How to Develop Self Discipline? (27 Powerful Ways + Expert Insights)

Ever felt like you know what you should do, but you just can’t make yourself do it? That’s where self-discipline comes in. It’s about making choices that might not feel great in the moment but will help you achieve more in the long run.

Trust me, building self-discipline isn’t about being strict or tough on yourself all the time. It’s about finding what motivates you and setting clear, achievable goals. It’s not just about doing the work; it’s about knowing why it matters.

Curious about how to keep your eye on the prize and not lose sight of your goals? Let’s move forward and discover tools and tips that make staying disciplined feel more like a natural part of your day and less like a chore.

Set Clear Goals

When it comes to developing self-discipline, setting clear goals is absolutely crucial. I mean, how can you be disciplined if you don’t know what you’re aiming for, right?

Here’s what this looks like: you decide you want to learn a new language. The clear goal isn’t just “learn Spanish.” It’s “complete a 20-minute Spanish lesson daily for the next 3 months.” Notice how specific that is. It gives your daily discipline a clear direction.

  • Be Specific: Instead of vague goals, choose precise actions and outcomes.
  • Make it Measurable: Ensure you can track your progress.
  • Set a Deadline: Deadlines compel action and help maintain focus.

This straightforward approach removes ambiguity and makes your daily choices easier to manage. My personal favorite trick is to write these goals down and place them somewhere I can see every day, helping to keep my focus laser-sharp.

"In order to develop self-discipline, you first need clear goals that you want to achieve. The more specific the better. For instance, wanting to make more money is not a clear goal. Making $100,000 next year is a much clearer goal."

Jon Rhodes | Clinical Hypnotherapist

Understand the ‘Why’ Behind Your Goals

Now that you’ve got your goals set, understanding why they matter to you is like adding fuel to your fire. This isn’t just about figuring out what you want to do, but why you want to do it.

For instance, if your goal is to get fit, is it because you want to have more energy to play with your kids, or maybe you’re trying to improve your health to avoid diseases that run in your family?

I think knowing your ‘why’ transforms the journey from a mechanical to a meaningful one. When the going gets tough—and it will—remembering why you started can be a powerful motivator to stick with your discipline.

It ties your goals to something deeper and makes the daily grind worthwhile.

"The personal meaning component of self-discipline involves understanding the WHY behind the goal you are setting for yourself...The WHY of the goal you are setting for yourself needs to hold enough meaning to you or be perceived in a way that has enough meaning to continuously inspire motivation and commitment within yourself."

Benjamin Ritter, MBA, MPH, EdD | Founder, Live for Yourself Consulting, and The Breakup Supplement | Author, The Live for Yourself Journal and The Essentials

Identify a Strong Enough Motivator

Let’s face it, discipline is demanding. It requires you to stay the course when every fiber of your being wants to take the easy route. Identifying a strong motivator that resonates with you personally can be the difference between faltering and steadfastness.

This could be anything from the burning desire to prove naysayers wrong to the profound satisfaction of breaking a generational cycle of unfulfilled potential. Your motivator should be powerful enough to be your north star on disheartening days.

It’s not always about grand dreams, sometimes it’s about the compelling need to maintain hard-earned progress.

"Instead, when my clients want to achieve a goal, change a pattern, move forward in some way, I work with them to identify a strong enough motivator, recognize their challenges and develop strategies to overcome the challenges...Create a vision for what they want that includes a strong intrinsic motivation and honors their personal values."

Barrett McBride, Ph.D. | Master Certified Coach

Practice Self-Awareness

Gaining self-discipline begins by understanding yourself, your habits, and your everyday choices. Practice taking a moment each day to reflect on your actions.

Ask yourself questions like, “What did I do today that helped me move closer to my goal?” This exercise isn’t about being hard on yourself; it’s about knowing what makes you tick.

Recognizing the times you’re most productive or the triggers that lead to unproductive behavior can help you make smarter decisions.

Being aware of your emotional and physical states also plays a big part. Are you really procrastinating, or do you just need some rest?

I find it very helpful to keep a small journal where I jot down these observations. Over time, this can help you adjust your strategies and maximize your efficiency. Recognizing when and why you’re likely to slip can help you create strategies to counter those moments ahead of time.

"Stop and say, “I am aware.” Once you have caught the craving you can then curb it. You can then ask the question; “Is this in line with my goals?” Awareness strips urges of their total power over you."

