The best way to study self-discipline

For most people, self-discipline is a drudgery. It’s something to abhor. It’s hard. If you approach self-confidence with that attitude, it’s fricking hard to develop it.

The best way is your way.

And you don’t “study” self-discipline, you practice it.

It’s like swimming, you cannot “learn” it. You must get into the water and try to swim. Otherwise, you will never learn it.

You must start some daily disciplines and keep doing them day after day after day. That’s how one becomes self-disciplined.

However, you of course, should watch what others are doing and listen to their advice.

“Be a student, not a follower. Don’t just go do what someone says. Take interest in what someone says, then debate it, ponder it and consider it from all angles.” — Jim Rohn

Just don’t follow them blindly. Draw your own conclusions.

I will give you a handful of tips that worked for me. By any external metric, I’m a self-disciplined man.

For example, for the last 1532 days, every single day I did my short but insanely intensive (always to failure) morning workout. I never aimed to be self-disciplined per se. It just happened.

But I was much worse in the past, so I think I learned some self-discipline without my conscious effort on this specific trait.

Change your personal philosophy about self-discipline

For most people, self-discipline is a drudgery. It’s something to abhor. It’s hard.

If you approach self-confidence with that attitude, it’s fricking hard to develop it.

Self-discipline is not hard at all. The lack of self-discipline is hard. Take a look at the chart below:

The Slight Edge chart.

95% of people choose the path of little to no self-discipline. They automatically choose the path to failure as well. I have some life experience. While failures are very enlightening, they are nothing pleasurable. Especially, the whole full-out life failure is not pleasurable at all.

I experienced what self-discipline is, and the lack of it. I tell you, the self-disciplined life is so much better. For 33 years, I exercised self-discipline only on a whim or when my back was to the wall.

Neglect vs. discipline

Take my finances, for example. For years, it was a source of misery for me, because I didn’t exercise self-control and self-discipline in managing my money. I was able to save 2–3% of my salary a month, and then some major unexpected event occurred and I lost it all. Buying an apartment, buying the first car, repairing the car after I hit a tree, purchasing the first house… Each of those events put my balance back to zero… or below.

I was sick of it. Finally, I found two small disciplines that taught me to save: paying myself first and tracking my every expense. This second discipline was particularly pesky. I had to buy a grocery item, take out the notepad and jot down what I bought and for how much. Every single time! Yikes!

My savings ratio over the years

However, 5 years down the road of practicing this discipline, I have the most money in the bank account I’ve ever had. I can quit my job if I want and live comfortably for 10 months from my savings. I can buy a new car for cash. I can invest $1,700 into myself by joining the mastermind. Oh, wait a minute, I’ve just done it the last month!

Internalize delayed gratification

If you lack self-discipline, you let neglect slip into each area of your life. Your health suffers, your relationships suffer, your finances are in shambles, and you blame God for all this (your spirituality suffers).

Lack of self-discipline, in plain terms, is stupid. Self-discipline is smart. Do you want to be stupid?

The stinky thinking about self-discipline comes from ignorance. When you are not disciplined, you know only the one part of the equation: immediate gratification.

Delayed gratification is so much better, but you don’t have the relevant experience to realize that.

If you say: “I realize, but…”, you don’t really realize. You need internalized experience to understand what self-discipline can bring you.

Nowadays, tracking my spending is not a nuisance; it’s something I’m looking forward to. I know the discipline’s reward, and it’s so much better than neglect.

Extrapolate

If you don’t know the reward yet, and you simply have no relevant experience to get to like self-discipline, leverage what you know. Extrapolate your current situation. This is what I had done with my finances. I had no idea what abundance meant, because I had never experienced it.

But I knew exactly what financial struggles meant. So, I extrapolated my current situation 40 years into the future. I assumed that my current situation would last for the next few decades.

Man, this was unbearable. The most optimistic scenario told that when I would be about to reach retirement age, I could’ve paid off our small apartment and have an equivalent of $20,000 as the funds for the rest of my life.

The realistic scenarios were much worse. I could envision our savings wiped out multiple times by some life drama and being an old bankrupt, one of those guys who need to take a McJob to survive at retirement.

Imagine

If you have a rich imagination (I don’t), you can imagine instead of extrapolate. Visualize and taste the fruits of self-discipline.

What could you have achieved if you work hard every day? If you exercised every day? If you studied every day? How well your life would have looked? Would that be enough for you to put yourself together today to achieve a better future?

Self-discipline is NOT an option

It’s not an option, of course, if you want anything worthwhile from life. I never aimed to be self-disciplined. I wanted several different outcomes in my life (more money, freedom, health, better relationships, etc.) and I knew I need relevant habits to achieve those things. My train of thought was: you won’t have a habit if you don’t show up every day. You won’t have results, if you don’t have a habit.

You do what you have to. If self-discipline is an option for you, it will remain an option forever. Fix your personal philosophy.

Be ready to pay the price

Yesterday, I ate too many cakes. They were delicious. I’ll pay the price. Tomorrow, I will fast the whole day.

Self-discipline is always about the price.

“There are two types of pain you will go through in life, the pain of discipline and the pain of regret.” — Jim Rohn

And the relevant reward.

“An immediate reward for lack of discipline is a fun day at the beach. A future reward of discipline is owning the beach.” — Jim Rohn

You cannot have the cake and eat the cake, but this is what we all have in mind when approaching any activity. That’s why people still spend millions on research on a weight loss pill.

Can you imagine what a business such a pill would make? People could have eaten all the greasy and sweet stuff, take a pill and be thin. A wet dream of a marketer.

But life doesn’t work that way. If you want to eat a cake, you will pay the price in your self-image or at a gym. If you want to get better grades, earn more money or have better marriage, you need to pay the price as well.

Habits

My self-discipline has its root in my habits. I guess it’s the same for most other people.

You see, our habits make us who we are. It’s their fault if we are cowards or heroes, fat or thin, wise or dumb, persistent, or we drop a towel too quickly.

It’s not some mystical blabber. The etymology of the word says that. Sages since ancient times were saying that. And current scientific research concluded that changing one’s habits is the most reliable way to change yourself and your life.

Developing self-discipline via daily habits is so natural. If you have something to do every day, excuses and procrastination won’t cut the mustard. You have to show up. Self-discipline stops to be an option and becomes a must.

Summary

Self-discipline was necessary for me. I didn’t ruminate about it. I didn’t try to learn it. I exercised it every single day to get my habits done. I had to show up. There was no other way to get what I wanted.

Accept that there is no other way. Ditch instant gratification. Embrace delayed gratification. Focus on doing daily habits.

“For every disciplined effort, there are multiple rewards.” — Jim Rohn

Michał Stawicki is a coach and self-published author writing about how to ‘expand beyond your limits’ so you can regain control over your life (based on my personal experience).

This article first appeared on Medium.