Self-discipline is a big challenge for many people. That’s why, if you haven’t noticed, most people aren’t self-disciplined. But the ones who master this skill basically master life.
I know how this introduction (probably) makes you feel.
“Oh, another random post on the internet where the author is talking about how building discipline is going to solve all of my problems… blah… blah…”
And the reason you feel this way is quite simple. As soon as uploading a video online became a 3-step process – you get a camera, you say stuff to the camera, you hit upload. The virtual universe become overcrowded with morning routines of successful 20-something-year-olds who are self-proclaimed productivity experts with no real-life obligations.
“Oh, you set goals, wake up at 5 a.m., take 30 minutes of your life to brew a disgusting-tasting coffee, run 5 miles, do a cold shower, meditate, and read a book?”
Good for you, all!
The world is jam-packed with stories of folks running around with cameras selling online courses that “guarantee” 6-figure businesses while having a perfect body and a perfect relationship.
But do you even want productivity advice from these dudes?
I’d rather hear some self-discipline examples from a working mom with 5 kids and a mortgage to pay.
Sadly, as you can imagine, people who are that busy rarely have extra time to share their stories in the online world drowning in selfies and cat memes.
Although I’m certainly not a mom – nature, you know. Nor do I have 5 children – I have one. I do have a lot to share about self-discipline and controlling one’s impulses in an attention-disorienting world.
Here’s my transformation story in less than 10 seconds…
I used to be a lazy procrastinator with no purpose, no ambition, and no plans for the future. Plus, I was addicted to nicotine, video games, alcohol, and shopping.
Now, I don’t.
In my journey of – gosh, I kind of hate that word – self-improvement. I was able to grow emotionally and (I hope) intellectually.
The secret ingredient?
Well, it’s surely no longer a secret. It’s the simple act of being a disciplined person.
But this isn’t a post where I’m going to enter an excessively self-centered monologue where I talk about how awesome I am – I’m not. Or, how cool and extravagant my life is – it’s not.
I’m going to share in a not-dumb way – I hope. A couple of self-discipline examples that will spark a desire in you to chase the elusive dream of becoming a better version of yourself.
The main goal is to help you get off your butt and finally realize that reading random posts online won’t change your life. Only doing what is mentioned in these random posts will.
What Is a Disciplined Lifestyle?
It’s quite simple. If you want to get ahead of 99% of the people in the world. You need to be willing to do things that 99% of people are not willing to do.
However, a disciplined lifestyle is not one where you torture yourself with fancy workout regimes or intermittent fasting programs.
Commonly, people believe that converting from a sloth-like lifestyle into a marathon runner requires buckets of willpower and motivation injected directly into your vein.
Well, that’s not the case – at least not entirely.
The reason you miserably fail at setting and pursuing your goals. You are unable to replace your bad habits with good ones. And never make any positive changes to your daily life after reading materials related to behavior change, is far different from what you expect.
It’s not that the articles you’ll find online are devoid of good advice – they normally are quite useful. The reason you can’t push yourself to do the things you’ve said you are going to do it’s because you a) have an emotional problem that you are unaware of, and/or b) you don’t quite like yourself.
Let’s talk about these two:
Two Reasons Your Life Is Not Disciplined
Reason 1: You Have an Emotional Problem
These days, we have access to such abundance – a billion photos, infinite video at our fingertips, the ability to fill our closets with clothes for a hundred bucks, a near-zero-cost amusement by simply pressing a button.
But what do we do with the free knowledge that is available in the unlimited YouTube channels offering life betterment of any sort?
We just continue to watch. Continue to numb our senses.
We continue to compulsively eat tubs of ice cream each week, even when we are perfectly aware that this is not good for us.
Do you know why?
Well, consumption in general – regardless of the type – is a form of numbing. A way to escape the emotional problems that are happening inside of you.
You eat stuff – watch videos, read books, doom scroll Instagram, and drink more than you need – so your body and mind can feel comfortable. But you need it to feel comfortable because without these things – without modern distractions. You are all by yourself. Alone with your thoughts. Alone with your problems.
And since addressing these problems requires work and invokes bad feelings – accepting the truth that your current type of living won’t get you far. You choose to further indulge in mindless consumption.
You cover your problems with even more YouTube channels and even more Instagram reels. But underneath, what you actually feel is inadequacy and resentment toward yourself.
Following this train of thought, if left alone with the tasks to describe your life. You’ll probably conclude stuff like…
- “Others have goals and ambitions. Me? I’m a 30-plus-year-old guy, and I still don’t know what I should do with my life.”
