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Developing Self-Discipline

“The first and the best victory is to conquer self.”
– Plato

Self-discipline is a simple concept, very easy to define and explain but… difficult to practice.

It is reasonable for me to surmise that you know what self-discipline means but what I am hesitant to presume is you possessing this ability. I am not even sure if I have it too. However, if at this point of your (and my) life, we have achieved some measure of success, in both our personal and professional undertakings then perhaps it is not too much to assume that we have practiced or have been practicing  self-discipline to a certain extent. But if our needle of success has not moved a bit, if we have not accomplished anything significant that we can be proud of, then something is wrong with the way we are living our lives and managing our affairs. Could the culprit  be the lack of self-discipline?

One of the most probable reasons that there are people who realized their dreams and ambitions, got what they wanted, and became what they want to become is them practicing self-discipline. How successful or unsuccessful you are corresponds to the degree of self-discipline that you as a person have. I think I don’t even need to cite studies to prove the assertion I just made because even the simplest of minds would tell you that there is a direct correlation between success and self-discipline. As Lou Holtz said, “Without self-discipline, success is impossible, period.”

What comes to mind when self-discipline is mentioned? For me, there are three things – sacrifice, hard work, and focus. To some, those words make self-discipline synonymous with punishment and boredom. They conjure up images of long hours of work and study, of self-deprivation, of delaying self-gratification, and of strict adherence to certain standards.

In short, self-discipline is not fun. It’s not fun to sacrifice, to deny yourself of the pleasures of life. It’s not fun to work hard. You would rather go out with friends and party during your free time than pursue lifelong learning and self-improvement activities. It’s not fun to focus. It’s difficult with all the forms of distractions this modern world has to offer.

But to those who want their names written in the list of people who achieved great things and attained fulfillment, self-discipline is the key. The potent mix of sacrifice, hard work, and focus is the elixir you need to drink to bolster your chances of succeeding.

In the pursuit of whatever it is that you want to achieve, certain knowledge and skills are required.  You cannot  acquire and develop them overnight.  There are no shortcuts, no magic pills. The process will be long and hard and the question is – Are you willing to sacrifice time and effort  to possess them?

You want to be like the athletes, artists, leaders, personalities you idolize. You want to be like that somebody you know who has accomplished great things. You want to become as successful and accomplished as they are. But are you willing and able to walk the paths they walked to get there? Do you have the perseverance to spend months, if not years,  of dedicated study and training  to learn what you need to learn? Those people you look up to made it to the top by virtue of their sacrifices.

There will be times that you would feel like giving up because seemingly you are not making any progress. But you have to learn to hold on. The process of holding on is an important component of self-discipline. An online dictionary  defines self-discipline this way – “The ability you have to control and motivate yourself, stay on track, and do what is right.”

When you want to achieve something, you should also be willing to put in the hard yards. Don’t expect that your dreams and ambitions will be delivered to you in a silver platter.  We are naturally wired to prefer either lying on the couch or sleeping. That’s according to neuroscientists. But if you really want to become a winner, you must overcome that natural laziness. It  is going to be a mighty struggle and only a self-disciplined person will be able to jump over this hurdle.  “Self-discipline (as defined by another online dictionary) is “the ability to control one’s feelings and overcome one’s weaknesses; the ability to pursue what one thinks is right despite temptations to abandon it.”

In the pursuit of your dreams and ambitions you need to be able to focus too. Don’t ever lose sight of your goals, of the things you want to accomplish.

Focusing entails avoiding all kinds of distractions that could derail you from achieving what you want.  Distractions could be the people, vices, and activities who (or which)  instead of helping might actually hinder you from accomplishing your goals. You have to choose between  them and your dreams.

To stay focused you also need to lay down a definite plan of action for everything that you set to accomplish. Focusing is not only avoiding all kinds of distractions but ensuring that you have a map  that will serve as your guide as you navigate your way towards success.

The main objective of focusing is to become single-minded, of becoming driven by the pursuit of your personal and professional endeavors. It is putting together all your resources towards the fulfillment of your purpose and setting aside whatever it is that may hinder you from achieving them.

To sacrifice, work hard and focus are things that are easier said than done. It’s like doing what we don’t like to do and going where we don’t like to go. It’s asking us to get out of our comfort zones. And the problem is we are not comfortable to be uncomfortable.

There are times that we are confronted by the dilemma of choosing between two things… between reading a book and binge-watching movies or our favorite TV shows…. between going to a karaoke bar or to a gym… between eating healthy or keeping the diet that made you gain weight. Very likely that we would be ending up picking the choices after the “or.” That’s how we are wired – to take the easier route.

The choices we make determine the quality of our self-discipline. It’s hard to control our desires and habits. We usually struggle to make the best choices. And we get to realize that we made the wrong decisions only when we are already suffering from the consequences of what we chose to do.

We should bear in mind that self-discipline is correlated not only to success but to our overall well-being as well. Let’s borrow Merriam-Webster’s definition of well-being – “The state of being happy, healthy, or prosperous.” Now ask yourself – “How happy, healthy, and prosperous am I?” Only you know the answer.

If in the aspects of happiness, health, and wealth, your needle is not also moving, how much of that can be attributed to lack of self-discipline? How much of that can be attributed to your unwillingness to sacrifice, to work hard, and to focus?

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