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The Complete Guide to Creating Self-Discipline

Getting the most out of mornings equals getting the most out of life. “If you correct your mind,” said the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, “the rest of your life will fall into place.” The same can be said of mornings. If you establish good habits and patterns in the morning, this foundation will open the space for good practices and trends for the rest of your day, which in turn will create good habits and patterns for the rest of your life.

Enjoy this guide excerpted from The Morning Mind, by Robert and Kirti Carter.

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What is Self-Discipline?

Self-discipline is the ability to motivate and coordinate our efforts and activities to improve our quality of life.

This includes:

  • Structured planning
  • Organizing
  • Exercising delayed gratification, and
  • The willingness to step out of your comfort zone.

These things can appear scary and formidable if you’re not familiar with them, but don’t worry, you are not alone.

It is unfortunate that most people are not taught self-discipline, but it is a skill that everyone can learn. All you require is the desire to improve your life, and then for you to make the decision to do it.

Once you take the first step, you have ventured onto a beautiful path that offers many rewards for yourself and those around you.

Why we don’t have self-discipline

In the modern world, we have largely lost sight of the value of self-discipline.

Advertisements appeal to the weaker aspects of our minds, attracting the part of us that wants to be instantly gratified. We are conditioned to want things we do not need.

There are times when we do not care how the product in question is made or if it is as tasty as advertised—we want it because it is shiny and new, and it will (momentarily) allow us to forget our problems.

The problem with instant gratification is that it often creates long-term complications, such as addiction, health complaints, and financial problems, and it continually postpones the things that we could do to install empowering habits.

Instant gratification goes hand in hand with not taking responsibility.

If we take a step back for a moment and look at the bigger picture, on a societal and global level, this attitude of instant gratification and irresponsibility results in ecological destruction and economic calamity.

Many people look at the world and feel powerless, “What can I do?” This attitude is exactly the kind of limiting belief that separates people who are high achievers and make a positive difference in the world from people who live mediocre lives.

You do not have to save the world, but a fulfilling life that makes a compelling difference to yourself and others requires long-term thinking and the development of self-discipline.

For some people, the word discipline has the connotation of punishment, of being made to do something as a penalty for having done something wrong. However, self-discipline is really about the opposite of punishment, it’s about putting oneself first in a way that brings you more out of life—more time, more money, more health, and more enjoyment of your mind and body. Yes, you may have to give up things to develop self-discipline, but you will gain something far more significant in the process.

This mindset of success can be cultivated and self-discipline is the door you need to walk through to reveal the most successful version of yourself.

A conversation with Robert Carter III

How to create more self-discipline

Self-discipline is like a muscle that has to be exercised regularly for it to grow. Repetition is the mother of learning.

Through consistent effort to develop self-discipline, it will get easier and more comfortable until it gets to the point where it is automatic.

Self-discipline is the skill that will allow you to reach any goal you set.

What follows are three techniques to achieve your goals by developing self-discipline, the challenges you face in doing so, and how to overcome them.

Self-Discipline Technique #1: Be Aware of Your Resistance

Know yourself.

No one knows better than you what deters you from achieving something.

Your resistance, which is a subconscious force against change (any change, good or bad), uses any tactic it can to stop you leaving your comfort zone. This is often communicated to your conscious mind in a very subtle way, with a thought such as: “This is just too hard. Why bother?”

By predicting how your ego is likely to respond to adversity, you can stay one step ahead of your resistance. Like preparing for business negotiations, the better prepared you are, the more likely you are to win.

The next time you embark on a new project or activity that causes resistance, remember that there is a part of you that does not want to change.

Listen for and acknowledge this part of yourself, hear what it has to say, but firmly deny its requests, refute its protests and excuses and assert your intended goal and the benefits it will bring.

Before taking action and beginning to work toward your goal, just write down the ways you know you are likely to face obstacles from your inner voice of resistance.

