and it has many other benefits as well.
Remember that to Build Self-Discipline, you need time
Hold Yourself Accountable!
A big part of reaching long-term goals is holding yourself accountable, both for positive and negative actions. Many people lack this accountability and struggle to reach their goals because of it.
While you shouldn’t be too hard on yourself for failing at a certain goal, you shouldn’t fall into disillusionment over why it happened. It may not be your fault, but if it is, don’t blame it on circumstances or other people. By doing this, you don’t hold yourself accountable for your own actions, and if you attempt the same goals again, you fall into the same trap you did the first time.
If you’re driving to work and run out of gas, you don’t blame it on your car. You blame it on you not getting gas the last time you went out. As such, you actually learn from your negative behavior, so that you do not repeat it.
Tip: Many people find it easier to have someone else hold them accountable. Therefore, it’s not a bad idea to have a buddy join in on your diet, or monitor your exercise routines. If you and your friend hold yourself accountable, the benefits will be two-fold.
Rewarding and Penalizing
By rewarding and penalizing habits, you are, by extension, holding yourself accountable in a healthy way. For instance, if you stick to only eating one candy bar in a week, go out and see a movie. By doing this, you are rewarding the positive behavior, much like a human rewards a dog for not roaming when they say “stay”.
Furthermore, penalize your bad habits. If, alternately, you go over your weekly candy bar limit, make sure to add an adequate consequence to fit the crime. Such as not going to see that movie.
This gives you more motivation to stick to your goals and allows you to build self-discipline at the same time.
Failure is Part of Succeeding
If you do all of this and still fail, don’t worry. No one is perfect and this is only a test run. Look at your defeat in an optimistic light. By not succeeding this time, you’ve given yourself the opportunity to grow.
Failure is part of succeeding. Without failure, we don’t get up and try again. We don’t learn from our past mistakes.
With that being said, learn to forgive yourself for these defeats. Theorize what you could’ve done better and refocus on your goal. You’ve got this.