What are psychology tricks to make us more disciplined?

 

I have to share with you.

Tip #1. Kick-start your focus.

The way you start the day — any day — is going to set the tone to whatever you do, try to do, want to do, and then actually do. You can choose to be reactive, which can mean you wake up, get your phone, and start checking emails, Twitter, or Instagram. You might watch the news and get caught up in world events, none of which you can control. Or, you might answer calls or respond to text messages that your friends start sending you during breakfast. If you’d like to create a different beginning to your day, get proactive by training your brain to be focused as soon as you wake up.

What’s an easy way to do this?

Start your day with this question: What is the one thing I am committed to completing today? This technique trains your brain to focus on which goals are important to you right now, and it forces you to prioritize the goal you believe to be the most relevant in this moment. How do you start? Put it in writing. Write it in big bold letters on a sheet of paper and hang it on your bedroom or bathroom wall. Read it out loud as you start your day, for example as you’re brushing your teeth or getting ready for work or school. Come up with an answer on the spot and answer it out loud. Then follow up by taking action — focus your energy throughout the day to completing your one thing.

Tip #2. Dive into deep work.

You can say a lot of things to describe a self-disciplined life, but being spontaneous in how you go about your day isn’t going to be one of them. There’s time for spontaneity, and then there’s time to do what you need to do. In other words, timing — just like in most other aspects of your life—is everything. Being self-disciplined means you do deep work (concentrating on complex cognitive tasks such as studying, problem-solving, writing) first before you do anything for pleasure. It means you are aware of which times of day should be devoted to doing it, and which times can be allotted to entertainment and socializing.

What’s an easy way to do this?

Make the most of your mornings by building a habit of doing your deep work early. This means taking full advantage of your circadian rhythm (your body’s biological clock), which is your natural rhythm that “knows” what are the optimal times for you to perform certain tasks. For most people, the early morning hours are optimal for deep work. Specifically, the brain’s peak performance is 2-4 hours after we wake up. So if you wake up at 6, then your peak times are between 8 and 10 a.m. Working early allows your brain to focus fully on the problem at hand, with fewer distractions, and less inputs from your environment.

Tip #3. Postpone what gives you pleasure.

If doing deep work early helps you focus better and get those responsibilities out of the way, what you’re also doing is postponing things that are more pleasurable. What’s the point of doing something difficult first in order to reward yourself later? You’d be surprised how far-reaching this practice can be. In a study performed by Stanford University scientists, results showed that delayed gratification can increase your chance at succeeding in many areas of your life — your education, career, short and long term goals, even your personal life choices. This study is now famous and is called the Marshmallow experiment.

What’s an easy way to do this?

Start by observing the things you’d like to indulge in whenever the opportunity presents itself — for example, seeing a slice of gorgeous double-chocolate cake at your local pastry shop. Then, resist the temptation to immediately choose to treat yourself by thinking of one reason why not to indulge: maybe you’re focused on your new fitness goals or better eating habits. And follow up — take your attention away from the distractions and focus on your priorities for the day: complete your homework, go to the gym, listen to a podcast on a topic that fascinates you, or prepare dinner early so you have time to watch a movie with friends later in the evening.

Tip #4. Don’t let social media run your life.

Leading a self-disciplined life means you learn how to say no to many different things: no to giving in to temptations to indulge in pleasant activities, no to your desire to procrastinate on daily priorities, no to distractions that take over your day. They may seem harmless to begin with, but distractions can easily make you slip from your work. One minute you’re just catching up with an old friend on WhatsApp, and the next thing you know it’s two hours later and you haven’t picked up your notes to start prepping for your exam. But when you turn off what distracts you, you have a better chance to actually get stuff done.

What’s an easy way to do this?

Be aware that distractions come from different sources, not just your electronic devices. Your goal, if you’re going to lead self-disciplined life, is to dial down all types of distractions so they’re not in your way. First, set your phone to Airplane mode when you need to focus on your work — try it for a 2-hour period to begin. Next, let people around you (family members, friends, or roommates) know you won’t be available in the next few hours. Check your email and social media apps only 2–3 times a day; start around lunchtime and then check later in the afternoon. Avoid browsing the Internet or reading news throughout the day; close all tabs in your browser to avoid any temptations to just check that one thing on Google.

Tip #5. Make discipline your best friend.

Like with all other areas in your life, self-discipline is for the most part all about attitude. What’s your understanding of self-discipline? Does it sound like a practice that is uncomfortable, unusual, harsh or maybe extreme? If it does, maybe it’s time to take a second look because the attitude you have towards self-discipline will either help you or deter you from instilling it in your daily life. For me, it’s never been about what I “should” do or what feels uncomfortable to do. It’s all about what it can afford me. With daily practice, self-discipline trains my brain to prioritize the things I can control, allows me to let go of what I cannot, and frees me up to focus on my personal goals.