Self-Discipline Technique #2: Prepare to Give Something Up in Order to Gain

To reach your goal, you will more than likely have to impose certain limitations on yourself in order to gain something.

The downside is that you will lose out in some current aspect of your life, but the upside is that through this self-imposed sacrifice you will gain something new, typically much better, and in active alignment with your chosen journey through life.

Overcoming the limitation of gaining by giving requires a bird’s eye view of the overall pros and cons of your goal.

What benefits will it bring you and what drawbacks will it cause?

The voice of resistance will do what it can to convince you that your goal is not worth the effort by reminding you what you’re losing out on.

By consciously acknowledging the bigger picture of the pluses and minuses, you know exactly what you stand to gain and lose in the pursuit of your goal, and you’ll often find that it’s nowhere near as bad as your resistance would have you believe.

Make time during your morning routine to review your goals, pros and cons. This will give you a fresh viewpoint and keep you motivated and disciplined.

Self-Discipline Technique #3: Reward Yourself

Rewards are an incredibly powerful tool for motivating yourself to reach your goals.

Consider them the “carrot on the stick,” a technique for bypassing your resistance by keeping it happy and at the same time building self-discipline.

Have a reward in place for when you achieve a goal, part of a goal, or a certain number of goals.

Here are a couple of tips for creating positive rewards for your self-discipline:

  1. Make sure the reward is appropriate. For example, if your goal is to have a healthy diet, do not reward yourself with junk food. If your goal is a small achievement, like doing your homework, make the reward relative to it, like reading your favorite book for an hour.
  2. The reward does not have to be something huge. Often simple things are effective; it just must be something that you’ll look forward to.

Rewards are extraordinarily powerful if you have big goals broken down into smaller steps—then you can reward yourself for the completion of each step or a few of the steps, keeping you motivated until the end of the overall goal.

Self-Discipline Technique #4: Overcome Distractions and Temptations

Make it easy for yourself to stay on the path.

Every time you have an internal battle between your resistance and your ambition to succeed, this uses up time and energy that could otherwise be redirected to the completion of your goals.

Avoid these inner conflicts altogether by taking the time to reflect on what things hold you back and then removing distractions and temptations from your environment. This is very subjective depending on you and the goal you are trying to reach.

For example…

  • If you’re on a new diet, don’t fill your freezer with processed foods.
  • If you’re prone to wasting time watching pornography or reading Facebook, install software that blocks them.
  • If you have important work to finish by the end of the week, but you usually stay up late to watch your favorite television series on DVD, give your DVDs to a friend to guard them until the weekend, or take the fuse out of the television’s plug, whatever it takes to create the optimum environment for success.

Combining this with rewards keeps you away from the things that hold you back and on track to fulfillment, prosperity, and improved self-discipline.

Self-discipline is key to success

Self-discipline is the ability to motivate oneself to achieve goals and improve quality of life. Self-discipline is not a natural ability that some people have; it is a skill that can be learned by anyone. Self-discipline consists of planning, delayed gratification, and stepping outside of your comfort zone. Self-discipline is an undervalued trait in a modern society that wants everything now.

Feeling like a victim keeps the ego in its comfort zone of not taking responsibility. In order to grow and get the most out of your mornings and out of life, we have to step outside the comfort zone. Studies on the results of students have shown that self-discipline is more important than IQ when it comes to success.

Robert Carter III

Dr. Rob Carter III, FACSM, FAIS, a US Army Officer, is an expert in human performance and has adjunct appointments at various academic institutions. As a Military Social Aide, Dr. Carter completed military assignments in several domestic and international locations. He has a PhD in biomedical sciences and medical physiology and an MPH in chronic disease epidemiology. Some of his accolades include being selected as a Yerby Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and as an inaugural Gates Millennium Scholar.

Kirti Carter

Kirti Salwe Carter, MBBS, MPH has trained in meditation and breathing techniques, and leads popular wellness seminars. Both authors live in San Antonio, TX.

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