I have no self discipline

If Self-Discipline Feels Difficult, Then You're Doing It Wrong

When I was in college, there were some people on the internet who claimed that you could train yourself to sleep as little as two hours per day. Keep in mind, this was back in the early 2000s when we all still believed random shit we read on the internet.

Here’s how the story went: There was a hyper-productive sleep schedule that had been discovered by military scientists. They were testing the limits of sleep deprivation on soldiers and made this startling discovery. Supposedly, great historical figures like Napoleon and Da Vinci and Tesla followed the same sleep schedule and it’s why they were so productive and influential in history.1 Supposedly, anybody (i.e., you and me) could achieve this state of daily hyper-productivity. Supposedly, all we needed was enough willpower to barrel through days of sleep deprivation and “acclimate” to this new superhuman schedule. Supposedly, this was all true and verified and somehow made sense.


The scheme was called “The Uberman Sleep Schedule,” and here’s how you did it:

  • Sleep follows the 80/20 Rule—that is, 80% of your recovery comes from 20% of the time you’re unconscious. Conversely, 80% of the time you’re asleep, you’re a lazy piece of shit.
  • This uber-efficient portion of sleep is called REM sleep and only lasts approximately 15-20 minutes at a time.2 That means for every two hours that your body is asleep, really only the last 20 minutes or so is “useful” sleep. Thus, when you sleep eight hours during the night, only 80-100 of those minutes are actually causing you to feel rested and restored.3 People on the internet decided this was inefficient and needed to be fixed.
  • What the military scientists (supposedly) discovered is that if you’re severely sleep-deprived, your body will immediately fall into REM sleep the second you pass out. It does this in order to compensate for its lack of rest. People on the internet decided this was incredibly efficient.
  • The idea of the Uberman Sleep Schedule was that if you took 20-minute naps, every four hours, around the clock, for days and weeks on end, you would “train” your brain to fall into REM sleep instantly the moment you lay down. Then, once your REM sleep was over, you would feel rested and restored for the next 3-4 hours.
  • As long as you continued to take 20-minute naps every four hours, you could effectively stay awake forever. Congratulations, you were now an Uberman. Here, have a gold star.
  • But there was a catch: supposedly it took 1-2 weeks of intense sleep deprivation to properly “adjust” to the Uberman Sleep Schedule. You had to stay up all night, every night, forcing yourself to only sleep for 20 minutes at a time, six different times per day. And if at any point you screwed up and overslept your nap, all would be undone and you would have to start over.
  • PS: Caffeine is not allowed. And alcohol might as well be suicide.
  • Therefore, the Uberman Sleep Schedule became this kind of decathlon of willpower among internet self-help people—an ultimate test of one’s self-discipline with the ultimate pay-off: an extra 20-30% of productive waking hours per day, every day for the rest for your life. That’s like having an extra two days each week, or an extra three and a half months per year. That’s insane! Over the course of one’s life, that’s over a decade of extra waking hours. Imagine everything you could accomplish with an extra decade of life, all while everyone else is asleep.

Like an idiot, I tried to do this. Multiple times. For years, I obsessed with achieving the Uberman Sleep Schedule.

And for years, I continually failed at it.4

Table of Contents

  • Self-Discipline and Willpower
  • Why Pure Willpower Doesn’t Work
  • How Shame Fucks Us Up
  • Self-Discipline Through Self-Acceptance
  • Self-Discipline Without Willpower

You have probably pulled an all-nighter before. Not sleeping for one night is not that difficult. Especially if there are deadlines and/or drugs involved.5

What’s difficult are the second and third and fourth nights. Extreme sleep deprivation is a crash course on how fragile our mind actually is. By day three, you will start falling asleep standing up. You will doze while walking down the street in broad daylight. You forget basic facts like your mother’s name or whether you had eaten that day, or—fuck, what day is it?

By day four you become delirious, imagining that people are speaking to you when they’re not, believing that you’re writing an email when you’re not, and then discovering that you don’t even remember who you were supposed to be emailing. I used to walk in circles around my living room for an hour, just to keep myself awake. When nap time came, I would crash, falling unconscious instantaneously, and proceed to have intense, fucked up dreams that seemed like they lasted for five hours. Then, 20 minutes later, my alarm would wake me up, where I would spend the next three hours and change desperately lying to myself, trying to convince myself that I felt rested and couldn’t wait to get back to—wait, what was I supposed to be doing again?

In the end, I could never make it through the fourth day. Each time I failed, I felt intense disappointment at my own lack of willpower and self-control. I believed this was something I should be able to do. It pissed me off that some random people on the internet could supposedly do this thing that I couldn’t. I felt like it meant there was something wrong with me. That if I didn’t have the self-discipline to sleep deprive myself for weeks on end, then what the fuck, Mark? Get your shit together!

So I tortured myself. And the more I tortured myself, the more unrealistic my expectations of myself became.


Chances are, at some point in your life, you’ve tried to change your behavior through sheer willpower. And chances are, you also failed miserably. Don’t feel bad! This is what happens most of the time.

