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How to Have Discipline and ACTUALLY Get What You Want In Life

Self-discipline can be equal parts empowering and intimidating since the thought of answering to yourself can seem scary. However, cultivating self-discipline as a skill can help you reach new heights.


Some say self-discipline is overrated, that it’s an old-fashioned value. However, self-discipline may be more relevant than ever in a world with infinite distractions. 

If you’re wondering, “Why is discipline important?” there’s no better time than now to learn how this skill can revolutionize how you approach your day. Keep reading for tips on how to have discipline, including ideas you can try today. 

What Is Discipline? 

Self-discipline is defined in many different ways, depending on who you ask. 

Oxford’s English Dictionaries defines it as an ability to control one’s feelings, overcome weakness, and pursue the “right” path despite temptations.

Merriam-Webster says it’s a form of self-regulation for the sake of improvement. Yet another source, Cambridge Dictionary, defines self-discipline as an ability to make yourself do something you know you should do, even when you don’t want to. 

The true definition? It’s often a mix, with self-discipline being used to define one’s ability to keep oneself on track with their goals despite resistance. It’s not just a needless control of behavior but a correction of behavior in a productive way that leads to improvement or success. 

Feeling motivated is nice, but it’s a feeling that can’t always be relied on because there will be moments when you don’t feel motivated. On the other hand, self-discipline can move you forward in the moments when motivation is lacking. 

Self-discipline is typically synonymous with self-mastery or self-control, although it offers a nuance the other terms do not. The ability to discipline or correct oneself when a mistake occurs or deviation occurs is valuable; it lessens the need for outside correction and validation. 

Some individuals assume self-discipline is a character trait that extraordinary people are born with but ordinary people are lacking. Interestingly, research suggests self-discipline requires a combination of grit and willpower, and is a practice that can be developed over time by individuals who aren’t naturally prone to planning or peak performance. 

Why Is Discipline Important?

Becoming disciplined is a state of being, a way of living. It’s considered especially beneficial when learned at a young age, although it’s never too late to implement self-discipline as a skill. 

Personal Development

Self-discipline is not just crucial for achieving big goals but for everyday ones as well. More than ever, everyday habits and goals can get sidetracked by the endless distractions surrounding you. Fostering self-discipline can provide a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction and propel you toward personal growth.

Professional Work or School Success 

A recent study illuminated the relationship between self-discipline and success at school. Students who were self-disciplined and capable of managing distractions quickly could use their time more efficiently. Ultimately, this boosted their chances of achieving academic goals and optimal academic performance. 

Similar to its potential to boost school performance, self-discipline can also increase career performance or work productivity. Although there are differences depending on the industry, a recent report highlighted the challenges that information and communication technology in the workplace can bring. The report suggested that individuals who can control their online behavior positively would be able to utilize the technology more successfully. 

In other words, while being connected online can be a temptation, employees with a sense of self-discipline may be able to use their resources as a tool instead of a distraction. Eventually, employers may take note, opening the doors to promotions or other perks based on the self-disciplined employee’s impressive performance. 

Some studies even suggest that self-discipline outdoes talent in predicting success. In other words, even if you aren’t born with a specific talent, sticking to it may pay off in the end. 

Mental, Social, and Emotional Benefits

Work and personal successes aren’t the only areas impacted by self-discipline. Research also suggests that people who practice self-discipline lead happier and healthier lives. 

Beyond that, their relationships in many spheres of life—like school, work, and home—tend to be better. 

The Challenges of Maintaining Discipline

As with any skill worth pursuing, self-discipline presents many challenges. However, most experts agree it’s worth pushing through the rough patches to pursue better self-control. As with many other efforts, giving yourself grace and flexibility during difficulties is recommended. 


The practice of self-discipline, by nature, involves overcoming roadblocks even when motivation is lacking. This is where procrastination can rear its ugly head. 

When issues arise, it’s easy to put things off (even things that seem important to you). This often occurs because there aren’t habits in place or the items on your to-do list seem too big or “not worth it.” 

Sometimes, procrastination occurs because there’s a disconnect between the “big picture” and the smaller steps it takes to get there. It’s easier to rationalize the small steps away (they are small, after all) instead of engaging in a plan of action, even though this might undermine a bigger goal in the long run. 


Momentary and temporary temptations are real, and many exist in today’s society. Social media, in particular, represents a very real struggle for many people. With access to information and input at your fingertips, it’s too easy to get distracted. 

Being able to regulate your attention is a crucial aspect of self-discipline, since many sources of information are vying for your attention span. Think of it this way— your attention is a resource in your control. Where is it currently going? 

As a side note, for certain people, ridding themselves of potential distractions may require them to make a more intensive effort to address underlying health conditions like ADHD. 

For others, it may involve taking a closer look at your environment. Are there environmental cues or certain people more prone to distract you than others? 

Lack of Motivation 

As mentioned above, a lack of motivation can feel overwhelming when you have a goal in mind. With long-term goals, motivation may not carry you all the way there. 

While motivation is undoubtedly important, self-discipline can act as a sort of “muscle memory” or “insurance plan” when motivation seems sparse. 

Fear of Failure 

There’s a reason it’s called the comfort zone. It’s a comfortable place to be but not always the most productive place for growth. Not being willing to leave your comfort zone may impede your ability to learn new skills and reach new heights. 

