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How to Train Yourself to Be Disciplined and Successful

Discipline can help you reach your goals even when you are not motivated. With these simple tools, you can train yourself to be disciplined.


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Oliver Brunchmann

3 years ago | 6 min read

Become a master of execution and delivery

Photo by svklimkin on Unsplash
Photo by svklimkin on Unsplash

I have a problem. I am not a disciplined person by nature. At least in some forms and at least that is the story I tell myself.

I am not completely without discipline. I have completed a university degree and I am doing fairly well in the job market, but I have my issues. Especially when something becomes routine or that I think it is boring.

Let’s take an easy example. I am close to incapable of doing sports at a fixed time every week. I manage to power through my feelings of growling misery for a couple of months, hating just the thought of having to go at that exact time. Then I give up and quit. It’s not pretty. And the strange thing is: I am motivated. I enjoy the training when I am there (Most often).

I am telling myself I am lacking the discipline to continue with things that are good for me regardless of my waning enthusiasm. But is that true? And what can I do about it?

The definitions

I love definitions — I know it’s a bit nerdy so skip through if you want to.

The first definition: The Latin Disciplina meant “teaching, learning.”

Second: a system of rules of conduct or method of practice

Third: training to improve strength or self-control

These three definitions are all important to understand relative to the outcome you want to achieve.

I want you to reach your goals — even without a lot of motivation. That means Discipline is about teaching yourself strength and self-control to reach your goals. To practices and condition yourself to achieve without motivation. Discipline is something you can train!

What about motivation? Isn’t that the key?

Motivation can be a fantastic force of change and drive behavior and actions. But sometimes motivation can be fickle and depending on the situation, it may be difficult to find that motivation.

In general, I am very motivated to be in good shape. I want to lead a long and healthy life and I know that the physical shape I am in, plays an integral part towards that goal. I have a strong, let’s call it “Goal Motivation” for exercising. It is a strong motivation since I have small kids and I want to live long enough to see them grow old and have kids of their own.

Then comes Tuesday evening. Getting up early in the morning. Fixing breakfast. Getting kids to School and Kindergarten. Then a full working day. Dinner. Playing with the kids and putting them to bed. Then all the practical stuff: the dishwasher and maybe washing some clothes.

The time is getting close to 9 PM and the sofa and TV beckons. In that situation, my motivation is very low for grabbing my gym clothes and running off to exercise. Let’s call that situational motivation.

Motivation can be seen on two levels. Goal motivation and situational motivation. They may sometimes conflict with each other. The strength of the goal motivation may not be enough to overpower what is more motivating in the situation.

  1. Goal motivation — what I want to achieve
  2. Situational motivation — what I want to do right now

Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein describe the planner and the doer, in their book “Nudge” about decisionmaking.

The planner thinks ahead and knows what is good for us and what we should achieve. The planner knows how to set goals and understands the motivation of goals.

The doer, on the other hand, is action-oriented, hence the name, and is in the situation. What motivates the doer, is situational.

All of us have the Planner and the Doer in us, they just pop out at different times and we have to learn to use them both.

Thaler and Sunstein advocate that we can use the planner to help the doer. For instance, if you plan and make a commitment with a personal trainer at the Gym every Tuesday night, it will be easier for the Doer to get going.

There are plenty of good things to say about using the planner and the Doer and to get better at using your motivation. Motivation is great. But motivation requires a lot of thinking. A lot of reflection and a lot of emotion.

That is why I want to suggest that you add an extra tool to your toolkit, to now always be depending on motivation.

The alternative — Just Do it

“Don’t think about it. Don’t rationalize anything. No snooze button, no “Just five more minutes.” Just get up when your alarm clock goes off.” Jocko Willink

Discipline is about doing what you are supposed to do, even without motivation. If you decide that you need to do something, then stop debating it with your self. Stop your endless rationalization of why you don’t need to do it this particular day.

I tried this with cold showers just recently. I watched a few videos of Wim Hof and his methods and thought I would try his cold shower challenge. That is one heck of a great training exercise in discipline. It is very difficult to find the situational motivation to turn the shower from nice and hot to very cold. But I did it. I did it for 14 days as I set forth to do. Even without any motivation, I did it just because I decided to do it.

In the Tim Ferris Show episode with Jocko Willink, he describes a good way to train your discipline. And he knows about discipline as a former Navy SEAL. His proposed list of actions are the following:

  1. Every night, make a list of things to do the next day
  2. Set the alarm clock to earlier than usual (i.e. an hour early)
  3. Make it easy to get started (I.e. put your gym clothes ready at the bedside)
  4. Get up and start on the list
  5. Do it every day

“Just do what you’re supposed to do and then just stay on the path. Because even though it might not get easier, the rewards are going to grow and you’ll realize that the discipline you are imposing into your life is making your life better and giving you more freedom.” Jocko Willink

Here is what you should do

1. Select a simple goal

Start your training with a simple goal. For me, it was the cold showers, but it could equally well be something as simple as making your bed every morning or going for a walk when you get home for work.

Start with something that you should do every day or at least something that can fit into a routine. That will make it easier to get started.

2. Commit to action

Commit yourself to this goal but don’t start with a forever commitment. Start with a “The next 2 weeks I will do X”. The commitment part is really important. Look into a mirror or talk to your partner or a good friend and say the commitment out loud. It may sound terribly stupid, but voicing your commitment so you can hear it yourself, helps.

Tip: Listen for they non-commit words when you speak. Are you using words like “Trying”, “May”, “Most” or anything that makes your statement less committed? Erase those words and say it again. It has to be strong and you have to feel the commitment in your stomach.

3. Establish a routine

Plan when you want to do this new action. Try to fit it into one of your existing routines to make it easy to do. The cold shower is easy. I already have a routine for showering in the morning, so turning on the cold water at the end of the shower is easy to establish.

Another example is eating vitamins. I always forgot to do that in the past, until I linked it with brushing my teeth in the morning. I never forget to brush my teeth and placing my vitamins next to my toothbrush ensures that I now take my vitamins every day as well.

4. Just do it! Stop thinking about it and take action!

Now you have been reading through 6 minutes of this article and hopefully been thinking about something you want to do, now it is time for action.

Remember that discipline is not about thinking. It is not about motivating yourself or reflecting your way to success. It is about doing what you have said you would do, no matter the lack of motivation!

Good luck and enjoy it!

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