- “Others get up and exercise. Me? I oversleep and eat a castle of waffles for breakfast.”
- “Others have careers and relationships. Me? My cat left me and now my meme-sharing business is ruined.”
These are ostensibly pointless acts of self-judgment. However, we either avoid them – by numbing ourselves with more “content”. Or we keep doing them because they relieve us of the responsibility for our own actions.
The last one deserves elaboration.
I marvel at our ability to make rational excuses for being out of alignment.
We say things like, “Well, I was not born with muscles, and my parents never signed me up for sports activities. That’s why I’ll forever be so round and unmotivated.”
Such statements make it appear like my ability to make improvements is technically out of my hands. It implies that there’s nothing I can do to change my condition. So, why try, right?
But, once we face our current self – or at least if we dare to face that motherfucker in the mirror. We can see how emotionally weak he is. How ashamed he is of his way of living.
Only once you accept that dark and ugly part of yourself. Only once you confront it – head-on. You can start working together to make a change.
Stop feeling bad about yourself, and also stop trying to numb away the discomfort.
Reason 2: You Don’t Quite Like Yourself
This one sounds strange, I know.
“I do like myself. I regularly treat myself with new clothes, gadgets, and occasional visits to tropical islands I just discovered through local Instagram stars.”
But here’s the harsh truth…
You like yourself only to the extent that others like you, too.
You do all of the above things only because everyone else is doing them.
Sure, you will buy a new wristwatch that costs half of your yearly gross salary.
But do you know why you’d do it?
Because you want to make others care about you. Even if it will only last a mere millisecond – the time it takes someone to scroll from one filtered Instagram post to the next.
If you sincerely like yourself and care about yourself.
Would you really stuff your body with fast food and half-ass your exercise routine? Would you smoke cigarettes and bury your head for hours inside the landscape of avocado toasts and gym selfies?
I don’t think so.
A person who genuinely loves himself. A person who is interested in his/her well-being will recognize the dark patterns of his/her behavior and daily focus on his/her needs – not on the endless demands of others.
How Do You Demonstrate Self-Discipline?
You are doing self-discipline right only when it doesn’t feel like work.
Here me out…
When I was in my teens, I laughed at people who set alarm clocks and deliberately signed up for marathons.
“Why the hell are these people running 42 kilometers when they can just play video games all day?”
In my twenties, I laughed at people who read books, meditated, didn’t drink alcohol, or didn’t party like the world was going to end tomorrow.
“Why the hell are people so boring? Why do you need books when you can watch movies all day?”
In my thirties, I started laughing at myself for what I did during my teens and my twenties…
“Why the hell was I wasting my time parting and drinking for more than 10 years?”
For literally over a decade, I was feeling good only when I was doing bad – when I was out with friends smoking and drinking.
To me, living a healthier life was always provoking a hearty laugh. Plus, the only meaning of the word balance was a cigarette in one hand and a cocktail in the other.
However, after I started appreciating my body and mind more – or at least some, before that, I was totally neglecting these two. I was no longer interested in clutching my beloved beverage while dancing with a girl I just met.
I was now feeling good when I was up early and exercising. And, the most important part, drinking and going crazy during the weekend no longer felt rewarding.
Or in other words, you are doing self-discipline right when you are no longer going against what you want. This happens when the healthier activities become the things that you genuinely want to do.
See, I only started to eat good food, read books, and exercise regularly when these things started to feel rewarding.
Sure, it was hard – and still is – to get up in the morning and exercise for 20 minutes. But it feels rewarding now. It’s something I look forward to. It’s something I want to do.
Before that, these things seemed like stuff I have to do. Now they seem like stuff I get to do.
That’s a huge shift in mindset.
When we approach tasks with the “I have to do” mindset. They feel like a burden. Like obligation. The task feels like we’re being forced to do it.
- “I have to go to work.”
- “I have to exercise because I need to lose weight.”
- “I have to drive my kid to football class instead of killing the final boss of Diablo 3.”
However, if we adopt the “I get to do” mindset. You start to appreciate the activities in your life. What you do feels like a privilege. Like an opportunity for something better.
- “I get to go to work and contribute to this project.”
- “I get to exercise because it helps me stay healthy and energized.”
- “I get to spend time with my kid by taking him to the football class.”
If you view self-discipline activities as things that “you have to do”. You will need endless motivation and willpower to start doing these things – which eventually will lead to the old lifestyle of late-night watching and rolling over Cheetos.