What’s an easy way to do this?

Instead of living your life day by day, start thinking about your future and what you want to accomplish in 5, 10, even 20 years. Even if practicing self-discipline may feel like you’re sacrificing some things right now (time out with friends or indulging in a delicious dessert), think about what leading a self-disciplined life will afford you. Write down a list of new habits you’re practicing (or want to start practicing) that can add up to bigger results a year from now. Create time in your calendar to practice them — even a 30-minute session is enough to begin. When you understand the benefits of leading a self-disciplined life, you are more likely to nurture it. It will become a lifestyle that will take you into the future you want for yourself. The best part? You can start on that path today.

 

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How do I become the best in the world at what I do?

 

Great question!

Here’s what I suggest.

#1. Get laser-focused on your goal.

Having a specific goal (or several goals) is one of the most critical factors that drive success. When you have a goal you’re working towards, everything you work on in your daily life — from your career to building skills — has a greater sense of purpose. In other words, your actions will add up to something much bigger.

  • Make sure the goal is specific. For example, don’t just say that you want to get promoted in your job, have a large salary, or manage a team of five people. Make the goal as specific as possible. For example, if you want to get promoted, write down what are the areas where you need to improve: is it learning more, getting better at a specific task such as creating spreadsheets, or boosting communication skills? Next, write up a plan on how you are going to make progress. Finally, set milestones for yourself and figure out how to measure success.
  • Make every day count towards achieving the goal. Who is motivated to do anything if they don’t believe it matters in the long run? You can make each day count if you start your mornings with this question: what is the ONE THING I am committed to completing today? Asking it forces you to prioritize, helps your brain focus better, and streamlines the work you need to do so you don’t feel overwhelmed.

#2. Develop a strategy.

Of course goals are important if you want to become the best at what you do, but your strategy has to come first. What is strategy really? It means having a vision of the general direction in which you want to go, and understanding why you are going in that direction. So, as you’re focusing on what you want to do right now, you’re also keeping your eye on at least two steps ahead.

  • Consider different solutions. Maybe it’s not just having a plan, maybe it’s also having a plan B. And a plan C. Cover all the bases and look at your goal from different angles so you can assess its size, complexity, and entry points.
  • Don’t focus on short-term gratification. Doing something may feel great right now, but how will you feel about it tomorrow and the day after? Increase your awareness of the consequences of your actions, and consider the benefits of your actions in the long run.
  • Don’t think only of who you are today. You’re still growing and changing and becoming. This is true at every stage of our lives. Try adopting a different mindset: think of who you want to be in 5 or 10 years. By being strategic you will empower yourself to work on achieving long term results that your future self can benefit from.

#3. Master your environment.

In order to be the best at whatever you do, you need to master the essentials — know the environment that you are working in.

  • Develop a firm grasp of the industry and your field of expertise. Learn everything about it. Do the research. Find out who are the major players (the ones who are most successful), the influencers (the ones with the most followers), the competition, the qualities that are respected in experts, books, websites, and other resources that can help you understand the subject, industry, or environment.
  • Examine what successful people are doing in your field. For example, do you know what makes them different, why they’ve achieved a certain status in the community, and which traits they have in common? When you identify patterns in behaviors of others, it becomes easier to emulate them especially if we wish to develop the same successful traits in ourselves.

#4. Continuously develop your core skill set.

You can’t be the best at anything without a required skill set in your field of work, regardless of whether it’s studying for a PhD in economics, training to be a professional athlete, or mastering a programming language. How do you develop your core skill set?

  • Identify all skills that are necessary to succeed in doing your job. Brainstorm and then write down a list of all the skills you need. Don’t only think about building hard skills, but soft skills too.
  • Have a self-development plan. This of course is going to take some time. How about prioritizing? Start with skills you think will be most valuable to you, then create a plan to devote a certain amount of time each day, even if that means only 15 minutes in the beginning.
  • Practice each skill consistently. It’s not all about being focused on the numbers (how many hours you put in); it’s also about what you are doing in that time. Are you doing deep work? Deep work is focusing without interruptions on something that takes a lot of analytical thinking, and it is essential to mastering the skills you’re working on.

#5. Nurture your soft skills.

