As a kid, you probably heard about discipline from a teacher or other authoritative figure. Children often relate discipline to “follow the rules we’ve set for you or be punished otherwise”. It left an undeserved bad taste in the mouths of many. It’s not until later years when you realize the real definition of it and actually appreciate the ability to implement it into your life.
Now, everybody wants discipline. And they should. Discipline creates more:
- And so much more…
Discipline is actually a skill. It is not something you’re born with. It’s something you cultivate and work to develop. It’s like a muscle. The more you consistently work it or use it, the stronger it grows.
When we ask disciplined people how they acquired and maintained their discipline, we’ll often get answers that relate to self-control or willpower. Although that is a big part of it, it’s a little deeper than that…
Many would argue that discipline is the ability to make good long-term decisions by overcoming short-term temptations. Personally, I believe this is the best simplified definition of the term for two reasons:
1) Every moment you are making a decision, whether it’s consciously or unconsciously.
2) Each decision is often influenced by your brain’s opportunity to experience a dopamine rush.
Let’s say you are on a diet. You want to look your best, but every time a donut gets offered to you, you just can’t pass up the opportunity to scarf one down. Here’s the gist of what’s happening in those situations: your brain released dopamine (due to the anticipation of the donut) that was at such a great amount, you could not overcome its influence.
This brings us to a few questions:
- How do we overcome the dopamine release when it happens?
- Is it possible to prevent the dopamine release? If so, how do we do it?
- How can we get our brains to release dopamine for the things we actually want?
In order to illustrate the concept of discipline, as well as the many variables that go into it, I’ve gathered some of the best information I could find and compiled it into a list of techniques or tips. You can use these to simplify implementing discipline into the habits you’d like to develop. Hopefully, the better understanding of discipline will make that process easier for you.
This is a breakdown of the concept of discipline and the many variables that go into developing it.
1. BUILD A SOLID FOUNDATION
“Know thyself.” –Socrates
Knowing yourself is essential to many aspects of life. Establishing discipline is one of them and it’s going to take asking yourself a bunch of questions and really digging into the reflection process. You may even need to get creative with a few things. Again, this is of utmost importance, but it can also be very therapeutic.
Not only do you have to define exactly “what” you’re going to be doing and “why” you’re going to be doing it, but you have to solidify those definitions.
This needs to cover two different aspects: 1) what’s in it for you, 2) what’s in it for others.
Values, Meaning, Emotion, Passion, & Standards
“You can have everything you want in life if you help enough other people get what they want out of life.” –Jim Rohn
What are your interests and passions? Can you, and would you want to, build on those? Does what you’re going to be doing align with those interests and passions? If not, how could you make them so? What do you enjoy about what you’re going to be doing? Why do you enjoy it? Does it involve helping others? Can it involve helping others? How?
What is meaningful to you? What do you find value in? What makes this emotionally compelling to you?
Your passion and emotion will shine through in the work you do, because it means something to you. Emotion involves your subconscious, which can be a powerful force behind your ability to be discipline. Also, you are less likely to quit something you love.
When giving up isn’t even a considerable option, discipline becomes the only way. And that way goes up.
When you have your moments of weakness (and you will), this will often be your reminder of why you’re doing this in the first place.
2. KNOW THE FUNDAMENTALS
Mastering the basics and fundamentals will get you the results you want. Period.
“Success is neither magical nor mysterious. Success is the natural consequence of consistently applying the basic fundamentals.” –Jim Rohn
The people who were the greatest at their professions mastered the fundamentals:
- Tiger Woods
- Amadeus Mozart
- Arnold Schwarzenegger
- Nick Saban
- Michael Jordan
- Ray Dalio
- Leonardo DiCaprio
- Ray Kroc
- And countless others…
You would think these people have some sort of “secret” to their excellence, but the truth is, they practiced the fundamentals day in and day out. The repetition they performed made the numbers work in their favor by increasing the level of their skill.
“So often we look for a magic secret or new technique that will produce tremendous returns and results with little or no work. Those seeking this magic secret will never find it—for the secret to success is to continually live and apply basic, simple fundamentals over a long period of time.” –Cameron C. Taylor
People have a tough time accepting the simplicity of success. They think, “That can’t be everything.” But for the most part, it is. The greats never ventured far from the fundamentals. They developed systems that surrounded the basics because they knew the basics would get results.
To be honest, this is good news for you. There are small activities you can perform every day that will work the numbers in your favor. The only downside: it’s monotonous. Doing the same thing over and over each day can get boring. This may be the reason why people want to make things more difficult for themselves. But if you focus on the simplified processes and really love doing what you do, there’s no way things won’t work out for you.
