Self-discipline is the key to success. It is the force that helps us stay focused on our studies when we’d rather be partying. It’s the force that keeps us going to the gym when the couch beckons. It’s behind the determination to build the 147th prototype when the 146th version didn’t work.
In other words, self-discipline is the quality that pushes us to complete the tasks we know we should do in order to achieve our goals, rather than give in to momentary distractions that take us off course.
Fortunately, self-discipline is a skill that can be learned, and improved, by anyone willing to try. By developing your sense of self-discipline, you can become healthier, achieve more in school and work, and reach your goals – whether you want to learn a language, master the guitar, climb a mountain, or just get out of the door on time in the morning.
The Benefits of Self-Discipline
Self-discipline, also known as self-control, is a quality that can help us make better choices in everything that we do. Studies show that self-discipline can help make us healthier, happier, and more successful throughout our lives. Here are just a few examples:
- Higher self-control in childhood results in better physical health as an adult.
- Teens with more self-discipline are less likely to use drugs or alcohol or indulge in risky sexual behaviors.
- Children with higher self-control do better in school.
- In a study spanning twenty years, children who had more self-control in school became adults with more career success.
- Employees with more self-control earn more and have higher status jobs than those will less self-control.
- Self-discipline increases happiness and wellbeing.
- People with more self-discipline report better relationships with their friends and family.
In short, the research is clear that self-discipline positively affects just about every aspect of life. Self-discipline is so beneficial because it helps us make better choices at every turn, in all areas of our lives. Self-discipline is a skill, not just an inborn quality, and anyone at any stage of life can improve their self-discipline and begin to reap the benefits.
Develop Your Self-Discipline
Just as there are many exercises in the gym that can strengthen your body, there are many exercises that can help you build self-discipline.
Luckily, the practice of self-discipline is self-reinforcing. As you build your focus and work steadily toward your goals, your sense of achievement will make it easier and easier to stay disciplined. The following list offers just a few of the ways that you can work to improve your self-discipline.
Set Clear Goals
Self-discipline is willingness to do the thing you should be doing. So, to improve it, first you need to decide what it is you should be doing. What are your goals? Whatever you want to achieve, start by writing it down as a SMART goal. A SMART goal is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timely.
For example, let’s say you want to get fit. That’s a wonderful goal, but it’s not SMART. How will you know when you are “fit”? How long will it take? How will you judge your progress?
In order to have a truly motivating goal, narrow it down. For instance, if your general aim is to get fit, a SMART goal might be: “I will run a 5 km race in three months.” This goal is:
- Specific (a 5km race)
- Measurable (did you run the race or not?)
- Achievable (whereas running a marathon in three months would be too much)
- Timely (you’ll do it in three months)
Now that you have a SMART goal, how your self-discipline will help you is clear. You’ll need to complete your weekly training plan in order to meet your goal. Your self-discipline will be needed every time your schedule says you need to run, yet you are tired, or sore, or the weather’s bad, or the TV is interesting.
Visualize Your Goals
One reason why humans struggle with self-discipline is because we tend to put a greater value on present enjoyment than on future accomplishments. So, we might wish to be fitter and healthier in three months, but then skip a run because it’s raining and the couch is comfy.
One way to overcome this tendency is to clearly visualize the joy of reaching your goals. Whatever your goal is, the more clearly you can imagine how good it will feel to achieve it, the more you can bring your future joy into the present. This will make the hard work feel much easier.