The quest of putting order in your unordered life is treacherous. A lot of things get in the way of attaining a level of personal discipline. One obvious challenge is the unpopularity of the self-discipline topic. However, there’s another, not that common, obstacle that gets in the way: Trying to instill personal self-discipline in an unhealthy way.
Maintaining discipline in our materialistic society where we are solely judged by what we externally showcase is hard. Since you can’t easily pack your daily routine in a highly engaging video. Most people give up on the idea of living a life where you do the same thing over and over again.1
I don’t blame these folks.
We are all trying to find happiness in a world where seemingly everyone else is happy – or at least that’s what appears online.
A big breakthrough for me – in my attempt to disengage from addictive behaviors – came when I stopped following the masses. When I quit social media, created personal core values, and lost interest in trying to impress others.
Yet, all of this didn’t happen overnight and it wasn’t error-free.
In this post, I share what personal discipline is and why it is important. Then, I present my view on how to approach creating a healthier daily routine that is motivating, rather than soul-sucking.
What is Personal Discipline?
Personal discipline is regulating one’s behavior, being responsible for one’s own actions, forming new habits and rules in pursuit of a desired lifestyle and identity.
Personal discipline involves the consistent practice of self-control, self-awareness, and adherence to predetermined standards or principles – especially when faced with distractions, obstacles, or temptations.
I know, it sounds like being in the military.
To be honest, it kind of feels like that, too.
You get up at the exact same time every day, only to do the exact same things you did the day before.
And while you might not mind the unvarying nature of your daily activities. Others will surely complain about your monotonous routine.
For starters, other people will conclude that you are missing out on the joys of life. Since your predictable and uninspiring lifestyle doesn’t include watching trendy Netflix shows nor visiting exotic places. You will be publicly acknowledged as boring.
But the other thing is more interesting… Your capacity to stick to a set of rules and ability to practice delayed gratification evokes a sense of threat in others. A sense of discomfort in those who are more inclined to seek instant gratification and consumerism.
When individuals observe others exercising self-discipline or adhering to their own standards. They will attempt to either 1) rationalize their own bad behaviors, 2) try to influence you to align with their selection of habits, or 3) completely cut ties with you since being confronted with your disciplined approach serves as a stark reminder of their own lack of self-control.
All of this leads to the following…
Why Is Having Personal Discipline Important?
As a human being who has thought a lot about self-discipline. I’ve concluded that the number one reason for having personal discipline starts with the following:
We are all a bunch of damaged people.
Our past, present, and fear of potential future trauma is restricting us from enjoying the current moment.
In response to our inability to experience a sense of peace here and now, we develop unhealthy behaviors. We engage in impulsive self-destructive habits, seek instant gratification, and/or numb our emotional pain through substance abuse or excessive use of electronic devices – i.e., social media scrolling marathons.
Personal discipline is important because it helps us find better ways to cope with our unmet dependency needs.2 From there, instead of trying to escape our problems, we start to face them.
When you have personal discipline, you are no longer working out, hustling, or devouring best-selling books while sharing this all over the internet – thinking that the approval of others will make you less miserable.
You adopt healthy routines and stick to them for yourself – careless about what others will say about your actions.
Personal discipline is about accepting the kind of individual you are and want to be – your values, what you want, what you don’t. Then, you no longer waste energy trying to defend that image in front of others. Rather, you prioritize the simple – and boring as mentioned above – actions that will keep you tight to your desired personality.
I know that all of the aforesaid sounds difficult – even impossible to some.
Not only that you devote yourself to a lifestyle of repeating a set of hard-to-do tasks – daily. But you also become careless of what others will say about you. How come?
There were times in my past when I didn’t think this could be achieved. I no longer think that now. While I still desire recognition and approval – like any other human. And while I occasionally want to break from the tedious daily cycle by doing something different that unlocks rewards right now. I’ve learned how to manage these feelings. I am not saying that it’s going to be easy – it’s not. But it’s a worthy thing to strive towards.