Most people think of self-discipline in terms of willpower. If we see someone who wakes up at 5 AM every day, eats an avocado-chia-fennel-apricot-papaya smoothie each meal, snorts brussel sprout flakes, and works out for three hours before even wiping their ass in the morning, we assume they’re achieving this through straight-up self-abuse—that there is some insatiable inner demon driving them like a slave to do everything right, no matter what.

But this isn’t true. Because, if you actually know anybody like this, you’ll notice something really frightening about them: they actually enjoy it.6

Seeing self-discipline in terms of pure willpower fails because beating ourselves up for not trying hard enough doesn’t work. In fact, it backfires. And, as anyone who has ever tried to go on a diet will tell you, it usually only makes it worse.

The problem is that willpower works like a muscle. If you work it too hard, it becomes fatigued and gives out. The first week committing to a new diet, or a new workout regimen, or a new morning routine, things go great. But by the second or third week, you’re back to your old late-night, cheeto-loving ways.7

The same way you can’t just walk into a gym for the first time and lift 500 pounds, you can’t just start waking up at 4 AM on a dime, much less do something ridiculous like an Uberman sleep schedule. To have a chance at success, your willpower must be trained steadily over a long period of time. 8

But this leaves us in a conundrum. If we view self-discipline in terms of willpower, it creates a chicken-or-the-egg situation: To build willpower, we need self-discipline over a long period of time; but to have self-discipline, we need massive amounts of willpower.

So, which came first? What should we do? How do we start? Or, more importantly, where the fuck is the Ben and Jerry’s?

Viewing self-discipline in terms of willpower creates a paradox for the simple reason that it’s not true. As we’ll see, building self-discipline in your own life is a completely different exercise.

Our behaviors are not based on logic or ideas. Logic and ideas can influence our decisions, but ultimately, our feelings determine what we do.9

We do what feels good and avoid what feels bad. And the only way we can ever NOT do what feels good, and do what feels bad instead, is through a temporary boost of willpower—to deny ourselves our desires and feelings and instead do what was “right.

Throughout history, virtue was seen in terms of this sort of self-denial and self-negation.10 To be a good person, you not only had to deny yourself any pleasure, but you also had to show your willingness to hurt yourself. You had monks hitting themselves and locking themselves in rooms for days and not eating or even speaking for years on end. You had armies of men throwing themselves into battle for little or no reason. You had people abstaining from sex until marriage, or even for life. Shit was not fun.

This classical approach is where our assumption that “willpower = self-discipline” originally comes from. It operates on the belief that self-discipline is achieved through denying or rejecting one’s emotions. You want that taco? BAD MARK! YOU DON’T WANT SHIT! YOU ARE SHIT! YOU DESERVE TO STARVE YOU INGRATE!

The root of all evil.

The classical approach fused the concept of willpower—i.e., the ability to deny or reject one’s desires and emotions—with morality. Someone who can say no to the taco is a good person. The person who can’t is a failure of a human being.

The Classical Approach to Self-Discipline

Self-Discipline = Willpower = Self-Denial = Good Person

This fusion of willpower and morality had good intentions. It recognized (correctly) that, when left to our own instinctive desires, we all become narcissistic assholes. If we could get away with it, we would eat, fuck, or kill pretty much anything or anyone within a ten-meter vicinity. So the great religious leaders and philosophers and kings throughout history preached a concept of virtue that involved suppressing our feelings in favor of rationality and denying our impulses in favor of developing willpower.

And the classic approach works! …kind of. Well, okay, while it makes for a more stable society, it also totally fucks us up individually.

The classic approach has the paradoxical effect of training us to feel bad about all the things that make us feel good. It basically seeks to teach us self-discipline through shaming us—by making us hate ourselves for simply being who we are. And the idea is that once we are saddled with a sufficient amount of shame about all the things that give us pleasure, we’ll be so self-loathing and terrified of our own desires that we’ll just fall in line and do what we’re told.

Disciplining people through shame works for a while, but in the long run, it backfires. As an example, let’s use perhaps the most common source of shame on the planet: sex.

The brain likes sex. That’s because a) sex feels awesome, and b) we’re biologically evolved to crave it. Pretty self-explanatory.11

Now, if you grew up like most people—and especially if you’re a woman—there’s a good chance that you were taught that sex was this evil, lecherous thing that corrupts you and makes you a horrible, icky person. You were punished for wanting it, and therefore, have a lot of conflicted feelings around sex: it sounds amazing but is also scary; it feels right but also somehow so, so wrong. As a result, you still want sex, but you also drag around a lot of guilt and anxiety and doubt about yourself for wanting it.

This mixture of feelings generates an unpleasant tension within a person. And as time goes on, that tension grows. Because the desire for sex never goes away. And as the desire continues, the shame grows.

Eventually, this tension becomes unbearable and must resolve itself in one of two ways.