But if you view these same activities as things “you get to do”. You will soon notice something that initially seemed frightening – you will actually start to enjoy these tough activities.
- You will approach going to the gym as an opportunity. Not as a burden.
- Reading a book instead of scrolling through the evil social media is a learning experience. Not a boring activity.
- Spending a quiet evening with your kid playing chess as a coping experience. Not an experience you will wish to end by turning on the TV.
Now, after we know more about what self-discipline is and why we are probably not disciplined enough. Let’s take a look at a couple of self-discipline examples based on real-life situations:
If I read somewhere online one more time that setting goals is an appropriate self-discipline example, I’m departing to another planet. I swear.
While setting goals can help in relation to self-discipline. It’s not a tool you can use to summon willpower when temptations arise.
Tired from the BS I found online in relation to examples related to self-discipline. I’ve compiled a list of things a true willpower Jedi is able to do in order to remain zen in the materialistic society we all get to live in:
1. Getting Up Early In The Morning – Even On The Weekends
Let’s pretend for a moment that you have decided that you want to become awfully muscular.
Maybe you are sick of your belly vibrating every time you take a step. Maybe you are sick of not finding cool new XXXXL size clothes. Or maybe the local McDonald’s closed, and you can no longer order your precious Crispy Rodeo Ranch Burger menu.
Whatever the reasoning, you’ve decided that the new you is going to get fit like the muscular men and women social media is presenting as the norm of society.
Now, your new updated daily routine involves getting up earlier than usual and going to the gym.
However, you keep the weekends off. You decided that Saturday and Sunday are holy days. Days when a person is obliged to not move and simply consume from the pile of things created by other people.
While I admire your ambition. Here’s a counterintuitive idea: it’s easier to do something daily rather than a few times a week.
When I started waking up at 5 a.m. I told myself that I could rest during the weekends. While this worked initially, I found myself slacking off. I was finding excuses to sleep longer during the workweek – telling myself that I would compensate during the weekend. However, this never happened.
Since doing something tomorrow – regardless of the task – always seems better than doing it today. We always find excuses.
Once I decided that I would get up early every day – and work out first thing in the morning. I no longer had the option to re-negotiate with myself. The rule was simple – get up early and exercise. Interestingly, this subtle change made all the difference.
Doing something daily sets a much better mindset than doing it occasionally.
For me, this means that I am no longer an occasional early riser. I’m a 5 a.m. type of guy – that’s part of my identity.
2. Not Buying That New Thing Everyone Else Is Owning (and Talking About) Even When You Desperately Want It
A couple of years ago, I heard the following quote:
“Treat money as a tool, not as a goal.” Anonymous
Believe it or not, I wasn’t able to figure out the meaning initially.
“Why shouldn’t money-making be a goal? How can it be a tool?”
As you can tell, I was financially unwise back then.
I was having – what we can call – the “spending mindset”.
When your goal is to simply have more money – and the things money can buy. You are never satisfied. Your goal is to make more money, so you can spend more money.
But by doing so, you only create more stress around money. Since we can always make more money and always buy more stuff. We never feel satisfied with what we have, and with how much we earn.
The opposite of the “spending mindset” is the “investing mindset”.
That’s right, the first part of the quote.
When money is a tool, it’s no longer the end goal. It’s merely a means to an end.
When used as a tool, you start to invest in different “things” that can help you along the way – now, and in the future.
Instead of buying the newest console and subscribing to a never-ending library of video games – both things that will cost you even more money down the road. You invest these approximately $1,000 to improve your skills, which eventually net you, say, $10,000.
The bad news about having a “spending mindset” is not only that you spend money. The main problem comes from the fact that there is always something new to spend money on.
I won’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the phrase, “That’s the last thing I’m going to buy. After that, I’m most definitely becoming the Pennywise King in my neighborhood.”
Of course, this desire is short-lived. The next time a cool new thing is invented – and cool new things are getting invented by the hour in the 21st century. People forget about their retirement savings only to indulge in the momentary sensation attached to buying stuff.
When you have the right mindset. You won’t go running to your mom and dad asking for another loan to get the new hip thing 3000. You will see this item as yet another trend that will soon pass.
3. Don’t Be On Social Media When Everyone Else Is On Social Media
Remember that weird dude stating, “I am not on social media – in any of them!”
That’s because everyone is on social media these days.
Since the year 2000, it’s hip to have a place where you can vomit all the experiences of your pathetic and meaningless existence, and wait for the other mortals to give you a trivial appreciation by accidentally clicking on a button.
