There’s no substitute for self-discipline.
But it’s hard.
Here’s how to keep yourself in line and hit more of your goals without being constantly stressed out and overwhelmed.
This is self-discipline without self-punishment.
1) Set measurable goals
The best ways to be more self-disciplined without feeling overwhelmed involve setting measurable goals.
You can decide that you want to be more fit or have a more profitable business, but until you put a number or a target next to it you’re being too vague.
Self-discipline comes when we have something to aim at and can assess our specific progress towards it.
Set measurable goals and track how you’re doing on them.
2) Write down your objectives
I’m a big fan of putting pen to paper and it’s extremely valuable in tracking your progress towards your goals.
If you want to know ways to be more self-disciplined without feeling overwhelmed you can start by simply writing down four things:
- A goal for the coming year to be completed by Dec. 31 of this year.
- A goal for the coming month to be completed by the end of February or March.
- A goal for the end of the coming week.
- A goal for today.
Put these down in your agenda. Write all four down every day.
This keeps reinforcing your overall goals every day staring you in the face and every week for your monthly and weekly goals.
Your daily goal changes, of course, but you get to check it off.
3) Write down what’s motivating you
In your agenda, write down why you want to achieve your goals for this year.
Often your motivation will actually be feeling states that you want to achieve as much or more as the actual goals themselves.
For example, you may want to get married this year to the person of your dreams, but what is the feeling or state that you seek in this goal?
You may want to become CEO of a successful and well-respected company that contributes to humanity, but what is the feeling state behind this goal?
Dig deep in your motivations and be honest about your psychological and spiritual motivation here.
As you uncover what it is that’s really driving you, you have an invaluable chance to begin embodying these qualities in yourself and “being the change” in your own daily life.
For example, if you want to feel a sense of belonging, you can begin helping provide that sense of belonging and appreciation to those you meet.
If you want to feel a sense of romantic fulfillment, begin spending time with yourself where you become truly comfortable and “in love” with yourself and being you.
Your discipline toward reaching your goals will increase correspondingly to your clarity of why you’re working towards them.
4) Note and describe your biggest obstacles
What is blocking you from living a self-disciplined life right now?
Be honest about it. Write it down as well.
Nobody follows a leader who doesn’t listen to their own advice, so I’ll start:
- Impulsivity and childish unwillingness to delay gratification
- Lingering addiction to the victim mentality
- Resentment about a feeling of not fitting in
- Anxiety about the past and future
There you go!
I just “went there” with my own self-destructive and limiting tendencies that are blocking my goals.
Now it’s your turn.
Unlike some who may advise you to just visualize the positive, I encourage also taking a look at the obstacles and stumbling blocks in your path.
Knowing what you’re up against in yourself will help you enormously in outwitting and bypassing your inner saboteur the next time it arises.
As the renowned religious scholar Imam Iaqab al Ghazali memorably said:
“Declare your war on thirteen enemies you cannot see egoism, arrogance, conceit, selfishness, greed, lust, intolerance, anger, lying, cheating, gossiping and slandering.
“If you can master and destroy them, then you will be ready to fight the enemy you can see.”
5) Make changes to your small daily habits
Many people fail to have self-discipline or develop it because they shoot for the stars right away.
But the people you see who have incredible willpower and discipline didn’t get there overnight.
They got there by paying attention to their habits that they do every moment and hour and shaping them around discipline.
They got there by truly holding themselves to account on the small things and the big things.
They got there by actually making their beds every morning, by actually brushing their teeth, by getting up when their alarm is set for instead of 45 minutes later.
And they did it consistently.
We all know the trend of people setting New Year’s goals and then backsliding over the next few weeks and months.
The way to avoid this is to pay attention to your small daily habits. Get the small things right and the big things will start to fall into place as well.
6) Practice willpower in small areas of your life
The practice of becoming more conscious of your daily habits and small practices is vitally important in terms of the ways to be more self-disciplined without feeling overwhelmed.
Willpower in small areas will eventually translate into willpower in larger areas.
It boils down to the ability to make a promise to yourself or the world and actually stick to it.
For example, you say “I won’t eat junk food even once this month” and then you don’t eat junk food even once for the month despite really wanting to.
Or you say “I will put off taking my website live until it’s perfect and forego short term profits in favor of a better overall business and more unified mission for my business.”
Then you do just that.
As Dr. Roy Baumeister Ph. D. puts it:
“It’s the capacity to restrain our impulses, resist temptation – do what’s right and good for us in the long run, not what we want to do right now.
“It’s central, in fact, to civilization.”
7) Deny yourself small pleasures and stick to it
As you put off gratification and work towards holding yourself to account, practice denying yourself small pleasures.
For example, small pleasures you might want to cut out:
- Eating junk food every Friday while watching TV
- Smoking cigarettes on a daily basis
- Sleeping with your “friend with benefits” every time you feel frisky
- Playing video games until late in the night on Saturday nights
- Hiring a maid to clean up your house when you’re too busy from work
There could be 100 other examples, but the basic theme here is that small excuses and pleasures you grant yourself can often be done away with.
It will save you time and money and also make your life better in the long run.
8) Use failure as rocket fuel for your dreams
Another of the big obstacles to self-discipline is failure.
When things don’t go the way we hope or we get thrown for a loop in our goals and lives it’s easy to give up, hit the pause button or play the victim.
- Having a relationship break up painfully and therefore ditching many dreams we had about our career for the foreseeable future…
- Having a big setback at work and allowing this to negatively impact our goal to get healthy or go on a diet…
- Experiencing major problems in our family, causing us to fight more with our partner and back out of our responsibilities in a relationship.
Whatever it is that’s not working out, we can’t afford to use it as an excuse.
When we do so, we end up shooting ourselves in the foot and justifying an undisciplined mindset and approach.
Discipline is about action, and when we make excuses not to act (no matter how good they might be) we often trip ourselves up.
If you’re going through an awful, chaotic time, by all means take some time off and some time alone.
But don’t use it as a reason to give up on the other goals and objectives you have in your life.
9) Spend time around disciplined individuals
There’s a saying that who you spend a time with says a lot about who you are, and it’s true.
Who we choose to surround ourselves with speaks volumes about who we are, for better and for worse.
Spending time around disciplined individuals is an incredibly good way to boost up your own discipline and become more set on your goals and self-accountability.
You get to see living examples of others who hold themselves accountable and have self-discipline.
It’s reassuring and inspiring, plus it makes self-discipline the norm instead of a weird exception or excess.
10) Network and link up with accountability partners
In addition to spending time with disciplined folks, I highly recommend also having an accountability partner.
This is somebody who you check in with and keep up to date on what you’re doing.
They make sure you stick to your self-discipline goals and pay the price or work harder when you don’t.
Having an accountability partner works, and I highly recommend it.
Getting self-disciplined is all about putting action over words.
It’s about proving to yourself, irrevocably, that you mean what you say and that when you plan to do something you will do it.
It’s about proving to yourself that you can and will cut unhealthy habits out of your life and improve.
It’s about going after your goals with singular dedication while still enjoying life and the passion you have for those in your life.
Discipline is ultimately about putting off gratification and focusing on the big picture so that your life can become much better and purpose-driven overall.