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Why is Self-discipline The Key to Success & How to Develop Discipline in Your Life

Many people make ‘New Year’s Resolutions’ every year but then fail after a little while.  This is because words are free – it is easy to say “I will do X” – but to achieve an effective change requires self-discipline and will power. So what is self discipline? And how to develop discipline and use it to succeed in life.

How to Develop Discipline - Man working out


What Does Self-discipline Mean?

What Does Self discipline Mean

There are many answers to this question but, put simply, it is the ability to control one’s feelings and weaknesses in order to take control of your life: and thus, achieve more – another definition is ‘correction or regulation of oneself for the sake of improvement’.

So, it is, essentially, a set of rules in order for you to take back control of your life or aspects of it.  One of the issues is, of course, that most people don’t have self-discipline.  They have some discipline, because of course society and culture imposes discipline on people through laws and ‘ways of doing things’, backed up by some sort of punishment or sanction; however, internally we don’t have them unless we set them ourselves.

Self-discipline and willpower are regulated by the same part of the brain which is responsible for key tasks, such as problem-solving and decision-making so it is there you just have to utilise it.

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Lack of self-discipline is sometimes called having a short attention span, but it’s really a tendency to procrastinate and be too easily distracted by something more enjoyable or easier to do.  It can also be that we have an ingrained habit. Humans are by nature creatures of habit as it is comforting to have a familiar routine or schedule. But self-discipline can build on this by making your routine more efficient and more time effective and productive, leading to better habits.


Why is Self discipline so Important & What Are its Benefits?

Importance of Self Discipline

So why bother? What is in it for me?  Well, the benefits are many and varied and include better mental well-being, better physical well-being, better work achievement, leading to better self-esteem as you hit your gals and targets.  Paradoxically it also gives you more time to do other things because you become more efficient at using time and thus also more effective.  Where issues such as gambling, drugs, alcohol and smoking are involved it will also improve your cashflow as you reduce spending.

Studies have shown that those will better self-discipline tend to be

  • Higher achievers,
  • More rounded individuals
  • Fitter
  • Mentally stronger
  • More resilient – when coping with negative issues

We can all remember those with whom we were at school who always delivered amazing homework as they buckled right down to it – leading to better exam results; and this is true at work as well.

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Why is it so Difficult to Achieve Change?

Why is change so hard - how to develop discipline with change

It is because our body and mind follow patterns of behaviour which we have established – often on auto-pilot, and we carry on with these patterns almost without knowing.  We call them ‘habits’. Change requires a different mindset and a real effort to ‘break’ those ingrained habits – especially if there is a dependency involved.

It is much easier to put something off than to do it and we all tend to be procrastinators and are easily distracted. We mainly work to deadlines and often delay actually doing something right up to the last minute. For example, writing a speech for a daughter’s wedding the day before, or that presentation which has got to be delivered tomorrow morning.


Taking control of yourself and what you do, however, rather than drifting into things, or rushing at the last minute, can yield much better outputs as you have the time to ‘polish it up’, and are not doing something in a panic.

Major changes, for example, kicking drugs, alcohol or smoking all require an increased degree of self-discipline to achieve success and this is much harder than, say, going for an occasional run as part of a keep fit exercise, as these types of issues involve a physical and mental dependency. This can be difficult because it often involves denial of pleasure.  It is a form of deferred gratification: that is foregoing something now: to enjoy something better or more fulfilling in the future.

The more effective you become and the more you achieve, then the greater your self-esteem becomes as you can see positive results and enjoy the benefits.  For example, taking decisions in a more structured manner will also increase self-discipline as it will not only feed into how you tackle your tasks but also into your understanding of how you made a decision: which means that you know what you have to do and why.

One of the key things about changing is that you have to change yourself.  If you like you need to change your ‘life culture’.  Many people waste time by getting up late, or just in time for work, they watch television for hours and they spend hours talking on, or playing with, their mobile.  It is rare now to get on a train and not see 90% of people on their phones – but is that really a good use of time?  We used to manage without them – but no longer it seems.  It requires strong self-discipline for us not to keep looking at our phones.

