How To Develop Self-Discipline
Discipline is not a trait you’re born with.
It is a skill you develop.
And it starts with realizing that you don’t have as much control over your mind as you might think. At least, not yet.
Humans are irrational
Contrary to popular belief, we don’t act consciously most of the time. It’s the exact opposite.
You act irrational 90% of the time and then make up rationalizations as to why it was a conscious decision.
Have you ever wondered why you sabotage yourself?
You want to stop eating sweets. But 5 days in you end up eating a chocolate bar. You tell yourself, “That one chocolate bar won’t matter.”
Is that a conscious decision? Or one based on feelings and urges?
The truth is that it was an irrational decision on hunting for dopamine. And to make yourself feel better your brain came up with a reason. Although it isn’t based in reality at all.
You’re not made to understand reality
The reason for this is quite simple.
We pride ourselves on being the top-of-the-bunch species on this planet.
And while we are far ahead of animals in our conscious decision making, we still mostly act irrationally.
Most of our decisions are done by our subconscious mind.
This subconscious mind has been influenced, shaped, trained, and directed from when we were a small child.
When you’re a small child, your subconscious is like a sponge. It sucks up every knowledge it gets. To understand that weird world you were put in. To make sense of the things you are experiencing. And you never question if what you’re told is actually true.
You believe anything. Even if it might be wrong.
Right now, your subconscious is questioning the lines you are reading here. Depending on how your subconscious was formed all your life, you will believe it and it might change your life.
Or you will deny it and forget this article as just one of the many you read and never take action on.
Step 1 to develop discipline: Parse emotions and urges.
Most of us immediately act on emotions and urges.
From now on, whenever an emotion or an urge to do something comes up, you will stop. Physically and mentally.
Think about it. You still feel the emotion and the urge.
Don’t try to control it, since you can’t.
But you can parse it differently.
Observe the emotion, and then ask yourself the following question, “When I act on this feeling right now, will it bring me closer to my goals?”
It won’t. And you know it.
Visualize your point-of-view moving out of your body. Observe yourself from a third-person perspective. It is a character you’re playing. And that character is not supposed to act on that feeling right now. Don’t let him ruin your goals!
Step 2 to develop discipline: Stop moving.
There is this story of a businessman who noticed in a meeting how the heat was setting in. People were almost shouting at each other. The discussion was going nowhere.
So he just went to the couch in the room and laid down.
His partners were confused, “What are you doing there?”
“I read once that when you’re angry you should lay down.”
Everyone laughed. The mood was broken and the people calmed down.
While this seems funny, he is correct in what he said. The body changes when emotions set in and this also refuels the emotion. A vicious cycle.
Have you ever noticed when you get angry you tend to clench your fist? You raise your voice. You walk around restless.
The body is a display of your emotions.
Simplicity always wins. So what is the simplest way to fix it? Consciously do the opposite.
If you can’t lay down, sit down. Or just stand still. Stretch out your fingers. Don’t clench your fist. Lower your voice and breathe slowly. You will have to do this consciously at first (obviously).
This is not only a great way to discipline yourself (if you do it every day), it also helps to stop debates that go nowhere.
Step 3 to develop discipline: Stoic gratitude.
The stoics have a bad reputation. Everyone thinks they were emotionally dead logs.
That’s not the case.
Stoics practiced a lot of emotions. One particularly helpful is gratitude.
Every day, the stoics would practice a visualization where they lost something near and dear to their heart. Their partner, their kids, their house, a limb, whatever.
Through this, they reminded themselves to be grateful for having these things.
We tend to take things for granted after a while.
You’re reading this, probably with some coffee and food in the fridge. You are privileged.
There are many people out there who have it way worse.
Is working on your 9–5 job you don’t like really that bad then? You don’t need to fear survival. Or not having to eat.
How does this help discipline? Simple.
You change your thinking from “I have to” work on my 9–5 to “I get to.”
It’s an opportunity. A gift. You get to work on it to have easy access to food. You don’t have to.
It works the same with trying to quit vices. You get to develop your discipline, your mindset, and your body. Other people have to. Because they have no other choice. You do.
Be grateful for it.
Step 4 to develop discipline: The environment cop-out.
This idea is from Scott Adams out of his book “How to fail at almost everything and still win big” which I can highly recommend.
For example, if you need to go to the gym but you cannot be asked. Zero drive to do it. Here is a trick for your mind.
You drive to the gym, but with the cop-out for yourself that you just drive home again without doing anything.
The environment of seeing other people work out and feeling their energy will change your mind.
He said he’s been using that technique for years, and maybe only 2–3 times he actually drove home again. 99% of the time, it works.
Step 5 to develop discipline: The 5-minute Rule
This is a rule I use a lot for my writing.
If you’re a writer, you know the feeling. The blank page staring back at you.
No idea how to start. How to create greatness.
Or worse, no drive to start at all. You just don’t feel like it.
Here’s a trick: Start anyway, but leave yourself the cop-out to quit after 5 minutes. Even if you just wrote 2 sentences, you can quit after 5 minutes if you don’t feel like it.
Trust me, 99% of the time, you won’t quit after 5 minutes.
It doesn’t even matter that you are consciously aware of this “trick.” Once you start and you get in the flow, you will keep writing.
You can apply this to anything you have to do.
Step 6 to develop discipline: Boundaries.
Think of a picture frame.
The boundaries are what make the image.
Otherwise, the color would just leak out and be everywhere. Within the frame, the image looks good. Art. Greatness.
Boundaries are what make the frame. And it’s the same for your discipline.
You need boundaries for others and for yourself.
You need to be ruthless in people not being able to steal your time.
For example, I work on my business every morning. Monday till Sunday. Roughly 3–4 hours. And my wife respects that time. While I do that, she does other things but not hinder my process.
This leaves me to work disciplined on my endeavors. Because there isn’t someone constantly interfering.
But you also need boundaries for yourself.
Don’t reward yourself before you did the work. Use the methods I mentioned before to build your discipline. This will build your personal boundaries for yourself.
Once they are in place, it will flow on its own.
Until then, use it as your mental image.
Now, don’t just close this tab. Put it into action. Thinking about it won’t do anything. You need to put in the action.
If you use these steps, you will develop resilient self-discipline.
And achieve anything you always wanted.
— Alexander Graves