Level Up With Self-Discipline Training

Once you’re familiar with the basics of willpower. The best way to improve your ability to resist temptations is by engaging in self-discipline training.

See, unfucking your life doesn’t require some transcendent peak experience. Rather, it’s all about doing a set of behaviors on a regular basis.

But I’m positive that you already know that.

There are thousands of publications explaining the need to make small daily improvements in order to move ourselves further away from misery.

Yet, how many of you are still struggling to divorce the self-sabotaging habits that are gradually eroding your well-being?

I bet you are awkwardly raising your hand.

In a world crowded with information, you are just a click away from a piece of content that can show you how to revolutionize your lifestyle. Still, your life remains utterly the same.

Why is that?

Well, to begin with. Some people simply can’t make progress without outer accountability.1

I mean, there are a lot of folks who are waiting for other people to show up and fix their lives for them.

Yes, you’ve read that right. In our world where self-help content is widely accessible. Some people just can’t make progress without an outside help.

There are a quite a few entertainment programs making money out of this, actually.

One example is the TV show The Biggest Loser. The Biggest Loser is a reality show featuring overweight contestants competing to win a cash prize by losing the highest percentage of weight relative to their initial weight.2

Another example is the program Intervention. American documentary series following one or two participants, who are dependent on or addicted to drugs and/or alcohol.3

Most recently, I saw that the famous author Mark Manson is also doing his own twist of a show aiming to help people in need.4

I totally get why these type of programs become so enormously popular for both the audience and for the people wanting to get out of the rut.

Viewers are inspired by the story and at the same time connect on a personal level with the man struggling to change his life.

And as for the people who enter the reality program… Not only do they get support and help from others to make a positive change in their lives. But also, they feel validated and recognized for their struggles when they share their stories with strangers.

However, what if you do need help, but you are a) not selected from the television channel, or b) your body just shrinks and starts shaking by the mare thought of a camera in front of your face?

In this case, you can engage in a self-discipline training program that will help you “unlock your potential” – as modern gurus love to say.

Don’t worry, entering a self-discipline training doesn’t require being a part of a TV show. The only requirement is desire for change and willingness to take action.

What Is Self-Discipline Training?

Self-discipline training typically refers to activities and practices that aim to enhance an individual’s ability to manage his impulses, regulate his behavior, and remain committed to long-term goals.

That’s a mouthful, I know.

Put simply, involving yourself in self-discipline training looks like this:

  • Step 1: You get acquainted with the topic of willpower by reading a book, purchasing a self-discipline course, or joining a group of folks who follow a strict set of rules with the aim to improve their performance – usually a sport of some sort.
  • Step 2: You create a personal plan, directly followed by actively “doing things” to reach the desired outcome.
  • Step 3: You keep yourself locked in the path of progress.

The solutions look simple, right?

Especially the following combination: getting a book on self-discipline, reading it, then practicing what’s inside.

However, some people just don’t know what to do to change their lives for the better. They can’t make progress without an outside help – as I already briefed above. The only way members of this group can push through is by getting support from other people.

So, what is the best form of training for this group of people?

Martial arts.

Apparently, involving yourself in traditional martial arts training will not only help you fight like in the action movies, but also assist you in reaching a higher level of personal growth.

The answer sounds confusing, right?

Why would martial arts be the best form of self-discipline training? Aren’t there courses taught by major influencers who promise to make our lives social media worthy?

There are, but there’s something special about training to become a ninja.

Let’s look at why…

What Is The Most Effective Self-Discipline Training?

Based on a research done in 2004, traditional Tae Kwon Do can greatly improve the person’s ability to self-regulate.5

While the group of people who participated in the mentioned study were kids – ranging from kindergarten age through grade 5. The authors of the paper concluded that adults can also benefit from the methods.

You might be thinking, “How can martial arts help a person resist temptations and achieve his goals? Sure, such sports rely a lot on building character, but is this really the best way to improve self-discipline?”

Well, it seems so.

What martial art teaches – aside from self-defense and fighting techniques – is resilience and commitment to progress.

People don’t only learn how to kick and punch, but also learn that a person is capable of much more. A person can overcome his limits and reach a higher level of proficiency.

Or in other words, martial arts involves not only physical training, but also psychological.

The way people think when practicing martial arts changes. Their self-discipline muscles strengthen, which leads to achievements in other life areas.

This mainly happens through effort and getting support from other people.

Thanks to martial arts, people understand that 1) change is possible, 2) other people care about your progress, 3) success is the result of effort.