The first option is to overindulge. The tension has become so great that we feel the only way to resolve it is by going all out in a spectacular way. Hooker orgies. Compulsive masturbation for days on end. Rampant infidelity. And, sadly, often sexual violence.12

But indulgence doesn’t really resolve the tension. It just kicks the can down the road. Because after you put the cock rings away and the hookers have gone home, the shame and guilt come back. And they come back with a vengeance.

So, if indulgence doesn’t work, what about the other option?

Well, the only other option to escape that internal tension is to numb it. To distract oneself from the tension by finding some larger, more palatable tension. Alcohol is a common one.13 Partying and drugs, of course.14 Watching 14 hours of television each day can be another option. Or just eating yourself half to death.15

Sometimes, people do find productive ways to distract themselves from their shame. They run ultra-marathons or work 100-hour work weeks for years on end. These are, ironically, many of the people we come to admire for having inhuman willpower. But self-denial comes easy when, deep down, you fucking hate yourself.

Because shame can’t be numbed away. It just changes form.16 The person who exercises religiously to escape their self-loathing will eventually find ways to loathe themselves for their exercise habits. And soon, what started out as a remarkable work ethic in the gym morphs into some form of body dysmorphia, like those guys who inject Synthol into their arms to make themselves look like Popeye.

Image: Barcroft

Similarly, the businessman who transmutes his shame into stellar work at the office eventually develops shame about his productivity to the point where he literally can’t go home. He’s terrified to do it. Any non-productive minute feels like an untenable failure. And while the rest of his life falls apart around him, he’s only worrying about spreadsheets and quarterly numbers.

This is why the most hardcore, uncompromising people are usually the ones who are most compromised. It’s why the most fundamentalist religious leaders who rail against the immorality of the world are always the same leaders who are ordering fuckboys off Craigslist.17 It’s why the most “spiritually enlightened” gurus are also the ones blackmailing and extorting their followers. It’s why the politicians most vocal about party loyalty and patriotism are always the ones shooting up meth in the airport bathroom. They are running away from their demons. And one way to do that is to create shinier, more socially acceptable demons.

Self-discipline based on self-denial cannot be sustained in the long-run. It only breeds greater dysfunction, and ultimately results in self-destruction.

The Truth About the Classical Approach

Self-Denial = Emotional Dysfunction = Self-Destruction = -(Self-Discipline)

Here’s the problem with all this—and it’s so obvious once you hear it, I can’t believe we have to say it. You can will yourself to go to the gym if you don’t feel like it for a few days. But unless the gym ends up feeling good in some way, you will eventually lose motivation, run out of willpower, and stop going. You can will yourself to stop drinking for a day or a week, but unless you feel the reward of not drinking, then you will eventually go back to it.

This is why my polyphasic sleeping nightmare consistently ended in disaster. Staying up all night and sleep-depriving myself produced no tangible benefits. It produced no good feelings. It produced nothing but misery and delirium. It was an exercise in self-abuse. Therefore, my willpower eventually ran out and my emotions took over, driving me to pass out for about sixteen hours straight.

Any emotionally healthy approach to self-discipline must work with your emotions, rather than against them.

Ultimately, self-discipline is not based on willpower or self-denial, but it’s actually based on the opposite: self-acceptance.

Let’s say you’re trying to lose weight and your big hang-up is that you run through about three liters of ice cream each week. You’re an ice cream fiend. You’ve tried stopping through willpower. You’ve tried diets with your friends. You’ve told your partner to never ever buy ice cream again in a desperate attempt to blame them for your own shortcomings.

But nothing’s worked. Not a day goes by that you don’t down about a thousand calories of creamy goodness.

And you hate yourself for it.

And that’s your first problem. Step one to self-discipline is to de-link your personal failings from moral failings. You have to accept that you cave to indulgence and that this doesn’t necessarily make you a horrible person. We all cave to indulgence in some shape or form. We all harbor shame. We all fail to rein in our impulses. And we all like a good fucking bowl of ice cream from time to time.

This sort of acceptance is way more complicated than it sounds. We don’t even realize all of the ways that we judge ourselves for our perceived failings. Thoughts are constantly streaming through our heads and without even realizing it, we’re tacking on “because I’m a horrible person” to the end of a lot of them.

  • “I fucked up that project at work, because I’m a horrible person…
  • “The whole kitchen is a mess and my parents will be here in 20 minutes, because I’m a horrible person…
  • “Other people are good at this, but I’m not, because I’m a horrible person…
  • “Everyone probably thinks I’m an idiot, because I’m a horrible person…

Hell, you might even be tacking on these self-judgments right now while reading this! Man, I judge myself like this all the time… because I’m a horrible person.

Here’s the thing: there’s a sick sort of comfort that comes from these self-judgments. That’s because they relieve us of the responsibility for our own actions. If I decide that I can’t give up ice cream because I’m a horrible person—that “horrible person-ness” precludes my ability to change or improve in the future—therefore, it’s technically out of my hands, isn’t it? It implies that there’s nothing I can do about my cravings or compulsions, so fuck it, why try?

