Post Updated on January 29, 2021
Everyone thinks motivation is the key to getting things done. I’m sure you’ve searched the phrase, ‘How do I motivate myself?’ once or twice when you’re lacking the willpower to get anything done.
Without motivation, it’s hard to get started on anything. But when you can’t rely on motivation, you need to turn to self-discipline.
Self-discipline and consistency are so important, yet they’re so difficult to achieve. Perhaps it’s because we associate them with deprivation, mundanity, and absolutely zero fun.
If you let distractions control your day and you only make decisions based on how you feel (aka unmotivated), you might never get where you want to be.
It may be more fun to watch Netflix, but you need self-discipline to help you get through those moments when you lack motivation. In this post, I’m sharing some mindset shifts to help you realize you ARE disciplined, plus seven tips to help you improve your self-discipline even when you’re feeling lazy (coming from someone who’s a sloth by nature).
What Is Self-Discipline?
Self-discipline is the ability to pursue what you want despite temptations to abandon it.
Self-discipline involves doing something repeatedly until it becomes part of your routine and lifestyle. It also means avoiding things that you know you shouldn’t do/eat/say, etc.
Whether you think of it as something you do or something you refrain from doing, self-discipline is something many people associate with success.
If you think of Olympic athletes, talent obviously contributes to their success, but it’s those who are the most disciplined who win the medals. People who keep their commitments to themselves and others are the ones who get ahead.
You might not think you have self-discipline, but we all have discipline in some way or another without even realizing it. If you’re always telling yourself that you have no self-discipline, it’s time to let that mindset go. It’s not a personality trait to suck at self-discipline, so I want you to stop using that as an excuse.
What Self-Discipline Looks Like
I never thought of myself as having good self-discipline until my mom mentioned it randomly one day. She said, “You’re pretty good at setting a routine for yourself and getting to work.” That was all I really needed to hear in order to change my mindset and see that I am capable of self-discipline.
I’m lazy by nature, but I am disciplined at certain things. We’re all that way really, but we get stuck because we think we need to be disciplined at everything. To change your mindset, recognize the areas of your life where you’re already disciplined.
For example, something I’ve been good at lately is exercising 6 times a week for at least 20 minutes per workout. It took a long time to be consistent with it (like….years), but I’m finally at the point where I do it without trying to talk myself out of it.
Something I’ve not been disciplined with is the amount of time I spend on TikTok (yeah, I’m almost 30 but I caved and downloaded the app). I know these types of apps were designed to keep people on them for as long as possible, but I also have plenty of opportunities to stop scrolling…yet I don’t.
Knowing that I have self-discipline in certain areas of my life but not others reminds me that I’m human. It also reminds me that I can’t use a lack of self-discipline as an excuse to not follow through with my intentions.
Why Self-Discipline Is So Difficult (Yet So Important)
Consistency helps us to move the needle forward. If you have goals you want to achieve or habits you want to adopt, you need self-discipline to be consistent with them.
When motivation fails to inspire you, self-discipline is there to help you get it done anyway.
One of the reasons self-discipline is so difficult is because we view it as a negative thing. Self-discipline is often associated with deprivation, and who wants to willingly deprive themselves? ??♀️
If you stick with the mindset that self-discipline equals deprivation, you might be holding yourself back. Instead, you have to think of self-discipline in terms of consistently doing things because they’re important to you.
When you do things because you enjoy them and clearly see the benefits of doing them, you’re more likely to be consistent with them. Mark Manson says, “Any emotionally healthy approach to self-discipline must work with your emotions, rather than against them.”
“Any emotionally healthy approach to self-discipline must work with your emotions, rather than against them.”– Mark Manson
You won’t be able to go to the gym consistently if you don’t enjoy it, so you have to find ways to make it enjoyable. Focus on creating discipline around the things that you find beneficial, not the things that you think you should do.
For example, I journal daily because I know it makes me feel good. There are still times when I don’t want to do it, but I always feel better after writing. This makes it easier to be disciplined with my daily writing habit.
You don’t have to deprive yourself of the things that you enjoy, and practicing discipline will make it easier to enjoy the not-so-beneficial things you want to do without feeling guilty about them.
7 Ways To Improve Your Self-Discipline
If you’ve been telling yourself you need to get better at self-discipline, here are 7 ways to work on it every single day (especially when you feel lazy or unmotivated):
1. Create enjoyable rituals
Little rituals and certain environments can help with self-discipline. I recently started dedicating time to writing blog posts on a daily basis. When it’s time to get started (usually around 9 or 10), I turn on my essential oil diffuser, make a cup of tea, and put on the cardigan that hangs on the back of my chair. This little ritual makes me feel like a real writer (lol) and it signals to my brain that it’s time to start writing.
Setting up this environment for myself tells me it’s time to write, and it makes the daily ritual a little more inviting. Routines and rituals help you to be consistent and help you stick to the commitments you’re trying to keep to yourself.
Related Post: How to use comfort triggers to create new habits
2. Clarify your priorities
When you’re clear on your priorities, it makes it easier to avoid decisions you’ll regret later. It also makes it easier to focus on one thing at a time. For example, if you need to get something done but a friend asks you to hang out, you have to decide whether it’s more beneficial to keep working or take a break for your friend.
It’s okay to let go of a rigid schedule and be spontaneous, but clear-set priorities will help if you do this often and keep feeling guilty about it. One way to do this is to ask yourself, “Will this make life easier or harder for myself in the future?”
Related Post: How to define your top priorities
3. Commit to consistency
If you have a hard time deciding how often you want to do something, try doing it every day or every weekday instead. I’ve found success when I do something every day (e.g. writing morning pages, working out, journaling, etc.) because my brain doesn’t have to make a decision about how often to do it. I know I need to get it done that day, so I create the time to do it.
You could also try Matt D’Avella’s two-day rule where he doesn’t go more than two days without working out (but apply it to whatever you’re wanting to do).
4. Keep track of your progress
If you want to do something every day, keep track of it with a habit tracker. The more you do something and physically see how much you’ve done it, the more likely you are to keep going. That’s how I was able to meditate for 76 days in a row in 2018. Seeing that I’d already done it for so many days in a row motivated me to keep going even when I didn’t feel like it.
5. Just get started
If you always leave things until the last minute, make things easier for yourself by committing to taking one step. Often we avoid tasks until the last minute because we think a) they’ll take forever b) it’ll take a lot of effort or c) we need to finish it all in one go. I try to start tasks with the mindset that I don’t have to finish it in this one session. If I tell myself, “You only need to work on this for 25 minutes”, I’m more likely to start it before it’s due.
Related Post: How to take action when you don’t feel ready
6. Remove temptations
If you’re prone to distractions, get them as far away as possible. My phone is a big temptation for me, so I make sure it’s out of sight when I’m working. If you’re not disciplined when it comes to food, keep temptations out of your pantry. When the temptation is too strong, ask yourself again, “Does this help or hurt my future self?”
7. Let yourself rest
Your day does not have to be filled to the brim with productive tasks. You need to give yourself downtime to reset and recharge. Otherwise, discipline doesn’t give you much of a life. If you’re having a particularly rough day, give yourself permission to take a break.
Sometimes all you need is a few moments to recuperate, but other times you need a whole day to recover. Be real with yourself about how much discomfort you’re willing to let disrupt your day.
Freebie: Self-care routine guide
What areas of your life are you disciplined in?
Think of one area of your life where you have discipline. How did you get there? How can you apply that to other areas of your life? Instead of telling yourself that you don’t have self-discipline, find a way to prove yourself wrong.