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How To Improve Self Discipline And Why It Is Crucial To Success

Self discipline is an essential ingredient for success and we should all want to improve it over a lifetime.  Self-discipline doesn’t have to be called upon as much once good habits are in place, but it is necessary to create them to begin with.

A person who doesn’t already have or build a good base of self discipline has almost no chance of succeeding over time.

Why is this?

It is because self-discipline is necessary to postpone what you want now for what you want in the long run.  It is necessary to act based on values rather than feelings.

When a person doesn’t have self discipline, they are at the mercy of whatever ‘feels best’ at any given moment.  It takes self-discipline to push past the desire for quick pleasure with the knowledge of a goal in mind.

If you don’t have any goals in mind, check out my free personal vision and mission builder here:

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    If you have some large and/or small goals, you’re already ahead of the game.  Inevitably, there are going to be certain tasks that aren’t appealing but are absolutely necessary to achieve your goal.  You might even hate some of these activities, but the goal can’t be achieved without doing them.

    That’s where self-discipline comes in and pushes you through.  Without it, you will almost certainly default to distracting, short term pleasure fulfilling activities.  Almost all of us can recall at least one instance of scrolling through social media or streaming TV shows to put off something vastly more important.

    It takes self discipline and self motivation to follow through instead of procrastinating.

    Read on to find out some individual ways to improve self discipline and how they can be crucial to a successful self help journey as well.

    Related The ultimate guide to self improvement

    Plan Ahead For Moments Of Weak Willpower

    Self discipline and willpower go hand and hand, and guess what?  None of us has unlimited willpower.  More on the topic of developing and strengthening willpower can be found in Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, one of the must read books on habits.

    For now though, just understand that willpower is finite and at some point we all get tested at moments when our willpower is depleted.  What do we do?  Preparing ahead of time can make self discipline much easier.

    Just think of something in your life that you seem to always slip on no matter what.  It could be that mid-afternoon cookie, a certain TV show, that one extra drink, you name it.  You have to recognize when your willpower is weak and have viable alternatives already in place.

    Examples:

    • If you’re tired near the end of the work day and tend to get sugary, sweet snacks as a pick me up, make it a point to have fruit readily available so you eat that instead.
    • There could be a certain someone who always manages to get on your ‘very last nerve’ when your patience is exhausted.  Since this is nothing new, prepare a canned, calm response ahead of time and make a promise to yourself to use it.

    There are more examples but the point is to already know how you will respond in certain situations and set yourself up for success ahead of time.

    This way, you can offset doing or saying something you’ll regret later.  As a bonus, you’ll save on using up any remaining willpower because you already have your planned, positive response ready to go.

    Use “I Am The Kind Of Person That…” Statements

    One necessary ingredient for self help and achieving goals is self-discipline.  Belief that you can achieve the goals is another critical factor.

    Without the belief, you’ll never even get started. 

    It makes complete sense if you think about it.  Why would anyone work hard towards something they don’t believe they can do?

    When you have a solid belief that you will succeed, developing the self-discipline that is necessary for the journey becomes easier.  But how do you make yourself believe in yourself?

    It all starts inside.  Think about the kind of person you would like to be and frequently tell yourself that with “I am the kind of person that…” statements.  This could vary greatly depending on what you’re trying to do, but some examples could be:

    • “I am the kind of person that wakes up early every morning”

    OR

    • “I am the kind of person that works out every day”

    Strange as it may seem, this can actually work.  I’ve tried it myself with relation to waking up earlier in the morning to read, journal, and meditate. 

    The change didn’t happen overnight, but the more I made the statement the more I identified as someone who wakes up early.  I had more self motivation to do it and it came more naturally.

    Another positive side effect was a boost to my self esteem and self confidence because I proved to myself I could do it.

    Using “I am the type of person that…” statements is something I actually picked up from Tom Bilyeu who runs Impact Theory.  I thought it was definitely worth sharing since it worked so well for me.

    Combine Something You WANT To Do With Something You NEED To Do

    This is one of my favorite ways to increase self discipline because it’s so easy to do, requires no additional self motivation, and can apply to many situations. 

    Most people decide not to flex their creative muscles and instead only focus on the daunting task ahead, usually leading to procrastinating and not following through.

    There are lots of ways to combine things that you don’t want to do with things that you enjoy doing.  Here are just a couple of examples from my personal life.