The repetition will increase your skill level. Your increased skill level will give you more confidence. Both the confidence and the positive results will feed into your discipline. When you have momentum going in the direction you want, you will be more reluctant to screw it up. After all, you worked hard for those results.
“The minute you get away from fundamentals – whether its proper technique, work ethic or mental preparation – the bottom can fall out of your game, your schoolwork, your job, whatever you’re doing.” –Michael Jordan
Do you know what the basics and fundamentals are for what you’re going to be doing? Write them down. Make them habitual. Do them every day. If you have to, create a schedule for when you’re going to be doing them.
3. WRITE DOWN YOUR GOALS
“By recording your dreams and goals on paper, you set in motion the process of becoming the person you most want to be. Put your future in good hands—your own.” –Mark Victor Hansen
It’s time to stop underestimating the sheer power of writing out your goals in detail.
Not only is it a statement of commitment to them, but it involves integrating them into your subconscious.
You live by your beliefs. Your beliefs are ingrained into your subconscious (some more than others) and the decisions you make, in the ways you act them out, are aligned with those beliefs.
“Beliefs have the power to create and the power to destroy. Human beings have the awesome ability to take any experience of their lives and create a meaning that disempowers them or one that can literally save their lives.” –Tony Robbins
When you consciously discover a new belief that contradicts an old one because the old one is false, if it’s not integrated into the subconscious, you will still act in accordance to the false belief.
For example, if you believe you aren’t good enough, no matter how many times you tell yourself that you are, your subconscious is simply just not convinced. Therefore, you continue to act out that initial belief. The words you tell yourself are not aligned with your self-image. You are going to struggle much more with a faulty belief system.
The first step is to identify that faulty belief system. The problem has to be noticed and admitted to before you can do anything to change it. The next step is to not only remove it, but to replace it with a better one.
We’re often told that positive affirmations can be powerful when we recite them. However, writing involves more of your mind and a much higher concentration than simply stating something.
Fun Fact: In the Korean War, the Chinese used to brainwash American POWs by forcing them to write and recite multiple essays on the benefits of communism.
So yes, technically, we are brainwashing ourselves. But we’re doing this to improve our lives, not worsen them (of course!).
When you begin writing down your goals, you want to write them out in as much detail as possible. This is going to cause you to visualize and imagine things. When you use visualization and imagination, you begin to feel emotions as if you are actually experiencing them. Your subconscious cannot tell the difference between reality and imagination. And your brain releases chemicals as if it were really happening.
“Visualization is the act of willfully forming mental images. To affect material reality using visualization, form images for your subconscious mind to use as patterns to work from.” –James Gor, Jr.
Think about anxiety for a moment. Anxiety is often caused by worrying. When you worry, it’s because you are imagining a bad scenario. You’re not even imagining it on purpose. When you imagine that scenario, your brain reacts by releasing cortisol, which is the stress hormone. Although that scenario has not taken place (and it may never take place) your brain is reacting like it actually is happening. That is the power of visualization.
If it can work with anxiety, it can work with other, more positive emotions as well. For example, when you visualize yourself accomplishing something, really imagine what it would feel like to be in that moment of accomplishment. The more you do this and the more powerful those emotions become, the more you can integrate these beliefs into your subconscious. So, really get excited about what you are going to be accomplishing! Writing everything down will help you gather all that you can out of this process. This is an enormous benefit to you.
“You can’t do anything that you can’t picture yourself doing. Once you make the picturing process conscious and deliberate, you begin to create the self you want to be.” –Anonymous
4. SIMPLIFY AND START SMALL
“Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.” –Vincent Van Gogh
When you’re writing out your goals, make sure that you are breaking them down into smaller increments. Be as detailed as possible. If you can, do them on a step-by-step basis.
Realize that, you have an enormous goal in mind (you should). That’s great, but the big picture can be overwhelming at times, which can open the door to discouragement. This can deflate your confidence, potentially causing your discipline to take a hit.
When you develop a plan that breaks that big goal down into smaller goals, it eases the mind. Then, you can focus on those smaller goals and just do one at a time. This allows you to focus on the process, rather than the outcome.
“When focused on the outcome, progress feels logarithmically limited. When focused on the process, exponential growth spontaneously occurs.” –Ed Latimore
You can only control what you do today. Know what you have to do and get it done. Reflect at the end of the day and appreciate the work you put in. You’ll find that often, you just need to repeat that the next day.
“Look for small victories and build on that. Each small victory, even if it is just getting up five minutes earlier, gives you confidence. You realize that these little victories make you feel great, and you keep going. You realize that being paralyzed by fear of failure is worse than failure.” –Arnold Schwarzenegger
When focusing on the process, we can often lose sight of one of the main driving forces behind what we do: fulfillment. Take the time to recognize, appreciate, and celebrate those small wins. They matter just as much as the big ones. This will unleash the power of momentum.