However, there are two important things I need to mention in relation to martial arts and self-discipline:

First, the study concluded that not all children involved in the experiment got the same benefits. The group with the most significant results were boys in fourth and fifth grade – the oldest in the study. (Meaning that if you have kids in kindergarten, you can wait a bit before throwing them in a dojo.)

Second, not all sports can deliver gains in relation to self-discipline. What distinguished the traditional martial arts training – the one that was analyzed in the study. Was what instructors focused on: respect, humility, confidence, responsibility, honesty, perseverance, and honor. That’s quite a list compared to what modern martial arts training focuses on – a competitive sport where you are thought to win.

The group of kids in the experiment involved in modern martial arts showed signs of increased aggressiveness, decreased self-esteem, and decreased social ability.

In contrast, children enrolled in traditional martial arts training showed improvements in self-esteem, decrease in aggressiveness and anxiety, improved social ability, and adherence to a code of conduct.

Basically, martial arts is a system for teaching self-regulation. However, only if it’s a traditional martial arts program.

What Are The Main Benefits of The Self-Discipline Training?

Assuming your kid was not part of the conducted study. You’re probably wondering what can we learn from traditional martial arts that can help us become more discipline?

Well, I thought the same.

Here’s a short list of things children learned in the study:

1. Success Equals Effort

There is nothing magical about success. To get better at anything, you need to practice.

Traditional martial arts training teaches that success is the result of effort.

In a lot of sports, the concept of “natural” ability can discourage plenty of people from trying. To elaborate on this… if you don’t consider yourself athletic, you won’t sign up for a particular sport.

That’s a dangerous idea, suggesting that you must already be athletic to participate in sports. But where does this leave non-athletic people? Staying out of shape.

The focus in martial arts is different. You don’t have to be in a good shape – you just have to want to be in a good shape. The teachings emphasize on effort and determination. Essentially, everyone can reach a place of physical growth as long as he/she wants it.

2. Better Self-Esteem

Apparently, karate practice also improves self-esteem in young – and not only – adults.

Why care?

Well, self-esteem is particularly important for each of us as positive self-worth is the best indicator for the overall measure of success of the individual.

When you gain physical strength through martial arts training, you also get a boost in your self-perception – i.e., you gain confidence.

The more you participate in martial arts, the more your self-steam will increase as you improve.

This is quite natural when you think about it. You get better at self-defense, you gain muscles, and you also see the path you have taken to reach this higher state. Thus, this improves how you see yourself.

3. Freedom from Distractibility

At first sight, it’s hard to spot a correlation between martial arts and the attention-concentration muscles.

Why would pretending to be a ninja would contribute to enhanced focus?

It’s thanks to the principles endorsed during training sessions.

Instructors preached meditation and self-monitoring, which allowed children to significantly boost their ability to concentrate on tasks.

4. Regular Personal Feedback

Not all feedback is the same.

If you are compared to others when you’re getting feedback, you’ll most probably feel discouraged. You will believe that you are not doing enough.

Well, it will feel completely different if you receive personal feedback that centers on your individual progress. On what you need to further improve, and also mentioning the areas where you are already improving.

Senseis in traditional martial arts do just that.

They don’t evaluate people based on how others are performing. They measure individual progress – how well you are doing compared to your past self.

This approach feels quite motivating because it highlights how much you’ve achieved. You see the growth. You see that you are capable of change. Thus, the road ahead no longer feels impossible. It’s just a matter of time and practice.

All of this is quite different from the traditional comparison method, don’t you think?

5. Self-Awareness and Self-Regulation

Self-awareness is highly valued in martial arts training.

People are taught to own the responsibility for correcting their thoughts and behaviors.

When you are fully aware of your actions, you don’t only see how you are misbehaving. But your ability to observe yourself gives you the power to pursue personal growth through constant evaluation of your thoughts and actions.


I’m personally not the typical martial-arts enthusiast. I somehow can’t see myself wearing a white robe while trying to punch others.

Yet, if you are following along, you can probably sense that you don’t necessarily have to go to a dojo to get the benefits listed above.

We can learn the principles taught in traditional martial arts and apply them in our everyday lives.

This is what we are going to do in the next section:

Main Principles from The Best Self-Discipline Training

What we can learn from the self-discipline training through martial arts?

We surely can’t learn choreographed combat techniques by simply analyzing a scientific paper. We can’t even understand the fancy moves.

What we can learn, though, is the main principles grand masters preached to samurai wannabes. The best part is that these teachings are applicable even outside traditional martial arts classes.

1. Role Model

The instructor in the traditional martial arts classes was someone you can easily admire. A role model of the highest character.

