Embrace Possibility How to Be More Disciplined
/How to Be More Disciplined

How to Be More Disciplined

Guard BuckinghamIf someone is next to you right now, ask them this question (if you’re by yourself, ask yourself):

How can I be more disciplined?

What was the answer?

Was it something vague like “You just have to force yourself to do it”?

Self-discipline is one of those overused words that people have a hard time explaining. It’s filed under the category “easy to recognize but hard to do”.

I’m not going to waste time telling you about the benefits of self-discipline because if you’re reading this, you already have enough reasons of your own. To make sure we’re on the same page, here is my definition of self-discipline:

Self-discipline is the ability to do what you are “supposed to” do despite how you feel about doing it.

What you are “supposed to” do should only be determined by you and no one else. If you let others decide what you are supposed to do, you’re no longer building self-discipline, you’re building obedience.

Most people don’t have problems doing things they feel like doing. The real issue is doing the things they’re supposed to do when they don’t feel like doing it. Examples that come to mind: going to the gym after a long day of work, not eating your favorite dessert because you’re trying to lose weight or waking up early to always be on time.

As you know, doing things we don't feel like doing is tough. It doesn't matter how good it is for us. The good news is we all have self-discipline. Some just have more of it than others. If you floss at least once a month (even year), you have some self-discipline. It's not much but it's a start.

So how can you be more disciplined?

Know Why and Remember It

Do you know why you are supposed to lose weight?

Do you know why eating dessert will not help your diet?

Do you know why you want to be on time?

If you don’t, that’s a good place to start.

When I was working in China, I learned an effective method for finding the root cause of a problem. It’s called the 5 Why’s and the technique is to keep asking why until you drill down to the real cause of the problem.  For our purposes, we’ll be using this technique to get down to the real desire behind your action.

Example:

Your desired action: I want to go to the gym.

Why do you want to go to the gym?

I want to lose weight.

Why do you want to lose weight?

I want to be healthier.

Why do you want to be healthier?

I want to live longer.

Why do you want to live longer?

I want to be in the Guinness Book of World Records.

Ok. You get the point.

A key to remember is that you don’t need permission or approval to do what you want. Whatever reason you come up with is legitimate as long as that’s what you really want. Some people might believe that being in the Guinness Book of World Records is a great reason for being healthy and others may think it’s a stupid reason.

No one can tell you if your why is valid. As long as you want it, that’s all that matters.  Don’t let anyone tell you how to live your life.

Self-discipline is really about doing what you ultimately want. Many people associate discipline with sacrifice but you're not really sacrificing anything. When you're disciplined, the only thing you sacrifice are things that are not as important to you as the task at hand. The reason we struggle with being disciplined is because we lose sight of what we really want and take action for a lesser want instead.

Example:

You know you should go to the gym but you feel tired after a long day at work and you don’t want to go. You decide to go home instead because at that moment you want to go home and relax. You’ve let that want overshadow your ultimate desire to be in the Guinness book of World Records. It’s not because you think that’s bigger, it’s because you forgot that’s what you really want.

Remember: You’re not going to the gym to work out. You’re going to the gym to fulfill your dream.

The best time to do this: You definitely want to know why before you decide to take action or else you're going to have a tough time sticking with it. If you need discipline to do something in particular right now, ask yourself why at least 5 times? Be clear on what you ultimately want and remember it when lesser wants tempt you.

Create a Temptation-Free Environment

Most people are lazy. I have a theory that the entire productivity movement was developed by lazy people who want to do more work in less time so they can go back to being lazy. If given the choice between two paths that lead to the same outcome, we’ll usually choose what’s convenient.

When my clients find it hard to stay disciplined, I usually find their environment filled with temptations that make it easier to be undisciplined than to be disciplined. Make life easier on yourself by creating an environment that will help you do what you're supposed to do. This will help you tremendously when you don't feel like doing something.

Two Examples:

  1. If you're a writer and you want to work on your book, remove all distractions. Prepare all your notes before you start writing so you don’t have to be distracted to do research or to look up anything. Clean up your office so your work space is not cluttered and you won’t have the temptation to clean it up instead of writing your book. Turn off your internet connection, email alerts and phone so no one can interrupt you without your permission.
  2. Eating healthy is extremely difficult if you have junk food and soda in your home. If you want to stay disciplined, make it easier to do so by stocking your home and office with only healthy foods and snacks. Use your laziness to your advantage. I’ve never left the house to buy food just because I had a craving. Usually I just grab whatever is in the pantry or in the fridge (I am also lazier than most people so I find this method especially effective). For those wanting to cut down on their meal portions, buy smaller bowls and plates. Set yourself up to win. It works.

The best time to do this: Right at the beginning when you have a lot of motivation and you’re excited about making a change. Most people jump right into doing the activity. I recommend using that energy to create the best environment for staying disciplined. Motivation is fleeting but a well-designed environment can keep you on track for a long time. Make it as easy and convenient as possible to do what you’re supposed to do.

