Anyone who has been around for a while has heard the importance of happiness. This, of course, is an essential ingredient for a joyful existence – like, duh. However, while happiness should be pursued, careful analysis of the general population reveals that solely focusing on happiness won’t lead to a happy life.
Isn’t it interesting that we talk so much about being happy, but we boldly ignore the trait that will lead to happiness?
Because happiness requires struggle. A more interesting thing to focus on – something they don’t teach us in school – is this: What are you willing to struggle for to live a happy life?
Well, if you still don’t know, a core component of a happy life is a disciplined life.
A life where you don’t try to distract yourself with all sorts of trivial tasks that might make you feel good now, but will surely make you feel awful in the long run.
People who are genuinely satisfied with their lives are the ones who are willing to struggle.
- The ones who enjoy the pain associated with a good gym session.
- The ones who can bear not being the center of attention.
- The ones who have the patience to wait for their investments to compound while successfully avoiding all the distracting short-term temptations.
Obtaining self-control in the modern era cluttered with distractions is quite difficult. But still possible.
In this publication, we’ll discuss self-discipline exercises that will help you strengthen your willpower.
Self-discipline exercises that will help you get your life in order in this unordered age.
Self-discipline exercises that will help you see how some people are able to get up in the morning and exercise 7 days a week, while others struggle to get out of bed at all.
If you’ve ever found yourself wrestling with discipline, I’m confident that the insights below will assist you in your journey toward a more happy life.
Why Am I Struggling To Be Disciplined?
Have you ever felt controlled rather than controlling?
If we think about it. Like, really think about it.
We can safely conclude that our inability to stay focused on a task for a long period of time is our desire to experience pleasure all the time.
Yes, our tendency to strive towards “a happy life” can be quite dangerous.
The danger is that with our longing to constantly feel good. We eventually end up not feeling good at all.
Here are a few short examples:
- You might delay important tasks because it feels good to engage in enjoyable activities in the short term – e.g., send funny gifs to all of your friends and then have an endless discussion about what to watch today. However, this nasty procrastination habit can lead to missed opportunities, increased stress when deadlines are due, and a decreased overall sense of accomplishment.
- You might lock yourself inside the fridge and indulge in the immediate pleasure and comfort of eating a bucket of ice cream. However, regularly eating truck-sized portions of sugar will surely lead to health problems, weight gain, and a diminished sense of well-being in the long run.
- You might spend hours on social media where you watch how your favorite celebrities are living a fantasy-like life. Then, take the rest of the day off daydreaming about having the same type of existence. Yet, this behavior will not only make your life worse, but it will also make you feel quite unsatisfied when you look around and notice your average stuff.
In short, the struggle related to having a disciplined life, and being a disciplined person, is commonly related to our desire to feel satisfaction right now.
Can Self-Discipline Be Taught?
Before we answer the, “Can self-discipline be taught?” question. I will start with another question:
How do you think a person can obtain self-control?
- Enroll in an online course.
- Read all available books on self-discipline.
- Take a magical self-control pill with your morning coffee.
- Visit a shock therapy spa where you’re zapped with mild electric shocks every time you think about chocolate.
- Use duct tape to seal your fridge after 7 p.m.
While surely reading and learning more about self-discipline can help you take control over your life. The truth about mastering willpower is the following…
Self-control is a process.
No pill or a book can unlock this mysterious force overnight.
Self-discipline is not an overnight success story sensation. It takes time and it takes work.
But the answer the above question directly…
Yes, self-discipline can be taught. But not taught in a sense that you understand what it is and you suddenly don’t need to exert effort.
When you learn about self-discipline. You start to see that you need to take daily actions to maintain the life you ultimately want to live.
Our mind starts to accept the fact that it won’t be easy. It won’t be particularly fun either. But it will be worth it.
Only when our mind accepts that self-discipline is a daily process that needs to be acted upon. We can start living a more effective life.
How Do I Train Myself To Be Disciplined?
We commonly fail to adopt self-discipline because we take only an outside approach.
For example, if you want to lose weight. The obvious “set of things” you will do that are approved by society and will be on top of your list will be diet and exercise.
Sure, these two will help you lose weight. But if you fail to do the inner work. You will eventually gain the weight back – as most people do when they only participate in diet and exercise.
To train yourself to be self-disciplined, your main objective should be to first do the inner work.
This requires the realization that happiness requires struggle. Happiness requires effort. Happiness requires work to be done.
Let me elaborate…
We approach life in a very strange way. We think that once we lose weight and get that XS size model of jeans we will finally be happy and don’t need to train any longer.