Sonya Zappone RYT, C.MI, C.LAC | Life Coach | Author of "The Soul Doesn't Need a Million Dollars"

Know Your Weaknesses

No one is without flaws, and self-discipline is about managing them, not pretending they don’t exist. Identifying your weaknesses allows you to create strategies to overcome them.

For example, if you’re constantly distracted by your phone, you might decide to keep it in another room while you work on your goals. Acknowledge where you have room for improvement; it could be your tendency to overspend, snack late at night, or skip your exercise routine.

Once you pinpoint these areas, addressing them becomes much easier and you set yourself up for small wins along the way.

Break Tasks into Smaller Steps

I think this is actually one of the most satisfying techniques for building self-discipline. There’s something incredibly motivating about checking off small tasks that lead you toward a bigger goal.

Say you want to write a book. Writing “Chapter One” is a much less daunting task than “Write a Book” on your to-do list.

  • Each task should be actionable within a short period.
  • Breaking tasks into steps helps prevent overwhelm and keeps motivation high.
  • Celebrate small wins along the way to boost your morale and discipline.

By making your tasks small and manageable, you keep the momentum going. Every little step completed is a victory and a step closer to your grand goal. This not only keeps your spirits high but also pads your journey with constant progress.

Establish a Daily Routine

Your daily routine is like the backbone of your self-discipline; it supports and shapes your day. A well-structured routine can turn your goals into reality by simply living out the habits you want to cultivate.

Start by outlining a plan for your typical day, from the time you wake up to the time you go to sleep. Include time for work, exercise, meals, relaxation, and, importantly, the steps that contribute to your main goal.

Consistency in your day-to-day actions sets a powerful rhythm for success. When actions become routine, they require less effort and mental energy, leaving you more fuel to stay disciplined.

"The trick is to use your initial motivation to want to do something to get into a daily habit... I decide to do the same. I book in for that class as far in advance as possible for every Monday at 6:45 pm and add it to my diary with a reminder the night before so I pack my gym kit."

Robert Jackson | Personal Trainer | Precision Nutrition Coach

Prioritize Tasks

Not all tasks are created equal, and knowing which ones deserve your energy first can dramatically increase your productivity and discipline. It’s about distinguishing urgent tasks from important ones.

A simple trick I use is to list my tasks daily and mark them based on their impact on my goals. This approach makes sure you don’t just stay busy, but actually productive.

Here’s a quick tip on how to prioritize:

  • Must Do: These are tasks that directly impact your major goals.
  • Should Do: Important but not urgent tasks that contribute to long-term goals.
  • Nice to Do: Tasks that are beneficial but won’t derail your progress if postponed.

By categorizing tasks this way, you ensure that you’re not just ticking off boxes but actually making significant strides in your self-discipline journey.

Use Time-Blocking Techniques

Time-blocking is a powerful method to manage your day efficiently. By allocating specific time blocks to different tasks, you minimize the chaos and maximize focus.

Imagine you’re working on a big project; instead of continuously dragging it through weeks, dedicate a block of 2 hours each day to work exclusively on it. This limits distractions and boosts productivity.

  • Dedicated Focus: Each time block is a mini-session of intense focus.
  • Flexibility within Framework: Adjust time blocks as needed but keep the integrity of focused blocks.
  • Regular Breaks: Include short breaks to reset, which can enhance your productivity during work blocks.

What this looks like in real life: you might have a block from 9 AM to 11 AM for deep work, followed by a 15-minute break, then maybe an hour for emails, and so on. Structuring your day around time blocks is like putting up guardrails that keep you on track.

Stay Organized

To keep your self-discipline on track, it pays to get your ducks in a row. A cluttered space can lead to a cluttered mind, and that’s a big hurdle when you’re trying to focus.

Start by tidying your workspace, your home, and even your car. By organizing your physical environment, you set the stage for an orderly, distraction-free mindset. Planning ahead is also part of staying organized.

Before you call it a day, take 10 minutes to prepare for the next. Lay out your workout clothes, plan your meals, or arrange your work materials. This prep work can make it easier to stick to your plan without wasting time on trivial decisions.

Keep a Journal

Now, keeping a journal is my personal favorite for maintaining self-discipline. It’s more than just a record of what you did or how you felt. It’s a tool for reflection and growth.

By jotting down your daily experiences, achievements, and even the setbacks, you get a clearer picture of what’s working and what isn’t.

A journal doesn’t just store memories; it offers you insights into your personal habits and routines that you might miss otherwise. It can be an invaluable resource for personal development, providing clarity and direction.

