4 Simple Steps to Improve Your Self-discipline

self-discipline shown by a BJJ athlete

Key takeaways

  • Self-discipline is the ability to follow through with your goals and plans despite how you are feeling.
  • In modern times, self-discipline is important in reaching success as it allows you to work harder for longer than the average person.
  • To improve your self-discipline, be sure to set smart goals with actionable plans, create habits that support your goals and, when possible, try temptation bundling.

What is self-discipline?


Simply put, self-discipline is one’s ability to follow through with their goals. It is their ability to push themselves forward, regardless of how they’re feeling. It is setting a plan towards a goal and sticking to that plan.

Typically, anything that takes time and effort to achieve requires self-discipline. For example, running a marathon requires self-discipline. One must adopt a rigorous training schedule over a certain period of time to reach the level of fitness that allows one to successfully complete a marathon.

In almost every career, self-discipline is a key factor for reaching success. If you work in sales, having the self-discipline to work through your contacts to build your sales pipeline is imperative. Developers and QA Support require the self-discipline to methodically review code or test product features to ensure they are working correctly. And entrepreneurs must possess the self-discipline to continuously pitch their ideas, even in the face of rejection, until they secure funding from investors.

Why is self-discipline important?

Self-discipline is important for a number of reasons, all of which support you reaching success.

Achieving your goals – if you’re like many people setting new year’s resolutions to lose a few pounds or finish that novel and finding you are not reaching them, what you may be lacking is self-discipline. Part of the goal-setting process is having a plan on how you will get to your goal. Having self-discipline will allow you to stick to that plan and ultimately reach your goal.

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Establishing a higher operating baseline – taking time to practice your self-discipline can help you establish a higher operating baseline. Just like in exercise, practicing will allow you to build the muscles to do something difficult. This means that over time, that difficult thing to do becomes easier.

Establish self-control – exercising your self-discipline will likely help you gain self-control. This means that you can control your reactions to your environment and the events around you. When you have self-control over your body and mind, you are better able to reflect and react in a thoughtful manner – ideally one that helps you get closer to your goals.Success stories that took self-discipline

The success that comes from self-discipline is one of being able to work harder for longer than the average person. This means sticking it out with something to reach success. Here are some examples of entrepreneurs whose success likely required self-discipline:

James Dyson – in the search for the perfect vacuum cleaner, it took James Dyson 15 years to achieve his goal of a bagless vacuum that doesn’t lose suction. To reach the perfect vacuum, he made over 5000 prototypes and nearly went broke to do so. Fast forward to today, Dyson is now a household name with a net worth of a cool $9.7B.

Arianna Huffington – before launching Huffington Post, Arianna Huffington persevered through 37 rejections from publishers. On her 38th try, she finally secured her publish contract for her second book.

Angry Birds – one common misconception of Angry Birds is that it was an overnight success. Truth is, it took the game creators Rovio took eight years and near bankruptcy in order to come to become a success. The cofounders stuck to their plan of creating a game and continued to pivot as necessary until they found the one.

4 tips to improve your self-discipline

There are different ways where you can improve your self-discipline, which will ultimately help you reach your goals.

1. Set smart goals

Gaining self-discipline starts with setting smart goals. This means having goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound. Absent of this, having a goal of “losing 5lbs” becomes elusive. There are no clear boundaries that can help create a sense of urgency for reaching your goal. By setting such boundaries, you will have the ability to understand how far you are from reaching what you want. From there, you can adjust as necessary.

2. Make actionable plans

In addition to setting smart goals, have an actionable, step-by-step plan. By detailing out the steps you need to reach a goal, you break down what you need to do in manageable tasks. This makes the practice of self-discipline as simple as actioning those tasks regularly. Furthermore, having a plan gives you a basis to measure. Are you closer to your goal or further behind? And if so by how many steps?

3. Create rituals and habits

In the absence of willpower, build habits. When you think about how easy it is to brush your teeth in the morning or brew that first coffee, why can’t you apply this to other goals you are trying to reach, like exercising every day? This is because brushing your teeth is a habit. There is lots of research around how to build good habits. Starting small and doing it every day are simple steps towards building your ritual.

4. Temptation bundling

Wharton professor and behavioural scientist Katy Milkman were suffering from the same issue that many of us face when pursuing our exercise goals. In her search to try and address this issue is where she found temptation bunding, which is the act of “linking something you enjoy with pursuing a valuable goal.” By doing this, Milkman found that she went from dreading the gym to craving trips.

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