We asked 11 experts on how to develop self-discipline.
Learn a thing or two from their insights below.
PhD candidate at Cambridge University | Author, Effectiviology
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.
The lack of concrete deadlines is problematic because it means that we lack a meaningful plan of action and a meaningful drive to act, which can often lead us to delay instead of working towards our goals.
This issue is especially prevalent in situations where we set relatively vague goals for ourselves without having anyone to hold us accountable, as in the case of goals such as deciding to lose weight, to get more fit, or to start a business.
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.
This means, for example, that telling yourself “I’m going to finish cleaning my bedroom on Saturday by 5 PM” is much better than telling yourself “I’m going to clean my bedroom sometime this weekend”.
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
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.
Master Certified Coach
One of the challenges of developing self-discipline lies in the word “discipline”, which is defined as the threat of punishment for disobeying rules.
When we apply that to ourselves, we first create rules for ourselves and then we beat ourselves up if we don’t follow our rules. How productive is that!
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.
More specifically, I encourage clients to:
- Focus on what they want, not what they don’t want.
- Create a vision for what they want that includes a strong intrinsic motivation and honors their personal values.
- Create very specific long-term and short-term goals toward their vision that are challenging but achievable.
- Find an accountability partner.
Whether one wants a healthier body, a new career or to travel the world, success is more likely achieved with the self-kindness that comes from the focus on the prize than on the self-punishment that comes from disobeying a self-imposed rule.
Self-discipline restores power to ourselves and our Soul.
Related: Why is Self-Discipline Important
To develop self-discipline we need to get a hold of our Inner Self with our Higher Self.
What do I mean? I mean that we have driving forces and factors that steer us in different directions.
There is a pull on us (in the form of cravings) biologically from our own nature and natural forces. Then, there is also the lure of material things and strong suggestions from society. All of these influences must be curbed to live authentically and healthily.
We have to rein ourselves in from all the desires, wants, and hungers with a Higher Force that can overpower these overpowering urges.
In my upcoming book, I explain two main forces that can be isolated to help identify the problem and the solution. I call these the Ego and the Soul.
Here are 3 steps to developing self-discipline (the keyword is “develop”):
First, set an intention.
Be specific. Have a goal in mind and an intention to practice self-restraint.
All intentions and true motivations are powerful. However, your intention has to be in alignment with your core values. Don’t skip this part!
Having a 2-week attainable goal is also beneficial for the self to see self-discipline accomplished. Your Soul, something within you that sees you, will feel strengthened by self-discipline efforts and not self-defeated. Set these intentions from your Soul.
Second, become aware.
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. This awareness exercise also heightens your perception of the problem and gives you more strength against any personal weaknesses.
If you can see where you might lose self-discipline you can take measures and set boundaries proactively to keep you on track. Remember that you are only human and failure will happen. Make room for failures.
Third, practice overcoming.
Build self-confidence by breathing through the challenges.
Meaning, get through it. Running away, quitting, and giving up only add to self-defeat. Facing the obstacles, handling problems well, sweating out the hard parts, helps you begin to believe in yourself.
Get support for this because you will need help. We cannot stop a cycle or pattern with the same cycle or pattern that started it.
We have to reach outside of ourselves. Be willing to ask for help from a life coach, therapist, accountability partner, trainer, support group, a Higher Power, church family, family, etc.
Be you and change the world!
Executive Coach | Author, The Uncommon Commodity
Discipline, the verb, involves obeying rules or a code of behavior.
The question is which set of standards are you following? Are they better health, better wealth or improved lifestyle?
If you’re going to obey some rules, hopefully, the rules lead to some logical and beneficial end game.
For example, you can be self-disciplined about fitness so you eat healthily, work out, and avoid habits like smoking. People who do so are motivated by the “future state” of physique, the look, and the general sense of wellbeing.
I coach executives and business owners. Self-discipline is something we talk about frequently.
Ironically, self-discipline sounds like it should be a solitary happening but it’s NOT.
Self-discipline comes from learning what you don’t know, overcoming blind spots, and getting solid objective input from others around you. Once you are equipped with better insights, you can begin building behaviors that become “self-discipline”.
Relying upon what seems like natural gifts and talents only take you so far. There is always room to grow; professionally, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, and relationally.
By establishing daily practices toward growth, we become self-disciplined.
Personal Trainer | Precision Nutrition Coach
Many people believe that to stay in shape you need strong will-power and discipline. I would argue that will-power and discipline get you started, but habits keep you going.
Habits give the impression of discipline but are easier to maintain. You don’t have to think about your habits.
Let’s look at an example. I want to start going to the gym more. Every day I ask myself “Shall I go to the gym today?”
Which opens up more questions and possible self-doubt: “What time shall I go? What will I do? I’m useless at knowing what exercises to do.”
Then I don’t go. Something comes up or I feel down about it. Or I kid myself by saying “I’ll go tomorrow for sure!”
The trick is to use your initial motivation to want to do something to get into a daily habit.
For example, I want to get in better shape so I join a gym. I immediately get a gym induction so a trainer can help me understand how to use the machines. The next day I sign-up for a spin class. It’s intimidating, but I do it anyway because I’m super motivated.
Turns out, I love the class and meet a couple of nice people there. I find out they go every Monday at 6:45 pm. 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. I also block out that time, plus 30 mins before, in my work diary so I won’t get caught up on other bits. There you have it, a new habit. Everyone who sees me will say “He is so disciplined”.
