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Success comes at a cost. And accomplishments, great or small, aren’t easy to come by because like it or not, achievement requires self-discipline — lots of it!


Being honest, my biggest challenge is self-discipline — or lack of! And it’s an area I grow more aware of and want to challenge daily.

The trouble is, I find it hard to do what I say I want to do! For example, my intention was to write from 5.30am this morning, and guess what, it’s just gone 6am.

This isn’t uncommon for me and it gets on my nerves. Or rather, I should say, I get on my nerves. Self-discipline has been the biggest obstacle in the pursuit of my goals.

What is self-discipline?

Self-discipline can be defined as doing the things we don’t feel like doing in order to gain the things that are best. Or having the ability to take the right action regardless of how we feel.

Though some would disagree, self-discipline is the ultimate freedom. Yet despite it being so alluring, its one of the most difficult attributes to acquire because it goes against the grain of our innate tendencies.

Stephen R. Covey said,

“The undisciplined are slaves to moods, appetites, and passions.”

It’s easier to snuggle under the duvet instead of going on a morning run. To indulge in more cake, rather than eating fruit. To complain or gossip instead of speaking positively or making change.

The thing is, though I’ve often said I ‘want’ something, I’ve always found it hard to do the things I know I ought to be doing in order to get it. Can you relate?

What’s the motivation behind self-discipline?

As my motivation to impact lives and add my contribution grows, so too does my awareness of the importance of self-discipline.

This is because I see where my lack of self-discipline results in my growth plateauing. And when my growth plateaus, I’m less effective.

The power of self-discipline

When combined with faith, planning, goal-setting, perseverance, and passion, self-discipline is a powerful attribute that’ll help us towards succeeding in any endeavour.

It was Napoleon Hill who said,

“Self-discipline begins with the mastery of your thoughts. If you don’t control what you think, you can’t control what you do. Simply, self-discipline enables you to think first and act afterwards.”

Self-discipline is key to effectiveness. And we don’t need to look far to see that. Those who’ve achieved any level of success, are those who’ve had self-discipline.

From elite athletes through to musicians, self-discipline and sacrifice have been a common attribute to being successful.

Self-discipline is possible

Self-discipline intrigues me. Life change excites me. And the fact that transformation is possible causes me to thank God daily. So if like me, you also struggle with self-discipline, there’s hope yet!

What’s true is that self-discipline isn’t an attribute solely for an elect few — it can be developed. For example, over the last few weeks I’ve replaced my caffeine intake with herbal tea.

So, if you want to be more disciplined, here are four steps I’ve been taking and have found helpful in developing my own self-discipline, that you too could try.

#1. Focus on one thing at a time

I’d bet that you could name several disciplines that you’d like to develop, or at least try, couldn’t you.

My list would include learning to play an instrument — competently, becoming a skilled BJJ practitioner, and learning a new language — probably Spanish. And there are others that I’ll not mention now.

What would be on your list I wonder?

But developing too many disciplines at once makes it harder for you, as your chances of success are not only dependent on your perseverance and competence, but largely on how much energy, resources and time you’re able to give towards making progress.

What this means is that by focusing on one discipline at a time, you’ll increase your chances of success by funneling your resources towards reaching a smaller number of goals. And in doing so, we make it easier to develop your new discipline.

For example, if January’s focus was to run for 20mins three times a week to improve fitness and lose weight, then February’s discipline could be to give daily affirmations in order to reach towards a goal to improve relationships with family, friends and colleagues.

#2. Create small wins

I don’t know about you, but I’m not the best when it comes to dealing with setbacks and failures — especially when they’re linked directly to my goals.

This is why it helps to create small wins when developing self-discipline, as a constant barrage of defeats can lead to despondency and an increased likelihood of quitting. And believe me, I’ve had enough experience of this to know how it feels.

The good thing is that the better we know ourselves the smarter we can be in creating multiple wins — by breaking our goals into smaller chunks — to give us the feel good factor that gives the momentum needed to help us make continual progress.

For example, it may better to do eight 20 minute sittings and write 375 words in each, than two longer blocks of 1500 words when trying to reach a word count of 3000, if writing 1500 words can be too demanding in one sitting.

And linked to step #4, creating small wins is an important part of the process of developing self-discipline.

#3. Set simple rules

Okay, if the thought of ‘rules’ makes you uncomfortable — which for some it will — perhaps it might be better to think of this as agreeing a ‘code of conduct’ with yourself.

Either way the idea here is to set some conditions to which you’ll commit to upholding regardless of how you feel, what your friends are doing, what the weather is like, or what your spouse says. These are commitments that’ll be upheld despite what others are saying and you won’t budge.

For example,

  • ‘I’ll be in bed by 10pm each night’
  • ‘I’ll check email between these times during the day’
  • ‘I’ll read for 20-30 minutes a day’
  • ‘I’ll run three times a week come wind, rain, or shine’.

Or using my earlier example, ‘I’ll drink mint tea or water instead of coffee or tea’ in order to wean myself off of caffeine.

#4. Reward yourself

The sense of achievement is a motivator. Especially when we accomplish our worst tasks first. And this is why creating multiple small wins is such a good thing to do.

So, in knowing this, we need to allow ourselves to experience a sense of achievement as often as possible and reward ourselves too.

Why is the sense of achievement and rewards important?

Because rewards are key to the formation of a new habit, to develop a new discipline, you need to give careful thought to how you’ll reward yourself when you do well.

Charles Duhigg, in his book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, says,

“Only when your brain starts expecting the reward — craving the endorphins or sense of accomplishment — will it become automatic to lace up your jogging shoes each morning. The cue, in addition to triggering a routine, must also trigger a craving for the reward to come.”

In other words, our habits are driven by rewards — or achievement. And what this means is that once we’re aware of what we like to receive, we can start the process of reinforcing our new discipline by treating ourselves whenever we take steps in the right direction.

Think about that for a moment and consider how that would apply to you. Ask yourself: ‘How do I reward or treat myself?’

A reward could be as simple as checking off items on our to-do-list, drinking a protein shake after a work out, interacting on social media for five minutes, or treating ourselves to a weekend break upon the completion of a long project.

Our rewards for self-discipline will all depend on our available resources and how much we know what we’d respond best to.

Self-discipline takes time

What we’ve seen is that self-discipline can be one of our biggest challenges and that developing any new discipline takes time.

Our approaches to developing will look different, as will how we reward and motivate ourselves towards improving in the areas we want to progress and succeed. And that’s normal – what works for one won’t work for an other.

We’ve also considered four steps that can help us to be the people of self-discipline that we want to be. So, although we know it’s not easy, what matters most, is that we’re willing to take the first step.

Over to you

In what areas of your life would you like to develop your self-discipline? What steps to developing self-discipline would you add to the list? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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