The most critical component for achieving anything in life, is getting things done. And to get those things done, you need self-discipline.
Self-discipline is the most vital component for attaining any worthy goal. It’s that drive that makes you move forward, to continue even if you don’t feel like it.
Its that ability to perform, to keep your promises, and meet those deadlines essential for success. Without self-discipline, you simply won’t have the momentum to make the progress you want.
Self-discipline gives you freedom
When you allow your mental energy (random thoughts) to follow the path of least resistance, it leads to making poor choices; things that may seem gratifying in that moment, but have negative consequences in the end.
When your mental energy (clear and focused thoughts) is channeled toward higher aspirations, it becomes power through exerting self-control and self-discipline. Which in turn, becomes freedom.
Just to take two small examples:
If you have the discipline to put your smartphone (your gateway to your business operations) on charge every night, you know the battery won’t run out in the middle of a call. Which means you have the freedom of doing business without worrying the phone will cut out. The mere inkling of worrying about it takes your focus away from the business at hand and you may miss something important.
When you have the discipline of putting things back in its place as you’ve finished using them, you won’t waste time and energy searching for them later. Which means you’ll save time as you won’t have to spend hours sorting through the numerous piles that have accumulated.
What exactly does self-discipline entail?
On it’s own, the word discipline as described in dictionaries means, ‘the practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behavior, using punishment to correct disobedience’.
No wonder then people try to avoid discipline, as they may think there are some sort of punishment (pain) involved along the way.
In truth, self-discipline is the process of building specific habits over time that can help you obtain a desired outcome, objective or goal. It’s about taking small consistent actions that help you to form these specific habits, and enhancing your ability to control instant gratification impulses and desires to stay focused on what needs to be done to successfully achieve that goal.
It’s about proactively training yourself to follow a specific set of rules and to live up to a specific set of standards that will help you effectively shape and align your thoughts and behavior to the task or goal.
It’s about consistently regulating and correcting your behavior in order to adapt to the changing conditions and circumstances you face every day in the pursuit of this goal.
Which in essence means, you need to have a very-very good reason to achieve this goal, and the motivation or inspiration to stick it out in the long-haul.
Why you need self-discipline
As life happens to put challenges and problems on your way to success and achievement, you need the perseverance and persistence to follow through, which requires self-discipline.
Self discipline means having self control – an inner strength to take control of yourself, your actions, and your reactions. It gives you the power to stick to your decisions and follow through with determination until you accomplish your goals.
This leads to higher levels of self-confidence and self esteem, and consequently, to happiness and satisfaction.
The lack of self discipline leads to failure, loss, health issues and relationship problems, eating disorders, addictions, smoking, drinking and negative habits.
Self-discipline is therefore the make-or-break variable in your career, work, nutrition, exercise, relationships and in wealth creation.
- It boosts your level of productivity through greater focused effort
- I enhances your self-confidence through the greater sense of self-control you feel when working on tasks and projects which you know will bring you closer to your goals
- You are no longer being distracted or sidetracked as you know what to do to get what you want
- You have a higher level of tolerance and patience
- You can get more done in less time with seemingly less effort, because you know exactly where you going
As most achievers will tell you today, they made it because of self-discipline. Here’s some of their qualities:
Self-control – The set of principles that govern their mind and behaviors to maintain self-control and willpower, which includes grit and inner-strength.
A changed identity – The purpose of working towards the goal is not to achieve the goal, but to realise who you must become to achieve the goal. So you need to become that person in advance.
Avoiding temptation – They know what to avoid and when to avoid it, as they want to rather save their willpower for the unexpected or the uncontrollable.
Break goals into smaller parts – Disciplined people understand the importance of mini milestones, as that’s what keeps them motivated and develop their self-confidence for reaching the bigger goal. The velocity (speed) in the pursuit of their goals, is more important than their distance from the goal.
How to develop self-discipline
Define what you want
Self-discipline can only exist if it’s channelled toward something specific and grows from a level of certainty you have about something. So, get very clear about what it is you want to achieve. Ask yourself what is it that you want to do, be, have or achieve.
Having a good valid strong reason – your why
Self-discipline requires having a strong desire to achieve this specific goal. It needs fuel in the form of inspiration or motivation. Gather enough good reasons for undertaking the task. Ask why you want this? Why is this of primary importance to you right now? Why do you really want this in your life? What are the potential rewards you will gain from it?
Describe the changes you need to make to achieve it
Every goal you set brings with it a definitive set of behaviors and habits you need to achieve the goal – which must also be aligned with your values or else it won’t be worth it. Describe the behaviors you would need to adopt – and the person you want to become as a result of achieving this goal. List the specific habits you will need to adopt to achieve this goal.
Find role models and mentors
Identify some role models who have already achieved the goal you are working towards. Pepper them with questions so you know what to expect. Ask who is doing this right now? Who has successfully achieved this goal? What can you learn from this person that can help you along the journey. Ask this person about the pitfalls, the temptations, the challenges.
