How to build self discipline to be successful in everything you do

The estimated reading time for this post is 8 minutes

The best way to achieve big things in life, whether they are in the realms of health, wealth, relationships and happiness (the famous 4 pillars of life introduced to me by Tai Lopez) you need discipline. As US Navy Seal Jocko Willink says, discipline equals freedom.

We have been hardwired by the ages and the modern life. Most part of what we know to be a normal behavior, is not necessarily the best path to success or for true freedom. When it comes to what the media sells, there is no denying that we don’t salivate when we see a juicy looking hamburger ad or a bar of chocolate. Those are easy ways of consuming sugar and fat — they hit our ancestral instincts for survival, but it doesn’t mean they are healthy habits. The level of awareness and attention you give those impulses determine your success.

When I talk about success, it’s not only at work or business. Your health, your relationships and your overall well being is at stake. Sure, failure is equally important, you cannot have the first without the later.

It’s your self awareness and discipline that will determine whether you will succumb to your consumer instincts and to your modern life temptations. The world is now programmed to have you buy and do what they want you to do. That is what capitalism and branding wants you to do: consume what makes you feel fulfilled, even if it’s something that depreciates quickly. Whether it’s good for you and help you reach your goals, it’s up to you to determine.

Stop reasoning things out

“The problems with reasons is that they’re just excuses prettied up.” – The Achievement Habit by Bernard Roth

Be dead honest with yourself at all times. Most of our actions are results of habits. However, we still are capable of “convincing” ourselves to take certain actions and give an excuse that will deviate us from our end goal. How much bullshit are we telling ourselves? Look forward to rewiring your brain to good habits instead of “excusing” yourself of thought things.

In order to make the switch we need first to understand the source of our behaviors. When you wake up, what’s the first thing you do? Why do you grab your phone instead of readily jumping out of bed? You need to ask yourself difficult questions.

Reasons and excuses are as bad as complaining. That’s because they are all inhibiting your power of action or putting your mind in a place it doesn’t need to be. Reasons give you space to behave dysfunctionally.

The reason you are tired? Lack of discipline with sleep, or too much stress. Thus, meditate. Use less electronic devices. Sleep more. Sleep better. Eat less sugar. Have discipline, and you will increase the quality of your life and actions without giving yourself and people around you putty reasons for not doing something, or even for complaining about something. That way you have more time and energy to focus on what matters and thus, thrive at a higher rate by cutting the bs and, to surprise of many, stress. “Discipline equals freedom”.

What’s the bigger picture?

Do you want to lose weight? Do you want to become better at a skill? Do you want to establish yourself as a professional in your field? What’s your goal?

Arnold Schwarzenegger wrote his goals everyday. Grant Cardone writes his goals everyday. He had a vision, a big vision, and then he reverse engineered it. Set big goals for yourself — whatever “big” means to you. As Sean McCabe says, “a million dollars is not a lot of money”. The point is, once you get the big picture, you can define it with clear steps (or short-term goals) and you begin to work on it. The purpose of setting goals is not to wish for and dream about them, but to calibrate your actions towards these goals. It’s not motivation, it’s discipline that will help you get out bed when you are supposed to.

Discipline builds habits

I am a big weightlifting fan. I spend only one hour at the gym, but if I could, I’d do Arnie’s 6 hours everyday. One of the pillars of “the good life” is health. I may have been influenced by my mom, who has always loved working out herself, and the fact that I was brought up doing a lot of sports.

Discipline came easily to me then, but only in the areas that mattered. I hated school, so I wasn’t disciplined enough with that. But still, I felt the need to be on time and to do what I got to do, even if I sucked at it. Discipline.

I was committed to at least go to school — I still found much of it interesting, really. Physics and biology always fascinated me even tho when it came to hitting the mark, I sucked. Because of my commitment to school and thinking it was somewhat fun to learn (who cares about grades) I jumped out of bed 1,5h before the class started, at 5:30am. It wired me to like waking up early. It made it a habit.