I know, it’s strange how attached we are to the number of likes we have on a picture online. It’s like the experience doesn’t matter. Only what other people think about the experience.
The dangerous online arena nudges our minds into thinking that since everyone is having a great time. I should also have a great time – the same way as everyone else.
But since most people are after easy and fun things. We get to do easy and fun things ourselves.
A tough challenge to enter in the 21st century is to genuinely start disliking using social media. Or at least the “normal” way of using social media – i.e., mindlessly scrolling through the virtual noise.
When I finally aborted the ship of online vanity. It felt so liberating. I can’t even describe it. My personality was no longer attached to the comments of other people. I was starting to appreciate my days for what they were – not what others told me they were.
But probably the best thing – the aftereffect – was that I no longer longed for the approval of others.
When something felt great. It was because it was great. My mind stopped fantasizing about sharing the moment and waiting for others to tell me that I had a good time. I simply had a good time.
And while I’m perfectly aware that people who end up reading this will find a ton of excuses to keep using social media – e.g., “I am preserving endangered virtual friendships. Who else will like every post of that distant cousin I met once at a family reunion?”
I can assure you that leaving social media when everyone else is using it is probably the best thing that can happen to you.
4. Getting Only One Meal When You Are At An All-You-Can-Eat Buffet
Can you imagine entering an all-you-can-eat buffet and assembling a modest dish? Deliberately restraining yourself amidst the sea of temptations?
The short-term pain associated with not trying every available meal when you are at a buffet feels unbearable, right?
The struggle is real, I know.
It’s strange how most of us suddenly have a second stomach when more food is present – and free.
Our lizard brain gets activated and imagines that we are back in the prehistoric era. The epoch where we had to stack up fat because we didn’t know when we’d have access to food again. However, most people who end up in a place where they can eat everything. Theoretically, already have everything – since they can afford the entry cost.
Personally, I’m struggling daily with eating just enough food. I can consciously conclude when I need to stop. But in the process of consumption. I just can’t cut ties with the process of indulging my body in delicious food.
What I found out is that this habit in relation to food is called eating for the sake of eating – not because you are hungry.
Eating for the sake of eating doesn’t necessarily stem from hunger. It often involves consuming food due to emotional triggers, social situations, or mindless habits.1
For example, you feel bored, so you decide to make your afternoon less boring by bringing out a tub of ice cream.
The biggest problem with this type of eating is that you tune your body to want food all the time. Chewing something becomes part of your daily repertoire, which doesn’t only lead to weight gain. But it also disturbs the genuine hunger signals in your body.
If you are able to summon enough willpower to resist the easily available snacks – and dine only when you are genuinely hungry. Good things happen.
Not only does food start to taste much better. But the joy of eating the right amount of food becomes greater than stuffing your mouth with all you can eat.
5. Actually Do The Things You Said You Were Going To Do
Recently, I went to a festival full of various activities. Participants had the option to choose what types of workshops they wanted to visit in advance. One of the choices was whether you wanted to work out in the morning – before all other types of activities. And if you did, you had the option to choose between yoga or interval training.
Can you guess the ratio between the people who signed up and the people who actually showed up for the morning workout?
Somewhere around 20%.
That’s a classic battle between the wisdom-holder Planner and the myopic Doer.
The Planner is the rational side of your personality. The Planner wants to look good, feel good, and dress good.
The Doer, on the other hand, wants to have fun which propels him into a series of distractions and diversions that do not allow him to think about the bigger questions of life.
The Planner creates a color-coded, multi-tabbed master plan to make your future brighter.
The Doer wakes up the next day only to gaze at a documentary on the history of potato chips – while eating a big bowl of potato chips.
We are great at planning every inch of our destiny in expensive-looking notebooks.
When it comes to executing on these big ideas, however, we tend to miserably fail.
It’s not because we don’t have the capacity to handle what we’ve planned. It’s because we don’t even start to tackle these desires.
When you think about your future, you always imagine it better than today. But when that future comes where work needs to be done, we delay the beginning of what should be our ascend.
Different things happen when you have enough willpower. When your self-discipline bar is full. Rather than putting off work for the next day, you can’t wait for that day to come.
6. Check Your Phone Once or Twice Instead of 144 Times During The Day
Why the number 144 times, right?
Well, according to recent cell phone usage statistics.2 People tend to check their phones somewhere between 96 and 144 times per day. Crazy, I know!
