Thursday, March 24, 2011

Self-Discipline: The key to positive change in your life

I am often asked how I went over three years without missing a day of exercise.  Sometimes the question sounds more like, “Are you obsessive-compulsive?”  Or, “Are you crazy?”

I am not certain if I am obsessive-compulsive.  And, please don’t ask my wife if I am crazy.  I believe I have an ability to focus on a goal and remained focused until the goal is achieved.  This focus allows me to motivate myself.  Perhaps you could call it ‘self-discipline’.

Don’t get me wrong, I have not mastered the technique.  I still fumble the ball in many areas of my life.  Developing self-discipline does not come easy nor is it usually fun.  Yet, the rewards are worth it because you are in charge of your life.

There are several good sites on the internet that provide useful tips.  Below I have provided some information and examples from a few sites.  But, first, let’s remind ourselves what ‘self discipline’ means:

Self-Discipline is the ability to get yourself to take action regardless of your emotional state.”  

self-discipline - being talked to

The key message here is “regardless of your emotional state.”  If you are tired and would rather sleep in then get up for that morning walk, who has won?  Who is in control?  Are you really better off because you slept in or do you feel drowsy and find it difficult to get motivated the rest of the day?

There is a good study guide on the subject called, Developing self-discipline.

The guide says that “Self-discipline can be considered a type of selective training.  It creates new habits of thought, action, and speech that improve yourself and help you reach your goals."  It also comments that you need to view self-discipline as positive effort, rather than one of denial.

The guide also discusses how to “Harness the power of routine.”
  • “Instead of devoting a lot of time on one day, allocate a specific time period each day of the week for that task and hold firm to the schedule.” [For example, I exercise every morning at the same time.  Certain days I have a 65-75 minute routine while the in between days I just exercise 15-20 minutes]
  • “Don't set a goal other than time allocation.  Simply set the habit of a routine.”
“Advantage:  You are working on tasks in small increments, not all at once.  You first develop a habit, then the habit does the job for you.

It also recommends that you keep some kind of daily journal or log book to record the start and end times of the task and any progress you noted.  Then it says to review the journal regularly.

“Advantage:  This log book can be a valuable tool to get a better picture of your activities in order to prioritize activities, and realize how you spend your time.”

How to Build Self-Discipline is written by Peter Clemens offers some good advice on the subject also.

Peter comments that “Discipline is freedom. You may disagree with this statement, and if you do you are certainly not alone. For many people discipline is a dirty word that is equated with the absence of freedom. In fact the opposite is true. As Stephen R. Covey once wrote, “the undisciplined are slaves to moods, appetites and passions”.

self-discipline - choice

“Self-discipline involves acting according to what you think instead of how you feel in the moment. Often it involves sacrificing the pleasure and thrill of the moment for what matters most in life. Therefore it is self-discipline that drives you to:
  • Work on an idea or project after the initial rush of enthusiasm has faded away
  • Go to the gym when all you want to do is lie on the couch and watch TV
  • Wake early to work on yourself
  • Say “no” when tempted to break your diet”
Understanding The True Definition Of Self Discipline is another good article on the subject.  It is written by Frederic Premji.

Mr. Premji reminds us that … most people … believe that they eventually will start liking whatever it is that they are doing, and when that doesn’t happen, they go back into their comfort zone, and give themselves all kinds of excuses as to why it didn’t work out.

“Here’s your wake up call:  Self discipline is doing something even if you hate it or don’t feel like doing it.”

Self discipline is like a muscle.  “The more you exercise it, the more you get used to it, and the further you can push yourself. I usually recommend my clients to start with something small, just to get their feet wet, and to get used to the idea that doing something that you don’t want to do, or that you will never like, is OK!  Then, over time, you can gradually add more to your list of things to do that you don’t particularly like. “

self-discipline - waterfall

“Keep in mind that you will probably never enjoy doing it, but that if you keep on doing it, the rewards that you will reap will be far beyond the measly little satisfaction that you get by not doing it in the first place.”

Well, I hope you got as much out of these article excerpts as I did.  The writers made me feel a little better now that I understand that I do not have to like what I am doing, because sometimes I still don’t.


  1. Dad I agree with you but I also think it is very important to let people know if you fall off the wagon, don't exercise, or totally blow your routine it is ok. Often time people think it is all or nothing. That if you are not perfect or fail to meet your expectations that you have failed. Then often they will give up. I think it is incredibly important to remember that everyday is a new one. We need to look at each day as a new start with wonderful possibilities. Good luck to all and God bless.

  2. You bring up a good point and I agree totally. In an earlier article I wrote, "The point of the journey is the journey itself, not the results." A habit, whether good or bad, is something that is difficult to break. Your goal should be to develop good habits.

    I especially enjoyed the comment in the article above that "You are working on tasks in small increments, not all at once. You first develop a habit, then the habit does the job for you.“

    No one needs to go over a 1,000 days without missing an exercise day. That is just crazy (did I say that?). No, what it says is that I developed a good habit and once developed, it was easy to continue, and it is good for me.

    This article was all about developing good habits. As my daughter mentioned, you might occasionally 'blow it', but even though you did sleep in one morning or had a huge slice of cake with ice cream and fudge topping, tomorrow is another day and you have to make your choice all over again.

  3. I agree with your muscle training analogy. You have to build your self discipline gradually and push to the limit each time. But don't go over limit! If you try lifting weights you can't even move you won't get anywhere. That's why you have to first take a look where you are and accept where your self discipline stands now. Then you can start improving it gradually.
    But its worth it - self discipline is in my opinion the most important component for success in life.


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