As you’re working on being the best at whatever you do, keep in mind there are different ways in which you can respond to your environment and what’s happening around you. Here are a few soft skills that can be beneficial to you:

  • Learn how to listen. Sometimes that means just staying quiet, and other times it’s picking up on non-verbal cues to fill in the blanks (observing people’s gestures, the way their eyes move, how they express their feelings through body movements). Listening is the #1 method of learning, so make the most of it.
  • Ask important questions. How can you gather more information unless you ask someone to tell you more about a topic, situation, or issue? Don’t just ask questions that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” Ask questions to reveal more about the topic: what is the single most important issue, why do people think it’s important, how does it impact your environment, work, and interactions with others?
  • Be respectful towards others. If you want to be treated as a valued member of any social group, it helps to approach its members with the courtesy and respect you also expect from them. That can mean anything from addressing people politely to letting them express their views and opinions before you start speaking about yours.

#6. Create an original solution to a problem.

Being the best doesn’t necessarily mean mimicking what other people say or do, even if they’re successful. It’s what is your unique contribution, your own spin on things, that will make a difference. Consider these questions to gain a better understanding of what can set you apart from others:

  • What makes your work great? For example, how is it unique and in what way is it different from the work of others in your field or line of work? And if it isn’t, think of ways in which you can make it more unique.
  • Which problem have you solved that other people might benefit from? If you can’t answer this question, it’s time to think about ways in which you can contribute. This is where your individual contribution can matter the most.
  • What are areas that need improvement? It could be anything from moving from beginner to intermediate level of training, to changing your learning approach as you tackle a difficult cognitive task. Then, create a specific plan to make progress in that area and a way in which you intend to measure your success.

#7. Nurture a strong belief in yourself.

It’s not necessarily whether other people believe in you that is critical to your success. It’s simply you believing in yourself. This is a tough one because we are usually our biggest critic. It doesn’t have to be that way. It’s just a matter of shifting your mindset a little bit each day:

  • Develop a growth mindset. Stop telling yourself (or letting others tell you) what you “should” be the best at and what you “should” give up. Chances are, you’ve been conditioned to think in this way from an early age. Expand the way you see yourself — grow your mindset.
  • Grow your critical thinking muscle. It’s about not taking everything you see and hear for granted, and learning how to think on your own. Take action so that you can develop your critical thinking skills every day.
  • Turn obstacles into opportunities. Instead of getting emotional when you experience a setback, work through the challenge so that you can get stronger mentally. It’s about developing Stoic habits to strengthen your belief in yourself and what you can do. Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t — you’re right.” Make sure you leave ample room in your life to say, “I CAN.”

How does one master the art of self-discipline?

 

Get badass about it.

If you want to get self-disciplined, don’t treat it as an extracurricular activity. Don’t practice something for one week then say to yourself, Ooooh this is tougher than I thought. Maybe it’s not for me.

If you want to get self-disciplined, you first ask yourself, What’s in this for me? If I persevere, what are the concrete benefits I will get? Understanding the reason for doing something differently is key. You need to get your brain on board that this change is a positive one.

If you want to get self-disciplined, you stop procrastinating and start doing.Identify one area of your life where you’d like to see more improvement. For example:

  • I’d like to know how to prioritize what’s most important to work on.
  • I’d like to spend less time on Facebook.
  • I’d like to start going to bed early.

Then, do the actual work.

Here are 5 suggestions on what that work looks like.

Suggestion #1. Train your brain to focus on what’s most important.

This is a simple routine you can practice in the morning. The goal of the routine is to get your brain used to making decisions on what it needs to focus on as soon as you wake up. Here’s how I practice it. I start my day with this question: “What is the onething I am committed to completing today?” This technique gets my brain to start evaluating the goals that are important to me right now and forces me to prioritize one goal that needs attention immediately. In addition, I give myself the time to think about what’s important in my life, instead of letting other people or situations dictate what I should or shouldn’t be doing.

What’s the process?

Put it in writing. Write it in big bold letters on a sheet of paper and hang it on your bedroom or bathroom wall. Read it out loud as you start your day, for example as you’re brushing your teeth or getting dressed. Come up with an answer on the spot and answer it out loud. Then follow up by taking action: focus your energy throughout the day to completing your one thing.

Suggestion #2. Make the most of your willpower.

When we wake up to begin our day, it’s common for most of us to feel a sense of overwhelm because there are so many things we need to do, from small routine tasks to working on large projects towards bigger goals, both professional and personal. As a result, our first response might be to delay doing anything (because it’s hard to decide what to do and in what order), which translates into a bad habit of procrastinating. That’s a self-imposed obstacle. Why? Because we all have a finite amount of willpower that takes us through the day. And that willpower gets weaker and weaker as the day progresses. So if you think you’ll start writing that essay after dinner, think again. Chances are you’ll put if off some more and turn to your TV instead.

What’s the process?

