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Blog Short #184: How to Become More Self-Disciplined

Photo by baona, Courtesy of iStock Photo

If you’re reading this, you likely want to improve your self-discipline in some or all areas of your life. The hitch is that it’s challenging to accomplish. Some people have mastered it, but for most of us, it’s still a work in progress.

To that end, today, I’ll give you a four-step methodology for working at it and increasing your odds of success.

Let’s start with the right mindset because you need that to succeed.

The Mindset

To get in the right mindset to work on self-discipline, you must have two things: (1) A strong desire and intention to succeed and (2) an awareness of the thoughts and beliefs that challenge that intention.

These four beliefs, in particular, create obstacles.

  1. Self-discipline means giving up something I like to do.
  2. It’s grueling and will be a painful process.
  3. It takes too much energy, and I’m already thin on that.
  4. I’ve tried before and failed. So how’s it going to be different this time?

You may not be aware of these thoughts swirling around in your subconscious, but I’m guessing some if not all of them are there.

Self-discipline sounds like work, and it’s often associated with feelings of deprivation. Even if you start with a positive, energetic approach, you can quickly settle back into this mindset when you don’t have immediate success.

So, the first order of business is to correct those beliefs by replacing them with these:

  1. Self-discipline will increase my happiness as I gain more control over myself.
  2. When done correctly, the process is rewarding with each step and feels good.
  3. I can go slowly and make steady progress without a massive expenditure of energy.
  4. Setbacks are to be expected, but they allow me to learn, reset, and continue.

In other words, as you progress in establishing new habits that give you more self-control, you begin to take pleasure in your accomplishments, and the new habits feel better and more attractive than the old ones. I’ll give you examples as we go through the process.

The 4-Step Process

Self-discipline is accomplished primarily by creating and establishing habits. It is a mindset, but the building blocks are composed of repetitive patterns of behavior that become automated without needing to expend much energy.

The good thing is that habits are very concrete and definable, so you have something you can work with and track.

The four steps that you’ll use with each specific habit are as follows:

  1. Define what it is you want to change.
  2. Identify why and how that will benefit you.
  3. Decide how you will go about it.
  4. Create a plan of action and review.

Step 1: The What

Select an area where you’d like to be more disciplined. This can be very specific, like money management, or a little broader, like regulating your emotions.

Once you’ve chosen something, take an inventory of the habits you use right now that are interfering with your self-discipline.

For example, if you’re working on money management, write down all your habits related to managing or not managing your money. Those might include impulsive buying on Amazon, not balancing your bank account every month, using shopping therapy to lift your mood, freely lending money to friends or family members who don’t pay you back, and rarely tracking your expenses. What habits do you engage in that are causing the problems?

Once you’ve broken down your “what” into the specific habits contributing to the problem, you have a concrete list of habits you can tackle. Now, proceed to the next step.

Step 2: The Why

Don’t skip this step. It’ll help you keep your motivation high.

Make a second list that includes all the possible benefits of becoming self-disciplined in the area you’ve chosen to work on. How will changing the habits you’ve identified help you?

For this list, ask yourself these three questions:

  1. What are the benefits of changing each specific habit?
  2. How will I feel when I change these habits? What are the emotional benefits?
  3. What will my future look like when I change these habits, and what if I don’t?

This process might sound a little tedious, but it’s important because you’ll be more successful in working through setbacks when you keep your “why” in full focus. It gives your process meaning and purpose, which keeps you going.

Step 3: The How

Now, it’s time to narrow your list and prioritize the habits you want to change in an order that will bring on the most success.

Using the money management example, you might have these habits listed:

  • Credit card use
  • Impulsive buying
  • Lack of budgeting
  • Not setting boundaries with my friends or family

Take that list and create an alternative list for each of those. This list will likely be more detailed. For example:

  • Gather up all your credit cards and put them away in the back of a drawer out of sight. Use only a debit card or cash to pay bills or make purchases.
  • Set up a spreadsheet and write down everything you bring in and everything you spend over the next month.
  • Tell your friends and family you’re on a new budget and won’t be able to lend them money.
  • Review your spreadsheet at the end of each month to see how your expenditures compare to your income.
  • Make a rule not to buy anything you don’t absolutely need for the first month, and always put three days between your desire to purchase something and buying it.

These are all habits you could create to solve your money management problem. Once you finish one month, you can continue and tweak until the habits are instilled and done automatically.

You can apply this same approach to any area of discipline. For example, you could use it to improve time management or regulate emotions.

The key is to replace the initial sense of deprivation with feelings of confidence and worth as you increase your ability to manage yourself. As you grow your self-control, you begin to take more pleasure in that feeling, outweighing any pleasure you used to derive from your former bad habits.

This part of the process takes time, so you must be patient.

You need to burn out the old desires as you create the new behaviors. It’s a gradual exchange and not exact in timing.

But eventually, you won’t miss the bad habits and you’ll enjoy the benefits of increasing your self-control.

Step 4: Execution Plan & Review

The final step is to map out in time when and under what circumstances you execute the tasks you’ve identified to create your new habits.

As always, it’s best to put things on a calendar, daily list, or whatever system that works best for you that designates a scheduled time to complete the tasks. If you leave it to “I’ll do this once a week,” but don’t schedule when that once will be, you leave it to chance.

It’s also good to set reminders. You can do that on your phone, by emailing yourself messages, or by having an accountability partner. That last one is very effective. Support from another person can be very helpful when changing habits. It’s fun, too, if you and your partner are both working on something and you support each other’s process.

At the very least, review your progress once a week and see where you need to make changes.

Don’t use weekly reviews to beat yourself up. Give yourself credit for any partial success, and then tweak the process for any setbacks to help you overcome them.

Three More Things That Help

Keep these three things in mind as you work through the process:

  1. Mind your self-talk. Be honest with yourself, but not critical. This is really important! Stay positive, even when you have setbacks. It’s essential not to give up.
  2. Develop equipoise, which means maintaining your emotional equilibrium during highs and lows. Your self-talk plays a significant role in this.
  3. Write somewhere in plain view this sentence: “Self-control will ultimately feel more pleasurable than my bad habits. I need to give it enough time.”

That’s all for today.

Have a great week!

All my best,


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