Exercise It Daily

Self-discipline is like a muscle. The more you exercise it, the stronger it becomes. Don’t kick yourself if you feel that you’re not disciplined enough. You may have committed to something that is beyond your current discipline level. What’s great about self-discipline is that it can be developed so what may seem hard now will become easier later.

Find ways every day to exercise your self-discipline. It can be just waking up 5 minutes earlier than you usually do for a week or limiting yourself to 1 soda per week. Whatever you decide, make sure you stick to it no matter what. In the beginning, you may not see any immediate benefits but when being disciplined becomes a habit, you’ll find it is easier and easier to do what you're supposed to do. You'll also find that you’re achieving all the things you want to achieve.

This was certainly the case when I decided to go 3-day/week vegetarian. In the beginning, I was struggling to do 1-day/week but now 3-day/week is easy. When I first started, if it was my vegetarian day, I would choose the vegetarian option no matter how bad it was. This was important because I got into the habit of sticking to my rules no matter how dumb the decision may seem. I’m all for being flexible but if you are looking to build self-discipline, it’s better to make no exceptions. (Side Note: The vegetarian options at many restaurants are pretty bad. It’s usually their regular dish minus the meat for the same price. If you plan to go vegetarian, make sure you map out a few vegetarian friendly restaurants.)

The best time to do this: Every day. It doesn’t matter how big or small the action. Find ways to exercise your self-discipline by committing to something and sticking with it. As you build your self-discipline, remember to increase the difficulty. Make bigger commitments and stick to them. If you find that you’re consistently failing to stay disciplined, reduce the commitment. You always want to be just outside your comfort zone.

"Self-discipline is an act of cultivation. It require you to connect today's actions to tomorrow's results. There's a season for sowing a season for reaping. Self-discipline helps you know which is which."  

– Gary Ryan Blair

Self-discipline boils down to empowering yourself and taking control of your life. It’s really about committing to what you want. Don’t fall into the trap of justifying yourself or making excuses when you slip up. Take responsibility and get right back on track.

In the words of Plato, "The first and best victory is to conquer self."

Do you do what you're supposed to do even when you don't feel like it?

What are some ways you use to stay disciplined?

 

Photo by gadgetdude

Robert Chen

Robert Chen is the founder of Embrace Possibility and author of The Dreams to Reality Fieldbook. He helps people who feel stuck move forward by guiding them to see other possibilities for their lives. He specializes in working with high performers get to the next level. If you're going through a tough time right now, check out Robert's article on How to Feel Better Right Away and if you're having trouble getting what you want out of life, check out How to Always Achieve Your Goals.

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21 Comments

  1. tearoomdelights August 10, 2012 at 5:29 am - Reply

    Excellent article, thank you Robert. There’s been a lot of emphasis on self-discipline with the Olympics on at the moment, and I watched a programme yesterday featuring Greg Rutherford, who won gold in the long jump a few days ago. He made the point that there are a lot of very good, capable athletes who would have the potential to win Olympic medals, but what sets the achievers apart from the others is self-discipline. He gave the examples of getting up early every morning to train all through the year, come rain, snow or shine, of doing circuits when it’s the last thing you feel like doing. Making yourself work towards that goal, staying focused on why you’re doing it and reminding yourself constantly that you’re putting yourself through this in order to achieve something that means the world to you. You’ve made the same point here, and I think it’s a very good one. I might even stick a note to myself on the wall to remind myself of why I need to work at what I want. Asking those 5 questions made me realise that I do have a specific goal in mind, and I need to remind myself of that constantly if I’m to succeed in achieving it. Thank you!

    • Robert Chen August 12, 2012 at 12:41 am - Reply

      Thank you for reading Lorna. I’m glad that this article reminded you of why you’re doing what you’re doing. I think that it is so important to constantly remind ourselves especially when we don’t feel like doing something. I’ve realized that I’m very convincing when it comes to talking myself out of doing things that I don’t want to do but realizing why I’m doing something allows me to stay the course. Thanks for sharing the story about Greg Rutherford. The commercial that shows the athletes training and saying they haven’t read the latest popular books, watch TV or done many of the things “normal” people would do shows the amount of dedication that goes into being an Olympic athlete.

  2. Stefan Parmark August 11, 2012 at 5:08 am - Reply

    A very good article, Robert! Most people just want to be more disciplined, but don’t know why. It is really obvious that you should ask yourself why, but noone tells us to do that. When you ask yourself why, and do it 5 times, you get closer to your real goal. I think you should continue doing that, until you find an emotion that you want. I will explain what I mean.

    In your example, the goal is to be in the Guinness Book of World Records. But that is not a goal in itself. What will that give you? Why do you want to be in the book? The answer to that could be that being in the book would make you feel satisfaction and joy. And that is the real goal, to get a good emotion. That is the real reason why you want to go to the gym. By continue to ask yourself why, until you find a good emotion, you will find the real goal.

