12 habits of people with remarkable willpower and self-discipline

When Kobe Bryant first burst into the NBA scene in 1996, the whole world watched in awe.

Aside from being one of the greatest basketball players in the history of the game, he became an icon – almost a mythological creature – for his tremendous willpower and self-discipline. 

As talented as he was, Kobe himself believed that talent wouldn’t be enough to get him to where he wanted to be. It was his set of powerful habits that would help him reach the heights he did (literally and figuratively). 

Are you looking for some inspiration? Want to be stronger against distraction and temptation and get more done? 

Let’s take a look at 12 habits of people with remarkable willpower and self-discipline and see what we can learn: 

1) They embrace delayed gratification

First up, disciplined people know the power of delayed gratification. 

Remember the Marshmallow Test? While the discussion around delayed gratification is more complex than that, the experiment was a great visual depiction of it. 

It takes remarkable willpower to resist temptation, but it’s necessary in order to develop patience, discipline, and a goal-oriented mindset. 

I think of it like an investment – put in the work now and reap the benefits later. The power of now for later. Which brings me to my next point…

2) They make choices that set them up better for future choices

Saving up for a rainy day so you don’t go into debt when the rainy day comes. 

Waking up early for a morning run so you can be healthy and prevent future health issues. 

Spending time learning new skills so you can add to your value and have better career choices down the road. 

See where I’m going with this? The decisions we make in life have a domino effect – one thing leads to another, then another, and so on. 

That’s why people with remarkable willpower and self-discipline are quite intentional with their choices. They think about the long-term, not just what will satisfy them in the moment. 

With their daily choices and decisions, they’re setting up their dominoes well so that it can all flow smoothly. 

3) They narrow down their choices

Speaking of choices, another habit of people with tremendous self-discipline is whittling down their options. 

Think about Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and Barack Obama with their limited wardrobe choices. They gladly sacrificed color and style diversity for the sake of conserving mental energy. 

I’m actually the same way – I find that having too many choices overwhelm me and turn decision-making into an angst-ridden moment. 

To combat this, I’ve adopted a similar approach in my daily routine. For instance, I eat the same thing for breakfast every single day – a boiled egg, toast slathered with peanut butter, and a cup of coffee. 

Boring? Yes, or so I’ve been told. 

But it works for me because it eliminates one thing I have to decide on in the mornings, a time when I want to focus on my work tasks more than anything else. 

If you want to be more disciplined, first accept that your mental energy is a finite resource, and thus it must be guarded wisely. 

Reducing the number of decisions you have to make about simple things is an effective way to do that. 

4) They get the hardest tasks done first

Given the finite nature of our mental bandwidth, it makes sense to get the hard tasks checked off first. 

This is actually an area of much debate. Some people insist that doing the easy tasks first is more productive, while others see it the other way. 

I’m with the latter, because that’s the side that research has proven to be effective. 

Doing easier tasks first is counterproductive. It simply puts off the dreaded or difficult task, which then creates some stress and negativity playing around in the back of your head. 

5) They look at the big picture 

The WHY. People with remarkable willpower and self-discipline take this to heart and use it to keep them going. 

I consider myself a fairly disciplined person and once I get working, I tend to go into flow and get it all done. 

But even then, I’m no mean machine. I have days when it’s hard to focus. When that happens, I think about my “why”, the overarching reason why I do what I do. 

Studies show that big-picture thinking can lead to better decisions. Which then comes back to being disciplined so you can make the right choices. 

6) They have definite and detailed short-term goals

That said, people with self-discipline don’t stop at just the big picture. They take the time to lay out the steps they’ll take to get to their overall goal. 

It’s not enough to say, “I want to be rich.” The question is, how? 

This is where self-disciplined individuals excel. They break down their broad aspirations into smaller, manageable objectives. Into concrete, actionable steps that help them achieve and measure progress. 

For instance, back in my late 20s, one of my dreams was to open my own school. So to get there, I broke down what I had to do – get a teaching degree and certification, then gain experience at different schools.

I did all of that within the timetable I planned, and three years later, I finally achieved my dream. I know I couldn’t have done it if I hadn’t been strict with myself with defining and working towards my smaller goals. 

7) They develop routines and rituals

Similarly, routines and rituals are a huge part of maintaining discipline. If you look at the calendar of any disciplined person you know, you’ll probably see that they have a routine. 

For example, to keep himself disciplined even during the off-season, Kobe Bryant would train six hours a day, six days a week for six months out of the year. 

Creating a routine works because it gives you structure, a key ingredient of developing willpower and self-discipline. 

On my worst days, clinging to my routine gives me stability and helps me power through despite my mood. 

Rituals do the same thing – they set the stage for us mentally and prep us for what lies ahead. 

For instance, right before I plunge into the day’s tasks, I take the time to sit down with a cup of coffee, read a poem, and write a few pages in my journal. 

It feels a little like I’m smoothing down the rough edges of my brain so it will be sharp when I finally need it to be.

8) They design their environment well

Following on from that, people with remarkable willpower and discipline also make sure that their environment is supportive. 

Think about it – it would be incredibly hard to work if your desk is right beside your bed, right? Or your TV. 

Focus can be next to impossible if your phone is constantly pinging away with social media notifications. 

Sticking to a diet when your pantry’s full of chips and sodas? That’s almost a 100% chance of failing. 

So, it totally makes sense to set yourself up for success. Adjust your environment so that it supports your goals and nudges you towards the positive habits you want to create. 

9) They have a solid time management strategy

Another habit of people with exceptional self-discipline is managing time wisely

Time is one of those things we squander away so carelessly, only to find out that there isn’t more of it. 

If you want to be truly productive, make time your ally. Reel it in with a solid time management strategy, like time blocking and task categorization. 

Strategies like these make you more conscious of time, which will keep you focused and disciplined in the long run. 

10) They bundle temptations

Writer and speaker James Clear talks about this in his book, “Atomic Habits.”

Temptation bundling is pretty simple – you pair a pleasurable indulgence with a rewarding behavior. Basically, you pair a “want” with a “should”. 

The research bears this out – people who know how to bundle temptations outperform those who don’t. 

It’s a practice that disciplined people often use to build up their willpower.

11) They take small steps to conquer a temptation or build a new habit 

Among the wise things Desmond Tutu said is this nugget – “There is only one way to eat an elephant: a bite at a time.” 

Of course, he isn’t exhorting us to eat elephants at all, silly. All he means is that you can tackle any daunting or overwhelming task in life by taking on just a little over time. 

Say you want to run a marathon. You don’t set out to run 26 miles straight away from the couch to the road. You build up, running maybe 2 to 5 miles a day, then increase it gradually until you can run the full length. 

12) They self-assess regularly 

According to Kobe Bryant, “What separates great players from all-time great players is their ability to self-assess, diagnose weaknesses, and turn those flaws into strengths.”

That’s exactly what all-time disciplined people do. They take the time to step back and reflect on their performance and motivations. 

That way, they can tweak and adjust whatever needs changing to maximize their performance.

Final thoughts

The thing about willpower is that it doesn’t stay at a constant level. We’re human beings with complex moods and desires, and our willpower shifts along with those. 

That’s where discipline comes in. With a few changes to your routine and mindset, you can set yourself up to perform exceptionally even on the days you don’t feel like it. 

And when you’ve got both willpower and discipline, well then, there’s nothing to stop you from reaching your goals! 

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