The reality is I was motivated, now I’m organised and have made a new habit. I don’t think, I just do.
Founder, Live for Yourself Consulting, and The Breakup Supplement | Author, The Live for Yourself Journal and The Essentials
Self-discipline has been a component of my own personal and professional life and is a major topic of discussion and area I work on with my clients.
Too often people relate self-discipline to will-power.
As if self-discipline should be a battle of will against external and internal pressures that are trying to get you to do things that aren’t exactly what you want for yourself.
In essence, though self-discipline is a combination of personal meaning and strategy, not some innate battles of wills.
The personal meaning component of self-discipline involves understanding the WHY behind the goal you are setting for yourself.
What is it about this goal that has meaning to you?
For example, if someone has a goal to start a business there are reasons that lay beneath the surface of that goal such as autonomy, more time with family, etc.
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.
Now you don’t always act in alignment with your WHY due to peer, social, and internal pressures, and that’s where strategy comes into play.
What strategies can you implement, for example, routines, accountability buddies, rewards, and consequences, that reinforce your ability to reach your goal?
The two areas of personal meaning and strategy work together to help cultivate self-discipline and eventually create habits, which then become a lifestyle, and once behavior becomes a lifestyle self-discipline is rarely needed.
Lynette Dawn Campbell
CEO, Zoomers Employment Services
Prior to opening my own placement agency, I facilitate employment skills workshops including “Goal Setting” and “Prioritizing”.
The key for me was beginning with identifying my procrastination style. For me, it is an anxious avoider.
Next, I needed to create a success list (specifically why am I doing this, how will achieving this benefit me).
It is important here to list it and post it visually. By writing it, it makes the brain retain the information at a molecular level. By posting it in an area frequented the visual reaffirms the message. This creates new mental scripts about the goal.
Next, the carrot. Accepting I will eventually hit a wall physically, financially or emotionally that pulls me back to old avoidance scripts I create “rewards” to encourage staying on track.
Include private stuff, social stuff, food, music, activity anything that encourages the thought process – “Okay when I complete this I can…”
Now that I have identified personality traits and pitfalls I can focus on the task at hand.
But, I do not begin the task.
I focus on the task and determine. When does this need to be done, do I need support to do it, do I need extra resources, can the task be broken down into smaller parts, are there any identifiable barriers preventing me from completing this task and finally one of the most difficult questions is this something I plan on completing.
While the last question seems simple it is very important.
I believe on needs to accept that if on our heart we have predecided this is an activity/task we are not really interested in completing successfully then no amount of motivation, planning or support will help.
I follow the above step with a table outlining the task, steps, resources/people/supports involved, timeline and room for notes.
I put this up visually (usually very large) and the completion of certain portions of the task as they are completed reaffirms my ability to complete. Thereby challenging my procrastination script.
Now I have a goal, a reason to do it, understanding why I may not want to and a process of how to get it done.
Contingency Planning– For extra support, I often verbalize my goal/task to supports (people I know who are ambitious from social media & professional connections).
Read related article: How to Build a Personal and Family Support System
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.
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.
Once you have a clear goal, then you need a plan of action. How will you make that $100,000? Maybe you will set up a website that sells products for example.
With a plan of action, you can then work your self-discipline muscle. Self-discipline is all about controlling your urges in order to put focused attention into your plan.
This might mean missing out on nights out, or time with family and friends. This can be tough at first – especially when you’re not used to making such self-sacrifices.
The good news is that the more you use your powers of self-discipline, the stronger they become.
Whenever you stray off your path, simply remind yourself of why you are doing what you are doing. Keep your eyes on the prize.
Think about the $100,000 and how it would improve your life. That will help you through the tough times. 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.
Blogger | Founder, Inspire Your Success
Self-discipline is really self-trust.
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. If you say you’re doing to spend an extra hour making outreach calls at work or for your business, you do it.
Once you keep the promises you make to yourself, you will establish the habit of doing things that you need to do for success. By showing up, day in and day out, you will start to trust yourself more and more.
Another big key is to acknowledge yourself for the great working you’re doing.
Too many people don’t have self-discipline because they focus what they haven’t done or aren’t doing.
Instead, you need to spend more time acknowledging yourself. Celebrate all your wins, small and big.
Not only will this give your brain a hit of dopamine, but it will also help give you the motivation to keep taking action.
Spend 80% of your time being proud of yourself and 20% of the time wanting more. Strive for blissful dissatisfaction to achieve massive amounts of discipline.
Founder/CEO, H.K. Productions Inc.
Developing self-discipline entails a level of self-awareness, knowing your weaknesses and taking deliberate action to make a change.
You need to have a goal that outweighs your distractions.
Whether it is to lose weight, complete a degree, love yourself better, be a better spouse, or simply reduce your social media use; identify and gain clarity on that goal then move with intention.
Self-discipline can be very challenging however it can be very rewarding.
It may require letting go of individuals who are not conducive to your growth, deleting social media apps that are addictive, changing your priorities and setting clear boundaries.
You may have setbacks but the goal is to forgive yourself and start again.
Author | Speaker | Trainer | Consultant
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.
If we can understand why we do things—even little things that don’t support our goals, we can then rewire our thinking and see self-discipline not as discipline, but as self-love.