Just the word itself sounds quite harsh, doesn’t it? Constricting. Limiting. Orderly.
But what if I told you it’s all just a matter of perspective? What if I said that self-discipline can actually make your life better and more enjoyable while helping you achieve your goals at the same time?
It’s true. And all you need to do is shift your mindset and embrace some specific traits.
Without further ado…
People who have mastered the art of self-discipline while continuing to enjoy their life usually have these 7 traits.
1) Their bodies are their friends, not enemies
Once upon a time, I used to force myself to get up at 5 AM.
In fact, I still occasionally give it a try, thinking that this time will be different.
It never is.
Over the last few years, I’ve experimented a great deal with my sleeping patterns, only to find out that I’m simply not an early bird, least of all during winter.
Yes, that’s right. I’m not part of the 5 AM club. And I’ve made my peace with it.
Do you know what I am part of, though?
The 9-hours-of-sleep-per-night society. The listening-to-my-body organization. The discipline-doesn’t-equal-a 5 AM wake-up time club.
You and I both know there’s plenty of productivity advice on the internet, some of which is completely contradictory. Some people will tell you that waking up early is the only way to go while others will advocate for listening to your intuition.
As someone whose brain doesn’t properly turn on before 8 AM, I fall into the latter category.
Your body isn’t the enemy. Stop fighting it. You can enjoy life and be self-disciplined on your own terms.
After all, it doesn’t really matter if you go to the gym at 6 AM or 8 PM – all that matters is that you’re moving toward your goals and are having a good time.
2) They aren’t perfectionists
“Hold on. How can someone who’s self-disciplined not be a perfectionist? The whole point is that they are organized, have strong willpower, and work hard to achieve their goals.”
Well, you can actually be all those things and still throw perfectionism in the bin.
Let’s put it this way. Perfectionism is a very unproductive approach to self-discipline. And that’s because progress isn’t linear.
When I was younger, I used to think I had to always perform better than my past self. Then reality hit me, and I had to accept it was simply impossible to function in that way.
A personal trainer at the gym once told me, “50% of your workouts will be ordinary, 30% will be amazing, and 20% will be downright awful.”
You won’t wake up feeling amazing every day. You won’t be super productive five days a week.
This applies even more so if you’re a female because your body is on a monthly, not daily, cycle. You might feel like a rockstar one week, just to crash three days later.
And that’s okay. People who have mastered the art of self-discipline while continuing to enjoy their life understand that it doesn’t matter how fast your progress or how great your performance is.
What matters is that you show up. That’s it.
3) They can distinguish between “laziness” and exhaustion
Of course, showing up isn’t always easy. Some days, all I want is to lay in bed and watch a TV show for six hours straight.
And then the question of all questions pops into my head. “Am I being lazy? Or am I exhausted and really need a break?”
If you’re being a little bit lazy, there’s a high chance your passivity will only make you more tired, contributing to a vicious cycle of doing nothing and feeling like rubbish.
If you’re truly tired, if you’re dealing with mental health issues, or if you feel like you could really use a break, though, taking the day off might be in your best interest.
So, how can you distinguish between the two?
Well, the first thing to do is to recognize that laziness is rarely just about laziness itself. More often than not, there is a deeper meaning hiding underneath the “laziness” label:
- Procrastination (aka, a freeze response to feeling overwhelmed)
- Mental health struggles
- A lack of motivation
- Struggles with executive functioning (e.g., not knowing where to start)
- Sleep deficiency or poor diet
…and plenty more.
Try to define what it is that’s contributing to your current state of mind.
If you’re lacking motivation or are struggling to get started on a task, for instance, there are many different hacks you can use to try to overcome the issue, such as the Pomodoro technique.
If you’re exhausted, are dealing with mental health issues, slept poorly last night, or just feel like your energy reserves are almost drained… it might be a good time to take a nap or do something nice and relaxing.
4) They take productive breaks
Speaking of taking naps and doing relaxing activities, it’s important to mention that self-discipline isn’t just about work.
Not at all.
More than anything, it’s about establishing the right balance between working and enjoying your time off.
Enter… productive breaks!
Contrary to what you might think, a productive break isn’t a break that somehow involves working. It’s actually the complete opposite.
Many people – especially workaholics or those of us who are too obsessed with productivity – don’t fully enjoy their breaks.
Instead of turning off their phone, savoring the present moment, and recharging their batteries to 100%, they are stuck in a weird limbo of thinking about work and trying to enjoy their time off while also feeling guilty about not working.
But the thing is… taking a proper break is the most productive thing you can do. Humans need their downtime as much as we need food – if you just work all the time, you’re going to fall apart.
Therefore, taking a productive break – i.e., enjoying yourself and forgetting about work for a day – is a core aspect of self-discipline.
5) They’re highly self-compassionate
Enjoying a guilt-free break is harder than it sounds, right?
I, for one, used to struggle with so much guilt that it took me years before I finally learned to embrace the power of proper rest.
And do you know what ultimately helped me reach my destination?
The moment I began to think of myself as my best friend and stopped with negative self-talk was the moment I finally felt free. An immense sense of guilt fell from my shoulders, and I could relax properly, boosting my productivity for the next day.
When you raise your self-compassion reserves, you realize that you deserve to enjoy your life and that even self-discipline ought to be rooted in kindness and love.
Some books I recommend on the topic include:
- Homecoming: Reclaiming and Championing Your Inner Child by John Bradshaw
- The Mountain Is You: Transforming Self-Sabotage Into Self-Mastery by Brianna West
6) They set achievable goals
If you want to be self-disciplined and enjoy your life, you can’t run yourself into the ground reaching for more than you can manage.
If your goal is to write a whole book, there’s a high likelihood you’ll write the first few chapters and then give up. The task feels too overwhelming.
If you break it down into achievable steps, though… that’s when the true fun begins.
Let’s say you want to write for half an hour every day.
Create a calendar and put it up on your wall or in your bookmarks on your laptop. Each time you complete the half-an-hour, you can tick it off, boosting your dopamine levels and feeling really good about yourself.
Turn it into a game of sorts. The more achievable goals you manage to accomplish, the more satisfied you’ll feel, which will only increase your motivation to keep going.
And ta-da! You’ve hijacked your way into self-discipline.
As you can see, a great deal of self-discipline isn’t about willpower at all. It’s about finding new ways to motivate yourself.
7) They make productivity work for them, not the other way around
A common misconception is that productivity equals hard work. If you approach productivity from a place of self-compassion and practicality, though, you’ll realize it’s more about working smart.
If you don’t feel like getting started on a task, it doesn’t mean you’re lazy. It just means you might want to try out new tools to motivate yourself and see what sticks.
You may find that you want to get the hardest thing out of the way first thing in the morning.
Or you might prefer to blaze through your to-do list, ticking off all the small tasks, boosting your energy and motivation before you move on to the harder stuff.
Maybe you want to work in half-an-hour blocks. Maybe you want to create your own schedule.
It doesn’t matter what kinds of tools you use – as long as they help you get work done, enjoy your life, and feel good about yourself… task accomplished.
So, go ahead and experiment. Make productivity work for you, not the other way around.
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