    • I have developed the habit of working out at least 4-5 times a week.  I’m proud of that, but at the same time I don’t always want to go to the gym.   Lately, I’ve been watching shows on Netflix while on the Stairmaster at the gym.  I’m entertained and 45 minutes goes by just like that.  The difference between that and just sitting at home and watching it is about 500 calories.  Definitely worth it and it takes less self motivation to get started.
    • Although I would love to have someone mow my lawn for me every week, I can’t yet justify that expense in my budget.  Consequently, I have to mow my lawn.  I don’t hate it or anything, but it’s definitely something I could do without.  You know something that I love doing?  Listening to podcasts or audiobooks.  So when I have to mow the lawn, I use that time wisely and listen to motivating & inspiring things on one of those mediums. Again, not a lot of self motivation is needed because I can look forward to at least one aspect of it.

    You get the picture so I won’t go on and on.  I’m sure you can think of creative ways to combine activities in your own life.  Just take a few minutes and think about it.

    Make Temptations Harder To Access

    This one might seem kind of obvious but I’m going to put it out there because it’s so effective for many reasons. 

    Time management, avoiding procrastination, and overall personal development just to name a few.

    It’s effective because we are much less likely to fall to temptation if said temptation is difficult to access.

    For example, say I’m feeling a tad stressed and decide that I want to have a drink to take the edge off.  It makes a big difference (at least to me) if there’s alcohol in the house or if I have to hop in the car to go get a six pack from the store.

    I also have a habit of randomly checking my phone for no apparent reason while working in my basement office. 

    Simply leaving my phone in our 2nd floor master bedroom all but eliminates that problem.  Going up two flights of stairs is far too much effort to scratch that itch. 

    If my phone is right next to me, however, I could end up wasting 15 or 20 minutes scrolling through feeds.

    The point is to identify your temptations and make a concerted effort to make them harder to get to.  Start by making a list of temptations you would like to avoid and then identify ones that can be executed with little difficulty.

    It’s fairly easy in some circumstances and not so much in others.  It’s definitely worth a shot to at least try the exercise.

    Limit or Avoid Alcohol

    Before you accuse me of being a huge party pooper, just know that I am not bashing drinking here.  I have had more than my fair share of drinks in my day and still enjoy a couple drinks every once in a while.

    What I’m about to tell you though is real.  And that is that as your drinking increases, self discipline decreases.  It has always been that way and always will be.

    There have been at least a few scientific studies to back it up.  What most studies show is that alcohol weakens the brain signal that warns people when they are making a mistake. 

    The interesting thing one study identified is that it doesn’t cause people to become less aware of mistakes, only how much they care about them.

    This is important when trying to improve self-discipline because a big part of succeeding is keeping the positive benefits at the forefront of your mind.  It becomes much easier to disregard or forget about consequences when your inhibitions are lowered.

    According to Science Daily, the researchers from the University of Missouri measured brain activity in 67 participants as they completed a challenging computer task. One-third of participants were given alcoholic drinks; one third had a placebo drink, and one-third did not have any drink. The researchers studied the participants’ mood, as well as their accuracy in completing the task and how accurate they thought they were.

    The study found the brain’s “alarm signal” in response to making a mistake was significantly reduced in the alcohol group compared with the other two groups.

    Those who drank alcohol were no less likely to realize they had made a mistake. They were, however, less likely than those in the non-alcohol groups to slow down and be more careful after making a mistake.

    Put simply, the more you drink the less you will care.  And you will need to care VERY much when trying to break a bad habit or create any new positive habit, including and especially self discipline.

    Surround Yourself With Self Disciplined People

    Birds of a feather flock together.  You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with.  You are who you hang out with.  I’m sure you’ve heard one of these phrases or some variation of them.

    It’s almost common knowledge that if you want to achieve real success and self improvement, you need to surround yourself with successful people.  The same holds true if you want to have more self discipline.

    Say you’re trying to develop an exercise habit and your best friend agrees to join you in this effort.  If your level of self discipline is low and so is theirs, chances are neither of you will succeed.

    It will be far too easy to quit or choose some other activity as soon as it gets a little difficult.  When one of you suggests quitting or doing something else, the other will agree.  All of the excuses will seem justifiable because each of you is playing off of the other’s weakness.

    It’s all good and well until your self esteem takes a hit later for not following through.

    If there was a third, highly self disciplined person involved, the chances for success would increase exponentially. 

    If both of the other two people are highly self disciplined, success becomes almost inevitable.  Make sense?

    When you’re embarking on a self improvement or personal development journey, self discipline is essential.

    It’s almost impossible not to improve when everyone around you has a higher degree of self discipline than you. 