Set Specific Deadlines

Deadlines are the invisible lines that keep us moving forward. They create a sense of urgency that can propel us to take action. When your tasks for achieving a goal have clear end dates, you’re less inclined to put them off.

For developing self-discipline, don’t just set deadlines for final goals; establish them for the small steps too. Rather than a distant, vague timeline, say “I will have saved $200 by the end of this month.” It’s immediate and measurable.

And as you meet these targeted deadlines, the wins build your confidence and reinforce your discipline.

Remember: A deadline is a commitment to yourself, and keeping it is a victory over procrastination.

"One way to develop self-discipline is to consistently set concrete deadlines for yourself. Essentially, one of the main issues which cause us to lack the self-discipline which is necessary to pursue our goals is the fact that for many of those goals, we don’t have any concrete deadlines by which we expect to accomplish them...

You can solve this issue by setting clear deadlines for yourself, which prompt you to stay disciplined and to take action which is aligned with your long-term goals...

In addition to making your deadlines clear, you should also make sure that they are substantial, which means that the deadlines should be important enough for you that you won’t end up ignoring them."

Itamar Shatz | PhD candidate at Cambridge University | Author, Effectiviology

Reward Yourself for Achievements

Rewarding yourself for achievements is a fantastic way to keep your spirits high and your motivation intact. When you set a goal and achieve it, taking the time to celebrate can reinforce the positive behavior that got you there.

It’s a nod to yourself that what you’re doing is not just effective, but also worthwhile.

  • Set Rewards: Establish what your rewards will be for particular achievements ahead of time. It could be as simple as a night out, a new book, or even a small vacation.
  • Keep It Proportional: The size of the reward should match the effort and importance of the achievement.
  • Immediate and Long-term Rewards: While immediate rewards are great, consider setting up some long-term rewards for bigger goals, like a special trip for a year of disciplined savings.

By integrating rewards into your regimen, you make the journey enjoyable and the goals less daunting. Each reward acts as a milestone that keeps you pushing through the rough patches.

Align these rewards with your values and make sure they don’t contradict your long-term goals. This way, your reward system reinforces your self-discipline rather than undermining it.

Acknowledge Your Progress

The journey to self-discipline often involves effort that no one else sees. It’s important to recognize your own progress, even if it seems small.

Did you resist the temptation to buy something unnecessary? Or did you stick to your work schedule without getting sidetracked?

Acknowledge these moments. You can even mark them down in your journal. Self-recognition fuels your sense of self-efficacy, the belief that you’re capable of meeting your goals. This inner affirmation is vital because it confirms that your discipline is indeed making a difference in your quest.

"The good news is that the more you use your powers of self-discipline, the stronger they become... And remember, the longer you keep going, the stronger you will become. Keep reminding yourself of the success you can enjoy, that's waiting around the corner for you."

Jon Rhodes | Clinical Hypnotherapist

Eliminate Distractions

Distractions are the arch-nemesis of self-discipline. They sneak up on you, promising only a minute’s diversion, yet can derail an entire morning. Identifying and eliminating these distractions is crucial if you’re serious about maintaining focus and achieving your goals.

  • Identify Common Distractions: Note which activities or environments pull you away from your work—be it social media, noisy environments, or perhaps inefficient tools.
  • Create a Distraction-Free Zone: Set up a workspace where you minimize the chance of being disturbed. This might mean using noise-cancelling headphones, turning off unnecessary notifications, or even setting boundaries with others about your availability.
  • Scheduled Breaks: Instead of succumbing to distractions as they come, schedule short breaks where you are free to wander off-productively. This gives your brain a rest and satisfies any cravings for a distraction without guilt.

Effectively managing distractions not only boosts your productivity but also strengthens your self-discipline over time. It’s about training yourself to be selective with your attention, ensuring it goes exactly where you want it to.

Limit Social Media Use

Social media can be a major time sink and distraction that hinders self-discipline. To stay on track, set specific times for checking social media, and stick to them. Maybe it’s during a lunch break or right after dinner – whatever fits your schedule.

Consider using apps that limit your social media use to ensure you’re not spending more time scrolling than intended.

By controlling the time you spend on social media, you’re reclaiming time that can be invested into your goals. Each time you log off as planned, you’re strengthening your self-discipline muscle.

