If you have really high goals, chance are that you had to improve your self discipline at some point. You had to streamline your daily routine, to improve your skills, to become more effective, to achieve more in less time or with less energy. Although one of the most expensive tools in your personal development tool box, self discipline is by far the most useful. In today’s post I’ll talk about my experience with self discipline.

What Is Self Discipline?

In short, self discipline is the ability to follow a specific goal regardless of current environment. If you would live in a perfect world, everything you want would be achieved instantly and effortlessly. But if you’re reading this post you don’t live in a perfect world. You live in the same world I live, a world in which things are falling short sometimes, in which priorities overlap, in which your energy seems always to be under the required level. Like it or not, this is the world we live in. This is our environment. And self-discipline is the ability to overcome any setbacks your environment can place between you and your goals.

Building Self Discipline

Creating self discipline is a tedious task. Because self discipline is more than a habit, it’s an intrinsic quality of your being. You can’t “learn self discipline” in one area of your life and then apply it exactly in other areas. And still expect it to work.  It simply doesn’t work that way. You’re creating a habit, at best, not self discipline. For instance, if you’re a blogger, you can’t create self discipline in your writing, and apply the same pattern to your physical activities. It’s much more than that.

What you can do, is to develop a certain approach which gives you the ability to tackle any task in any given context. Self discipline is more of a lifestyle than an atomic activity. Is more like a personal attitude towards life than just a technique you can put on autopilot and then just watch the results.

During the years, I had my share of struggle with self discipline. I wasn’t a very disciplined guy, mostly because I always had this thing with authority. I mean challenging authority figures. Among other stuff, this was one of the reasons I ended up being my own boss. But besides that, I always had this challenging attitude towards what I felt like imposed tasks. And that certainly didn’t make things easier for me when I had to follow long term goals.

But at some point I succeeded. I had a business for 10 years and believe me, you do need a hell of a lot of discipline to keep an online business working for 10 years. If you’re reading this blog you may know that I’ve been on a raw food diet for more than 9 months. I also imposed to myself and successfully implemented a posting speed on this blog, which is live for more than 9 months. And as I write this, I am on a 30 days exercising challenge. These are pretty distinct goals: business, health, writing and fitness. But I made them happen.

Creating self discipline, in my experience, requires only 5 things: clear goals, incentives, assessment, interference management and opportunism. Let’s take those things one at a time.

Clear Goals

If you don’t know where you’re heading, you can’t go faster. That’s a fact. Keeping clear goals is fundamental for building self discipline. Make those goals crystal sharp and then stick with them. One of the most common pitfalls in maintaining a self-discipline is losing sight of what you’re doing. It happens more often than you think. At some point you become so involved in reaching that goal that you can’t seem to remember which goal was in the first place.

There is also another very important reason for having clear defined goals: each goal needs specific actions. You would act in a certain way if you’re trying to improve your health (by embracing a raw food diet, for instance) and completely different if you’re going to improve your writing. You will implement different strategies for different objectives. Self discipline will help you strengthen your overall strategy, but if you’re choosing the wrong one, you won’t get results. And if you don’t get results, you’re going to quit.

Incentives

Creating self discipline requires rewards. Little payments down the road, in order to keep you motivated. I do think rewards are necessary during the process, although they are not the main objective. The main goal is to create a swiss army knife tool that you can apply constantly in every area of your life, regardless of the specific actions needed or of the specific context. And if some rewards will speed up the process, why not? It surely works for me.

Most of the time, those rewards will come in the simple form of progress assessment (more on assessment in a moment) like looking at what you’ve done so far and feeling good about it. When I started the raw food diet I monitored my weight. In two months I lost about 7 kilos. Well, I allowed myself to be happy about that. It was like Dumbo’s magic feather: kept me flying. Of course, the main goal wasn’t weight loss, it just made me go further.

Progress Assessment

Self discipline needs adjustment. You can’t expect anything to go perfect from the first time. So, in order to see if things are going in the right direction, you need to assess your progress. Constant feedback is another fundamental ingredient for building self-discipline. You may find yourself too active on a very easy situation, or under acting on a very difficult one. For each of these situations you will need some form of adjustment. And those adjustments will create little by little that attitude you call self discipline.

Also, regardless of the specific goal you’re trying to reach, when you’re starting to develop self discipline, don’t expect to have result fast, just watch the progress. Keep a journal, write things on your room walls, put iPhone reminders, send yourself emails, whatever works for you. For instance, when I decided to implement a posting speed on my blog I also created a blog audit wordpress plugin which helped me track the progress.

Ignoring Interferences

If you’re heading for the right goal, with the proper incentives and you’re making good progress, chances are that you’re going to be distracted soon. I think it’s just human nature: every time we seem to reach a certain momentum we tend to lose it the very next second. I call those situations interferences. Every time you are attracted by something else than your main goal, you’re allowing some interference to play with your energy field.

Those interferences are not necessarily pleasant. You can also get unpleasant interferences if you’re on a fluctuating context. For instance, some old, unfinished tasks will strongly require your attention, or some job superior will try to impose a disruptive attitude on you. Those interferences will break your flow and put some more distance between your and your goals. Pleasant or not, you got to learn how to ignore those interferences for good. Set course for your goal and stay there.

Opportunism

Have you ever been struck with luck? When trying to reach a specific goal, I mean? Some unexpected help coming from an unexpected person? Some situation change which created an advantage for you? Well, that sort of things just happens. I won’t go into details about how you attracted those things, but I’ll tell you that I am very fond of these situations. I mean, every time I feel these “hidden” help hands, I reach out.

Implementing self discipline means taking advantage of everything useful around you. If there’s some luck around, go for it, it will make things better. If there’s some help coming from somebody, receive it, don’t reject it just because “I have to do it, by myself”. Sometimes the Universe is just lending us a helping hand. Even – or even more – when we’re trying to implement something as difficult as self discipline.

***

In the end, the real reward is not achieving your goal. But stretching your limits. Further and further. It’s not about having or getting more (like more money, more stuff, etc) but about the experience of different things. It’s all about enjoying more dimensions of yourself and of the world.