Nowadays I have pushed it to 4:30, but if not, I wake up at the same old 5:30 automatically. I get so much done by 12:00 it’s unbelievable. Some people don’t even feel awake by that time.

Good habits are hard to build. Bad habits are hard to break. For both you need discipline and an end goal.

Attention with intention

Paraphrasing the stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius, “a man’s life should be valued according to the value of the things to which he gave his attention.”

Attention with intention is something I have adhered in my life as part of the rewiring of my brain. Be intentional about what you think and do, pay attention at your own words, thoughts and actions and you will find yourself learning and realizing things in an honest, self critical way.

Let’s say that, you want to change your job, but you come home and turn the television on instead. Are you spending your time with attention and the intention towards your goal set?

Or, you want to loose weight or eat less sugar, but at the market aisles you only look for the sweets and the baking goods. And you buy them.

How you spend your “aware thinking” time should be intentional. That means, when your mind isn’t focused on a task, you are intentionally directing it to the good habits you want to build, the bad habits you want to break and making sure you aren’t giving yourself reasons (read excuses) to do the stuff you know aren’t taking you forward.

You can choose intentionally what you pay attention to. This might mean turning the TV off or focusing at one task at a time for an optimal workflow. A 2 minute meditation a day should help your attention span and you can practice intentionality with your thoughts. You choose to think certain things and you give them no more than the attention they deserve. Discipline in your head.

Keeping it simple to achieve more

Keeping it simple is hard, because we tend to look out for perfection, which doesn’t exist. Perfection is in our minds.

Keeping things simple is an act of discipline. Sometimes, you have laid out a job pretty well but you keep working on it, when you don’t need to. You are looking for reasons to not give the paper away, to not give the work to the client or to not submit that blog post.

That’s making you lose time. It will frustrate you and burn you out.

You are looping around a problem that’s probably already solved or that can be less complicated than what you are making it. It’s typically a result of rushing or lack of attention. A rushed task or a task that is done with lack of attention, or both, is a waste of time. Isn’t it easier to just asses things first and look for the simpler way of solving an issue?

Jocko Willink and Leif Babin have a great chapter about this in their book “Extreme Ownership”. Paraphrasing, when solving a problem, it’s better to keep it simple so everybody involved in it can commit equally, because they understand it and assimilate it better. Productivity enhanced.

Discipline builds confidence

When you work on goals with discipline, you eventually achieve things. Even if it means that by the end of a tougher day, the only task you’ve accomplished successfully was. making your bed (thanks, Tim Ferriss for that one). You can intentionally pay attention to that and tell yourself proudly that “you survived another day, and you’ve made your bed successfully.” A small achievement. Not only you notice something you are grateful for, but you’ve also payed to an achieved, even though small, task. This discipline of achieving small tasks helps you to ground yourself.

The way that achieving goals builds discipline is that you prove yourself that you are capable of doing things, big and small. That is something that must be nourished and fed constantly. When you set out to read a book, not only you are smarter, but you’ve also achieved a small goal. This builds your confidence and also makes you feel more empowered.

There are three stages of discipline and habit creation that will lead to confidence. The first stage is the easiest, because it usually involves excitement. The second is the deal breaker: most people give up because results will show more slowly. This is when discipline, attention with intention and all of that kicks in. The third is when you break the wall of the hardship and it becomes a habit. You stop thinking of it as a task and it becomes second nature.

Measurable results help build confidence. Discipline towards tasks and goals, attention with intention will help you build confidence. You set milestones, you achieve them and you feel great afterwards. You begin to understand your weaknesses, to work around them and you learn to leverage your strengths instead. You achieve a greater level of self criticism, awareness and confidence.

“Discipline equals freedom.” – Jocko Willink

Lists of books that inspired this article:

Extreme Ownership – Jocko Willink & Leif Babin

Total Recall – Arnold Schwarzenegger

Tools of Titans – Tim Ferriss

The 10x Rules – Grant Cardone

Thoughts of Marcus Aurelius – Marcus Aurelius

The Achievement Habit – Bernard Roth

A Harvard paper on Stress and Mental Control