There’s a kind of fear and anxiety that comes when we relinquish our belief in our own horribleness. We actually resist accepting ourselves because the responsibility is scary. Because it suggests that not only are we capable of change in the future (and change is always scary) but that we have perhaps wasted much of our past. And that never feels good either. In fact, another little trap is when people accept that they’re not a horrible person—but then decide that they are a horrible person for not realizing that years ago!

But, once we’ve de-coupled our emotions from our moral judgments—once we’ve decided that just because something makes us feel bad doesn’t mean we are bad—this opens us up to some new perspectives.

For one, it suggests that emotions are merely internal behavioral mechanisms that can be manipulated like anything else.18 Just like putting your floss next to your toothbrush reminds you to floss every morning, once the moral judgments are removed, feeling bad because you relapsed on the cookies and cream can simply be a reminder or motivator to address the underlying issue.

We must address the emotional problem the compulsion is trying to numb or cover up. You compulsively eat tubs of ice cream each week. Why? Well, eating—especially sugary, unhealthy food—is a form of numbing. It brings the body comfort. It’s sometimes known as “emotional eating” and the same way an alcoholic drinks to escape her demons, the overeater eats to escape his.19

So, what are those demons? What is that shame?

Find it. Address it. And most importantly: accept it. Find that deep, dark ugly part of yourself. Confront it, head on, allowing yourself to feel all the awful, icky emotions that come with it. Then accept that this is a part of you and it’s never going away. And that’s fine. You can work with this, rather than against it.

And here’s where the magic happens. When you stop feeling awful about yourself, two things happen:

  1. There’s nothing to numb anymore. Therefore, suddenly those tubs of ice cream seem pointless.
  2. You see no reason to punish yourself. On the contrary, you like yourself, so you want to take care of yourself. More importantly, it feels good to take care of yourself.

And, incredibly, that tub of ice cream no longer feels good. It’s no longer scratching some internal itch. Instead, it makes you feel sick and bloated and gross.

Similarly, exercising no longer feels like this impossible task that you’ll never be up for. On the contrary, it replenishes and enhances you. And those good feelings start showing up that make it feel effortless.


But you don’t necessarily have to do this deep therapeutic work to gain self-discipline. Simply understanding and accepting your emotions for what they are can allow you to work with them rather than against them.

Here’s one way to do this: call up your best friend and tell them to come over. Take out your checkbook. Write a check for $2,000 to them, sign it, and give it to them. Then tell them that if you ever eat ice cream again, they can cash it.


Eating ice cream will now cause a much greater emotional problem than the one it solves. And, as if by magic, refraining from eating ice cream will begin to feel really fucking good.

Social accountability works in the same way. It’s much easier to meditate for a long time when you’re in a room full of people than it is to do it by yourself. Why? Because when you’re in a room full of people, you don’t want to be the lone asshole who gets up and walks out after three minutes, like you do at home! The social pressure makes it so that not meditating causes a bigger emotional problem than meditating for the full amount of time. 20

You can also do this through positive reinforcement: find ways to reward yourself for doing the correct behavior. Research shows that this is actually how new habits are formed: you do the desired behavior and then reward yourself for it.21 My Build a Better Life Course in the site membership actually leverages this habits mechanism to help you, surprise, build a better life. Check it out.

Once you resolve much of your shame, and once you’ve created situations to provide greater emotional benefits from doing the desired behavior than not doing it, what you end up with is the appearance of airtight self-discipline, without actually putting forth any effort. You end up with discipline without willpower.

You wake up early because it feels good to wake up early.

You eat kale instead of smoking crack because it feels good to eat the kale and feels bad to smoke crack.

You stop lying because it feels worse to lie than to say an important truth.

You exercise because it feels better to exercise than it does to sit around, covering yourself in a thin layer of Cheeto dust.

It’s not that the pain goes away. No, the pain is still there. It’s just that the pain now has meaning. It has purpose. And that makes all the difference. You work with the pain rather than against it. You pursue it rather than run from it. And with every pursuit, you get stronger and healthier and happier.

And eventually, from the outside, it will look as though you’re putting forth monumental effort, that you have this endless reservoir of willpower. Yet, to you, it will feel like nothing at all.

A Guide to Developing the Self-Discipline Habit

By Leo Babauta

One of the most important life skills to develop, for those just starting out in life (and everyone else!), is the skill of self-discipline.

It’s like a superpower: when I developed some self-discipline, I started exercising and eating healthier and meditating and writing more, I quit smoking and ran marathons, I started a blog and wrote books, I read more and work earlier, I decluttered and transformed my finances. I’m far from perfect, but I’ve learned a lot.

But if you don’t develop self-discipline, it causes problems: health problems, distraction, procrastination, financial problems, clutter, things piling up and overwhelming you, and much more.

So it’s such an important skill to develop, but most people don’t know where to start. This guide is aimed at helping you get started.

I’m writing it for my kids, and for anyone else who would like to develop a superpower.