However, the end result will never lead to endless happiness. It’s the realization that we need to keep committing to the process so we can maintain a happy life.
What we get out of life is not determined by the things we get – a job title, the right number on the scale, or finishing a book. It’s determined by our daily actions – the repeatable set of tasks that allow us to sustain a happy life for a long period of time.
Sure, you can push yourself to get a promotion. But does this mean that you can now rest? Of course not. At least if you want to keep the job.
Plainly, you won’t end up earning six figures, having an amazing physique, or being a smart person unless you legitimately appreciate the pain and stress associated with maintaining these things.
So, to train yourself to be disciplined, first train your mind.
Move from the mindset that whispers, “How can I feel good right now?” To the mindset that says, “What pain am I willing to accept daily to feel good all the time?”
To reach this state, I will share a couple of effective exercises that can help you improve your self-discipline.
What Are Self-Discipline Exercises?
The primary goal of self-discipline-related exercises is to focus your mind on the long term.
You start to see yourself as a builder, not as a consumer.
When you are a consumer, you expect that feeling a sense of joy comes mainly from external circumstances – mainly objects.
When you are a builder, good sensations come from the daily act of building the life you want for yourself.
You realize that you will never be quite finished with anything. But instead of causing unbearable agony, this realization becomes a motivational force propelling you forward.
Exercises That Improve Your Self-Discipline:
1. Limiting Decisions
How many decisions do you make each day?
It might seem like an irrelevant question considering the topic. However, the people at Baumeister lab identified that decision-making depletes willpower.1
The more things you have to decide on a daily basis, the less control you have over your actions.
To test this, the researchers went to a nearby store and filled their car trunks with simple products. These products were later presented to two groups of people.
- Group one: This group – the deciders – went through a series of choices that would supposedly determine which product they would receive at the end of the experiment. The choices were something along the lines of: Would you prefer a pen or a candle? A candle or a T-shirt? A black T-shirt or a blue T-shirt. Etc., etc.
- Group two: This group – the non-deciders – spent time only looking at the products but without going through the long process of evaluating what they wanted. They just had to rate their opinion of each product and share how usually they use such type of items.
Afterward, the people from both groups went through a test. A classic test of self-control: holding your hand in ice water for as long as you can (I know!). Since the water is ice-cold, you need self-discipline to resist pulling your hand out.
It turned out that the deciders gave up significantly sooner than the non-deciders.
“This logic doesn’t apply to the real world,” you might say.
Well, but it very much does.
Daily, you are surrounded by tempting distractions from usually one single source – your phone.
- Should I check my email?
- Did someone already reply to my comment?
- I need to see if the leather jacket I saw yesterday is now on sale.
You might think that these types of decisions are insignificant, but they build up. Eventually, the endless evaluation of what you should do takes its toll and turns you into this moldable by external circumstances creature that is only after instant gratification.
When you limit the number of decisions you should make each day. You preserve your willpower.
This can happen in various ways. You can…
- Quit social media: Quit social media or quit certain apps if you feel like you can’t operate without dipping your head in the endless stream of triviality.2
- Don’t make important decisions in the evening: Your willpower is like a battery. By the evening, you are running on fumes.
- Embrace minimalism: Living with less is not only a great way to reduce stress around what to wear, what to buy, etc., but it also reduces the number of decisions around stuff in general.
Obviously, all of these things are easier said than done. I don’t expect anyone to drop his Instagram account in a flash by just reading a blog post from some random dude online. The point is to see how excessive exposure to different options cripples your ability to set your life on a worthy trajectory.
2. Configure Your Desires
So why do some people stick to their good habits, while others are endlessly switching diet plans but never actually losing weight?
What’s their secret, and how can you learn to cultivate more self-discipline?
Well, after spending a couple of years reading about self-discipline, habits, and also talking with different people on the topic. I’ve concluded the following:
People who look like semi-gods when they are shirtless can afford to wear slim-fit clothes for one simple reason: They genuinely love the process of self-improvement.
If you ask a regular person on the street about his relationship with exercising. The common answer is that they want to get over it.
Individuals who experiment with various eating regimens, but never lose weight are typically those who don’t quite enjoy exercise routines and dietary restrictions. They want to have a sexy body, but they don’t like the process that will lead to that body. They simply want to jump ahead in time and have the body. Yet, even if they happen to lose weight. This won’t be sustainable because they will quickly get back to their old ways of living – which will lead to weight gain.
