We all have that habit we’ve been wanting to change or goal we’ve been trying to achieve for what seems like forever. Whether you’re trying to boost your productivity and focus, improve your time management, cut back on junk food, or to work out more — habits are hard to change.
But if you want to be successful in life, self-discipline is key.
There will always be days when we don’t feel like doing everything that needs to get done. There will be days where things just feel too hard and we want to go back to our old ways and do what feels comfortable.
It’s daily self-discipline that can help us move through these moments with resilience and determination, so we can achieve our goals and live life in a truly fulfilling way. Read on to learn more and explore how using innovative EEG tools like the Muse 2 Headband and the Muse S Headband can help you strengthen your self-discipline and improve your productivity.
What is self-discipline, exactly?
Self-discipline goes by many names: willpower, grit, self-control, conviction, determination…
According to Oxford Languages, self-discipline is “the ability to pursue what one thinks is right despite temptations to abandon it.”
Essentially, it means doing what you set out to do and what you know is best, regardless of what you feel like doing at the moment.
But this is where many people lose their way with self-discipline.
Self-discipline isn’t about perfection. Even the most disciplined person slips up along their path from time to time. Self-discipline is a daily practice, with opportunities to use it arising many times throughout the day.
Additionally, self-discipline doesn’t mean ignoring your feelings. It just means not bowing down to your impulses. When practiced well, self-discipline involves mindfully accepting what you’re feeling, giving yourself grace, and doing what needs to get done.
The benefits of self-discipline
Research suggests that building self-discipline is a worthwhile task. For instance, a study of 1,000 people tracked from birth to 32 years old found that individuals with greater self-discipline as children tended to have better outcomes in adulthood.1, 2
Specifically, researchers found that higher levels of self-discipline were associated with:
- Better mental health
- Better physical health
- Greater financial security
- Better saving behavior
- Less criminal convictions
- Fewer substance use issues
These patterns were found to be related to self-control even after considering childhood home life, socioeconomic status, and general intelligence.1, 2
Another study published by one of the leading researchers on grit and self-control, Angela Ducksworth, found that self-discipline was a key component in achieving difficult goals. According to her study, “the achievement of difficult goals entails not only talent but also a sustained and focused application of talent over time.”3
The best things in life often take a lot of hard work, patience, and dedication. So if you have goals that you believe will fulfill you, odds are you’ll need self-discipline to help you get there.
Why is improving self-discipline so hard?
Life is filled with temptation. Often, these temptations bring us comfort, pleasure, and relief from the stress of the day. However this relief is often short-lived, and these temptations don’t often bring us long-term happiness.
Another reason self-discipline can feel impossibly hard is because they might bring us relief when we’re stressed. Over time, these “bad habits” have become the soothing mechanisms that help us calm ourselves when our survival response is activated.
Thinking logically (where self-discipline comes in) becomes much harder when our body is in a mad-dash to survive and thinks it needs those habits to stay alive and feel safe.
Take procrastination, for example.
Experts suggest that procrastination has less to do with poor focus, and more to do with stress and anxiety. If the day or task at hand feels too overwhelming, it can bring immense relief to shift our focus to something else, however temporary the relief may be.
Unfortunately, that’s the catch-22 of procrastination, which can have a significant impact on our productivity. The work is still waiting for us. Ultimately, procrastination gives our present-moment self a relief, but ends up loading more stress and challenges on us in the future, often hindering our overall productivity goals.
Or, consider the goal of eating healthier.
Shifting dietary habits can be really tough, because you’re essentially asking yourself to stop doing something that gives you comfort and a sense of control.
It’s the memories and feelings of safety, security, comfort, and control that can make “bad” habits so hard to transform into “good” habits. Because it’s more than just changing a habit — it can feel like we’re losing control or like we’re depriving ourselves of the right to feel good.
9 steps to build better self-discipline
So how can you begin developing self-discipline for yourself? Here are 9 steps to help strengthen your ability to control yourself and make better choices.
1. Get solid on your goals and your Why.
If you’re trying to change a habit or build towards a goal you don’t really care about, you’ll probably have a really tough time maintaining self-discipline.
Spend time mindfully reflecting over what you truly want from life. What sort of work are you passionate about? How do you want to feel on a daily basis? What do you want your life to look like in 10 years? What habits and goals will help you get where you want to go?
This will help you set clear goals that are anchored in motivation based on what you really want.
2. Take a mindful approach to resistance.
Each time you feel pulled towards temptation, consider why. Close your eyes and reflect for a minute. Explore the feeling this desire creates or satisfies within you. Does it make you feel safe? Does it make you feel less anxious? Are you feeling really stressed and in need of some relief?
By embracing mindfulness, you can identify where the resistance is coming from and either let go of it or respond to it in a healthier way.
3. Each time you have to make a choice, ask yourself: will this ultimately benefit my larger goals?
Our days are made up of a million micro-choices that either bring us closer to our goals or lead us astray. When the urge to distract yourself pops up, ask yourself whether this will actually help you reach your goals. In some cases, time away from your goal could actually benefit you!
For instance, letting your mind wander could help you come up with novel solutions and going for a walk outside could help replenish your energy. It’s about choosing those moments with intention and care, rather than leaning into every urge.
4. Remove temptations.
If you’re really struggling with distractions or staying away from bad habits, do yourself a favor and limit temptations. Get an app to limit social media usage during the day, throw out the unhealthy food in your house, lock treats in jars with timers that only open at a certain time of day, use a website blocker to help you stay focused and on track during the day.
5. Got big goals? Start small.
It’s easy to lose steam while we’re building towards our dreams. Instead of getting overwhelmed, break down your bigger goals into smaller milestones. This will give you the opportunity to celebrate your accomplishments and reward yourself.
This approach can lend itself to maintaining motivation for longer periods of time and give you a real sense of accomplishment, which can make your dedication and hard-work feel that much more worth it.
6. If you feel low on motivation, visualize your outcome.
If you’re feeling stressed or demotivated, it can be hard to logic your way into making better decisions. Instead, take a moment to meditate on your why. Visualize the life you’re working towards, or the outcome of the healthy habits you’re trying to develop.
This can help you tap into a feeling of inspiration that can inspire you to make better decisions, rather than leaning on old temptations.
7. Give yourself breaks.
What many people forget when they try to create new habits is that it’s also important to take breaks! Taking a break can help you refill your tank and restore your motivation and energy to get back on track. Breaks are a normal part of achieving any goal or building any habit.
The key is to plan them with intention and be mindful about them, rather than just reaching your breaking point and throwing in the towel entirely.
8. Try meditating for 5-10 minutes a day.
Although there are many types of meditation, meditation is essentially the practice of becoming aware of your moment-to-moment experience, and enhancing your ability to maintain focus and productivity.
9. Be kind to yourself!
Remember, self-discipline isn’t about perfection. If you make a choice that doesn’t benefit you, that’s okay. We all slip up. Don’t beat yourself up over it! That can actually make it harder to get back on track.
If you go back to an old habit, allow yourself to enjoy the moment. Mindfully acknowledge what you’re doing, and know that you can make better choices tomorrow.