Practicing self-discipline means that if you want to focus on priorities, you should work on them early. As early in the day as possible — in fact, start right after breakfast. Do that task that you’ve been putting off all week before lunchtime. Write up a plan for the school or work week ahead of time. Finish up doing homework or reviewing your exam questions that you’ve been procrastinating on for days because you’d rather do something more fun. The benefit? You gain a sense of accomplishment early that will make you feel better about the whole day.

Suggestion #3. Treat a new habit as a choice instead of punishment.

OK, so you’ve figured out that there’s something in your life you’d like to change because you don’t like what you’re currently doing (or not doing). It can be a fitness goal you’d like to reach (start running in the mornings like you used to in college), a health benefit (stop eating dinner in restaurants three times a week), or better manage your time (get more sleep instead of watching shows on Netflix until 2 a.m.). All those new habits you want to acquire will need self-discipline, time, and repetition. If this sounds unappealing, it’s because you make it sound that way: you feel like you “should” be doing something difficult when you’d rather be relaxing.

What’s the process?

First, stop telling yourself that keeping a life-changing habit is a way to punish yourself. That’s the wrong attitude to have for anything in your life. If you keep thinking this way, you might give up on many things that can make a huge difference for you. Instead, think of a new habit as a choice that you make in order to become a better version of yourself. And next, make the change as easy as possible by starting with tiny steps. Instead of saying you have to hit the gym for two hours each evening after work, do a mini-workout at home for 10 minutes each day to give your body time to adjust. Or, start going to bed 15 minutes earlier and read a good book or listen to relaxing music to help you fall asleep faster.

Suggestion #4. Learn how to manage your busy thoughts.

When I was as student, I started noticing those thousands of thoughts bouncing around in my mind. The more I read, absorbed new information in school, talked to my friends, interacted with family members, and observed the world as a young adult, the more confusing everything seemed. I started to awfulize about so many things. What’s worse is that I thought it’s just me! Nobody surely thought this way. And then as I grew up I realized that it’s not just me, it’s all of us. The older we get, the more cognitive input we have, and we often struggle to categorize this input. What’s relevant to our life and what isn’t? Which problem do I need to solve? Is this something I can control, or can I let it go?

What’s the process?

First, it’s important to be aware that if you feel overwhelmed, have negative or self-critical thoughts, or find yourself ruminating on past events and personal failures, you are not alone. The good news is this: even though you may think it, you are not your thoughts. You are much bigger than your thoughts! And second, start considering a few habits to reign in those thoughts and categorize them as either relevant or just dramatic. You can start with a 10-minute meditation to calm your thoughts and even slow down the chaos. An excellent app to try is Headspace. Also, you can devote 30 minutes a day to being outside in a park or by the beach. Spending some time in nature really does positively affect the brain.

Suggestion #5. Learn how to say no to what distracts you.

If you think that all the gadgets and toys we have at our disposal today are to blame for getting distracted easily, think again. Even the Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca wrote about this, and the topic is featured in his book On the Shortness of Life. Seneca describes people’s struggles with gluttony, vanity, focusing on materialistic things, and always trying to impress others. Sound familiar? Maybe today we don’t host lavish banquets to impress our guests, but we do pay attention to what we see on social media and we observe the images of surreal lifestyles on Facebook or Instagram. And that often leads to feelings of dissatisfaction, envy, and self-criticism.

What’s the process?

First, take everything you see on social media with a grain of salt. Chances are those pictures and updates are not a real representation of everyday life, but rather a tactic someone is using to sell a product, service, or brand. And second, don’t waste your time on distractions if they don’t serve the purpose of adding value to your life. Set your phone to Airplane mode when you need to focus, especially in the first few hours of the day. Let people in your inner circle know you won’t be available for a few hours. Check email and social media apps in the afternoons and evening, instead of spending the first 30 minutes of your day on them. Close all tabs on your browser that may be tempting you to unfocus from your important work.

If you liked these tips on building self-discipline, you might enjoy my e-book 5 Keys to Self-Discipline to Help You Transform Each Day. You can read more about it here.

What is the easiest way to start a new habit?

 

Don’t overengineer it!

In other words, make the change as small as possible.

You can:

Tip #1. Keep it simple.

Every habit we’d like to acquire needs self-discipline, time, and repetition. Maybe you feel that this month it’s time to make some kind of change in your life: start working out, stop eating out so much, get more sleep, find more time to spend with family, or watch TV less. The key to keeping a good habit stick is to make it simple so you don’t find it intimidating, exhausting, and overwhelming. Start with tiny steps. Do a mini-workout at home for 10 minutes this month before you buy that gym membership. Go to bed 15 minutes earlier than usual to give yourself time to de-stress and relax with a good book, so you don’t end up staying awake all night and feeling groggy and listless the next day. Prep and pack your lunch the night before so you don’t feel pressured to eat yet another greasy lunch at a fast-food restaurant.

