Why You Can’t Seem to Get the Hang of Discipline


Someone once asked me online how to build discipline muscles. As much as it got me thinking, I realised it’s something that seems to elude a number of people. It also seems to be something people use to market a bunch of unnecessary things to the masses. We’re obsessed with it and it seems to be sold as the answer to all our problems.


Self Discipline is defined as “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”.

It’s not this thing that is as elusive as people make it out to be or magical and mystical.

It’s something that we develop and build over time.

It’s something that is necessary – fundamental even.


It’s necessary because there are too many factors outside of our control that can affect our goal.

How many times has your mood changed and affected a task at hand?

I can’t count the number of times that my motivation has dwindled away and caused my progress to come to a standstill.

Or on how many occasions unexpected obstacles have put a spanner in the works.

There is so much that we can’t control but being disciplined isn’t one of those things.


Since it’s something that is so essential to our lives and our success, it only makes sense to try and understand some fundamental truths about it or why it seems we haven’t gotten it right just yet.


Don’t Overcomplicate It

When it comes to building discipline, this is the first thing I would point out. Don’t allow it to become this thing that is extremely mystical. It’s within reach. It’s something you can build and develop. It isn’t something that some people are born with and others have to miss out on.


When we overcomplicate things, it becomes something that is out of our reach and that much harder to achieve. But it doesn’t need to be that way.


Think of it as a muscle. There are things you can do to build it and it’s your job to always be on the hunt for what those things are because that muscle will come in handy at some point – well at several points if I’m honest.


One Thing at a Time

Part of making something less complicated is breaking it down into little bite sized or manageable chunks. It’s the same when it comes to discipline.


It may not be that you haven’t been able to master discipline because something is inherently wrong with you, but rather that you’ve been trying to conquer the mountain all at once. A ten foot statue might be impossible for you to move all at once but if you broke it down into smaller pieces, eventually you would get it to its destination.


With building up discipline, it’s about mastering one thing at a time. It involves you creating and maintaining habits that will help you in the quest to be more disciplined. You won’t wake up one day and all of a sudden be the most disciplined version of yourself, but over time through mastering individual habits, you can get there.


For example if you wanted to become more disciplined when it comes to fitness, you can develop the habit of waking up earlier every day and working out. Or if you wanted to become disciplined in the area of writing and creating content, you could commit to writing once a day for five days of the week.


It’s about identifying the habits and little things you need to master in order to build that discipline, but it has to happen bit by bit. The approach of trying to conquer everything at the same time only works against you and often leads to frustration.


Take Ownership

This part is life changing – honestly. Once we are able to take ownership for the goals we have and the things we want, there really isn’t much room for excuses. It forces us to take responsibility for where we’re trying to get to and in turn, ensure that our actions line up.


Once we understand the responsibility we have regarding the life we want, we can begin to make decisions that are reflective of where we are trying to go and not where we currently are. We eliminate the ability to point fingers and sit back whilst life happens to us.


Our decisions are no longer based on how we feel, or how much motivation we have left but instead the responsibility we have to take action for where we are trying to get to. This is basically what discipline looks like.


Set up Systems to Help

If discipline is about doing it when you don’t feel like it, then you need things to help you do that.


Everywhere we go, we’re often exposed to systems and processes that organisations put into place in order to ensure a particular action is carried out. For example, in an office building there’s usually turnstiles at the entrance where you need to tap your pass to get in. Or within certain jobs, you are required to fill in a timesheet and submit it in order to get paid. Regardless of the feelings each employee has, their preference, lack of motivation or any ulterior motive – they still have to follow the procedures put in place.


Systems and processes help us to do what’s necessary irrespective of other factors that show up. We experience these everyday and it amends our behaviour each time but sometimes fail to see the benefit of implementing these in our own lives. Part of being successful in building discipline is being able to implement the systems that will help us get to the end.


You won’t feel like doing what you’re meant to every time, but if there’s a system in place that says you have to, then you’re more likely to. It changes from whether you want to workout that week, to knowing you have classes booked at the gym on Mondays and Wednesdays. It changes from whether you want to sort your finances this month, to knowing that every Friday you update the spreadsheet for your monthly budget.


Be patient with yourself

This is something I live by all the time. It doesn’t mean I’m not pushing to achieve my goals or get the best out of myself, but instead it means I’m able to give myself grace when things aren’t necessarily going to plan on the journey to being disciplined.


There will be days when even with all the tools at your disposal, you won’t get it right. You simply might not wake up to go to the gym that morning. The important thing to remember is that it isn’t the end of the world.


If every time things don’t go according to plan, you are incredibly hard on yourself, you may not even want to try at all the next time an opportunity presents itself. Which is why it’s incredibly important to be patient with yourself. Have the long term in mind and don’t allow yourself to get bogged down by what happens in the short term.


Remember Your Why

I had to save what I feel is the best for last.


Sometimes it feels like people are in pursuit of discipline as the end goal. It seems to be viewed as this thing we desire to possess because it places us an inch above the next person. But what’s the point in that?


If there’s no why behind it all, then it’s just a pursuit of discipline for discipline sake.


The beauty in discipline for me is that it’s there to serve the greater purpose you choose. It’s there to help you achieve the things you really desire to without you being the greatest obstacle there is. This point is important because in things relating to being disciplined, the act won’t always be pleasurable but the result is.


If you have a why, or the end result that motivates you, then you’re more likely to build and use discipline muscles that help you get there.


That’s all from me for now on this topic. I’m sure there’s so much more that we can unravel regarding it but this is indeed a great place to start for now.


Let’s grow these discipline muscles!




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