Self-discipline is the ability to control your actions through inner will power regardless of your emotions and impulses. It’s the skill to overcome the temptation to violate your inner principles. Self-discipline enables you to pursue your goals, follow your own ethics, and be the person you want to be. Someone guided by self-discipline uses their mind to make important decisions and aren’t led away with the wrong decisions by their feelings.
Why do I struggle with self-discipline?
Any struggles you have with self-discipline are normal as people will tend to follow the easiest path of least resistance in life. People will tend to do what feels good in the present moment which makes it difficult to discipline yourself to do what’s hard or better for you in the long term.
A normal person’s default setting is instead of doing the hard work, laziness is chosen because it’s easy. Uncomfortable work projects are avoided and easier tasks are preferred. People prefer to spend money on small things they want now than to save money for big things they may want later. Debt is preferred over saving and investing. A lack of discipline to do the hard things in life now, many times leads to a much harder life later on.
You struggle with self-discipline because your future goals are not exciting enough to motivate the current you to control your present impulses. If you want more self-discipline you need big exciting goals you are striving toward. The future prize needs to be greater than the current desire.
Is being disciplined hard?
Being disciplined isn’t difficult if you change your beliefs about yourself, your habits, and what you want in life. Staying self-disciplined is much easier when you create systems in your life to build consistent habits. The way you structure your life, the environments you find yourself in, and the temptations you are subject to have a lot to do with how hard it is for you to maintain your discipline. It’s easier to simply avoid temptations and situations altogether than to rely on self-discipline alone.
Discipline is about your present self choosing what’s best for your future self. This was found to be much easier if you can relate to your future self. If you have goals you want to reach retirement at 65 then being able to imagine what you look like and will feel at age 65 with a big nest egg versus no savings at all can help with the discipline to put money away in your 401k or IRA account. Having empathy for your future selves can help you make better decisions in the present moment.
Does self-discipline get easier?
Self-discipline can become easier when you have either positive reinforcement from your future goals or negative reinforcement through future risks. Self-discipline becomes easier if you manage your thoughts carefully and quickly dismiss thoughts encouraging undisciplined actions. It’s important to guard your thoughts carefully and only dwell on those that are constructive and positive and lead you toward your bigger goals in life.
Your self-beliefs can also help with your self-discipline. What you believe about yourself can help change your behaviors on both a conscious and subconscious level. If you believe you’re a healthy eater then it can become your default setting to choose more nutritious foods. A lot of actions are just reflections of what you believe to be true about yourself. Be careful about what kind of person you believe yourself to be as your actions can reflect this in your behaviors. People seek a confluence between their actions and their belief systems so focus on the positive for more discipline.
Self-discipline is a skill more than a talent. It can be learned through mental focus and practice. Each time you choose to do the right thing you reinforce the skill of discipline. You can create processes in action and thought that help you overcome the temptations of wrong action in real time.
Self-discipline is also like a muscle that must be developed and exercised to grow in strength. The more practice you have in working on and developing your discipline in real-life events, the stronger your will to use it grows. Just like with building real muscles up in size, you must start with smaller mental weights, temptations, and situations to exercise your discipline.
If you want to improve your diet you can start with changing one meal at a time each week until you have created a new routine and overcame the smaller temptations of overeating at that one meal before adding a second one. Small successes with discipline build up your confidence and how you see yourself. This helps with the will to keep making the right decisions. Self-discipline is never complete and new challenges will continue to arise but you can be prepared with smaller early victories.
Good stress management is another skill that helps with self-discipline. People have more trouble staying disciplined if they are under great stress that they can’t manage or when exhausted. Too many people make impulsive purchases or break their healthy eating habits under stress looking for a relief for how they feel. Incorporating other stress management strategies such as meditation or exercise can both be their own practices while also managing stress as a side benefit.
The core of having self-discipline is choosing right action and right thought when you come to a fork in the road on a decision tree. This is where you must make the decision in real time to either go in the direction of your goals and dreams or take a detour back to the road most traveled of hedonism, selfishness, and mediocrity.
Self discipline can pay very high returns on right effort that is exercised consistently over long periods of time on the correct things. Discipline is the skill of choosing what your best self wants to do in real time regardless of the impulses and desires of your lesser self.
Self-discipline is the core requirement for big success in any area of life, professional or personal.
Image created by Holly Burns