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How To Build Self Discipline
I often find that writing for my blog is cathartic or can give me clearer insights into subjects that are causing me some difficulties. That’s how it is with the subject of how to build self discipline.
This is a topic that fascinates me and frustrates me in equal measure. As you will have probably noticed, I love to delve into the realms of personal productivity in search of the latest tool or trick that will help push my outputs that little bit further. But sometimes I end up frustrated further down the line when my self discipline, or willpower, fail to live up to my expectations.
This post is about how to build self discipline around the things we know we should be doing, but aren’t. Oh yes, we’re busy, but we can all fall prey to being busy doing the wrong thing. If that’s the case for you, in some or many areas of your life where you want to make a difference, then try these suggestions to find a few that work for you.
Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishments. Jim Rohn.
Just Do It!
Ok, sorry to ‘quote’ Nike, but ‘just do it’ is the given wisdom. Whilst I agree with this on a superficial level, I think knowing how to build self discipline requires more than a command to just get on with it. After all, if it really was that simple, we’d all be jumping to it, which clearly isn’t the case or there’d be no need for this blog post. So what can we actually do?
11 Tips on How to Build Self Discipline
1 Don’t rely on yourself only, commit to doing it for or with someone else
This is similar to going public with your goal, but instead of putting it out there to everyone, consider a much smaller public declaration and either tell someone that you are doing it for them and when they can expect the result, or work with someone else who also has the same goal as you. This can be as easy as joining a club or group, or working with a friend to achieve a similar outcome. This interesting blog post from From Nothing to Novel shows how it can be done if you have plans to write a book.
2 Listen to or watch motivational material
When you just can’t seem to get yourself moving, try listening to or watching some motivational material. Alternatively, you might have a soundtrack that gets your blood pumping and your motivational juices flowing. Make a point of using these tools to get yourself into action.
This Youtube video is just 12 minutes and packs a great self discipline punch:
3 Keep visible lists or reminders
Sometimes we just forget what we said we were going to do and therefore get easily sidetracked. This can often be the case when we have lots on our mind and multiple demands on our time. Is it any wonder then that we forget to do the things that probably aren’t urgent?
> Want to remember to drink more water? Put an alarm reminder on your phone (there’s also an app for this, by the way).
> You’re on a declutter mission and want to remember to throw x items away each day? Put a coloured bag somewhere obvious that you will see it every day and then walk through each room for 10 minutes filling it up as you go along.
> Keep a list in your favourite notebook and refer to it often.
4 Keep it interesting (if possible)
Sometimes we just get bored! It can be hard to keep up your self discipline if you’re doing the same task day-after-day-after-boring-day! So think of ways you can shake it up a little. For example, dieting can be sooo boring! Eating the same or similar foods for a long period of time can wear you down. My current routine is to allow myself a ‘day off’ on the weekend to eat as I please. This is often enough to keep me moving in the right direction for the rest of the week and to keep the pounds coming off.
Of course, it won’t always be possible to shake the routine up without undoing all your good work, so apply this tip sensibly!
5 Know your energy peaks and troughs and work with these (if possible) not against them.
I know that I have more energy in the morning than in the afternoon or the evening. I also know that by the end of the week I’m flagging and Saturdays are pretty much a wash-out for me.
But knowing that and actually arranging the heavy lifting around my personal energy peaks and troughs doesn’t always feature in my plans. Consequently I get frustrated and blame a lack of self discipline when I’m less than productive or scattered during these times.
Being aware of your own energy waves will help you build your self discipline more effectively and consistently. Do the hard stuff when you have most energy and leave the busy work for low-energy days. Also, use your low energy days to enjoy yourself – you deserve a break!
6 Be prepared to do the hardest thing first and don’t get sidelined by ‘busy’ tasks.
I often find that how I start the day sets the tone for how the rest of the day will pan out. But, there can be a huge temptation to start the day with ‘busy’ tasks instead of immediately settling down to the important (but not urgent) goal task. But if you start your day with the busy stuff, you’ll never get to the important stuff.
This is a classic example of wanting to avoid the more difficult task whilst creating the appearance of being too busy to do the important stuff! I know this and so do you! This is a simple method for improving your self discipline – do the important stuff first! Or in the words of Brian Tracey, Eat That Frog!
7 Commit to a routine.
I would be the first to admit that I’m not the greatest at keeping to a routine. I’m one of those people who completely believes that variety is the spice of life, and consequently I love (but also hate) to have my routines interrupted!
I’ve learned over the years that freedom is just the other side of discipline. Jake Gyllenhaal.
But, that being said, my Sunday routine is to write and publish a blog post for my website and this has become completely ingrained. I know that when I wake on a Sunday morning, I’m going to be writing, whether that takes all day (quite often) or whether I can whip through it quickly and relax the rest of the day.
This is one of the best routines I have established and it’s been liberating. It means that…
> I know what I’m doing that day,
> I don’t feel guilty when I turn down invites,
> I can plan ahead in case I’m going to be away.
8 Keep in mind why you’re trying to be more self disciplined.
Don’t be self disciplined for the sake of it, but always keep in mind why you’re trying to build self discipline. It’s useful to have a picture or a meaningful quote visible as a reminder of why you’re doing what you’re doing. Here are some examples:
> If you’re saving for an experience or a material item – keep a picture of the object in your wallet!
> If you’re training for a physical event – get a mock-up picture of you crossing the finish line.
> If you’re planning a surprise party – put a token balloon up somewhere!
9 Treat it like a muscle, the more you do it, the stronger it becomes.
My block was due to two overlapping factors: laziness and lack of discipline. Mary Garden.
Some things are just hard to do, especially at the beginning, but always know that the more you regularly apply your self discipline muscle, the stronger it will become. Eventually you will feel a strange twinge if you don’t do the thing you should be doing! I love to reach that point!
Also, to keep to the strength analogy, the more often you do something, the more likely you are to experience breakthroughs as you gain more knowledge, experience and stamina.
10 Use tools, hacks and tips to ‘push’ yourself through your inertia when the going gets really tough.
It’s hard to push the proverbial elephant up the hill and sometimes we just need a few tips or hacks to help us along or just trick ourselves into doing the work. I’ve written quite a lot on tips and hacks for this purpose, check these posts out and find the best tips for you
11 Use a meaningful mantra
Find a few words that really sum up what you’re trying to do and repeat them to yourself regularly. Let them become the first thing that pops into your head when you’re about to veer off your planned route, not as something to chastise you, but as a reminder that you now have a choice. For me that mantra is:
it’s easy to do and easy not to do…you get to decide.
Sometimes your lack of self discipline is a self sabotage measure and you may actually feel physical pain! When I’m at my most resistant I feel a physical pain in my stomach! I know it’s not real but psychological, but it’s worse that wading through treacle to get to the other side where the task is actually done. At these times I try to remember that I have an active choice to make.
It would be easy to choose pizza over vegetables or TV over writing or exercise, or even clutter over throwing or putting the item away. It’s all up to me, but whatever I choose, I must live with the consequences.
Knowing how to build self discipline and actually putting practices into place is kind of an oxymoron. There is no self discipline without action to implement self discipline. The choice is always yours to do the right thing at the right time or continue on the path of least resistance. If you’d like to build your self discipline muscle then giving these tips a try could help to move you in the direction of your dreams. I wish you much luck and fortitude!
My Pick of Self Discipline Resources
I’ve picked out these items from Amazon as I know they are particularly useful when it comes to building self discipline. In fact, my mantra from number 11 above comes from Jeff Olson’s The Slight Edge. If you’re serious about improving your self discipline then check these resources out.