How do you learn to be more disciplined? Our guide outlines the psychology behind being disciplined and the 5 top strategies to be more disciplined.
Discipline is one of the most important factors for success. But very few people consciously take care of it. The good news: there are strategies that will help you learn to be more disciplined.
Discipline as a success factor
Have you ever noticed that it is not necessarily the smartest, most competent or most talented people who are very successful? There is one factor that is often much more crucial: discipline.
The famous marshmallow test by psychologist Walter Mischel proved this in the 1960s and 1970s. In the experiment, researchers gave marshmallows to four-year-old children. However, they told them that if they didn’t eat the marshmallows right away, they would get a second bag instead of waiting. Some children managed to postpone the reward, others did not.
These children were studied again 13 years later. Those who managed to control impulses at the age of four were more determined, socially competent and they did better at school. They were even less dependent on drugs. However, these children were not more intelligent than the others.
With this experiment, Walter Mischel was able to prove that self-control, patience and tolerance for frustration are more important for success than intelligence. The reason is that success comes at a price. It costs deprivation, endurance, free time, often money, patience, courage and much more. Discipline helps pay that price, and that is why it is helpful to learn to be more disciplined.
Honestly: Without discipline, nobody would regularly do without, work hard and go beyond their limits, even though they do not see results immediately (i.e. without direct reward). But with self-control, patience and perseverance — in short, with discipline — it works.
5 strategies to learn to be more disciplined
1. Avoid temptation
We now also know that willpower is finite and depends on external factors. For example, a low blood sugar level lowers our willpower.
It costs us consciously to resist energy. And at some point it runs out. If you really want to be disciplined, you have to change your circumstances to make it easy to stay disciplined. One quickly succumbs to the misconception that disciplined people can better resist temptation. That’s not true. Disciplined people simply consistently avoid temptations.
Those who have a firm desire to lose weight do not fill the storage cupboards with sweets. If you want to work in a concentrated manner, you can mute your cell phone (and best place it far away). If you want to go to sports after work, do not go home beforehand, but go directly to the fitness studio.
Everyone knows it: once the butt has touched the couch, it is extremely difficult to get up again and to struggle to exercise. The fewer temptations you are exposed to, the easier it is to stay disciplined.
2. Get into uncomfortable situations
Practice makes perfect – this also applies when it comes to discipline. Most people are not disciplined only because they never put themselves in situations where they could practice discipline. They prefer to stay in comfortable, simple situations. What discipline would require is postponed or immediately canceled.
It is also understandable: Our brain avoids everything outside of the usual because it cannot assess new things so well. It could be dangerous, so it is avoided. The brain doesn’t care that times have changed and that we are far less exposed to dangers than before.
Avoidance and postponement, however, lead to the mountain of obstacles becoming so large that it seems insurmountable. Even the most disciplined person would have problems with that. So the solution is simple: don’t let it get this far and volunteer in uncomfortable situations. This is one of the top ways to learn to be more disciplined.
Sometimes it is difficult to see that we are running away from an uncomfortable situation. An indication: when everyone else doesn’t feel like doing a task. Then it’s probably an inconvenient thing. Just do it. You will be amazed to see that, in the end, it is not as challenging as you thought. You will probably even emerge stronger from the situation.
3. Work with your preferences, not against them
There are these people who get up at 5:30 a.m., exercise, have a healthy breakfast and, in principle, have had half a day before the rest of the world wakes up. We admire these people for their discipline. But when you talk to them, you quickly find out: They enjoy it. They don’t torture themselves in the morning, they enjoy it. They have found a routine that feels good to them and that’s why they stick to it.
We always equate discipline with willpower in our society, but that’s just not true. In fact, we only discipline certain routines when we either enjoy them or when we have a deep reason for doing so.
For example, you go to work disciplined every morning. Do you always feel like it? No, but it pays your bills. So you are still motivated to go to work. Some people even hate their job and still go there every day. That is discipline.
Remember your youth. Have you been to the dance club in the past, doing sports several times a week? If so, you did it because you enjoy dancing. On the other hand, 30 minutes on the treadmill do not irritate you. So you don’t go to the gym and think it’s due to lack of discipline. Then you get ready for yourself that you no longer have willpower. This cycle has to stop.
You are disciplined, in the past you went to dance training in a very disciplined manner. Both situations have to do with you, both are sports. The only difference is that you enjoy dancing and not a visit to the gym.
Use your preferences to your advantage. There is no point in trying to overtake other people’s routines. Instead, you need to find a routine that feels good for you. Then the discipline and stamina follow on their own.
4. Find a reason
We already touched on it earlier: We remain disciplined when we enjoy something or when something is particularly important. Your job is very important in your life, so you go there every day whether you like it or not. You can achieve the same discipline in other things, even if you don’t enjoy it. You just have to find a good reason to do these things as motivation to learn to be more disciplined.
If you no longer go to work, you lose your job and therefore no longer receive a salary. It would have a direct impact on your whole life. This motivates most people so much that they get up early and go to work every day – even if they hate their work.
It doesn’t have to be that dramatic. Maybe you just want to be able to go jogging several times a week. You don’t hate it, but it still costs you to overcome. So that you still jog regularly in the long run, you have to find something that motivates you. That has to be significant. Five kilos less on the scales is not enough to make you a jogger.
Go deep inside and investigate what might be the reason you want to jog. Find something that will make a difference in your life.
This is also the reason why long-time smokers can suddenly quit smoking when their doctor tells them they have to. You may have tried to stop ten times before. You also always know it’s unhealthy. But a visit to the doctor and suddenly it is no longer a problem to never touch a cigarette again.
If you want to bring more discipline into an area of your life, you have to find a damn good reason for it and then it suddenly work.
5. Remember why you want to be more disciplined
Even if you basically enjoy it and you have a good reason for it, there will be days when you don’t feel like it. Then it doesn’t matter what it’s about. However, it is important that you do your usual action anyway. It may not be the most productive workday or the most effective workout, but it is the sum of those actions that makes a real difference. A mega workout doesn’t make us fitter, but many workouts (even less effective ones) do.
On days like this, you need to remember your motivation. What are you doing the whole thing for? Be honest with yourself. If you know that you don’t feel like it, but that you will feel better after training, it is easier to stay disciplined. On such days you have to get your motivation reminder.
If you want to learn to be more disciplined, you also have to learn to motivate yourself. In everyday life we fall into our usual routine and only see the to-dos, but no longer the meaning behind it. Recall this sense when you feel that you can’t stay disciplined. Imagine how you achieved your goal. Imagine how your life will change.
Also very effective: remind yourself that you have already changed. It can help immensely if you look at yourself in a different light. You are now just someone who likes to train or who likes to get up early (of course, only if that is true).
By the way: If you have had a small setback and have skipped training or given yourself an additional cheat day, consider this a wonderful opportunity to learn. Find out why you couldn’t stay disciplined.
Maybe you can tweak your routine or your motivation a little. Maybe your other habits are the problem and you don’t get enough sleep, for example. A setback says nothing about you. You are neither lazy, nor lack of willpower or discipline. Defeat is simply a part of success, like amen to church. Make yourself aware of this, learn from the setback for the future and continue on your way to more discipline. Maybe you can tweak your routine. Maybe your other habits are the problem and you don’t get enough sleep, for example.