Self-discipline doesn’t come naturally to everyone.
In fact, if you weren’t taught discipline as a child, it can be extremely difficult to learn it on your own as an adult. You’re essentially playing the role of both the parent and the kid—you have to tell yourself what to do and follow through.
But without self-discipline, you’ll be too distracted to excel at your chosen career.
One of my favorite books is Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art. I always recommend it to people because the message is universal—a professional does what he or she is supposed to, even if they don’t feel like it.
A painter paints. A writer writes. A salesperson sells. No excuses.
“Turning pro,” as Pressfield puts it, means practicing self-discipline and doing what needs to be done.
It’s not something you do for a little while and then forget about after you accomplish a goal or two. To continue getting better at what you do, you have to consistently find ways to improve.
Here’s how to go about it:
Surround yourself with people who constantly practice self-discipline
Discipline and success go hand in hand.
By seeking out people who practice self-discipline, you’ll likely be surrounding yourself with people who are more successful than you.
And the moment you get a look into their daily routine or the way they approach their work, you’ll understand why they’re so good at what they do. Whether it’s playing the piano or running a business, the only reason they make it look easy is because of their focused, patient approach.
I got my first taste of real self-discipline by practicing martial arts as a kid. And throughout my career, I’ve continued to seek out people who have that same controlled approach to their job. Just being around people like that gives me a jolt of energy and motivates me to do better myself.
When you realize there’s another level of self-discipline you can aspire to, you’ll naturally want to up your game.
Focus on planning and setting goals
Planning is essential to self-discipline.
People often set big goals for themselves but fail to create a game plan for how they’ll actually accomplish those goals. But it’s difficult to hold yourself accountable if you have no milestones in place to measure your progress.
So, instead of setting a big goal and hoping you’ll get there somehow, you need to break that overarching goal up into a series of smaller steps. Sit down and figure out what you’ll need to accomplish each month to achieve that larger goal. Then, break it down even further into what you need to do each week to stay on track with your monthly goals.
For example, your big goal might be to get in the best shape of your life this year. The plan you create should be a series of smaller milestones—going to the gym every other day or cooking healthy meals for the week on Sunday.
It’s much easier to focus on checking one task off your list than it is to only think about the larger goal and how far you have to go.
Find what motivates you, and use it to stay on track
If we were all perfect at maintaining our resolve, there’d be no reason to talk about self-discipline. We’re only human—and we have trouble staying focused and disciplined from time to time.
If you want to keep yourself on track, you have to figure out what motivates you.
For instance, my nephew was recently having trouble with his math class. Nothing out of the ordinary for a middle school kid. It wasn’t so much that he couldn’t do it, he just found it boring. But he loves Fortnite and told me he wants to make video games when he grows up. So, I broke the news to him that he’d need to know math to do that.
And we started talking about all the ways he uses math when he’s playing video games. For example, if a character has 1000 health and loses 150 every time he gets hit by an enemy, then how many times can he get hit before he needs to retreat? Once he started looking at his math problems that way, the subject became a lot less boring.
It can be a struggle to practice self-discipline, but it gets easier if you figure out what motivates you and use it to keep yourself on track. Because if a task brings you forward in your journey toward your big goal, then you have to embrace it. Even if it sucks.
That’s what being a productive professional is all about—having the self-discipline to do your best work, even when you don’t feel like it.