Finding Motivation

The first question is, how do you even get motivated to start? Most of us don’t want to think about our lack of discipline, let alone take a bunch of actions.

For me, the motivation came from realizing that what I was doing wasn’t working. Ignoring the problems only made things worse. Trying to be disciplined but doing it half-assedly only resulted in me feeling bad about myself. Being wholly undisciplined was causing myself a bunch of pain.

Once you realize that you’re causing yourself pain … you might develop a whole-hearted intention to stop hurting yourself. You might say, “OK, that’s enough with making my life worse. Let’s try to make it less worse.”

With that in mind, you can tell yourself that you are going to:

  • Start taking small actions to make things better
  • Do the things that hurt you less
  • Push yourself into discomfort a little bit, so you can get better at this over time
  • Get good at self-discipline with some practice

Keep these things in mind as you practice, as you get the urge to not practice, and as you make mistakes and then want to give up.

There are other good motivations as well:

  1. Wanting to help others — if you get better at exercise or healthy eating, for example, you can help your aging parents who need to get better at these things. If you get better at not procrastinating on your life’s work, you can help more people with that meaningful work. More on this below, in the “Focus on Others” section.
  2. Appreciating life — we have a short time here on Earth, and the life we have is a gift. When we procrastinate and give in to endless distraction, and don’t make the most of our time, we are not fully appreciating the gift we have. Instead, we can appreciate it by being present, being grateful, and being purposeful about how we spend our time.

With these motivations — or whatever motivations move you the most — we can start to practice.

Small Actions

One of the most important things you can do to get better at self-discipline is to take small actions. It can seem overwhelming to tackle huge, intimidating projects … so don’t. Instead, tackle easy actions, things so small you can’t say no.

Have some taxes to do? Just do 5 minutes. Want to run? Just run for 10 minutes. Have a report to work on? Just do the first few paragraphs. Want to declutter? Just find 5 things to declutter.

You’ll get better at self-discipline if you focus on small tasks, and break bigger projects into small tasks. Read more.

Discomfort Training

One of the reasons we don’t have self-discipline is because we run from the hard, uncomfortable things. We would rather do the easy, comfortable, familiar things.

So instead of facing our hard, uncomfortable projects or finances, we run to distractions, videos, games. This running from discomfort is ruining our lives.

What you can tell yourself is that you’re done running. You are going to push into discomfort, a little at a time, and get good at being uncomfortable. This is another of your superpowers. When others run, you’re OK (even if it’s not always fun).

One small task at a time, push yourself into discomfort. See how it feels. See that it’s not the end of the world. See that you are awesome enough to handle discomfort, and that the results are well worth it.

Mindfulness with Urges

You’ll have the urge to quit doing something hard, or to put it off for now. Those urges don’t serve you well.

Instead, develop mindfulness around those urges, and see that you don’t have to follow them.

A good way to do that is to set a time for yourself where you can do nothing but X. For example, for the next 10 minutes, you can do nothing but write your book chapter (or exercise, meditate, etc.). When you have the urge to procrastinate or run to distractions, you’ll easily see it, because you’re either writing the book, or you’re not. When you have the urge, tell yourself you can’t follow it, you have to either write your book chapter or sit there and do nothing.

Raymond Chandler used that as his simple writing system: “Write or nothing. I find it works. Two very simple rules, a. you don’t have to write. b. you can’t do anything else.”

The reason it works is that you are setting up a time where you do nothing else but that one specified task, and you can see your urges to run away. Use this to learn to be mindful of your urges, and see that you don’t have to follow them.

Interval Training

If you combine the above items into a system of bursts, or intervals, you can train yourself using interval training:

  1. Set your intention to practice self-discipline and not hurt yourself anymore.
  2. Set a task to focus on (writing, drawing, strength training, meditating, etc).
  3. Set a timer for 10 minutes. Five minutes is also fine if 10 is too long. Don’t go longer until you get good at 10 minutes, then increase to 12 and eventually 15. I don’t find I need to go beyond 15-20 minutes even when I’m kicking butt.
  4. Do nothing but sit there and watch your urges, or push into your discomfort by doing the task.
  5. When the timer goes off, give yourself a 5-minute break.
  6. Repeat.

You can train for several intervals, or potentially for an hour or two. Then take a longer break, and do another set of intervals after that.

This kind of interval training is fantastic, because it’s not that hard, you really train yourself in discomfort and watching urges, and you can get a lot done this way.

A Focus on Others

When you find yourself struggling, dig into deeper motivation: doing your work/exercise/meditation etc. not for yourself, but for others.

For example:

  • I’m writing this article to help my kids, and anyone else who might benefit.
  • I work out to be healthy, not only for myself but as an example for my kids and others who might benefit.
  • I meditate not only for my own peace and sanity, but so that I can help others find their own peace and sanity.
  • You might draw or write or play music to inspire others.

In each example, you might benefit … but you’re also doing it to benefit others. And this benefit to others is much more motivating than doing something just for yourself.

