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One of the most important attributes to becoming successful is self-discipline. It’s almost impossible to achieve excellence without it. Self-discipline helps you stay focused; it gives you the gumption to stick with something even when it’s difficult. It helps you choose to win the long game over short-term gratification. Self-discipline allows you to overcome obstacles and deal with the discomfort of pushing yourself to new heights. With enough self-discipline, you can form life-long, positive habits; once you form a habit, it no longer requires discipline and you propel yourself towards success because it’s what you do day in and day out.

What is self-discipline? Essentially, it’s the ability to control your impulses, emotions, reactions, and behaviors. It’s the ability to forego short-term gratification in favor of long-term satisfaction and gain. It’s basically saying no when you really want to say yes.

How does self-discipline lead to forming habits? If you do something over and over again, it eventually becomes a habit and once something a habit, life gets easier; you no longer need the willpower to force yourself to do it. For example, last year one of my goals was to do more yoga. I made a commitment to do it 30 minutes every day for 30 days. I felt so much better that I continued for another 30 days which turned in 6 months, etc.  Now I get up an hour earlier to start my day off with 60 minutes of yoga. I don’t have to set my alarm anymore and I do it EVERY day. If you would like more insight on how to use discipline to form habits, read the Power of Habit. It’s a fantastic book.

The word self-discipline makes most people shudder just uttering it but being self-disciplined isn’t about leading a restrictive and boring life void of enjoyment, relaxation, and fun. In fact, it’s next to impossible to be self-disciplined in all areas of your life and I don’t recommend it. Instead, you should use self-discipline to focus your energies on what’s most important to you. Let it help you make the tradeoff between the short and long term so that you make better choices. In the long run, you’ll be happier when you have formed habits that make your life better.

So how do you become more self-disciplined? Here are my tricks:

Make a self-discipline list. You can’t achieve your goals without discipline so supplement your goal list with a list of what you need to do to be disciplined enough to achieve them. This idea from came the book “The Only Sales Guide You’ll Ever Need” and I love it. It keeps me focused on the behaviors I need to exhibit to reach my goals; it helps me form new habits. For example, one of my 2017 goals is to be more visible to our customers. My discipline list includes things like “call 3 customers per week” and “send 5 thank you cards per month.”

Use a daily “success” list to keep track of the 3 most important things you need to get done each day to achieve your goals. These 3 things should coincide with your discipline list. I also keep a daily “to do” list where I track the little things I need to complete so they don’t fall between the cracks. I never do the “to dos” until the success list is done. I use Evernote to make checklists every day (I also keep my goal and discipline list here). It’s a great tool used to track, organize and prioritize things. I’ve found the best time to create tomorrow’s list is at the end of my workday; then I tweak it in the morning before heading to the office.

Figure out what your barriers to success are. For example, I’m easily distracted by emails, meetings and people walking into my office, so to reach my goal of more customer contact, I close my office door as soon as I get to work and make calls, send thank you notes, and answer emails sent from customers. I check it off my list and move on with my day. Trying to lose weight? Get the junk food out of your house. Want to be more productive at work? Close your email application and only check your emails twice per day. Want to get in shape, get up early and workout so you don’t lose motivation throughout the day. Use your calendar to schedule your success list and live by it. Minimize or remove all temptations and distractions to reach your most important goals.

Share your goals with others. It’s easier to stick with something when you’ve made a public commitment; the desire not to fail in front of others can be highly motivating. These people can help hold you accountable, too. Invite someone to be your accountability buddy and ask him or her to tell you when he or she sees you veering off course.  

Do it for someone else. I know the saying goes, “don’t do it for others, do it for yourself” but I have found I am much more disciplined when I consider how my actions, behaviors, emotions, and impulses affect others. Contrary to popular belief, it’s okay to use external sources to drive motivation. In fact, sometimes external motivators are more powerful than internal ones.

Stop making excuses. Don’t wait for tomorrow; do it now. Fall off the wagon? Start over immediately. Quit telling yourself something is too hard or that you can’t change. Don’t blame other people for your circumstances. Excuse-making is the killer of self-discipline; it allows you to let yourself off the hook. You can achieve so much more in life if you adopt the Nike mindset: JUST DO IT©.

You are the master of your destiny, the creator of your life. If you want your destiny to look, be and feel a certain way, then you have to develop the discipline to form habits. Vigorous habits will help you get to where you want to be. While it seems counterintuitive, I have found that I am happier and healthier the more self-disciplined I become. I think you will find the same thing, too.

Thanks for reading and as always, I welcome and encourage comments, likes, and shares. Also, check out this post on how to be an accountable leader.

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