I would like to cover six important strategies to improve self-discipline. Let’s take a moment to define what exactly self-discipline is and how it differs from motivation because I think a lot of people get these two terms confused. To start, I will share a quote from writer Samuel Thomas Davies because it actually answers both questions in a clear cut way: “Self-discipline is about leaning into resistance, taking action in spite of how you feel, living life by design, not by default. But, most importantly, it’s acting in accordance with your thoughts, not your feelings.” Simply put, motivation is your overall level of desire to do something, whereas discipline is your ability to do it regardless of how you feel. And for any of you who’ve ever woken up thinking, I don’t feel like it, which is all of you, myself included, you can see now how important self-discipline is. It’s building that baseline that allows you to act in accordance with your long-term goals, no matter how motivated you feel. So, with that being said, let’s cover six important strategies for building your self-discipline.
When you’re trying to change your behavior, forget about the goal you’re trying to achieve, the external outcome, and instead focus on the change in identity you want to happen. The general idea here is that once you’ve embraced a change in your identity, you will find yourself acting in alignment with that change. And if you’re wondering why exactly this happens, the third chapter of Robert Cialdini’s book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, has a great explanation for it. Essentially, humans feel this natural compulsion to act consistently with their past decisions.
As he writes in the book, once we have made a choice or taken a stand, we will encounter personal and interpersonal pressures to behave consistently with that commitment. Those pressures will cause us to respond in ways that justify our earlier decision. And shifting your mindset to that new identity you embrace will be incredibly helpful and almost crucial.
That shift in mindset will do wonders for your levels of self-discipline in many different areas. From making behavior changes in terms of your new identity that you want to embody rather than the goals you want to achieve.
Frequently remind yourself of why you’re being disciplined in the first place. At the end of the day, we have to have a strong “why” for our actions if we want to do them consistently. And every time I think about this concept, I’m reminded of a story about the actor, Jim Carrey, and it goes like this:
After Jim Carrey had arrived in Hollywood and he was still kind of an impoverished actor, one day he took out a napkin and he drew himself a check made out to himself for $10 million, and postdated for 10 years in the future. Then he put that check in his wallet so that every time he’d bring out his wallet, he could see it and remind himself of why he was working so hard, what he was working towards.
This is something that you might find very helpful to do as well. Try writing down your goal or the identity you want to assume and put it maybe on a sticky note next to your desk or by your computer so you can see it every single day and know that this is why I’m building my self-discipline, this is the reason for all the work I’m putting in.
Find ways to embrace discomfort and embrace the resistance you feel towards doing something that takes hard work or that’s unpleasant. Just like going to an actual gym and lifting weights makes you better in the future, and able to lift more weight the next time you go in. Every time you embrace discomfort, you’re essentially doing a rep of the exercise that is self-discipline because it is a skill that can be learned, it is a muscle that can be built over time.
So, as you go through your daily life, find ways to embrace discomfort. It could be lifting weights, it could be signing up for a public speaking class, or as simple as taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Basically, whenever your brain throws up that “I don’t feel like it excuse”, that is an opportunity to build that self-discipline muscle, and you should take it.
Target the fundamentals first. By the fundamentals, think of the biological necessities of life: your sleep, your nutrition, and your exercise habits. These are all crucial to pay attention to because the part of your brain that handles executive functioning, the part that regulates your desires and you impulses, requires a lot of energy and regular rest to function at peak levels. Always remember that you are first and foremost a collection of biological systems, all of which require the right inputs if you want to get the best outputs out of them.
The brain needs rest, and it needs exercise, and it needs the right balance of nutrients just as the rest of your body does. So, if you’re sleep deprived, or you haven’t gotten enough exercise regularly, or your diet isn’t great, that is where you should focus your discipline first.
You should consider trying meditation. The reason to consider meditation is that it has been shown scientifically to help people improve their levels of self-discipline. In fact, a 2013 study at Stanford University showed that people who went through compassion training, which was a specific meditation program, were better able to regulate their emotions afterwards.
This is crucial for remaining disciplined and being able to make rational decisions. Now, an easy way to get started would be by using guided meditation, which you can use through apps like Headspace and Calm, or through many free videos on YouTube. Or you can simply sit and concentrate on your breath with your eyes closed. And when your attention is inevitably pulled away by a random thought, let that thought go, and then bring your attention back to my breath. Doing this over the long term will help with both self-discipline and concentration.
Practice building new habits. As mentioned earlier, building new habits is kind of a separate discipline in the overall pursuit of changing your behavior. But, the initial stages of building a new habit often require self-discipline, because the behavior isn’t automatic yet. This can be a great way to not only establish a new habit, but become more disciplined in the process. Remember that for whatever habit you choose to build, start small and track your progress.
If you need help or guidance with starting the process of shifting your mindset, please feel free to contact us for more information on how we can help you!