Want to see a magic trick? I can tell you what goes through your head each time you see someone running down the street or ordering a salad at a restaurant. You think: How are they doing that? Then comes a feeling of guilt, followed by a promise that you’ll take better care of yourself…starting tomorrow.
This trick only works because everyone struggles with discipline—everyone! But some people make living a disciplined life look easy. They’re the exception, not the rule. For most of us, it’s an ongoing battle fought in the trenches of good intentions, surrounded by minefields of procrastination and temptation. Good news: It doesn’t have to be. That’s because self-discipline, like most other things, gets easier the more you do it.
What can you do to increase your self-discipline and live life with more intention and focus? It’s all about commitment and making the hard choices that get you closer to your goals. Whether that’s working out, saying no to junk food, or learning a new skill, we build self-discipline by combining self-accountability and repetition until those choices become second nature. Of course, that’s easier said than done, so here are some tips for success:
1. Create a Blueprint
The more we have on our plates, the easier it is to make excuses. That’s just life. Already stretched thin between work and family, we can’t expect to become more disciplined without a plan. Start by identifying your priorities, writing them down, and selecting an area where you want to improve your discipline. Next, decide what that looks like—maybe it’s jogging a mile in the morning or eating a healthy lunch. Also, set aside five minutes each morning to list your goals and five minutes each evening to journal about what you’ve learned that day. This simple activity will help you be far more productive and disciplined.
2. Remember the Big Picture
The biggest reason people fail to reach their goals is that they forget. As an Everyday Warrior, you must vow never to forget about the big picture or why you started the journey. Splurging on an unnecessary purchase might not seem like a big deal, but if you remind yourself that you’re saving money for your kid’s college fund, you’re more likely to think twice about swiping that credit card. Try keeping a list of your goals somewhere you’ll see them, like on your phone’s home screen or your refrigerator. Reminders will keep you grounded and focused.
3. Measure Progress
How can we be sure we’re making progress and heading in the right direction? In Measure What Matters, John Doerr explains that measuring is the first step to doing. You measure your progress when working toward a goal. Do the same for your journey to self-discipline. Make it easy on yourself by utilizing a habit-tracking app, a journal, or a spreadsheet. Remember, adapting to change takes time. Let’s say your goal is waking up early each morning; if you’re only successful seven days the first month, but 14 the next, that’s progress! Having a written record will motivate you to give it your all.
4. Interrupt the Cycle
Self-perception impacts how we act, but our actions influence how we see ourselves. See the problem? This can be toxic and destructive or positive and healthy. It may seem like a self-perpetuating cycle with no beginning or end, but the truth is you’re not who you say you are. You are what you do. Interrupting this cycle requires breaking unhealthy habits and adopting positive ones. In time, these actions change how you see yourself, and discipline becomes the fabric of your identity. Since this is challenging, having an inner monologue may help; here’s an example: I’m disciplined, accountable, and do whatever it takes to succeed, because I’m an Everyday Warrior.
5. Give Yourself Breaks and Rewards
Discipline is hard work, so give yourself breaks. Even the top fitness experts allow themselves a cheat day to eat their favorite foods. If you make discipline all or nothing, you’ll be miserable, burn out, and end up with nothing. You’re more likely to succeed if you build in breaks and celebrate milestones.
There are no shortcuts because discipline is not a destination. It’s a way of life that ebbs and flows as circumstances change. That’s okay because perfection isn’t the goal; it’s continual improvement and optimal performance. Now, get out there and start making the small changes that’ll help you live a more balanced, purposeful, and disciplined life.