Sometimes a failure can open the door to an even bigger success, and starting to view failures as simply opportunities to learn can be a helpful mindset shift. Self-discipline can provide a perspective that helps you make the most of setbacks by seeing opportunities through a new lens. 


Self-doubt is an all too common phenomenon and one that can feel isolating. Like fear of failure can limit you to your comfort zone, self-doubt can cause you to feel discouraged and like your goals are out of reach. Unfortunately, self-doubt can make you doubt yourself and your capacity for self-control or correction. 

Don’t feel discouraged for long. Everyone has moments of self-doubt! Rest assured in the knowledge that you can still have mental health struggles and find the self-discipline to succeed. You may just need to find different, healthier, more disciplined coping mechanisms. 

How to Have Discipline

Before listing ways to have self-discipline, it’s important to note that no one is perfect. The goal here is consistent progress instead of complete perfection. With that in mind, you can set yourself up to succeed. 

Tap Into Motivation 

What drives you? Why is it important to you personally to stay disciplined? Answering these questions can help you to identify your motives as you keep a goal in mind. 

Instead of waiting for outside forces or “the stars to align,” find something internal that drives you forward. Instead of talking yourself out of a goal when things get tough, try talking yourself into it! Search out ways it can work instead of ways it can’t. 

Since life is uncertain at times, a straightforward motivation for staying self-disciplined is that it can be a way to help you better predict your outcomes. It may give you a sense of control in a world that sometimes feels out of control. 

Some people find it helpful to have a quote, mantra, or affirmation that helps them remember their reason or “why” when they feel the temptation to abandon their goal (such as “I will focus on what I can control”).

Just because self-discipline is focused on the self doesn’t mean you can’t share your goals with others. Sharing your goals and allowing others to help you stay accountable to yourself may improve the likelihood of success in your endeavors. 

Build Habits 

Habits can help you automate your efforts in building self-discipline. Although creating habits (or replacing bad habits with good habits) may take some effort at first, it can result in self-discipline that feels second nature instead of a practice that drains your energy. Also, identifying bad habits allows you to move from what’s holding you back. 

One strategy to improve your self-discipline is by tracking progress. Writing down, or keeping track on your phone, of habits you’ve been keeping can further motivate you to succeed and give you a sense of accomplishment. Try tracking one habit at a time instead of overwhelming yourself (which can lead to procrastination).

Be sure to add habits to your life that confirm your motivation for change. Seek out habits that tap into motivation, boost your energy, and increase your mental and emotional bandwidth during the day. For example, sleep, exercise, and eating well may not initially seem linked to self-discipline, but when you’re basic needs are being meet, you’re more likely to succeed at other endeavors. 

Establish Routines 

Stay motivated and self-disciplined by building enforcing elements into your routine. For example, remove items or activities that distract you from your phone or office. This will help you stay consistent in your efforts, even if it initially feels uncomfortable. 

Instead of relying on an overarching goal to guide you, although that can be helpful, try implementing a simple, daily practice of self-discipline. For example, if you want to eat healthier over the year, aim to meet your daily vegetable requirement.

Remember that you may be more self-disciplined at certain times of the day compared to other hours. For example, you may find it easier to work at the beginning of the day when you feel freshly rested versus at the end of a long, exhausting day when you feel your energy is depleted. 

You may also be more likely to stay focused by utilizing short blocks of time instead of forcing yourself to pay attention for longer ones. In other words, plan or align your schedule to set you up for success. 

Regulate Rewards 

Regulating emotions, impulses, and behaviors when temptations are present is crucial to cultivating self-discipline. If you can delay gratification and redefine rewards, you may be one step closer to achieving your goal. 

So instead of rewarding yourself with “junk food” (less healthy food options) when you’re doing well in your diet, someone self-disciplined may seek out non-food rewards. Ultimately, a reward like buying a new shirt that shows off your figure or investing money into an exciting exercise program that you’ve been wanting can feel meaningful while also pushing you closer to your overall goal. 

Revisit your goals and metrics periodically to ensure the rewards align with the overall motivations. This may require intense emotional work and learning more about what motivates you (rewards versus consequences). Luckily, this mindset shift will likely bring more long-lasting forms of freedom, joy, and happiness. Just know the inner work is worth it. 

Manage Your Energy 

Although time management is a popular planning method, efforts towards greater self-discipline may benefit by managing your energy instead. Instead of planning out your schedule according to available time slots, planning tasks for when you’re confident you’ll have the energy to accomplish them may be more productive. 

This may sound radical, so start small with small goals. Consider that maybe you’re not letting yourself down regarding self-discipline but are not setting the right kind of goals (they may be too lofty or taking too much of your energy). 

Smaller, more manageable goals can make use of your limited energy and can help by allowing you to achieve one small stepping stone after the other while still keeping you on the path to big goals. As you set small goal points to measure success, like mini milestones that chart your progress. 

Somewhat ironically, achieving more may involve doing less. Taking a few draining activities off your plate, particularly things that don’t align with your values, can leave you with more time and energy to accomplish what’s ultimately important to you.

Importance of Discipline: Final Takeaways

Self-discipline may sound like an intense term. But in all actuality, it allows plenty of room for growth. 

Take a firm yet flexible approach, giving yourself grace for the inevitable challenges while recognizing the successes and benefits self-discipline is giving you along the way. Before long, you’ll feel like a whole new person (in the best way), happier, healthier, and more fulfilled in all aspects of life. 

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