As with all journeys you will inevitably come across obstacles that will test your discipline and resolves. Augment your research with your mentors and role-models by asking: what obstacles could stand in your way? Look at it from an integral angle and list all the possible obstacles that may arise. Then come up with ways to overcome or avoid them.
What qualities and skills to adopt?
Determine what new qualities, skills or characteristics you would need to develop or enhance. This could be for instance; diligence, patience, passion, excitement, enthusiasm, tenacity, courage and optimism – all typically elements that help support the self-disciplined mind.
Personal standards are a set of behaviors built around expectations you have of yourself in a variety of performance related situations. They lay down the performance benchmarks for your life. Ask yourself: If competing against your best self, what would that look like? What personal standards will make you proud of yourself? What behaviors and choices will you accept? What won’t you accept? How will you correct things when getting off track?
Design conducive environments
You can be in the right state-of-mind, but if your environment does not support this state, you’ll struggle to find the self-discipline you need to achieve your desired outcomes. It’s thus absolutely critical that your working environment supports your goals, the habits you need to form, and the consistent actions you’ll have to take to accomplish your goal.
Develop a detailed plan of action
A self-disciplined mind always works with structure and flow. The less decisions you effectively need to make throughout the day, the better you can avoid getting sidetracked with irrelevant tasks and activities. Piece together a step-by-step plan of action and prioritize tasks and activities so you know each morning what’s most important and what you will need to do that day.
Have an unwavering commitment to your plan
You must be totally committed to do whatever it takes to get the job done, no matter what challenges you may face along the way. Make a personal commitment towards yourself – and make a public commitment by informing some of your friends, family members or colleagues about your plans. This will hold you more accountable for your actions.
Measuring your current results against past results, is an effective method to remain focused, motivated and disciplined. The self-disciplined mind thrives when it can see the progress toward your goal, so use a calendar or journal to monitor your progress and where you can make the necessary adjustments to stay on track. Also list the temptations that sabotaged your efforts, then make the necessary adjustments to avoid it in future.
Keep your emotions in check
It’s essential to learn to understand how to interpret your emotions in ways that will help you find answers and solutions, not problems and difficulties. Frustration and disappointment are the most common emotions you’ll encounter when trying to achieve goals, resulting from not getting the results you’re after. In these instances, all it takes is to simply change your approach. Try something else you hadn’t considered before.
Make things pleasurable and fun
Self-discipline thrives in light hearted environments where things are pleasurable and fun. Find ways to enjoy the process and each task or activity. Ask what you enjoy about this process? What is exciting about it? How can you make this more enjoyable and fun?
When facing adversity, inspiration becomes paramount in keeping self-discipline alive. Gather inspiration from meditation, mindfulness, books, people, quotes, movies, and current events, supportive of your values and who or what you want to become.
Developing new habits is the essence of self-discipline
When people think about habits, they mostly focus on forming the behavior or the routine.
However, New York Times journalist and best-selling author, Charles Duhigg stated in his book The Power Of Habit, that every habit has three components:
- A cue (like a trigger for the behavior to start unfolding)
- A routine (the habit or automatic behaviour itself)
- And a reward (how your neurology learns to encode this pattern for the future)
Duhigg found that it’s actually the cue and the reward that really determine why and how a habit unfolds.
As he explains, most behavior originates in the prefrontal cortex, the area right behind your forehead where thoughts occur. But as a behavior becomes a habit, as it becomes automatic, it moves into the basal ganglia, which is one of the oldest structures in the brain near the center of your skull.
When things happen in the basal ganglia, it doesn’t feel like thought, and the reason why a habit feels automatic, as if you’re just doing things. But to get to this automatic stage of the neurological process, you need to do the following.
First, you have to identify, diagnose and understand the cue and the reward to create the new habit. Every cue falls into usually one of five categories: a time of day, a certain place, the presence of certain other people, a particular emotion, or kind of a set of behaviors that’s become ritualized.
The reward of this behaviour could be many things important to you, maybe it’s the need for socializing. For example:
Previous behaviour: eat cookies when you are at social gatherings.
The old cue: during lunchtime at work, you gather around the coffee station with friends.
Lunchtime is the cue, the trigger.
The old behaviour: when socializing you eat cookies with your friends.
The actual reward: the interaction with your friends.
The behaviour according to your new goal of losing weight, would then look like this:
Your new goal: to lose weight.
Cue: stays the same as before (lunchtime).
Reward: stays the same as before (socializing).
New behaviour: eat celery stick instead of cookies.
Once you’ve figured out the cue and the reward, and understand why, you can create a new habit.
So, the key to exercising regularly, losing weight, raising exceptional children, becoming more productive, building revolutionary companies and social movements, and achieving success is understanding how habits work, and then have the self-discipline to follow through.