Tip #2. Practice early in the day.

When we start the day, we tend to get overwhelmed with the amount of things we need to do, so we procrastinate on some of those things and postpone them for later in the day. That goes for new habits too. This is a missed opportunity. Think of it this way. We all have a finite amount of willpower that takes us through the day, so if you want to focus on your top priority—your new habit—work on it early. Practice a new skill before lunchtime while you’re still energized and focused on your top goals. Maybe practicing means sketching a quick portrait in black and white or writing one paragraph of a short story. Don’t leave it for late at night when you might be exhausted from events that happened during the day.

Tip #3. Practice every day.

Why? It’s much less likely you will make any habit stick if you just practice it once or twice a week. If you do that, your brain will start thinking this is an optional activity, something you just do on the side. Instead, you’ll get better results if you starting doing it more frequently so you brain will get accustomed to it, and eventually will adopt this new behavior as a regular part of the day. How can you do this? Schedule it in. Find a block of time (preferably earlier in the day) to work on your habit so that you’ll be successful at it. Mark it in your daily planner, or add it to your mobile phone monthly calendar, then set a notification to remind you an hour or two ahead of time when you should practice it.

Tip #4. Replace saying, “I can’t!” with “Why not?”

It’s a subtle shift in your attitude, but one that can reap big results over time, especially if you keep practicing it. You know the feeling when you’re trying to do something new and it’s just not going well? The first instinctive reaction is to say, I can’t! And that’s a human reaction. But the key here is to replace a negative statement with an open-ended and positive one. When we say, Why not? we give ourselves more power to make a positive change in our life. We leave some space open for possibilities, instead of shutting the door in our own face. It’s a matter of seeing things as doable and realistic, instead of making them appear abstract and even impossible to achieve.

Tip #5. Make your new habit a choice (instead of a chore).

When you start doing something different, always ask yourself, Why am I doing this? What will this new behavior afford me? It’s important to stay connected to the initial reason for picking the new habit. Maybe you want to work out so you improve your health and lose weight. Or maybe you want to work on creative skills such as drawing, painting, or composing a new track with your band. Think about what this better version of you will look like after you’ve succeeded in making this habit a part of your everyday life. What will this feel like? How will it help you achieve bigger goals? Where will you go next? Choosing a behavior will make you feel stronger, more powerful, and more proactive about your life.

Tip #6. Resist the urge to quit.

The writer Seth Godin said, “Never quit something with great long-term potential just because you can’t deal with the stress of the moment.” It’s important to stop for a minute and assess the stress you’re feeling and where it’s coming from. If you’re stressed out about keeping up with a new habit, try to figure out why. Maybe it’s not easy to keep a healthy diet around friends who want to eat out in restaurants three times a week. Or maybe your ego is finding it tough to deal with not being the best in a kickboxing class or a hackathon you recently participated in. Fight the urge to give up whenever things get tough, hard, or even ugly. Know the difference between what feels hard to do right now and what’s good for you in the long run. Nothing truly amazing happens in one day or even a month. Next time you fall, do your best to get up, dust yourself off, and keep going.

Tip #7. Reward yourself for each step you take.

Developing new habits is a matter of self-discipline, but that doesn’t mean you should just keep plugging along without pausing and taking stock of what you already accomplished. To make a new habit as pleasant as possible, there needs to be a reward of some kind. Why? You want to produce more endorphins (your “happy hormones”) as you go along. How? Record your progress—dedicate a notebook to your new habit and write down how much you’re working on it and how frequently. This gives you a sense of accomplishment. Write a brief journal entry of how your day went: what did you achieve, what went well, where did you run into a challenge, how can you make things better tomorrow? At the end of the day, set aside an hour to do something enjoyable and relaxing: take a bike ride, read a good book, or spend some time with a friend.

How can I improve my discipline and become better at finishing tasks that I start?

 

Here’s what’s great about your question: this is one area of our life that we have control over.

But before we get into the how, let’s try and understand the why.

In other words, why do you not finish what you started or why do you not do it on time?

Step #1. Identify what’s bothering you.

  • Is it fear of not being able to do something successfully?
  • Is it lack of knowledge you need to complete a task?
  • Do you find the work overwhelming or too time-consuming?

Step #2. Find strategies to improve the situation.

It’s always helpful if these strategies are straightforward and easy to follow. If you get advice that’s very complicated and takes a lot of time to implement, you’ll likely give up sooner rather than later.

Step #3. Get proactive about making a change.

Here’s how you can do it.

Self-discipline tip #1. Get smarter about maximizing your daily dose of willpower.