Practice Saying No

Part of having self-discipline is the ability to say no to things that don’t align with your goals. Whether it’s an invite to an impromptu party when you need to work or a call to go out for dessert when you’re trying to eat healthy, saying no is necessary to stay focused on your priorities.

It might feel tough or uncomfortable at first, but it’s a skill that gets easier with practice. Each time you say no, you’re making a conscious choice in favor of your goals, and that’s where the real power of self-discipline lies.

Engage in Regular Physical Exercise

When you regularly work out, you’re not only building muscle or stamina, but you’re also cultivating habits of discipline, consistency, and endurance that translate directly to other areas of your life.

  • Choose Activities You Enjoy: Whether it’s yoga, running, or team sports, enjoying your workout makes consistency much easier.
  • Set Exercise Goals: Like any other goal, they provide something to strive for and help maintain your motivation.
  • Make It a Routine: Embed exercise into your daily or weekly schedule. Treat it like any essential appointment.

By committing to a regular exercise schedule, you’re not just building strength and endurance in your body, but also in your ability to be self-disciplined.

Plus, the endorphins released during exercise can improve mood and energy levels, making it easier to focus on your discipline goals.

Maintain a Healthy Sleep Schedule

A solid night’s sleep is more than just a pleasure; it’s a cornerstone for self-discipline. Without enough rest, your body works against you, cravings kick in, and willpower wanes.

Aim for a consistent sleep schedule where you go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. This regularity signals your body when it’s time to power down and recharge, which can lead to better sleep quality.

Plus, waking up refreshed improves your focus and decision-making, making daily discipline less of a chore and more of a natural part of your day.

Learn to Handle Stress Effectively

Managing stress effectively ensures that it doesn’t overwhelm your capacity to remain disciplined. Stress is an inevitable part of life, but letting it pile up can derail your self-discipline and throw your goals off track.

Consider these approaches to keep stress in check:

  • Identify Stressors: Know what triggers your stress to manage or avoid these situations better.
  • Practice Relaxation Techniques: Techniques like deep breathing, meditation, or even a simple walk can help release stress.
  • Seek Support: Talking through your stresses with someone can lighten the burden and provide new perspectives.

Handling stress effectively prevents it from becoming a barrier to your self-discipline. It’s about finding balance and restoring your energy so you can continue pushing towards your goals.

Cultivate Patience

Self-discipline isn’t developed overnight – it’s a gradual process. It’s easy to get frustrated when progress seems slow, but patience is what allows you to keep moving forward.

By acknowledging that the journey will have ups and downs, you can manage expectations and reduce the risk of giving up. It’s important to recognize that every decision you make in line with your discipline plan, no matter how small, is a step in the right direction.

Patience is like water smoothing a stone; it’s the quiet, persistent effort that shapes your life in the long run.

Use Positive Affirmations

Positive affirmations might sound a bit cliché to some, but they’re powerful tools for maintaining a positive mindset and reinforcing self-discipline. These affirmations are like little pep talks you give yourself to boost confidence and remind yourself of your capabilities.

Here’s how you can integrate them into your daily routine:

  • Start Your Day with Affirmations: Begin with statements that set a positive tone for the day like, “I am focused and ready to conquer today’s tasks.
  • Affirm Your Goals: Regularly affirm your commitment to your goals, saying things like, “I am capable of achieving my targets.
  • Counter Negative Thoughts: Whenever a negative thought arises, counter it with a positive affirmation to keep doubts and discouragement at bay.

Incorporating these affirming statements helps fortify your mental landscape, making it more conducive to disciplined actions and thoughts.

Get Others to Hold You Accountable

Accountability can significantly boost your drive and discipline. When you share your goals with someone else—a friend, family member, or a mentor—and ask them to hold you accountable, you add an external layer of motivation to stick to your plans.

Here’s what this looks like:

  • Choose the Right People: Make sure the person is supportive and genuinely interested in seeing you succeed.
  • Regular Check-ins: Set up regular meetings or calls to report on your progress. These can be great motivational boosts.
  • Be Open to Feedback: Sometimes, these accountability partners can offer insights or suggestions that you might have missed.

Using accountability effectively multiplies your commitment levels, as nobody likes to report back that they didn’t try their best. This approach serves as a constant reminder of your duties and aspirations.

Forgive Yourself and Move Forward

If you stumble on your path to self-discipline, being hard on yourself won’t help. In fact, it might make things harder. Accept that slip-ups happen – they’re part of the learning curve.