Try it … try doing a difficult task for someone else. Tell them you’re going to do it for them beforehand, then keep them in mind as you do it. See if you feel more motivated.

Victories in Success & Failure

A huge mistake that a lot of people make is that they mess up, and get discouraged by this. They feel bad about messing up. This causes them to give up and not want to think about developing self-discipline.

Here’s the thing: failure is actually a victory.

Failure means you tried. So it’s a victory from the start.

But it also means you learned something — you now know that what you tried didn’t quite work. Next time, you can try something a bit different. Add more accountability, try it at a different time, unplug your wireless router, get a workout partner, anything. Because of your failure, you have new information. You’ve learned, and that helps you get better.

Failure is a victory. Success is also a victory. No matter what your result, you can see it as an opportunity to learn, to grow, to get better.

Drop any ideas of being perfect at this, and just keep trying.

The next time you fail at whatever you’re trying, instead of letting it get you discouraged, see it as a victory. Then keep going, no matter what, because giving up is only going to hurt you some more.

Getting Support

You’re not in this alone. You have family, friends, online strangers who can help you. Form a support team by reaching out to the people around you, and asking for their help.

Lots of people skip this because they are embarrassed by their lack of discipline. They feel that the way they behave is shameful. That’s not true. Actually, we all act like this, but we’re just afraid to show that side to each other. But the truth is, if you show your “dark” side to people, they actually love you more, trust you more, relate to you more. So don’t be afraid to connect with others in a vulnerable way.

Find the courage to ask for help. Then let yourself be supported as you work on pushing yourself into discomfort and hurting yourself less.

If you need help from me, I’m offering a course in Building Self-Discipline in my Fearless Living Academy.

You can do this.

10 tips on how to develop it

Why is it simple for some people: they want to read more - and they really read dozens of books a year. They wanted to go in for sports - and they do it, they don’t quit. And they meet deadlines, and the concept of “overslept” does not exist for them ... Well, you should not envy these superheroes - you can become one of them.

What is self-discipline

Self-discipline is the ability to sacrifice short-term pleasure for long-term gain. For example, do not sleep for an hour longer, but get up for a run; not to watch another episode of the series, but to take a lesson from an English course. Self-discipline is not the same as motivation or willpower. Motivation and willpower contribute to the development of self-discipline, but these are auxiliary tools on the way to the goal.

Elena Podopigora,
Board co-founder,
Impact Hub Odessa ,
Co-HEAD “Festival of Ideas”: 9000 9000 9000 9000 9000 that something happened to their discipline. But if the skill is there, you need to make an effort to suddenly lose it. Most likely, there was no self-discipline. And society disciplined us: when you need to be at work by 9, lay 40 minutes on the road in public transport, another 10 - on the road from the bus stop to the office - which means you need to get up at 7 in the morning.

This is not an alarm clock and discipline raised you, but the system.

I have seen many cases where self-discipline as a skill was developed through a system. For example, in the corporate world with clear rules and protocols, this muscle is pumped quite quickly and well. And then even outside the system you don't lose your grip.

What to do if such a system does not happen to you? Set a goal for yourself to develop self-discipline. I would not train this skill along the way on work issues, but separately take out the development of the skill as a goal.

Self-discipline for personal development
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Self-discipline is useful in many areas of life. It is she who encourages you to do quality work, even when you are wildly tired; helps to keep the distance and achieve difficult goals when unexpected obstacles appear.

Self-discipline has been proven to improve learning and productivity. Students with a high degree of self-discipline acquire more knowledge and perform tasks more efficiently, which positively affects their results.

Research has also shown that measuring a person's level of self-discipline is a more accurate indicator of potential success than measuring their IQ. Surely you also know cases when brilliant people lacked organization, and at that time their less talented, but more systemic and collected colleagues achieved success.

10 secrets to developing self-discipline

Are there people who are self-disciplined from birth? Maybe. But it has been proven that this skill can and should be pumped.

Developing self-discipline can be compared to going to the gym: the more you work on it, the stronger it becomes.

1. Choose a goal

Just one thing you want to focus on right now: exercise every night, read one book a week, and so on. Start small, but have a clear target for practice. Giving up junk food for one day is also a good place to start.

Advice from Elena Podoprigory:

I recommend starting to train on your daily tasks: getting up on the first call, physical activity, diet, not being late for meetings under any circumstances. Rules should be small, but uncomfortable for you. You cannot break them. Because you are building discipline.

2. Find motivation

Once you've chosen your goal, give yourself reasons why you want to achieve it. Try to put them in a positive way.

👎 Bad: "I want to do this task so I can cross it off my to-do list."

👍 Better: "I want to complete this task in order to achieve my goals and feel the satisfaction of the work done in the day. "

When you list your motivators, it will be much easier for you to get the job done.

3. Identify the obstacles

Often our self-discipline suffers because we have not identified the obstacles we will encounter on the way to our goals. Try not to solve problems as they come, but to anticipate and develop a strategy to overcome them.

