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6 Empowering Steps To Build Self-Discipline, Part 1


photo: Stephen Poff

In my previous article, Self-Discipline: The Link Between Goals And Accomplishment, I talked about the importance of self-discipline and all the things you will be able to do when you build that skill. Most importantly, you will get better at breaking unhealthy habits, overcoming procrastination, and accomplishing goals.

Now I want to give you some steps you can follow that will help you get better at self-discipline, which is such an important component to realizing your dreams and building the life you truly want. Today I’ll start with the first three steps, and in my next article, we’ll go through the final three.

(1) Start With Awareness

You’ve heard the old saying, “the first step to getting help is admitting you have a problem.” That applies here. Take some time to think about your lifestyle, goals, and projects. Now think about what your behaviors are that are helping you to move toward the life you want to have, and also think about your typical behaviors and actions that hinder your progress.

For instance, if you are in debt and you regularly think that you would really like to be debt-free, what are you doing about it? Are you saving money, cutting down on unnecessary purchases, and tracking your spending?

Or are your behaviors are contrary to your goal? Are you buying things whenever you want them? Labeling things as “needs” when really they are “wants”? Spending money you have, without thinking about saving or paying down debt?

Try this exercise: Write down some of your goals (both big and small), and then write down your current behaviors that are affecting your progress toward those goals, both positive and negative. Think about whether one of the negatives is simply “nothing,” in other words you have something you want to accomplish, and although you are doing nothing to hinder yourself, you are also doing nothing to move in the right direction.

(2) Do A Little Self-Analysis

Now that you have an awareness of the behaviors that are hindering your progress, see if you can uncover some of the underlying reasons that you are sabotaging yourself.

    • If you’ve been putting off a project, do you lack the confidence that you will know how to get it done?
    • If you are engaging in an unhealthy habit, are you using that habit to placate an emotional pain?
    • If you haven’t made any progress on a big dream, does it seem so big that you are immobilized to even get started?
    • If you are a procrastinator, why aren’t you making your goals a priority? Why is immediate gratification more important than clearing your To Do list of the things that are weighing you down? If you think really hard about the answers to these questions, you might be able to figure out how to work around them.

Sometimes the thing that keep us from making the right decision is knowledge. What do you need to know in order to finish that project, break that habit, or stop procrastinating? If you feel like there is something that you are lacking, read up on your project or talk to others who have accomplished your goals.

The added bonus of knowing more about the topic is that it naturally will motivate you to take steps in the right direction. Added knowledge will give you power! Try to gain an understanding of why you’re doing these things, then build your knowledge to move around those obstacles.

(3) Train Progressively

If you’re starting to get a better idea of why you aren’t disciplining yourself to do the things you need to do, it’s time to start to change that. And you’re most likely to see progress and stick with it if you start small. Training progressively just means you start with something a bit easy and each time you conquer one step, you raise the bar a bit. Try these steps:

  • Think about an area of your life where you’d like to build self-discipline, and then try to think of one small step that would move you in the right direction. For instance, if you’d like to eat healthier, maybe you should start with skipping your routine afternoon visit to the office vending machine. It’s a small thing, but you are pushing yourself just a bit out of your comfort zone.


  • Once you have reached the point where you don’t even think about getting an afternoon snack, increase the challenge. Your next goal might be to eat a healthy lunch every day. If you’re used to going out and grabbing fast food every day, this will be a tougher challenge than skipping the vending machine. But that’s the point – when the challenge is harder, more self-discipline is required. And that’s how you keep building on your ability to discipline yourself.


  • Keep taking it up a notch. Once you master one level of self-discipline, think about what you can do to make the challenge even tougher and move up to the next level. Skip dessert? Get up earlier to make sure you have time for a healthy breakfast? Keep training progressively until you have reached your goal of eating healthier.


  • Make sure each time you set a new challenge for yourself, it isn’t just a new challenge, but also a tougher one. That’s how you train yourself to get stronger in self-discipline.


  • Once you reach a goal in one area, like eating healthy, think about the next area where you’d like to be more disciplined, like exercising regularly. Then start at the beginning again and train yourself in the same progressive way.

Those are the first three steps to help you build self-discipline. Not too painful, right? In my next article, I’ll talk about the final three steps, removing temptation, finding inspiration, and resisting the initial urge to overdo it. For now, though, start thinking about the areas of your life where you could use a little more self-discipline, and also think about your current behaviors that are both helping and hindering those goals. You’ll be on your way to building a more fulfilling life soon!