    It’s much easier to get brought down to lower levels or stay the same than it is to ascend to higher levels.  Accordingly, keeping highly self disciplined company can go a long way.

    Eat Some Fruit

    This one may sound kind of strange but stick with me for a minute.

    Research has shown that low levels of glucose are tied to having a reduced amount of willpower.  In other words, willpower is drawn from a limited source and gets reduced through its use.  Numerous studies propose that glucose is essentially ‘the source’.

    More tangibly, these same studies show evidence that sugary drinks boosts an individual’s performance on self control measures.

    So you should indulge in sugary drinks and sweets in order to have greater self control? 

    No, of course not. Especially if your eating habits are what you’re attempting to have more self control with in the first place.

    There are healthier alternatives that do provide glucose.  Bananas, grapes, cherries, and mangoes are particularly good options because they are high on the glycemic index and can boost blood sugar levels quickly.

    Of course, all things should be done in moderation but if you do need a boost of glucose (and self control) these fruits are better than processed snacks.  For one, the sugar in them is all natural and they also provide a good source of vitamins that other snacks almost never do.

    Exercise

    Exercising is a keystone habit that leads to other positive habits.  In Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, another one of the Must read books on habits, he explains how people who exercise have increased patience, are less stressed, and are more productive at work.

    Additionally, exercising is associated with the following:

    • Positive mood
    • More confidence
    • Better sleep
    • Weight control
    • Better sex
    • Boosts energy
    • Combats health conditions and disease

    An increased sense of self discipline is a natural byproduct of all of these things. These are all things that make you feel good, and when you naturally feel good you don’t need other ‘things’ to help you feel good…feel me?

    Whether exercise is part of your morning routine, middle of the day, or evening routine, it should be high on your list of things to regularly incorporate into your life.  So many other positive things tend to flow from it.

    And you don’t have to exercise three hours a day, seven days a week like a maniac for it to be effective as Old School / New Body explains.

    Let Someone Else Know What You’re Doing And Trying To Achieve

    This one might seem like a no-brainer but many people don’t want to involve others in their goals.  There could be many reasons for this such as fear of failure or being embarrassed about your faults in the first place.  Get over it!

    No one in the universe is perfect and we all need strong interpersonal relationships to succeed.  The social mirror continues to promulgate the idea that independent success is the highest level of achievement. 

    Sooner or later everyone realizes that the interdependent nature of reality cannot be ignored. Even with things involving self help, self improvement, and personal development.

    You still need other people along the way. And if these people have a high degree of self discipline, even better.

    Find someone you trust, tell them what you’re trying to change, and ask them to hold you accountable.  Simple, but not necessarily easy.  It takes courage and confidence to be vulnerable about your weaknesses but getting another person involved has the potential to make all the difference.

    Develop Routines

    It’s easy to fall victim to bad habits when you’re bored.  Getting caught up in undisciplined behavior such as procrastinating and not following through can happen before you know it.

    You can thwart this by having a predetermined list of activities to choose from during downtime.  This is similar to the section above that talks about preparing for moments of weak willpower.

    An even better method, however, is to plan out your day with consistent routines so there is as little downtime as possible.  Not only will you be less likely to succumb to bad habits, but you’ll also be much more productive.

    A good place to start is developing routines or habits around how you will begin and end each day.  Check out my posts on morning routines and evening habits if you need some ideas to get started.

    Wrap Up

    Are you willing to try a few of these things?  A couple of them?  Even one?  You landed on this page and read (or skimmed, I’m not judging) all the way down here.  It’s clear that you want to change.  In order to change, though, you have to change the things you do.  Our circumstances don’t change until we change.

    I used to read a TON of self help and personal development books and they always fired me up.  I would feel great about the possibilities of change, but I wouldn’t execute anything. 

    Or I would start to execute, but fail to form a habit because I didn’t stay consistent. Consequently, I always ended up where I began.

    Scroll back up through this list and find one thing that you could try.  Commit to it over the next few weeks.  It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.  Force yourself to be disciplined enough to do it and immense benefits will be achieved.

    Also don’t forget to check out my ultimate guide to self improvement

    Additional Reading

    The ultimate guide to self improvement

    You don’t need external validation to build self confidence

    How courage builds self confidence

    How to be more productive

    Habits of highly charismatic people

    How to stop procrastinating and get shit done

    Must read books on habits

    Habits to avoid if you want to be successful

    Sunday habits for a mega successful week

    Evening habits of successful people

    Daily success habits

    Morning routines to win the day everyday

    How to procrastinate effectively

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