How to Build Self-Discipline

The other day, I struggled with self-discipline.

I warred with myself, negotiated, revisited arguments, made imaginary pro and con lists, and eventually realized that no, I could not get out of my daily workout. 

This happens pretty much every day, actually. 

5 o’clock rolls around — my designated time for exercise — and I start to wonder: do I really need to do my workout today? What if I only did half my workout? What if I went for a walk around the block instead? What if I did some light stretching instead? What if I just stayed on the couch eating potato chips instead? 

Rather than getting down to business, I was negotiating with myself. This went on until I finally realized what I was doing. After which, I took a deep breath, put on my workout clothes, and went outside to do the darn thing.

Self-discipline is not an easy thing to master. It’s difficult, painful, frustrating, and our brains seem to want to avoid it at all costs. 

But it’s also the key behind most success, great or small. 

Just do a quick Google search for quotes about self-discipline and you’ll be overwhelmed with how popular the topic is. Successful people from all disciplines and walks of life tout the magical effects of the wonder cure: self-discipline. 

For example, Roy L. Smith, who said “Discipline is the refining fire by which talent becomes ability.” Or Jim Rohn, who said, “We must all suffer one of two things: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret and disappointment.” Or Robin Sharma, who said, “Discipline is built by consistently performing small acts of courage.

So what exactly is all the fuss about? Why should we care about building self-discipline? Can’t we just live our lives?

Unless you’re a very rare breed, most people have things in life they want but don’t have yet. Things like a high-paying job, or a doctorate degree, or toned abs. 

Unfortunately, these things don’t happen overnight. They have to be chipped away at over a long period of time. 

Sort of like sculpting a marble statue. It took more than one hit of the hammer and chisel to sculpt David by Michelangelo. You have to chip away at the marble with hundreds, even thousands, of small hits over time. 

However, hitting a marble statue thousands of times can get exhausting and it’s easy to lose steam. Inevitably, our emotional high wears away and we start to wonder the age-old question: “What if I just stayed on the couch eating potato chips instead?”

Here is where self-discipline comes in. When our excitement fails us, self-discipline rises to the occasion to make sure we achieve our goals, complete our workouts, get our doctorate degrees, put away the potato chips, and get off the couch. 

How do we start building this self-discipline and begin reaping the rewards of our hard work? There are a few tricks and practices that can help us remain on the path towards our goals. 

Meditation

All that “woo-woo” stuff? It works.

Meditation is an ancient art that helps clear your mind, focus your energy, and calm your emotions. 

If you find yourself struggling to exercise or study for the big exam, sit down for just five minutes and focus on your breath. There are tons of great meditation apps online that can help guide your practice. 

Many people praise meditation for helping them build self-discipline and focus the mind. Try it out next time you begin to feel overwhelmed about your personal marble statue. 

Just Work for 15 Minutes

You know that moment right before you’re supposed to do something and you think: “I can’t possibly do that!”? Well, then…don’t!

This feeling is probably a symptom of overwhelm. 

You may be thinking about all the different steps you have to take to accomplish your task, which is probably causing anxiety. 

So instead of trying to do everything, just work on the task for 15 minutes. Whatever you get done in that time, is what you get done. After that, you can take a break. 

Do it Every Day!

For an extra bonus, do 15 minutes of your task every single day. Not just Monday, Wednesday, and Fridays. Not just Tuesdays. Not just once every month. But every day. This works particularly well for big goals you might have: like writing a book, or becoming a professional artist. 

If you commit to working on your task 15 minutes every single day, it takes out all the guesswork associated with it. It also takes away all your negotiating power. 

Now, instead of getting caught up in internal arguments about whether or not you have to “do the thing” today, you already know your answer: yes. Because you have to do it every day. No days off. 

Do the Very First Thing

Another way to counteract overwhelm and build your self-discipline is to break your task up into its smallest parts, then do just the very first thing. 

If your goal is to build a website, but you’re having trouble working on it regularly, then just start with the first step: turning on your computer. Then after that — the next step: opening up your browser. And so on, and so on, until you find yourself in the midst of work and have forgotten about your hesitations altogether. 

Countdown From 10

Another great trick if you find yourself struggling with self-discipline is to use the countdown method. 

Let’s say it’s time for your workout. But you’re feeling extra unmotivated today. 

Instead of giving up, try counting down from 10. Tell yourself that once you get to 1, you will take immediate action, no matter how small. 

Something about this mind trick always seems to get people up and moving!

Make Really Good Friends

There are good friends (the kind who you have fun with), and then there are REALLY good friends (the kind who will hold you accountable). Make some of these really good friends and ask them to be your accountability buddies. 

This works particularly well if your friends also have the same goals as you do. Then, you can schedule your goals together and incorporate a little healthy competition. You’ll be much less likely to quit when you feel like someone else is counting on you to keep going. 

Have a Consistent Life

Self-discipline is extremely difficult to master in the best of times. Having dramatic mood swings and an inconsistent schedule only make it worse. 

Consistency in your life will help create consistency in your emotions. Which will in turn make it more likely that you’ll have the energy and motivation you need to practice self-discipline. 

So go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Eat regular meals. Do activities that fire you up. 

You don’t have to have crazy energy all the time, but you don’t want surprise mood swings that jeopardize your self-discipline. 

However, bad moods are bound to happen. This is where all your work on self-discipline comes into play, so you can keep chipping away at your goals despite the lack of motivation. 


Building self-discipline is a life-long journey. 

Don’t be discouraged if you don’t have the self-discipline you wish you had right away. It will take time and effort, just like the goals you’re working towards. 

But at the end of the day, self-discipline is worth all the hard work. 

It’s what builds careers and health and dreams. It’s what we have to rely on when we don’t have motivation or excitement. 

I build up my self-discipline every day when I go to do my workout. Because self-discipline is just like those tiny chips at the marble statue. It’s all about the little choices. The choices we make every day to get up to our alarm. To do the work. To finish the project. To have a little courage in the face of fear and doubt about ourselves and our abilities. To not stay on the couch eating potato chips, but to get up and face our dreams. Even if we don’t feel like it.

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