Self-Discipline

Can You Learn to be Self-Disciplined?

A lot of people have quite a fatalistic attitude towards self-discipline. They see themselves as essentially undisciplined people who lack the stamina to follow through on their decisions. They might talk about a “procrastination problem” or “no will power”. They blame their lack of self-discipline for their inability to get their business off the ground, or finish college, or successfully quit smoking or diet.

I don’t believe that any of us are lost causes when it comes to self-discipline. I also don’t think that any of us are born with iron wills or great tenacity: it’s something which we learn.

Short-Time Pleasure

A lack of self-discipline is often the result of a focus on short-term pleasure over long-term rewards. You might have experienced this a lot as a teen or in college, prioritising partying or computer games over studying! And, at the time, you might have been quite annoyed by adults who tried to persuade you to knuckle down and get on with your homework. Perhaps you used to blow your allowance money on CDs, only to end up broke and unable to go out with friends.

As we grow up, we learn (sometimes painfully) that it’s often worth enduring some short-term difficulties in order to have longer-term happiness.

How You Developed Self-Discipline

In most cases, we become more self-disciplined as we grow older. If you think back to your childhood or teens, you can probably remember times when you had almost no self-discipline. I suspect that now:

  • You’re able to get up on time when you have to go to work – without dad yelling at you to get out of bed
  • You make sure you have enough money to pay your bills – without mom doling it out in small installments
  • You keep your home reasonably clean: not because your parents are nagging you to do your chores, but because you want to have clean dishes to eat off!

Even though you might feel that you’re not very self-disciplined, you have learnt to delay gratification and to get on with things that aren’t necessarily end-to-end fun – because you know that life’s easier that way.

Growing the Self-Discipline Muscle

In college, I used to regularly drink far too much. I stayed up late at night playing computer games, and often dashed off essays at the last minute. I expect that might sound pretty familiar! However, I now make a living freelancing – and I’ve also written around 200,000 words of fiction in the past year. I probably wouldn’t have had the self-discipline to do what I do today, six years ago.

If you’ve ever worked out in the gym, you’ll know how quickly you can build up muscles. Your self-discipline is a bit like a muscle: the more you use it, the stronger it’ll become. However, if you try to do far too much too soon, you’ll just fail and end up disappointed.

So how can you actively improve your self discipline?

  • Pick three things you will definitely accomplish tomorrow. Many of us have real trouble in actually getting on with the things which we want to get done – we let interruptions and distractions take over our day.
  • Take a thirty-day trial. If you’re trying to lose weight, take up exercise, etc, doing it for thirty days can give you more motivation and focus than if you simply try to do it indefinitely. You can always choose to extend the trial. (If thirty days is too long, try a week.)
  • Get into the habit of fulfilling your promises – and ask those around you to keep you accountable. If both you and your partner know that when you say “I’ll cook tonight” that it’s not going to happen, then make sure that changes.
  • Talk to friends or read books or blogs which encourage you – either by offering advice or by setting an example to follow. I like Dave Navarro’s no-nonsense Rock Your Day.

Above all, stop telling yourself that you “just aren’t self-disciplined”. Don’t see your levels of self-discipline as something dictated by fate – see them as something you can actively earn and improve upon.

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  • http://qupfromtheashes.blogspot.com/ quinn

    I think another aspect of building self discipline is building self confidence. we teach our selves that we are not reliable and there for we develop this expectation that we won’t do what we say. as we create an expectation of success from our actions and declaration we become more prone to seeing that success. I think picking 3 things and doing them is a powerful tool to use in regards to this. Thanks for the great thoughts.

    • http://openyourmindnow.com/ rika 12

      I think so too. If i can add, It’d be habits. Forming habits help people become more and more confident and disciplined. I also believe that it all starts when they open their mind.

  • http://www.feedmyhabits.com Nelia

    I think we underestimate the power of short-term pleasure and our ability to wield that power for good as well as for evil. I think the key is finding the pleasure, short-term and long-term, in the practice of being disciplined.

    I couldn’t agree more with the habit of fulfilling commitments to self. Amen, sister. Amen.

    Thanks for tackling this difficult issue and providing helpful recommendations.

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  • http://twitter.com/Annieb25 Annie

    Thank you. This post was just what I needed at this exact time. Great writing style. I will be working on those steps to improve my “Self Discipline Muscle” right away. 1 step already completd – am following this blog on Twitter for a regular inspirational read. Thank you again!

  • http://www.bakerthebrand.com B

    Great post! I particularly like the 30 day trial method, that seems to give it more of a deadline, and allows you to get it done. I think discpline is something that just takes patience and present moment awareness.

  • http://www.2knowmyself.com Farouk

    yes i believe any one can learn discipline

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  • http://switchstories.com Paul Montwill – Switch Stories

    With self-discipline it is always a matter of very small steps and motivation. Also, many people who are unhappy with their lack of self-discipline are often very harsh to themselves.

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  • http://enlightr.com/cloud Craig

    I’d have to agree. Self-discipline was a bugger to get under wraps but once the muscle has been built you’ll fly through projects.

