Self-discipline has long been recognized as a positive trait that’s highly associated with a productive life and the achievement of personal goals.
Aside from that, self-discipline has also been correlated with higher self-esteem, better academic competence and higher grade point averages in school, healthier weights, better relationships, better coping with stress and frustrations, and less alcohol abuse and binge eating problems.
If you want to improve your self-discipline—a worthwhile goal for everybody, really,—know that you can achieve it through practicing certain strategies consistently in your daily life.
Listed below are 10 of the best ways you can exercise and improve your self-discipline.
Read up on them so you can start turning your life around and reaping the benefits of a well-disciplined life:
1. Create a Plan.
At the start of the day, take a few minutes to write down a to-do list with the top 5 tasks you intend to complete for the day.
Prioritizing your most important and urgent tasks will help you to proactively tackle them and make it easier for you to remain motivated to accomplish them, rather than just aimlessly flailing around all day long, taking on whatever task jumps at you.
Writing down action-oriented short-term goals aligned to your long-term goals will direct your efforts better, and having a plan on how to achieve them counteracts a depleted self-discipline resource.
2. Focus on starting each task on time
Shift your focus on starting each task on time, rather than completing them.
Having a to-do list can sometimes be overwhelming for some people, especially if they are prone to pressuring themselves with completing all the tasks on the list.
To prevent you from feeling attacked by your listed tasks all at once, schedule them in manageable time blocks throughout the day, starting from the top priority to the least. Commit yourself to beginning each task on the start time you have set for each, to help you avoid perpetual procrastination.
Remember, do not worry about having to complete it; simply start when you should and let the rest follow.
3. Pick an old habit!
Pick an old habit you can associate a new self-discipline habit with.
For instance, prioritize the day’s task and write out your daily to-do list while brewing or drinking your morning coffee. After some time, the habit of prioritizing and scheduling your day’s tasks will become as automatic to you as getting your morning cup of coffee, as association aids in facilitating brain connections for habit formation.
4. Start with small tasks.
Self-discipline is not ingrained in a person overnight; it needs consistent nurturing and practice, starting with small tasks first then progressing to a wider scope. Do not immediately attempt major tasks needing you to shoulder heavy responsibilities, but instead initially pick out a small task you are confident you can accomplish.
Practice self-discipline with this small task first and once you have mastered it, you can progress to taking on bigger tasks with more confidence.
5. Take it one thing at a time.
If you’ve ever had one of those “umbrella goals” stating you will straighten out everything in your life starting tomorrow, you must know that nothing much gets accomplished the next day anyway.
It’s easier to let go of commitments and resolutions when they’re virtually unrealistic and impossible to achieve in the first place, so resolving to fix everything that you think needs to be fixed right away is not really a good idea—especially when you’re just starting to manage challenges in your self-discipline.
It is better to pick out just one self-discipline habit to develop on a daily basis and actually accomplish it, rather than aim to straighten everything out and end up failing at all of your goals.
6. Don’t let bad company sway you.
This is not to say you should kick people out of your life when they’re sabotaging your efforts at self-discipline.
Just be aware that there may be some people in your life who tend to make it easier for you to slip back to more impulsive behavior patterns.
Recognize who these people are, find a way to not be swayed by their influence, and focus on improving your own self-discipline.
7. Get support from and hang out more with good company.
In your circle of friends or colleagues, you may recognize some role models who can consistently maintain their self-discipline and accomplish the goals they set for themselves.
Meet and hang out more with these people, observe their habits, ask tips and strategies they have found effective in their personal lives, and try out their suggestions for yourself.
Frequently being with self-disciplined people can help you imbibe their work habits and mentality, helping you improve your self-discipline as well.
8. Stay away from temptations!
Remove as much temptation as possible and plan strategies to handle high-risk or weak moments.
Self-discipline becomes more difficult to maintain when distractions from the goal and temptations abound in your home and workplace.
Get rid of temptations and lay out specific strategies to offset them when you expect to come across them. If, for instance, you’re trying to discipline yourself from unhealthy eating, throw out the junk food and gooey desserts, and bring along healthy food items when you anticipate you’ll need to snack on something at the movies.
9. Track your accomplishments.
Determine a way to measure your success, mark milestones, and reward yourself your small victories.
Improving self-discipline should not be a thankless, draining endeavor, but a fulfilling and enriching one. Set up a way to track your progress and measure your success, such as keeping a journal of your daily accomplishments and things you do get done on time.
You can also use a spreadsheet on your computer or a desk calendar to check off days when you’ve successfully followed up on your plans to maintain a self-discipline habit.
Visualizing your progress not only reinforces it and grants you a sense of completion upon checking off tasks, it also allows you to determine days when you got sidetracked and possibly give you clues as to why you slipped up and what factors you can change next time to avoid it.
Also set landmarks for success, so you can determine when you’ve reached a milestone and therefore cue you into celebrating your accomplishments. This is another way of motivating yourself to continue your efforts of improving self-discipline, especially when you’ve defeated impulsive or procrastinating habits you used to struggle with.
10. Don't allow minor slips to cascade into a diving defeat.
Especially when you’re just starting to build self-discipline habits, it is natural to slip up at times. Maintaining consistent day-to-day self-discipline and successfully handling weak moments both take time and practice for effective self-discipline habits to form.
In the time interval between being the impulsive you and the self-disciplined you, you are bound to meet some challenges and failures.
Do not let yourself come crashing down and submit to total defeat after a minor slip; instead take a breather and refresh the challenge to yourself, get back on the horse, and continue fighting.
Now that you’ve learned 10 of the most effective strategies in improving self-discipline, what’s your next step? Putting them into action! Remember that this list of strategies will just continue to remain a list without much impact in your life if you don’t commit yourself to acting on it. Implement these strategies and start the journey towards a healthier, more productive, and more meaningful life.