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For example, your goal is to read one book a week, but it is difficult to find time for reading in the evenings: you are busy with work, playing with children, or being distracted by incoming messages. Come up with a strategy for how to overcome each of these obstacles:

  • perhaps you could read during your lunch break, on your way to work, or while waiting for the kids from school;
  • turn off your phone when you want to focus on reading.

4. Get rid of temptations

We all believe that we have enough willpower to decisively implement our plans, but in practice this is not so. Willpower is important, but it's not the strongest foundation. But limiting access to your temptations can be critical to improving self-discipline. If you tend to be distracted by Facebook, block access to social media during work hours. If you can't resist spending extra when you go shopping, leave your payment card at home and take only a small amount of cash.

5. Find replacements for old habits

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Having decided to develop self-discipline, we often try to get rid of some bad habit. However, it is important to consider one point: if this habit is tied to a certain time of day or is part of a routine, abandoning it can create a feeling of emptiness. Having given up one thing, it is necessary to fill this period of time with something else, more productive.

For example, you are trying to stop shopping online during your break from work. To do this, find a new activity during the break: it can be a warm-up at the workplace or a walk in the fresh air.

6. Allow yourself to experience discomfort

The desire to avoid pain and discomfort is natural for us, but it's time to accept that it is impossible to eliminate all troubles. Allow yourself to experience boredom, frustration, sadness, and loneliness. This is part of everyone's life. This approach will allow you to more easily survive difficult moments and move on.

7. Visualize long-term goals

You will be less likely to give in to temptation if you remind yourself more often why you are doing it. Imagine yourself achieving your goals and reaping the rewards by practicing self-discipline daily.

Anna Grineva,
editor and social media manager Happy Monday:

“Perhaps I am disciplined from birth, but I am sure that this skill can be pumped, if you keep it in your head, why it's important to you.

As a child, I had a very strict diet due to health problems. But even when my parents were not around, I remembered that in no case should I eat sweets. And even the persuasion of my own grandmother, who did not believe in the seriousness of these restrictions and tried to treat me, did not work. Why? Because I knew what the consequences would be (going to the hospital and injections, which I was terrified of), and I also knew that if I endure now, then later I can eat sweets all my adult life.

Until now, in any situation, when there is a temptation to skip a run, not do exercises, stay at a party until the morning, I draw a picture in my head of the consequences of this or that choice: what will happen tomorrow if I don’t go to bed on time today, and what will happen if I go home and sleep.”

8. Recover Effectively from Mistakes

Some days it is easier to exercise self-discipline, others not. Mistakes are part of the self-improvement process. On the path of development, it is very important to forgive yourself for mistakes and return to your goals with even greater determination.

9. Track progress

Pay attention to how you feel as you progress. Keeping a diary will help with this, write down your goals and achievements there. This will reinforce positive change by giving you a report to look back on and evaluate your progress.

Valeria Timofeeva,
ForChics COO,
remote team management expert:

“Tracking progress is essential for developing self-discipline, preventing impostor complex and developing self-confidence. No one is immune from mistakes, rush jobs, failures - but if you can look back at any moment and evaluate your successes and achievements, this will help you survive difficult periods of self-doubt. The number of books read, courses taken, the amount earned - all these numbers will additionally motivate you, especially when they grow.

What tools do I use to track progress:

  • tracker in Google tables by year and month, where I record all the key goals and plans for the month: trips, trainings, courses, visits to a specialist. A separate page is dedicated to "I want", where I formulate my desires. From desires are born intentions, from intentions actions, and from actions results;
  • a paper notebook where I write down plans and tasks for 1-2 weeks in advance on work and household issues. Separate pleasure can be obtained from the process of crossing out the completed item. It is very motivating when at the end of the day all the points are crossed out in the notebook - this is also about fixing progress.

What you have done at work can be publicly recorded in the same LinkedIn. Portfolio is also progress. Also, in parallel with updating your resume and portfolio, I recommend updating your CV to record the most important events in your life.

Tracking your progress gives you wings and an understanding that you are moving in the right direction.

10. Enlist Support

You are not alone in this journey. Form a support team, reach out to people around you and ask for their help. Many skip this step because they don't want to admit their lack of discipline. But the truth is that your loved ones will support you even more if you recognize your own weakness and imperfection. Don't be afraid to talk about your vulnerability. Find the courage to ask for help. Then let others support you when you are having a hard time.


Is it worth learning to show impressive self-control? Yes, if you want to achieve goals, be productive and develop as a professional and as a person. Any of us can become self-disciplined - we just need to practice.

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How to develop self-discipline: the right way

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How to train self-discipline if you are lazy

Self-control is the highest power.

“How to develop self-discipline” is a frequent pain. Often because many who ask this question, on the one hand, have a great desire to receive the juicy fruits of self-discipline, and on the other hand, an internal protest against any restrictions at all. This is especially true of the restriction in the "guilty pleasures" that supposedly make our life so fun and fulfilling.