- When you count the small victories, the small victories count.
If you find that you are unable to celebrate the small victories, it’s likely you will not be able to celebrate the big ones either. Success without fulfillment is a worthless drain to your soul.
5. CONTROL YOUR ENVIRONMENT
Your environment can shape you just as much as you can shape your environment.
Since that’s the case, create an environment of success. Take every aspect into account:
- People you surround yourself with
Everything has energy. It can be bad (low) or good (high) energy. You usually pick up what these energies are through the vibes and emotions they give you. Pay attention to those vibes and emotions. That’s your soul telling you something is off and needs to be changed or dealt with. The more you can surround yourself with good energy, the easier it will be for you to stay disciplined.
The people you spend most of your time with will have the greatest influence on you. If they are constantly bringing you down, that will have a major effect on you. Pay attention to the energy people have. That energy is contagious. If you’re picking up bad vibes from the interactions you have with somebody, eliminate or minimize your interactions with them. You cannot afford to be discouraged. Replace them with people who bring you up and make you better. Those will be the most valuable people in your life.
This is a part of knowing yourself and paying attention to your environment. Where do you do your best work? What gets you going? Who have you noticed that you need to interact with? For some people, they feel their best throughout the day if they get their workout done in the morning. Some people do their best work when they go to a coffee shop. If you notice a successful person, you may want to start a conversation with them. Maybe they have your favorite car. Ask them about how they got it and tell them it’s your favorite. This is how you build connections and network with people.
Get rid of the distractions:
- Put your phone up while you’re working
- Turn the TV off
- If you’re dieting, stop buying things you know you’ll binge on
- Don’t go to that party if you can’t say “no” to drinking
The longer you can abstain from certain temptations, the easier it will be to say “no” when you’re forced into a more challenging environment that includes them. Remember how we talked about the dopamine release from the anticipation of indulgence?
When you abstain from indulging long enough, those synapses in your brain weaken, because those signals haven’t been firing for so long.
Not only that, but you’ll want to keep that momentum going and continue the streak you’re on.
6. PINPOINT WHERE YOUR WEAK SPOTS ARE
Know what is going to give you the most trouble and develop a plan on how you’re going to handle it when you’re faced with those challenges. This is all about preparation.
“Failing to plan is planning to fail.” –Unknown
For example, you’re on your diet and you have to go to a celebration for work. There’s going to be some great food there, but you already have your own food prepared. You know you’re going to get some comments from your co-workers about not eating. They may even poke fun a little bit.
Because you know what to expect, you can prepare your objections ahead of time. Tell them whatever you feel would be appropriate:
- “My stomach is kind of upset right now.”
- “I made a bet with a friend of mine, so I have to stick to this.”
- “I’m really serious about improving my health.”
- “Thank you, but I just ate.”
Often, I’ve found that explaining your “why” to others allows them to understand and appreciate your motives more. They’ll likely have more respect for what you’re doing.
7. GIVE IN TO WEAKNESS
This sounds contradicting, but failure is often the greatest reality check and it’s a part of success. Often times, in order to conquer your weaknesses, you have to confront them or be confronted by them.
“Growth begins when we begin to accept our own weakness.” –Jean Vanier
What you need to be careful of is your approach to the failure. Understand that it is a prerequisite for success and it does you no good to beat yourself up when it happens. Instead, you must learn from it. Learn how it makes you feel and revel in that feeling for a little while to understand what you do not want. Again, emotions will be ingrained into your subconscious. When a similar situation arises, you’ll be more reluctant to give in because you want to avoid the feeling of getting what you don’t want.
When I was preparing for my first few bodybuilding competitions, I gave into weakness plenty of times. I hated that feeling, because I knew it set me back by more time. The great thing about this was that, every time I messed up, I progressively got better at staying on track the next time around. The bar was set higher and higher. Now, my willpower is damn near as solid as a rock.
This is how you get the most out of your failures, instead of letting them get the best of you.
8. GET YOUR FEARS IN LINE
“Fear has its use, but cowardice has none.” –Mahatma Gandhi
Fear is a powerful motivator, although it is mainly a negative one. And our most common fear: pain.
We’ll do everything we can to avoid any type of pain possible:
- Emotional pain
- Physical pain
- Mental anguish
- Financial stress
If it forces us to go outside of our comfort zone, chances are we’re going to avoid it. Realize that, our brain’s number one priority is our safety. It does a great job of this. Sometimes, it does too good of a job. It has a defense mechanism that will send stress signals when it thinks that we could possibly run into a painful situation. When this happens, those thoughts of “I don’t deserve this” or “It’s not worth it” come creeping in. Your mind visualizes the worse possible scenarios. Often, they are completely unrealistic. Whatever you do, do NOT give into these false beliefs.