When we wake up, it’s not uncommon that we’re overwhelmed with the amount of things we need to do, so we end up procrastinating and postponing our tasks. That’s a critical mistake, because we all have a finite amount of willpower that takes us through the day. If you want to focus on priorities, work on them early.

  • Complete one task that you’ve been putting off all week before lunchtime. It’s going to take much less time than if you leave if for the evening.
  • Write up a weekly plan for the school or work week ahead of time. That way you won’t panic when a deadline is approaching.
  • Finish homework that you’ve been putting off because you’ve been watching YouTube videos. You won’t need to stay up all night making up for lost time.

Self-discipline tip #2. Take care of your basic needs first.

Before you embark on your path toward any type of achievement, it’s important to cover the basics. According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, that means meeting the first level of physiological needs such as food, shelter, and clothing. Here is the first opportunity where you can practice self-discipline.

  • Eat the right food. Eat not just to be full, but also to stay healthy and maintain your brain’s optimal performance.
  • Get sufficient exercise. Physical exercise is critical to performing well in every area of your life, so make sure to make it is a daily habit.
  • Get enough sleep. When you’re sleep-deprived, you’ll never be able to function at optimal levels, either physically and mentally. Be sure to get enough sleep.

Self-discipline tip #3. Make a new habit stick by keeping it simple.

Every habit we’d like to acquire needs self-discipline, time, and repetition. If you’re reading this, chances are you feel that it’s time to make some kind of improvement in the way you do your work. To simplify a change you’re trying to make, start with tiny steps.

  • Start with a micro task. It can be writing down a to-do list of what you need to accomplish in one day.
  • Don’t multitask. Go down your list of tasks and look at each one individually. Don’t try to do a few things in the same hour.
  • Divide your time into manageable chunks. Use the Pomodoro technique to maximize time and keep yourself on track.

Self-discipline tip #4. Practice saying no more often.

If you frequently find yourself running out of time to do what you need to do, it probably means you’re wasting time and energy on things that are not that important in the long run. Start building up your “no muscle” in small ways each day.

  • When you’re in the middle of finishing up a project and a friend calls to invite you to a party, it doesn’t mean you should drop everything and go. It’s okay to politely say no and stay focused on your goal.
  • When you are working and your mobile phone lights up with a notification of a Facebook or Instagram update, don’t look at it. Keep your phone away from you when you’re working, and check it after you’ve completed a task.

Self-discipline tip #5. Make a specific commitment to yourself.

Commitments aren’t just promises you make to other people. You can — and should — make them first to yourself. A great way to begin is to define a very specific goal you want to achieve in a certain time frame. Here are a few examples of what you can commit to. Write it down in your journal, or write it on a large sheet of paper and hang it on your bedroom wall so you see it each day.

  • I am committed to focusing on my studies in the next 30 days so that I can pass all three of my exams with top marks.
  • I am committed to completing my to-do list for today before I turn on the TV so that I don’t have to add more things to my work agenda tomorrow.
  • I am committed to staying focused on my goals so that I can make progress in my work or school and be proud of what I’ve done.

How do you maintain discipline in your life?

 

I’ll admit it: I believe self-discipline is a virtue. It’s also a skill. And that’s the good news — you can build it, like a muscle, as long as you value it and see how beneficial it can be to your life.

As for me, this is what self-discipline means. If there’s something that I know will be good for me in the long run, I’ll do it even if it’s not something I feel like doing in that moment. I am a believer in Stanford’s Marshmallow experiment, which demonstrates the power of delayed gratification. And I like to take action, which means I’ll get proactive and try things even if I’m not 100% sure of how to do them.

What does that look like in day-to-day life?

I practice a few self-discipline hacks. Here are several examples.

Self-discipline hack #1. I start each day by making one important decision.

Other than making my bed (the quickest and easiest way to accomplish something fast), I can set the tone to my day by taking ownership of what I’m going to do with the next 12–16 hours of my life. To do this, I start my day with one question: “What is the one thing I am committed to completing today?” This technique trains my brain to evaluate the goals that are important to me right now, and forces me to prioritize one goal that needs attention immediately. I give myself the time to think about what’s important, instead of letting other people or situations prioritize my day.

What are the steps?

Write the question in big bold letters on a sheet of paper and hang it on your bedroom or bathroom wall. Read it out loud as you start your day, for example as you’re brushing your teeth or getting dressed. Come up with an answer on the spot and answer it out loud. Then follow up by taking action: focus your energy throughout the day to completing your one thing.

Self-discipline hack #2. I do the hard work first.