This is significant, because the instructor’s behavior and values mold the mindset of the children. Thus, this contributes to not only a desire for children to emulate his standards, but also improves the group environment.

By consistently modeling positive character traits, certain norms and tone is set in the class. This creates a positive and respectful atmosphere within the group.

Overall, when there is someone with high values in front of you, you start to admire this person. From there, you are likely to internalize and adopt the values and behaviors demonstrated by the role model.

What can you do?

Even if you don’t have direct access to someone who radiates respect and admiration. There’s a lot of information online regarding wonderful people who can uplift your spirit. Find a person who holds high values and let him/her be your role model.

2. Respectful Environment

In martial arts, you should demonstrate respect towards the instructor and the rest of the students – i.e., you face the other person and bow.

This small act can have a significant impact on your overall character development.

When you treat individuals with respect. This not only fosters positive relationships with others. But it builds trust, rapport, and leads to a nurturing social environment.

Respect encourages individuals to consider the perspectives and feelings of others. This greatly improves your empathy muscles, which is an essential component of a strong character.

What can you do?

Treating others with respect and surrounding yourself with individuals who do the same is a sure way to cultivate a harmonious environment. Aim to create/be in a place where respect, humility, and positive development are encouraged.

3. Continuous Progress

Making progress shouldn’t be hard. Sure, you have to apply effort to move from here to there. But the act of making progress must be natural.

That’s something you start doing when you learn the principles of progress.

Students in the martial arts training were trained to ask themselves three questions designed to promote self-regulation.

The three questions are:

  1. “Where am I?”
  2. “What am I doing?”
  3. “What should I be doing?”

By the third answer, you already know what you should change in your current behavior.

For example, if your stance is not right, you should correct it.

However, the concept here is more than what you are doing. It’s also about what you are thinking about.

The principles of progress focus also on regulation of thoughts. If what you are thinking about is not in accordance with the particular situation, you should make modifications.

Related to making progress, the instructors were all about how individuals advance.

Improvement in performance was measured based on how you did before, not how the group is doing.

This comparison with your older version – not with how others are performing – has a great benefit for the individual. You tend to focus on your own journey without the stress of constantly measuring up to external benchmarks.

What can you do?

Focus on your personal progress and constantly check-in with yourself. Ask yourself this multiple times during the day: “Is what I am doing right now aligned with what I should be doing?”

Some Closing Thoughts

Our strong natural desire for quick dopamine hits can destroy our progress.

There is a lot we can do to move forward in life, but we hardly achieve much without a helping hand.

The main goal of the self-discipline training is to instill a desire for continuous progress.

Whether this will happen through martial arts, some other sports, or all by yourself. This will be determined by your personality.

As explained in detailed above, traditional martial arts training comes with a lot of benefits. However, not everyone has access to a highly respected grand master. A black-belt-wearing sensei with a high level of personal character along with physical and mental ability.

Because of the many “ifs”, I felt that I should suggest actionable tips beyond just advising you to enroll in Tae Kwon Do lessons.

I mean, not everyone can sign up for a dojo class, but almost all of us can at least try to replicate the psychological teaching methods practiced there.

Anyway, you get the picture. And you probably get the point, too. Which, in relation to self-discipline, consists of three concepts:

First, without self-discipline you are screwed. I don’t care how much money you make. Or how many followers you have across your social media profiles. If you are not a disciplined person, you will soon hit a brick wall.

Second, staying disciplined is as important – and as hard – as becoming disciplined. It’s not about doing a 30-day self-discipline challenge and then moving on to something else. It’s about being a disciplined person for life.

Third and final, a lot of people can’t motivate themselves to make progress. These folks need help. That’s fine. Spent some time to understand your personality. Once you know what keeps you going – other people, books, motivational quotes, or something else – implement this into your life.

Trouble Saying No to Temptations?

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Add to your self-discipline toolset by reading the following:


Footnotes:

  1. This is based on the work done by Gretchen Rubin in her book The Four Tendencies. Check out my summary for an overview. The book is worth reading, by the way.
  2. The Biggest Loser (American TV series). Wikipedia. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Biggest_Loser_(American_TV_series)
  3. Intervention (TV series). Wikipedia. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intervention_(TV_series)
  4. 10 Simple Actions That Unf*ck Your Life (2023).Mark Manson YouTube channel. Available at: https://youtu.be/XRXWpilGpyg?si=yg8b6hqJgg1_b2oJ
  5. Lakes, K.D. and Hoyt, W.T. (2004) ‘Promoting self-regulation through school-based martial arts training’, Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 25(3), pp. 283–302. Available at: https://doi:10.1016/j.appdev.2004.04.002
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