The key is to forgive yourself quickly and get back on track. Instead of dwelling on the setback, analyze what led to it, learn from it, and move forward with this new knowledge.

Every setback is a chance to grow stronger in your discipline. Keep your focus on long-term progress, not short-term perfection.

Start Your Day Early

Waking up early can kickstart your day with a sense of control and purpose, setting the tone for self-discipline. Early risers often talk about the quiet hours of the morning being their most productive time.

You don’t have to wake up at the crack of dawn, but try setting your alarm a bit earlier than usual. Use the extra time to focus on an important task, exercise, or plan your day.

Doing something productive first thing can give you a feeling of accomplishment that carries through the rest of your day.

"The first way to start developing self-discipline is by keeping the promises that you make to yourself. If you say you're going to wake up at 5 am, then wake up at 5 am."

Michael Leonard | Blogger | Founder, Inspire Your Success

Have a Backup Plan

Even with the best intentions, things don’t always go according to plan. This is why having a ‘Plan B’ can help maintain your self-discipline. If you can’t stick to your original plan, instead of giving up, switch to your backup.

It could be a simpler workout routine when you can’t make it to the gym, or a healthy food option when your first choice isn’t available. The key is to prevent disruptions from derailing your entire day.

A backup plan ensures that you keep moving towards your goal, even if it’s not in the exact way you intended.

"Contingency Planning- For extra support, I often verbalize my goal/task to supports (people I know who are ambitious from social media & professional connections). 

They are my background noise keeping me on track by steering conversation to my project -"So how it ___________ going" or "Are you still _____________". For me, guilt is a great motivator."

Lynette Dawn Campbell | CEO, Zoomers Employment Services

Read Inspirational Stories

Reading about others who have overcome challenges to reach their goals can provide a significant boost to your self-discipline. Inspirational stories can show you what’s possible and rekindle your motivation.

They remind you that others have faced similar struggles and have still succeeded. When you see the reality of their achievements, it can help you to believe in your own path to success.

Keep a book or articles close by and when your determination wanes, reach for them. Sometimes, a good story is all it takes to get your mindset back on track.


More Insights From the Experts

“For some people, internal motivation is enough, and in those cases, simply setting a concrete deadline for yourself is sufficient. However, some people need a stronger incentive to stick by their deadlines. If this is the case for you, try to find some external motivator which can help you abide by your deadlines.

For example, you could tell a friend that you will give them $10 if you don’t finish a certain task by the deadline, or you could tell someone whose opinion matters to you about the deadline, and then report to them once the deadline passes, or once you complete the task.”

Itamar Shatz | PhD candidate at Cambridge University | Author, Effectiviology

“Self-discipline comes from learning what you don’t know, overcoming blind spots, and getting solid objective input from others around you.”

Doug Thorpe | Executive Coach | Author, The Uncommon Commodity

“Self-discipline comes with awareness of self. If I have a particular habit I’m trying to break or a particular goal I’m trying to reach, it’s important that I’m aware of why I do what I do.”

Chrissy Bernal | Author | Speaker | Trainer | Consultant


Frequently Asked Questions

Is self-discipline a learned or innate trait?

Self-discipline is a combination of both learned and innate traits. While some people may have a naturally strong will and determination, others may have to work harder to develop self-discipline.

However, self-discipline can be developed and strengthened through intentional practice and discipline. You can improve your self-discipline by setting goals, sticking to a routine, and avoiding distractions.

How long does it take to develop self-discipline?

The amount of time it takes to develop self-discipline varies from person to person, but it’s safe to say that it takes time and effort. It’s not a one-time event but a continuous process requiring dedication and persistence.

It can take anywhere from several weeks to several months to see significant improvements in your self-discipline. However, the length of time it takes to develop self-discipline depends on many factors, including your starting point, the intensity of your efforts, and the nature of your goals.

It’s important to remember that self-discipline is a journey, not a destination. The key is to make progress, not perfection. Keep in mind that developing self-discipline takes time and effort, but the benefits are well worth it.


Final Thoughts

Think about self-discipline as teaching yourself a new way to behave. It’s like learning to ride a bike—challenging at first but easier with practice. Each attempt teaches you something new and helps you improve.

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Jahrine is a seeker of knowledge and personal growth. When not exploring the worlds of self-help books and spirituality, she enjoys reading dark fiction and spending time with her beloved dogs. With diverse interests, including career development, travel, and poetry, Jahrine is constantly expanding her horizons and seeking new experiences.