  • http://richardshelmerdine.com/blog/ Richard | RichardShelmerdine.com

    I believe that anyone can learn to become self disciplined. It’s as easy as starting out very small and building over time. That way you hit no roadblocks and it seems so easy. Start running just 100m per day for example and you will be running marathons soon.

  • http://www.self-confidence-matters.com/ Kristin Hutchings

    Self-discipline is always something best taken in short steps in the very beginning as it can be hard to maintain motivation. I think having a goal you are passionate about definitely helps to focus our self-discipline. I liked the analogy of building a self-discipline muscle – it is definitely something that improves over time and with practice.

  • http://www.moneymakingideasbonus.com/ MartynaBizdra

    I am glad that I have found your blog. This article has opened my eyes a little bit more,
    I have some troubles with being focused
    and what you said:”…A lack of self-discipline is often the result of a focus on short-term pleasure over long-term rewards…” is a great sentence!
    what also helps in improving self-discipline is the awareness of purpose- I work on it every morning, clarify my vision, and it directs me again and again when the distractions show up
    so thanks for your post, it is a nice step

  • Rachel

    What a shame.
    I like to check my favorite blogs while I’m listing to NPR and BBC.
    Obviously you feel that PickTheBrain should choose my audio material; when I go to your website, I get a very loud voice talking about Wal-Mart gift cards.
    Since you think I’m so stupid that I have to listen to the ads you run, I guess I’m too ignorant to read your blog.
    Bye.

  • http://lifecoachtips.wordpress.com Guy Farmer

    Great tips Ali. I appreciate the idea of consciously working on building discipline. People can build up discipline by simply practicing actions over time and monitoring/measuring their results. The thing I’ve noticed about those who are successful is that they are committed to taking an honest look at themselves and putting in the effort to create movement in their lives.

    Take care,

    Guy

  • http://www.urexx.com sex shop

    what also helps in improving self-discipline is the awareness of purpose- I work on it every morning, clarify my vision, and it directs me again and again when the distractions show up
    so thanks for your post, it is a nice step

  • http://www.shop216.com cinsel ürünler

    I have some troubles with being focused
    and what you said:”…A lack of self-discipline is often the result of a focus on short-term pleasure over long-term rewards…” is a great sentence!

  • http://www.sismebebek.org şişme bebek

    People can build up discipline by simply practicing actions over time and monitoring/measuring their results. The thing I’ve noticed about those who are successful is that they are committed to taking

  • http://www.flashgameport.com flashgameport

    Thank you very much for your contributions.

    Flash game

  • http://www.aboutalco.ru/ Аboutalcoru

    А чё? больше не чего лучшего разве нет? мне и так понятно

  • http://hypnodepot.com/learning-self-discipline Bob Walsh

    Roy Baumeister, one of the leading authorities on discipline and author of a bestselling book on willpower recommends doing little things to build up self-discipline: maintain a good posture, speak in full sentences, use the computer mouse with your other hand. It’s based on scientific principles that show that discipline is pretty much like a muscle – it can be build up, but it can also be tired out. And engaging in little conscious efforts that require discipline seems to be the best way to become more disciplined, according to the research.

    • Rebeccatree

      I agree on that completely. start small.  
      I also strongly believe that discipline sometimes can come in big chunks – it is only more painful.  Discipline is sometimes something we do out of necessity.  For example, becoming a mother or a father brings in a whole new need for discipline.  Discipline is sacrifice essentially.  Everyone is ever who has ever cared for another human being knows about sacrifice.   Being a dedicated mother, father, husband, and wife takes sacrifice and therefore discipline.  When you really love someone you become more disciplined.
      If the family picture isn’t in your near future try saving up to go on a humanitarian trip.  That is a good start.  

    • Silvertree

      I agree on that completely. Start small.  I also strongly believe that discipline sometimes can come in big chunks – it is only more painful.  Becoming disciplined is sometimes – if not most of the time -something we do out of necessity.  For example, becoming a mother or a father brings in a whole new need for discipline.  Discipline is sacrifice, essentially.  Anyone who has ever cared for another human being knows about sacrifice.   The family setting is the best place to learn discipline. Being a dedicated wife, husband, mother or father takes sacrifice, and therefore, discipline.  When you really love someone you become more disciplined.If the family picture isn’t in your near future try saving up to go on a humanitarian trip – or become a full-time caregiver of some sort.  That is a good start.

    • Silvertree

      I agree on that completely. Start small.  I also know that discipline sometimes can come in big chunks – it is only more painful in the process. Here’s what I mean… Discipline is sometimes – if not most of the time -something that comes out of necessity.  For example, becoming a mother or a father brings in a whole new need for discipline in ourselves.  Discipline is sacrifice, essentially.  Anyone who has ever cared for another human being knows about sacrifice.    The THE FAMILY SETTING is the best place to learn discipline. (It is also the most rewarding.) Being a dedicated wife, husband, mother or father takes sacrifice, and therefore, discipline.  When you really love someone you become more disciplined. This discipline becomes a great blessing to you and the ones you care for. If the family picture isn’t in your near future try saving up to go on a humanitarian trip (or, become a full-time caregiver of some sort.) This is a good start.

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