Two camps are forming based on the above:
- Camp one: In this group, people are solely interested in the outcome. They only want the prize: The nice body that will get them likes; The big house, that they can brag about in front of others; The new clothes they will wear to expensive dinner parties. This group of people hates the work involved in the process and it’s usually the first to slow down when they get what they want.
- Camp two: In this segment, we have people who acknowledge that you can’t have lasting results without lasting efforts. These people don’t try to skip workout sessions. They’ve made the workout session a permanent part of their lives because they understand that this is the only way to attain and maintain their fitness goals.
While for camp one an activity like going to the gym is perceived as something you will do till you lose weight. Camp two sees workouts as an activity that will never be stopped. As the body needs water and food to operate. People in camp two see tasks related to self-improvement as things they will never stop doing.
The self-discipline exercise of configuring your desires is about taking some time to spot what interests you.
If you are solely interested in the outcome, don’t expect to get far.
But if you put yourself in a position where you don’t want – and most importantly, don’t need – to watch television and cover yourself in Cheetos to feel good. And from there, begin to love the process involved in self-improvement. You will get quite further in life.
3. Set Your Priorities
Everybody says I don’t have time. Whenever you throw any so-called good habit at somebody. They’ll have a ready-made excuse for not doing it and usually, the most common excuse is, “I don’t have time”.
However, I don’t have time it’s just another way of saying it’s not a priority for me.
So, if you are interested in living a life where you are in control, rather than being controlled by external events. What you have to do is to set your priorities right.
If something is on your priorities list, you will surely do it.
A simple example we can all relate to is the following: You go to work, right? And even further: You go to work even though you don’t want to go, right?
You go to work because you need money to survive. You don’t need that much motivation to drive to the office – well, maybe you do, but you still hop in the car and drive.
You see, you have the time to do the things you are currently doing because consciously or unconsciously, you’ve set them as priorities.
In contrast, you don’t have the time to do other types of tasks because you don’t consider them important enough.
It’s not that you don’t have time to exercise, it’s simply not a priority right now.
What you actually have to do is to ask yourself: Is this thing/task important for me or not?
If it’s not, you don’t have to invent complicated excuses for not working out – e.g., my high-intensity enthusiasm got lost on the way to the gym. You can simply face the truth: you’d rather bathe in ice-cream-filled baths than have a cold shower after a workout session.
But if something is a priority, you will find the time to do it and then do whatever else you need to be doing.
You won’t search for excuses to not do something. You will search for ways to do the thing that’s important for you.
So, sit down with a pen and paper and think about your priorities. What do you want to do? And what you don’t want to do? (A good complementing practice is the core values exercise.)
Some Closing Thoughts
When I was researching the topic of self-discipline exercises, I was appalled.
Apparently, exercises that improve your self-discipline are these:
- Take cold showers.
- Go to the gym.
Go to the gym, really?
Sure, while the above three are all things that will help you improve your physical and mental health. These tasks are not going to help you strengthen your self-discipline muscles per se.
The work related to self-discipline doesn’t start in the gym. It starts in the mind.
It’s a mental game before it becomes a physical one.
You first need to cultivate self-awareness in order to recognize the importance of self-discipline in one’s life.
When you start to see how self-discipline can transform your life in a good way. You then start to act.
In conclusion, self-discipline is first a mental exercise that begins in the mind. Only when you see how crucial this trait is for your existence, only then you start with the workouts and the ice baths.
If you look at your life now and see that it’s completely missing self-discipline, don’t despair. Self-discipline is something that can be learned.
Use the three exercises I mentioned above and then ask the difficult but important question: How can my daily actions be of service to me, instead of disservice?
When you know, and when you start taking action. You will surely lead yourself to a joyful existence.
“It doesn’t matter whether you are pursuing success in business, sports, the arts, or life in general: The bridge between wishing and accomplishing is discipline.” Harvey Mackay
Add to your self-discipline toolset by reading the following:
- My master class on self-discipline: Beyond Discipline
- Are You Self-Disciplined or Just Disciplined (Discipline vs. Self-Discipline)?
- Motivation vs. Discipline: Which Helps You Go Further?
- Self-Discipline Examples That Don’t Suck
- The Different Types of Self-Discipline (And Why They Matter)
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.
- Baumeister, R. F., Bratslavsky, E., Muraven, M., & Tice, D. M. (1998). Ego depletion: Is the active self a limited resource? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74(5), 1252–1265. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3518.104.22.1682
- Still not convinced that quitting social media is worth it? Check my famous posts on Reasons To Quit Social Media and My Life After Quitting Social Media.