How to Cultivate Self-Discipline (and Why That’s Important)

How to Cultivate Self-Discipline (and Why That’s Important)

Many people have amazing talents. The problem is, raw ability and intelligence aren’t enough to carry you through life. To succeed, you also need self-discipline in order to focus those talents.

If there’s a single skill that can determine how far you’ll go in life, it’s self-discipline. Without it, you’ll fumble around without clear goals and potentially squander natural gifts or even hard earned skills. Given this, we’ll talk about five ways you can cultivate it. However, before this, let’s talk a bit more about the importance of self-discipline!

Why You Need Self-Discipline to Succeed

Let’s set the scene. It’s late evening, you have an important project due the next day, but you haven’t started working on it yet. Ultimately, you’ve been waiting for inspiration to strike, which has obviously impacted you starting the project. The problem is, the inspiration and motivation often doesn’t come when you need it most. Instead, you need to ‘will’ yourself into doing what you need to when necessary.

This drive to get things done, even when you don’t feel like it, is what we call ‘self-discipline’. Studies have shown it’s one of the most important success indicators, and here’s why:

  • Discipline often translates to a better work ethic.
  • The more disciplined you are, the more likely it is you’ll stick to healthy physical and mental habits.
  • With enough discipline, you can focus on the tasks you need to accomplish, even if you’re feeling unmotivated.

At one point or another, you’ve probably run across a person who gets so much done, you’re suspicious they’re a robot. They’ll juggle classes, work, hobbies, clubs, and more, all while excelling at almost everything they do. In some cases, you can put that down to raw talent, but it’s usually all about amazing self-discipline. However, natural intelligence and skill will only get you so far if you don’t have the drive (or self-discipline) to put them to use.

5 Steps for Cultivating Self-Discipline

Self-discipline is like a muscle. You need to exercise it regularly until it’s a part of you are, like a habit (only a good one, in this case). In the next few sections, we’ll go over five steps to help you cultivate self-discipline methodically.

Step #1: Set Goals and Hold Yourself Accountable to Them

To exercise self-discipline, you’ll need a target to aim for. This can be any goal you want, from getting into shape, increasing your productivity at work, getting up earlier, and practically anything else. Having a goal to work towards will enable you to cherish your progress as you inch forward. Plus, it will give you an excuse to exercise your self-discipline every day.

To start, make a list of the areas of your life you want to improve. This can include habits you want to form or kick, projects you want to tackle, and more. Then, dive those into two categories:

  1. Short-term goals. For example, forcing yourself to wake up earlier is something you can accomplish from one day to the next. However, you’ll need self-discipline to stick the course.
  2. Long-term goals. Getting a promotion at work is an excellent example of a long-term goal. To succeed, you’ll need to drive yourself to do better in the office, impress your superiors, and remain productive even when you’re not feeling like it.

Once you have clear goals, we recommend you try out a system to help you keep track of your progress. For example, you can use ‘To-Do’ apps to cross off each goal as you accomplish it, or to note when you’re making progress.

Step #2: Take Care of Your Body

Often, our body can be our biggest enemy. Sickness aside, somedays you simply won’t have much energy. You might get a stomach or a headache, or your eyes could be tired from too much screen time.

These can all impact your productivity negatively and sap your motivation to get anything done. With enough self-discipline, you’ll still be able to push forward, though (as long as you’re not at death’s door!).

Let’s be honest, though – it’s much easier to be disciplined when you’re feeling well. Given this, the smart move is to start taking better care of your body, so it won’t let you down when you need to devote yourself to a task. Here’s a quick rundown of how you can go about becoming a healthier person:

However, all of this is easier said than done. Developing each of these habits can take weeks or months, and will usually require discipline. However, the better your body feels, the easier it’ll be to give 100% to whatever you’re working on.

Step #3: Work on Your Tasks Even When You’re Not Feeling Motivated

The hardest part of cultivating self-discipline is forcing yourself to be productive when you don’t feel like it. Even the word “forcing” sound like you’re doing yourself a disservice. However, it’s also the word that most accurately paints the struggle of getting things done by sheer will alone.

Even if you’re feeling great and full of energy, there will be times when you won’t want to get any work done, even if you have to. This lack of motivation doesn’t just affect work either. You might just not feel like going to the gym or cooking a healthy meal. None of these things are the end of the world, but they’re perfect opportunities to exercise your self-discipline.

To ‘force’ yourself to work even when you don’t feel like it, there are a lot of little tricks you can use to get into a productive mindset:

  • Sit down and work on something for five minutes, then stop if you don’t feel like doing it. Often, just the act of getting started is enough to find motivation, so this trick is a favorite.
  • Promise yourself a reward for when you accomplish the tasks you need to get done.
  • Work in increments, so you always have regular breaks built in, as with the Pomodoro Technique.
  • Get an accountability partner who can whip you into shape when you’re unproductive.

All those tricks are useful. However, at some point, you just need to roll up your sleeves and sit down to work without no excuses. This is what lies at the core of self-discipline, and in time, you should be good to go with without having to fool your brain into being productive.

Step #4: Remove as Many Distractions as Possible

Self-discipline is all about gaining a productive mindset, even when you’re surrounded by distractions. However, it’s often much simpler to remove those distractions altogether, so they don’t impact your work in the first place.

If you work using a computer (which is very common), you’ll have a near-infinite number of distractions. You could rely on self-discipline alone to keep you on track, or you could block the websites that distract you the most while you work.

It’s more of a reactive step, for sure – but who’s keeping score? The process of removing distractions will depend on your work environment. For digital workers, here’s what we recommend:

  • Identify your biggest online time wasters. There are usually browser extensions available, such as Webtime Tracker for Chrome.
  • Find a way to block those websites temporarily. As with the previous item, you can also use extensions to block any sites you want.
  • Put away your smartphone while you work. For convenience’s sake, keep it close, but not so easily accessible.

Of course, depending on your workplace, you’ll need to find your own ways to eliminate distractions. Having nothing to take your attention away from the task in hand makes it much easier to remain disciplined.

Step #5: Stick to Your New Habits (And Don’t Let Occasional Slips Stop You)

As we mentioned, self-discipline is something you need to cultivate. To do so, you’ll need to put work in towards staying the distance and accomplishing your goals, even when you don’t feel like it.

However, let’s be honest – everyone slips from time to time. You might end up procrastinating the entire day, eating a whole pizza by yourself, or something else entirely. The important thing is to not let slip-ups derail you. You can always learn from those mistakes, and remain mindful so you can exercise more discipline and improve the next time around.

Of course, this is easier said than done. However, chances are you’ll notice drastic improvements to your life as soon as you begin exercising greater discipline. Momentum is important too, as stopping will cause the positive change to ebb away. Therefore, you need to be consistent while not being too hard on yourself. After all, you don’t want your new-found self-discipline to turn into a restrictive anchor.


If we had to choose between self-discipline and raw talent, we’d go with the former. With enough self-discipline, there’s very little you can’t learn or accomplish. However, it’s something you need to exercise, otherwise, you’ll end up relying on motivation alone – which is too fleeting a thing to deposit your future on.

All it takes is deciding you want to be more disciplined and taking the steps to get there, such as:

  1. Setting goals and holding yourself accountable to them.
  2. Taking care of your body.
  3. Working on your tasks even when you’re not feeling motivated.
  4. Removing as many distractions as possible.
  5. Sticking to your new habits (even if you slip from time to time).

Do you have any problems forcing yourself to be more self-disciplined? Share your stories with us in the comments section below!