Why It’s Hard To Develop Personal Discipline?
The number one reason I think people fail to stick to a healthy lifestyle it’s their inability to embrace the suck.
I totally get why this is happening.
First off, accepting a present sucky situation and doing all possible to make the best out of it, sucks!
It’s hard work, feels intimidating, and occasionally involves sweat and a lot of failed attempts.
But you already know that. So enough about this.
Let’s look at the more interesting reason…
You fail to add personal self-discipline to your life because the online world is crowded with articles, videos, books, and recommendations by experts who promise fast results with almost zero effort.
The self-help industry is worth I-do-not-know-how-many-millions because there are literally millions of people who are constantly looking for shortcuts.
This plays out the following way:
During a workout session, you start to think about this: “There must be an easier way!”
So, you interrupt your push-up routine and search for another workout that will supposedly deliver instantaneous results. When you realize that this newly found workout is not, yet again, straightening up your circle-ish physique, you abandon the program and search for something else – a product to purchase that you believe can effortlessly fix years of sitting on a sofa and eating donuts.
To sum up, the fundamental problem most people trying to add willpower and good habits to their lives is a combination of these two: Lack of strategy and opportunistic thinking.
Opportunity seekers buy lots of products and consume a wide range of “content” – usually subscribed to dozens of famous people, thinking that if they aren’t following the celebrities, they will miss out on some secret formula for success.
And while these folks consume a large portfolio of “things”, they tend to use very few of them. And even these few do get abandoned when the next so-called “easy” or “trendy” way to lose weight, get attention, appreciation, and/or money comes by.
Opportunity seekers do all possible to avoid the truth. And the truth is that progress and results take time and hard work.
This group of folks impatiently subscribes to all the newest “get quick rich schemes” because they desperately want these to be true. And when they fail to see results once again, instead of learning from their failure, they go again… In yet another shopping spree, hoping for quick wins.
To battle this constant loop of buying and then abandoning products promising false things needs acceptance. Accepting that great work needs great effort.
The truth is that improvement is not about constantly trying, looking, and buying new things. But by staying committed to the same things – a particular routine that yes, it’s probably boring for external spectators.
How To Create Effective Personal Discipline
The simple version of creating effective personal discipline is about boundaries.
Establishing clear boundaries sets expectations for your actions and relationships. When you respect these boundaries, you cultivate a sense of self-respect and self-worth, fostering a strong foundation for personal discipline.
However, in relation to personal discipline, there are two ways setting boundaries can go wrong – and only one way it can go right.
I explore all the three variations below:
1. Setting Too Strict Boundaries
If in your attempt to lose weight, become a millionaire, build a business, etc., you create a mile-long scroll that tells you what not to do. You will draw a very narrow circle around yourself.
These self-created rigid boundaries can result in emotional turmoil or a sense of having a chain around your neck.
What do you think happens if you feel trapped under a tight regime for too long?
Sure, you get a lot of work done. But you also set yourself to be an uncontrollable monster.
A trivial event like a traffic jam during the morning commute can become a cue for indulgence in unhealthy habits.
Or, an unexpected change in plans can trigger a sense of frustration and a feeling of being out of control.
Consequently, the above may also lead to a breakdown of established boundaries and result in impulsive or self-defeating behaviors.
But that’s not all!
Others start to view you as this selfish person who is uninterested in anything but himself. While this may be an exaggeration of the situation. It’s surely something to consider if it’s delivered by your partner and/or closest friends.
2. Not Setting Any Boundaries
We just mentioned the potential negative consequences of strict routines and rules.
But what happens on the other side of the spectrum?
What happens when, instead of having too rigid boundaries, you have zero boundaries?
Well, that’s just as big of a problem as the first one.
If you don’t have some idea – a budget – about how much you are allowed to spend this month. You’ll easily
spend waste your full salary – eventually entering a state of financial distress and potential debt.
Similar examples related to the lack of rules can be observed in a lot of other areas.
