Let’s talk about self-discipline.
Self-discipline is the foundation of living virtuously.
You can pick your choice of imagery:
- Forged from steel.
- Chiselled from stone.
- Rooted like an oak tree.
Whichever it is, self-discipline is the virtue that powers everything else.
What is Self-Discipline?
Self-discipline is part of the group of virtues that help with taking action.
It allows you overcome weaknesses, obstacles and challenges, by relying on your own willpower and well, discipline.
I would define self-discipline as:
The ability to do what you need to do consistently, without complaint or excessive depletion of willpower.
Self-discipline must be sustainable. You need to be able to do what you need to… and not have to compensate with a blowout in the other direction.
Examples of Self-Discipline
Simple examples of self-discipline would be keeping to a diet or an attention diet over time.
It is the ability to work consistently at some/many things over a long period of time.1This also demonstrates the virtues of resilience and self-reliance.
It is the ability to do all this without complaint, emotional mood swings or excessive stress.
How Do I Know If I Have Practiced Self-Discipline Daily?
If you manage to follow your rituals and routines smoothly during the day without kicking and screaming… you have practiced self-discipline.
If you manage to get done most of the things you have planned for the day – that’s self-discipline.
If you manage to work without distraction and time wasted on other things – that’s self-discipline.
If you work with military precision for two weeks straight then need to fly out for a ski trip to “decompress”… that’s not self-discipline. That’s just silliness.
How to Develop Self-Discipline
Developing self-discipline, like any other virtue, is a system.
You start by knowing what self-discipline is.
You then tell yourself that you are going to develop it, practice it, and live it constantly.
If you have any belief issues about self-discipline being too robotic or regimented, you will not be able to develop self-discipline.
Anything apart from admiration for self-discipline will subconsciously stop you from living that way.
Self-discipline often looks robotic and regimented to others… but if you are reaping the benefits of it, who cares?
The alternative is to live without discipline, and let the chaos of daily life bounce you around.
I assume that if you are reading this, you would rather be disciplined.
2. Work out a system for self-discipline
With your mindset and beliefs in place, it is time to work out how you can practice self-discipline.
You can start by picking one-to-two things that you will be disciplined about on a daily basis.
There are plenty of things to choose from.
Here is a list you can start with:
- Work times.
- Sleep times.
- Tuning out digital distractions.
In the beginning it is best to pick something that is winnable and that will always get done.2If in doubt, I recommend exercise.
By doing and achieving that thing every day, you will gain momentum,3Also a virtue. and build a positive feedback loop that will help you develop self-discipline faster.
The next thing you need to do is to build a steam release mechanism to relieve the pressure on your mind and willpower.
Yes, this a metaphor.
Remember how some people consider self-discipline regimented and robotic and that doing the same thing daily with precision and schedule becomes “too much pressure”?
You need to find a way to release that pressure.4No, not in the way you’re thinking 😏.
The simple way to do this is to take small breaks throughout your day.
What most people do wrong when they try to be disciplined is they work for ten hours straight and then go on a bender because they “deserve it” and can’t stand the stress (pressure) they have accumulated.
If however you have an in-built mechanism to slowly let out bits of pressure throughout the day… there is no catastrophic explosion that results in said bender.5For more on this see Anti-Fragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.
Remember, It’s a System
Now you have your self-discipline system.
- One-to-two things you can do daily to practice self-discipline.
- A pressure-release mechanism to stop yourself from going crazy.
Start with this.
As you get the hang of it, add in more things daily.
It is best to start simple and to add things in over time.6Suggested things to add: a full morning ritual, a gym routine, set hours of work.
Remember, there should be no large drainage of willpower or accumulation of stress when you practice self-discipline. You should just be able to do it.
What To Do Next
That’s all there is to being self-disciplined.
Start small, take breaks and add to your system over time.
The more virtues you practice, the easier self-discipline becomes. Some related virtues include: resilience, self-reliance, simplicity, volition, right action and follow-through.
- This also demonstrates the virtues of resilience and self-reliance.
- If in doubt, I recommend exercise.
- Also a virtue.
- No, not in the way you’re thinking 😏.
- For more on this see Anti-Fragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.
- Suggested things to add: a full morning ritual, a gym routine, set hours of work.
Photos by Jaime Spaniol and Richard van Wijngaarden.