    You give very good advice to create a good environment for achieving what you want, by removing all distractions and adding things that lead you to your goal. I have an additional advice that I use all the time, and would like to share. I write down on a note what I should do. And I put that note where I can see it. If I know there is a distraction I put it there. Like in the morning, I can be extremely lazy, and just turn on the computer and read emails and browsing for a few hours, before even thinking about breakfast. That is a terrible habit. Now I have a note next to my computer, saying “Shower & shave. Get dressed & make the bed. Have breakfast. Brush teeth.”. Every time I am about to “just check a few things on my computer” I see the note, reminding me what I promised myself to do. I immediatelly head for the bathroom. This note really helps me to stay focused.

    It is all about being honest with yourself.

    Thanks for a very inspiring article!

    • Robert Chen August 12, 2012 at 12:47 am - Reply

      Thanks for sharing your great tips Stefan and you’re absolutely right about continuing to ask why until you hit on the real reason which is usually an emotion you want to fulfill. You shouldn’t stop at 5 Whys. You should keep going until you reach your true desire.

      Your idea for the note is also an excellent one. I write about a similar idea in the book that I’m currently finalizing about helping others turn their dreams into reality. Writing things down and being constantly reminded helps us send orders to our subconscious. We then work towards that goal and we pick up on opportunities that we might otherwise have been blind to.

      Great insights and thanks for reading!

  3. Heading for Rio « Lorna's Tearoom Delights August 12, 2012 at 10:41 am - Reply

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  6. Ruth February 25, 2013 at 11:31 am - Reply

    I’ve been defeating myself with bad self talk: I’m lazy, I’m undisciplined, I don’t keep a clean enough house, I spend money unnecessarily, etc. On Jan. 1 I had had it and knew I needed to change my lifestyle. It’s been good, off and on, but this week I’ve been discouraged. Well, I just googled “How to become more disciplined” and this post was the first hit. I find it very encouraging, and I thank you sincerely. I really like your style of writing and your tips. Asking “why” again and again is terrific advice; I can already feel that it will be helpful. And just setting out small practices to start with and doing them without fail is something I know I can do. I like how you admit that you are lazy too.

    Many thanks for this!

    • Robert Chen February 27, 2013 at 11:36 pm - Reply

      Hi Ruth,

      Thank you for your wonderful comment. I’m happy to hear that this article was helpful for you. Discipline has always been something I struggled with and I re-read this article from time to time to remind myself some ways to get back on track. Making sure I want to be on track is a big part of that. Best of luck to you and let me know how things go.

      Robert

  7. Connie Shih June 8, 2013 at 10:18 am - Reply

    Nice article Robert. I especially like this quote: “The first and best victory is to conquer self.” I also like the part about maintaining discipline as a habit.

    I have some other opinions on how I maintain discipline. Yes, logic and convincing oneself to be disciplined is very important. Humans, however, are emotional creatures. Emotions tend to color our decisions more so than logic. I attach an emotional value to my end-goal. Through constant visualization of my end goal, I push myself to go through the actions. I also deliberately put myself in the necessary emotional state to follow through with the necessary actions. For instance, I know that before going for a weight lifting session, I need to be in an energetic mood and in need of emotional and physical release. Therefore I schedule these sessions at the end of the day, deliberately after a difficult meeting or event.

    • Robert Chen June 8, 2013 at 11:18 pm - Reply

      Thanks Connie. I completely agree. Emotion actually plays a more important role than logic during motivation and decision making. We do things based on emotion and rationalize it with logic. You use of visualization is great for building positive “memories” of the state and outcome that you want. This leads to better habits and as you already experienced, better results. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Niclas Lahmer September 13, 2013 at 5:32 am - Reply

    That is a great post Robert. Sometimes it really helps when you also have somebody that is a role model for you and is already disciplined. For me it was my father who always pushed me to be more disciplined with myself. If you do not have any role model, get one who is disciplined and then mirror and model what he or she does. You will see some magic happen.

    Niclas Lahmer
    Chief Executive Officer
    Benkiyo e.U
    http://www.benkiyo.com

    • Robert Chen September 14, 2013 at 12:49 am - Reply

      You make an excellent point Niclas. If a good role model or mentor is not physically available, you can still adopt their strategies. It’s like having your own personal board of directors. Thank you for adding value to this article.

  9. 30 Qualities of Highly Successful People • Embrace Possibility Blog May 18, 2014 at 2:28 am - Reply

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  11. Wihendra Dave October 28, 2015 at 1:27 pm - Reply

    Excellent post Robert. It is really amazing. You know what; the first time I read this blog, I wanted to do try few tips.. one is to switch off from net – actually I deactivated notifications on fb.. and happy to say that gave me more time to work on things that was kept on “to do” list on ages. anyway have a look at this how to achieve self discipline blog also for useful more details on this topic.

    • Robert Chen October 29, 2015 at 12:51 am - Reply

      Thanks for your comment and tips and for sharing the self discipline article. Let us know what else has been working for you to stay disciplined.

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