Without a healthy perspective established, this can surely work against you. It’s why we need to work on recognizing when the brain is crossing the boundaries of what’s acceptable to activate that defense mechanism. When we can catch this process while it’s happening, we can stop it and put ourselves in a position to remain true to ourselves.
When you’re able to recognize your brains negative process, take a step back and evaluate the situation. The vast majority of the time, you’ll realize that your brain is blowing things out of proportion. Then, think about what you want to happen. This will bring you to why you’re putting yourself in this position in the first place.
Weigh out the consequences. Use imagination and visualization so you can incorporate emotion into the equation. Write out the differences if you have to. You’ll often realize you’re more afraid of the consequences of not taking the risks.
“Fears are nothing more than a state of mind.” –Napoleon Hill
The good thing about states of mind is that they can be accessed at will. The trick is to get yourself moving.
- Motion creates emotion.
Think about how you would act if you could go into that situation confidently. Then, breathe how you would if you were confident. Walk how you would. Talk how you would. Smile that confident smile. This will help put you into a confident state of mind to tackle the situation you need to confront. When it comes to your state of mind, “Fake it until you make it” has some substance.
Realize that, without facing those phony fears, there is no progress or growth. They will keep you stuck where you are if you let them.
You’re going to be faced with temptation to be lazy, procrastinate, and make excuses, among other things. Know the consequences of giving into these temptations.
“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.” –Dale Carnegie
“People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.” –Zig Ziglar
Just as you have to clean your body when it gets dirty every day, you have to do the same for your mind. I consider them “reminders”. It’s not something you don’t know or haven’t heard before, but maybe you need to be reminded of that helpful perspective again.
Sometimes, you need to take a shower twice in one day. I recommend reminding yourself twice a day; once in the morning when you wake up and once before you go to bed. This way, you start and end your day with your passion. Also, it’s when the subconscious mind is at its freshest. The repetition will help to integrate that desire into the mind.
Here are a few ideas for reminders:
- A picture of someone who inspires you (hero, child, mentor, etc.)
- A quote or multiple quotes
- A piece of work you’ve done that you’re proud of
- A daily mantra (highly recommend this one)
- The list you wrote out of your goals and your plans to achieve them
Anything that can reignite the fire that gets you going. This will help you to hold yourself accountable.
10. TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF
Where the body goes, the mind follows. And where the mind goes, the body will follow as well.
A strong, healthy body provides the best environment for the mind to thrive.
- Get your sleep.
- Eat nourishing foods.
These are crucial to the body’s health. You’re going to need the body and the mind to be at their best. When you’re at your best, you can fend off any temptation that comes your way.
Not only that, but you will just feel better. When you feel good, you’ll want to do more things that make you feel good. The thought of accomplishing your goals becomes inspiring and your beliefs in achieving them become more attainable.
“To keep the body in good health is a duty… otherwise, we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.” –Buddha
11. INVEST YOUR EMOTIONS WISELY
Whether they’re positive or negative, you react to whatever you invest your emotions into.
“It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” –Epictetus
If you’re prone to negativity, the reactions you have to different stimuli (events, situations, people, etc.) will pull your energy down. A negative state is a low energy state. When you’re in that negative state, you’re not going to be in the strongest position to succeed.
One of the greatest mistakes people make are investing their emotions into expectations they have no control over. This leaves your well-being to chance. The more specific the expectation, the lesser the chances are of it being fulfilled. This can easily create a negative feedback loop.
Invest only in what you have control over: your decisions. The actions you take can produce results, but only invest into the actions. If the outcome is favorable, celebrate; if the outcome is unfavorable, have a plan to adjust. If you keep things simple like this, it will be easier for you to sustain any momentum that you build up.
“Expectations were like fine pottery. The harder you held them, the more likely they were to crack.” –Brandon Sanderson
Once we understand how the mind is affected by stimuli, and how powerful the brain and subconscious are at creating a physical reaction, we can learn how to manipulate these processes in our favor. Each of these steps can be utilized to train the mind into being more susceptible to discipline.
Not only can we use these techniques for the purpose of discipline, but we can also use them to replace outdated and detrimental belief systems with new, beneficial beliefs. This will be crucial to your success and fulfillment.
This sounds simple, but that does not mean it will be easy. You will still have your run-in with the inevitable challenges and setbacks. Because you will experience these hardships, I want to leave you with one last quote of encouragement:
“There are moments when troubles enter our lives and we can do nothing to avoid them. But they are there for a reason. Only when we have overcome them will we understand why they were there.” –Paulo Coelho