Let’s make one thing clear: I wasn’t born self-disciplined. It takes time, effort, and practice. The habits that I’m practicing now weren’t habits I had when I was younger. Many of them are new behaviors I’ve been practicing only the past few years of my life. I remember that for years, my typical day would start with checking email and Twitter on my phone, followed by exchanging text messages back and forth with people. In retrospect, I see what a waste of time it was! Over the years, I realized that mornings are actually the ideal time of day to get the hardest work out of the way. By doing so, I stopped dreading all the work I knew I needed to do, and it freed up the rest of the day for other more pleasant activities.

What are the steps?

Rule #1: put away your phone. Do whatever you need to so you can ignore it successfully: set it to Airplane mode, turn off the volume, put it on a table farther away face down, or place it in your backpack or jacket pocket. Then, make the most of your mornings by taking advantage of your brain’s peak performance time which happens 2-4 hours after you wake up. Use the time for complex cognitive tasks that require the most concentration, such as reading, writing, coding, analyzing, critical thinking, or problem solving.

Self-discipline hack #3. I treat new habits as a choice, not a punishment.

I’ve been a night owl for as long as I can remember. Nighttime was my ideal time to read, write, study. Then things got much worse in graduate school, where I would stay up most nights catching up on assignments and grading homework of my students. This habit left me feeling sluggish and without energy to do anything extraordinary — something that I truly wanted. I wanted to do work I’d be proud of later in my life. I didn’t know it at the time, but my brain would have thrived if I just went to bed earlier to give it a chance to recuperate, consolidate new information, and make things easier to remember. A few years ago I decided to put a stop to my nighttime habits and discovered how to transform my morning hours into the best time of the day.

What are the steps?

Step one is to change the way you look at new habits. Instead of thinking of them as some sort of self-punishment where you’ll have to give up on something you care about (in my case, giving up on staying awake all night so I could read and write), start telling yourself what this new habit will afford you (for me, this meant finishing up a cognitive task in less time when my brain could focus better). And step two? Make the change as easy as possible with tiny steps. Set a bedtime alarm to 30 minutes before you want to sleep to give yourself time to wrap up whatever you’re currently doing. If your goal is to get fit, schedule a daily mini-workout at home for 15 minutes, instead of telling yourself you must be at the gym for two hours. The more you simplify the new habit, the greater the chance it will stick.

Self-discipline hack #4. I am tough in dealing with my distractions.

I’ll start by saying this: I love my iPhone. It plays my morning alarm so I can wake up to music, it monitors my sleep cycle each night so I know that I’m getting enough sleep, it allows me to listen to podcasts and audio books on the way to work, and of course it helps me stay in touch with people. But what about my Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube notifications? If I kept them turned on throughout the day, I’d be staring at that small screen and it would literally rule my life. That’s why I do a major clean up in my settings: I turn off all notifications, switch off the volume so I don’t hear each email as it arrives in my inbox, and use the timer to monitor how long it takes me to do things.

What are the steps?

Start with your phone. Set it to Airplane mode when you need to focus, especially in the first two hours of the day when you’re doing deep work. Next, let people around you—family members, friends, roommates, co-workers—know you won’t be available in those next two hours because you are working on a cognitive task that requires your full focus. Check your email and social media apps 2–3 times a day, instead of 20–30 times a day. Make a commitment to yourself that you’ll avoid browsing the Internet or scrolling through your Facebook feed when you’re working or studying. Close all tabs in your browser to avoid temptations to do a Google search or look up YouTube videos.

Self-discipline hack #5. I try to manage my thoughts better.

If you have random thoughts bouncing around in your head all day long (from analyzing a current problem to worrying about the future or dwelling on the past), you’re like me and everyone else on this planet. It’s pretty common. When I started doing more research on why this happens, I soon realized that brain chatter is not anything unusual, but that it can be controlled. I started incorporating small daily habits to manage my thoughts better by working out regularly, focusing on deep breathing, doing a short meditation practice, and switching to a growth mindset.

What are the steps?

Start your mornings with a short workout of about 15 minutes (yoga, HIIT training, or a brisk walk in a nearby park). Try some deep breathing, which is simple: sit comfortably, close your eyes, and inhale for a count of 10, then exhale as you count to 8. Repeat 10–20 times— it can help reduce stress and help you feel calmer. If you’d like to try meditation, download the Headspace app for a free 10-minute guided session to jumpstart your day or help you fall asleep faster at night. And if you’re curious about how to have a growth mindset, read Carol Dweck’s book Mindset to learn how a growth mindset can become a powerful tool to help you deal with whatever life throws your way.

What are some useful tricks you use to increase your willpower?

 

I can think of 5 that I practice daily.

Willpower tip #1. I make the most of it early in the day.