But of course this is not true.

Photo by Jenny Hill on Unsplash

Before direct advice on how to develop goddamn self-discipline, you need to understand why it is sometimes difficult for people to discipline themselves.

According to our attitude to self-discipline, we are divided into 3 types:

The first type is the Hedonistic Saboteur you have to take everything that brings a buzz, otherwise why even live!”.

Performed by (already 72-year-old) Debbie Harry, "Die young, stay pretty" often serves as a life motto for this type. Self-discipline for them serves as an abuse of their “already difficult” life.

There is nothing wrong with that. Yes, many people live like this: double pleasure is better now with consequences than triple pleasure without consequences, but tomorrow. They do not like even the slightest discomfort, cannot wait and do not want to endure.

But, curiously, these are the people who suffer the most in the end. After all, if you do not know how to endure the limitations created by yourself to improve your life, you will have to endure the limitations of life itself. And self-discipline is self-restraint. You do not train self-discipline yourself according to your own rules - life disciplines you as it pleases. Lack of money, sickness, loneliness, ruined potential , is a sad price for not wanting to deny yourself something that is destructive later, even if it is pleasant now.

The second type is the Hedonistic Postponeer

These are those who lustfully look at strong-willed people and look for the secrets of motivation, but continue to live as they live. They understand that achievement, success and organic, real happiness are the fruits of self-discipline and limitations, but the subconscious mind is not ready to deny them their “guilty pleasures”. They dream of cultivating self-discipline, but subconsciously perceive restrictions as boredom and necessity.

Somewhere deep inside, it seems to them that the desired life will become boring and predictable, and they will turn into successful robots.

This fear is the result of a common mistake - the desire to "take yourself in hand to the fullest" and make a 360-degree turn in life. These people want a lot (of all 3 types, they have the most unsatisfied values), and therefore they are in a hurry. “From tomorrow I am a new person!” they think. And for some reason, every time they are surprised and upset that tomorrow they are the same as they were yesterday.

Small regular actions towards their goals seem to them a waste of time, which they have little, so they are in a hurry to play their favorite game How to develop self-discipline when you are always at the start?

The third type is the Hedonistic Warrior

But the third type thinks quite differently. He does not try to change his whole life, firstly, because he never leaves the line of his goals and desires, and secondly, he intuitively knows that quick results and drastic changes can be expensive. They introduce new habits methodically, with the persistence of a donkey.

For them, achievement is not the result of a decision, but their daily reality.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

That's what self-discipline training is all about: daily actions that lead you to what you want. And everything becomes the way it should be when these actions turn into your routine.

The third type perceives self-discipline and self-restraint as self-cutting, and oneself as an uncut diamond. These people like to “cut” their skills, their appearance and their character, because they know that this is the most rewarding and rewarding work in the world. For them, self-discipline is intellectual work, the victory of reason over the animal in us.

Today's advice is for the second type. But before the advice itself, I will screw in a brief digression on why it is most effective to do just that.

Robert Dilts in his "Neurological Levels" explained that in each of us there are hierarchically located parts of the personality responsible for:

  1. mission (why am I doing this?)
  2. identity (who am I?)
  3. values ​​(why am I doing this?)
  4. abilities (how am I doing?)
  5. behavior (what am I doing?)
  6. environment (where, when and with whom do I do it?)

The higher the level, the more powerful the neural network in it. It is extremely difficult to change neural networks at high levels without a cardinal life upheaval. Usually this is a move to another country, an injury or loss of a loved one, winning a large amount, an invitation to a chic job, and the list goes on. At such a moment, a “pattern break” occurs: a person begins to think differently, dream about something else and, accordingly, behave differently.

But fateful changes do not happen to everyone and not always. You have to take everything into your own hands, and there is only one way to do this - put low levels at the service of high .

Let me explain.

As I said, the higher the neurological level, the more powerful the neural network. From this we conclude that changes can and should be launched from those levels in which the neural network is weaker and “more pliable”. The most ideal level for this is the “Behavior” level. It is on it (and only on it) that one can increase self-discipline, because any progress is impossible without control over one's actions.

That is why today and now I invite you to start your own 31-day self-discipline marathon. We hold this marathon in our closed NLP groups - it helps to train self-discipline, overcome laziness and brings simply gorgeous results for our participants.

The main condition for developing self-discipline:

From now on, for a period of 31 days, you either 1. add some desired action to your life (I go for a run, go to courses, drink 2 liters of water, do work right away), or 2. remove some undesirable action (I don't smoke, I don't eat after 19, I don't watch TV shows).

(Important!) Only one action can be added or removed. This is a fundamental point that will determine the ability to learn self-discipline.

“Don’t bite off more than you can swallow”

This is the moment that all faked perfectionists stumble over — biting off a piece too hard, they end up choking, spitting and… remain hungry.

Don't have the habit of at least finishing something? The more stupid it is to recruit targets in an attempt to “pay off” for previous abandoned cases - everything will end in the old way.

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