Here are two:
- Without clear guidelines for social media usage, you might find yourself spending hours aimlessly scrolling through feeds – resulting in a diminished focus on productive tasks and zero real-world interactions.
- Without established guidelines for healthy eating, you could easily succumb to impulsive food choices and overindulgence – potentially leading to weight gain.
So, while having too strict of boundaries is harmful, so is having too slack of boundaries.
Usually, while we are kids, our parents are the ones who set the rules for us. They create boundaries in relation to watching television, they monitor what we eat, and they give us weekly allowance – preventing us from spending too much money on stupid stuff.
However, if we don’t learn anything during this period. Or, we fail to maintain and even improve this order as we grow up. When we finally start to live on our own, we’ll have many problems resulting from the lack of boundaries.
3. Setting Healthy Boundaries
If both having boundaries and having zero boundaries is not that good. What’s the optimal set of rules for creating a self-disciplined lifestyle?
It’s this: Having healthy boundaries.
Boundaries like rules, morning routines, habits, and reasonable limits on how much to spend, watch TV, etc., provide structure to our experience in the world. They give us a sense of freedom and control over our lives, while simultaneously protecting us from ruin.
Yet, there is a fine line between living with boundaries and with zero boundaries.
On one hand, you don’t want to create a military-like lifestyle where everything is done at the exact moment.
On the other, you surely don’t want a life where there is no order and schedule.
What you are looking for is a balanced routine that gives you flexibility without compromising your overall well-being.
In relation to entertainment, if you can’t completely cut social media out of your life. You can allocate specific time slots for checking the avalanche of publications created by other people.
In relation to money, you’ll surely want to set a monthly budget. However, at the same time, you don’t want to make it too strict where it starts to feel like you are not experiencing any joy.
I’ve experienced having both zero boundaries and having too strict boundaries.
When I look back, it feels like I’ve lived two completely different lives.
When I had no rules for myself, to be honest, I had a blast. I went to clubs roughly 5 times per week. Life felt awesome. However, at some point, I realized that this is not a sustainable way to live an adult life. Not only for my liver, but for my overall well-being – after all, it’s hard to stay on track with a monthly budget when your whole budget goes for alcohol.
After my uncontrolled period, I then veered towards the contrasting extreme. I set a very strict schedule that left no room for spontaneity or enjoyment.
This extreme approach not only resulted in a rigid lifestyle devoid of joy and flexibility. But also put a lot of pressure on my relationship with my (now) wife.
Furthermore, when things weren’t working out as I envisioned, I lost my temper.
I eventually realized that I needed to let go of my desire for relentless control over every little detail.
This happened around the time when my kid was born.
I still have rules and daily protocols, but I also give myself the freedom to savor life’s simple pleasures.
Some Closing Thoughts
When we talk about personal self-discipline, our eyes light up about two things: consistent progress and stronger willpower.
Only, it doesn’t offer those. Not always.
I can be the most disciplined person in the room today. Eventually, however, decide that my obsessive rigidness is making me feel trapped in a cycle of monotonous sameness.
If the latter happens, I can quickly descend into chaos. Entering a spiral of reckless indulgence. Seeking solace in self-destructive behaviors – destroying all my previous progress.
In a world full of novelty and noise, being self-disciplined lies at the intersection of having a lot of rules and having zero rules. Understanding that you need to empathically put up guardrails, but at the same time ensure that these don’t become concrete walls, is key.
Personal discipline should involve both setting a path for yourself, but also ensuring this path doesn’t start to feel like a prison.
If you found this post useful, I have an online course where I unpack the full range of things one should do to instill self-discipline. You can find more about it, here: Beyond Discipline Course.
Do yourself a favor:
Join Going Further: A 13-day email series on how to keep progressing in a world tirelessly pushing toward regression. Great for people who feel stuck in the endless loop of not doing.
- Well, even if you are able to share in one video your daily routine. The societal pressure to constantly present new things happening in your life will overshadow the quiet, consistent efforts that personal discipline entails.
- You can read more about handling your needs in my post about staying disciplined.