It’s not just me — it’s common to wake up in the morning and feel overwhelmed with the amount of things we need to do. As a result, I used to procrastinate on some of those things and postpone them for later in the afternoon. After a while I felt that this approach was a mistake. Why? Because I believe we deplete our willpower reserves the more we let our day go by.

  • How can you apply this? If you want to focus on priorities, work on them early. This means do them in the morning, and keep working on them until you take a lunch break. For example, I don’t put off tasks if I know they’ll accumulate within 24 hours. I try to write up a plan for the work week ahead of time, usually in checklist format. If I’m reading through some important material, I immediately take notes while my brain is still focused on what’s in front of me. That way I won’t forget the top-level information that I might need to use later.

Willpower tip #2. I practice baby steps to keep things simple.

Every positive habit we want to acquire needs a good dose of self-discipline, a bit of time, and definitely a lot of repetition. But once you frame it that way, it may seem intimidating. Who has all that time? Who’s disciplined enough? We won’t necessarily feel we have all it takes to build a good habit. But the trick is in simplifying a new habit to the point that it’s impossible to come up with excuses not to practice it.

  • How can you apply this? To simplify a change you’re making in your life, start with baby steps. Baby steps are exactly that — really small, short, and quick activities that anyone can do. For example, if I feel stuck starting a writing assignment, I’ll warm up my brain and my fingertips by typing a short paragraph of 2–3 sentences on that topic. If I am too tired to go to the gym, I’ll tell myself that I’ll just go there to work out for 15–20 minutes, not more. If I feel like I’m not getting enough sleep, I’ll set a bedtime alarm to notify me it’s time to get ready, and I’ll move my bedtime up by 15 minutes.

Willpower tip #3. I say“NO!” a lot.

If you ever found yourself running out of time to do what you need to finish (and that’s probably all of us!), chances are it means you’re not using your resources in the most optimal way. The biggest and most valuable resource we possess is time. That’s why it’s dangerous to allow distractions of any kind take over, and use up, our most value resource. This can apply to spending hours on pointless conversations, watching TV for hours, or just sitting around waiting to be entertained by someone or something else.

  • How can you apply this? People who are in my closest circle of family and friends know that I’m a big fan of saying no. Exercising your “no!” muscle means literally saying no in a variety of situations in your daily life. If there’s leftover cake in the fridge, I won’t eat a double portion for two days in a row just because it’s there. If I’m in the middle of finishing up a project and a friend calls to ask if I want to hang out, I don’t just drop everything I’m doing and go — but I ask if we can reschedule the meeting. I believe it’s super important to know your priorities and always be aware of why you’re doing something to begin with — because it’s usually tied to a personal goal you set in the past.

Willpower tip #4. I am merciless towards distractions.

It’s next to impossible to focus on getting any work done if we allow our attention to move on to little things around us. Everything sounds tempting. New emails in your inbox—what if one is urgent? New Instagram posts you’d like to check out as soon as you wake up. Or the news waiting for you to read on Twitter. Who can resist starting the day in this way? I believe it’s important to learn how to tackle distractions head on. The benefits are huge — when you turn off distractions, you have a better chance to actually focus on things that matter.

  • How can you apply this? First, turn off the digital distractions when you need to do your most challenging cognitive tasks such as studying, problem-solving, or writing. I often set my phone to Airplane mode and also turn off all notifications. I check email and social media apps 2–3 times instead of 20–30 times a day. If I don’t want to be disturbed while in the middle of trying to solve a problem, I let people around me know I’ll be busy for a few hours so they don’t interrupt. Finally, I put on a pair of noise-cancelling headphones and listen to music that helps me focus.

Willpower tip #5. I make a plan B for the unexpected.

It’s very rare for things to run smoothly just like we’d ideally want them to. Real life is quite the opposite — we start working on something, and sooner or later there’s an obstacle or a delay in schedule that we’ll have to address. What works best in these situations? I found that having a plan B in place gives me peace of mind for those moments when the day turns stressful, or I’m just tired and can’t keep my eyes open to finish reading the research material I’ve planned to complete.

  • How can you apply this? First, tell yourself that whatever it is you’re feeling in a particular situation, it is an emotional reaction and it will pass. I try my best to keep my emotions in check so they don’t rule my day (and yes, I know this is hard to do but the key is to keep trying). Second, resist the urge to give up doing something that you know is good for you. Just because it feels uncomfortable now to go to the gym and I’d rather go straight home and make dinner, doesn’t mean the exercise ritual won’t have a positive impact on my life. And third, make a plan B. If something takes longer than I expected, I’ll adjust my schedule and take off an item that’s unnecessary to complete today, so it frees up more time to do something that’s top priority for me.