I am fully aware that checking your phone once or twice is mission impossible. Even the grand master of unachievable quests – Tom Cruise – can adequately handle this request.
Can you imagine? You are the 26th person waiting to pay $10 for a freshly brewed Frappuccino with your name on it. And while waiting, everyone around you is drooling over half-naked pictures online – trying to make their coffee shop visit more bearable. However, you persist. You summon all the particles of willpower you can extract from your sore muscles from yesterday’s workout to enjoy the moment – just like that Buddhist-looking guru you watched a couple of days ago on YouTube.
But what is there to enjoy, right?
The only thing you see are faces submerged into their sleek, rectangular mini cosmos.
It’s better to bury your head in random, low-quality content, too, and stop having all of these thoughts. These awful thoughts, trying to tell you how much more stuff you could be achieving if you were not constantly sitting on your couch watching Master Chef.
Our eyes, once explorers of the tangible world. Our mouths, once used for verbally communicating with the fellows nearby.
Are now only ornaments of our bodies that exist in the real world, but are only present in the digital dimension.
By choosing to end your position in the ethereal rhythmic dance of digital data. You not only come back to your senses. But you also suddenly have more willpower.
Since the extensive and prolonged use of digital devices can contribute to various negative cognitive outcomes.3 When you lower your phone usage. You improve your attention span, your focus, and avoid the constant pull to buy/check stuff which further strengthens your ability to delay gratification – a key component of self-discipline.
7. Do One More Even When Your Whole Body Wants To Stop
A major self-discipline benefit is your ability to go beyond your current limits. Do more of what you are capable of doing.
Obviously, I am not talking about doing one more serving of a high-calorie cataclysm burger.
I am talking about…
- Running one more mile.
- Doing one more rep.
- Going even deeper in your investigation of a problem.
Sure, eventually, we all enter a state of agonizing pain that prompts us to stop doing what we are doing. Also, there are times when it doesn’t make sense to push ourselves further – for example, if you are following a strict training regime.
But commonly, we give up too early.
When I started my first few sites. I abandoned them only a couple of months after my first publication. “There’s no point, no one is visiting my site,” is what I told myself back then.
Eventually, I embraced the long game. The infinite mindset that prompts you to keep going. To keep “playing”.
And it worked. Yes, it took me a lot of time. A lot of effort. But it mainly took a lot of self-belief in what I was doing.
As most investors will tell you, “People fail at the stock market not because they lack ambition, but because they neglect the needed patience for their investments to compound.”
Beyond physical stamina. You also need mental stamina, grit, and unwavering conviction in your abilities to make things work despite the challenges.
Some Closing Thoughts
I hope that the list of self-discipline examples gives you a better perspective. A better view of what is needed for a person to become a true master of himself.
The bottom line in managing yourself boils down to your ability to successfully exit from the following reappearing situation:
“Do you want good now or better tomorrow?”
This simple question encapsulates the idea of choosing the long-term game instead of the instantly gratifying pleasures that are readily available.
You choose to…
- Opt for a nutritious meal that will contribute to better health instead of indulging in a calorie-laden dessert.
- Contribute further to your investment portfolio instead of entering another shopping spree.
- Go to the gym to maintain your shape instead of oversleeping on your couch with a bag of Cheetos and a frozen pizza.
The tension to preserve your energy and choose the easy path is part of the human condition.
But once you increase your willpower. Once you learn how to be a disciplined person. You will no longer need a tag team of alarms to wake you up.
“No matter how sweet is smells, if you know it will give you a discomfort later, don’t even attempt to taste it. Discipline yourself to stay out of sin!” Israelmore Ayivor
Add to your self-discipline toolset by reading the following:
- The Different Types of Self-Discipline (And Why They Matter)
- Why Is Discipline Important? (And What Happens Without It)
- Motivation vs. Discipline: Which Helps You Go Further?
- Self-Discipline Exercises for a Happy Life
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.
- Braden A, Musher-Eizenman D, Watford T, Emley E. Eating when depressed, anxious, bored, or happy: Are emotional eating types associated with unique psychological and physical health correlates? Appetite. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2018.02.022
- Kerai, A. 2023 cell phone usage statistics: Mornings are for Notifications, Reviews.org. Available at: https://www.reviews.org/mobile/cell-phone-addiction/
- Diomidous M, Chardalias K, Magita A, Koutonias P, Panagiotopoulou P, Mantas J. Social and Psychological Effects of the Internet Use. Acta Inform Med. 2016;24(1):66-68. Available at: doi:10.5455/aim.2016.24.66-68