We are also driven by emotions: and emotions such as fear and pleasure play a key role in why we do things.  Also as people we are lazy: usually we do the easiest thing, not necessarily the right thing.

How to develop discipline then? Self-discipline is about changing all this to give you control.  It is not easy and it requires you to push yourself and to do things in a different way. In many ways it is also an holistic change. You need to change your mental state, but this probably also means changing your physical persona as well ie being fitter and doing things differently. For example if you need to work: put your phone in another room so you don’t get interrupted; instead of watching television for an hour: go for a walk for an hour.  It’ll be much better for you and better for your eyes as well.  Understanding time and how you use it – or waste it – is important, because once time has gone you can’t get it back.

As human beings we love to be in a comfort zone and we don’t like changing – but self-discipline requires that you must.  People with good strong, self-discipline focus on what they can achieve in ‘the now’ rather than what they might achieve in the future and thus achieve small incremental steps which feed into larger goals.


Setting Milestones: A Key to Developing Self-discipline

Setting Milestones to Develop Self-discipline

In order to be successful, it is helpful to set achievable, but stretching, milestones.  Too often, people set themselves very difficult milestones and wonder why they fail. It is much better to set several smaller, incremental, milestones on the way to your main goals, so you can see that you’re achieving something and are not trying to do everything at once.

This can also be reflected in cultural aspects – for example in karate in Japan there are only three belts: white, brown and black.  When it was transported to the west many more belts of different colours were introduced so students could see incremental achievements as they passed each belt, as could everyone else, and thus they could build confidence with each new belt, and the group has a shared sense of progressive achievement.

Having set your goals, however, you should still review and reassess them from time to time, and if necessary, change them. Looking back from time to time, enables you to see what you have accomplished, and it also enables you to look forward to see what you have still got to do.


What Does Self-discipline Involve?

Aspects of Discipline

It involves understanding:

  • What you do;
  • What you want to do; and then
  • How to change;


And thus the steps to success are:

Follow this step by step list, also you can read this study on the factors of self discipline.

  1. Understand on what you spend your time on now

A good way of seeing how you spend your time is to draw up a grid on a piece of paper: (A3). Write the days of the week down the left-hand side and then rule across with a pencil or pen. Then divide the rest into nine columns vertically, one for sleep and the other in two-hour intervals representing the typical waking day.

Assume eight hours sleep, and a day starting at 7 am then you would have columns for 7 to 9, 9 to 11, 11 to 13, 13 to 15, 15 to 17, 17 to 19, 19 to 21 and 21 to 23. You can then fill those in with what you do.  You can see how you’re spending your time, where you are being inefficient and then you can use this visual aid to change your habits. You need to be honest when completing the grid and rigorous – the first steps to better self-discipline;


  1. Think about how you would like to spend time and what you could achieve;
  2. Analyse the gaps between those two;
  3. Prioritise the gaps – ie which ones would you like to close first – alternatively choose easy gaps to close first as an incentive to further effort;
  4. Define the barriers which stop you achieving;
  5. Put a plan in place to overcome these barriers – incremental steps are best;
  6. Build in check points;
  7. Start doing it.


How to develop discipline: useful tips

  1. Do not be over ambitious and try to change everything;
  2. If you can get a friend to support you, that will be helpful;
  3. If relevant join a self-help group, for example, AA;
  4. Set short term goals, for example, cut out drinking on weekdays rather than cutting it out all together;
  5. Put visual prompts around the house to remind you;
  6. Change the environment in which you live, for example, stop keeping alcohol in the house or turn your phone off;
  7. If you’re trying to lose weight clear the refrigerator of junk food, make a healthy shopping list and stick to it.


Reward Yourself

Reward yourself to stay motivated

It is important to recognize what you have achieved. This means you feel some benefit.  For example – instead of drinking every day – give up in the week – but have a really good bottle of wine at the weekend.  You are making incremental change and rewarding yourself for making that change.



It is hard to impose self-discipline on yourself – but the benefits far outweigh the effort involved when it comes to developping discipline.  Following a structured path, incrementally will lead you to achieve your goals.