11 Ways to Develop Kind Self-discipline [HMHE Ep 25]

Published on 28 Feb, 2023

Ep 025: 11 Ways to Develop Kind Self-discipline

This week, I share eleven ways that you can build self-discipline. This is an incredibly important tool for changemakers, activists, and anyone else who has big dreams and feels called to step out of their comfort zone and take courageous action.

Below is a brief outline of this week’s episode. Listen above or tune into the Happy Me Happy Earth podcast wherever you get your podcasts to hear the full episode, 025: 10 Ways to Develop Kind Self-discipline.

This is a picture of a woman stretching after a workout. It links to a podcast episode and blog post about how to develop kind kind-self-discipline. Photo by SUNDAY II SUNDAY on Unsplash

Photo by SUNDAY II SUNDAY on Unsplash

What is kind self-discipline?

First, let’s start with what self-discipline is not. The version of self-discipline that I am teaching you today is not a tool to punish or judge yourself. It’s not a strategy to make yourself work constantly or to push yourself harder than is healthy for you. It’s also not about limiting or over-structuring your life and diminishing your sense of freedom.

My approach to self-discipline is very different. I define self-discipline as, “Honoring your word and showing up for the commitments that you’ve made to yourself and others.” This version of self-discipline includes honoring your whole self (mind, body, emotions) and the plans that you’ve made in a way that is considerate and kind.

Today I am talking about kind self-discipline, not forcing yourself to constantly work harder and be more productive. Although, when you start practicing kind self-discipline you will undoubtedly start getting a lot more done in less time, and start taking huge strides toward your goals. All while truly enjoying the journey.

The Benefits of Becoming More Disciplined

The benefits of self-discipline are endless, but the most powerful benefit is that as you become more self-disciplined you improve your relationship with yourself. Every time that you follow through on your word or a commitment to yourself you build self-trust. You build evidence that you’re trustworthy.

In the same way, as you become more disciplined the people around you will also begin to view you as trustworthy. Your friends, loved ones, coworkers, and employees will know that they can depend on you.

Other benefits include:

    • Getting more done in less time
    • Making major progress toward your goals
    • Increasing your contribution to the world
    • Having a more balanced schedule and life
    • Spending less time being indecisive

How to Build Self-Discipline

ONE: Give Yourself Credit for the Areas of Your Life That you ARE Disciplined In

In what areas of your life does self-discipline come naturally? Are you always on time to meet friends? Do you brush your teeth twice a day without fail? Do you rarely miss deadlines at work?

I’m certain that there is at least one (probably more) area of your life that you are already very consistent with. Why do discipline and consistency come easier for you in this particular area? Reflect and then apply what you discover to the areas of your life where you struggle a bit more.

Tune into the podcast to hear my personal examples.

TWO: Identify One Area to Focus On

You might feel like your whole life could benefit from more self-discipline, but I want you to pick just one area to focus on first. Focusing on just one area of your life at a time is much more effective than trying to change everything at once. The latter is a surefire way to get quickly overwhelmed and quit.

I love the old adage, “The way you do one thing is the way you do everything.” Know that the self-discipline you develop in one area of your life will spill over into every other area. True life transformation happens in small shifts, not giant leaps.

THREE: Build the Self-image of Someone who Keeps Their Word

Our self-image is the personal view, or mental picture, that we have of ourselves. We build our self-image through our habits and our actions. In his stellar book, Atomic Habits, author James Clear writes,

“Every action you take is a vote for the person you wish to become.”

Therefore, we can transform our self-image by incorporating new habits into our lives. Start small. Once you’ve identified the area of your life where you want to develop more self-discipline, pick one small habit to begin with.

Next, decide exactly when and how you’ll incorporate that habit into your day, put it on your calendar, and commit to getting it done.

FOUR: Self-discipline is all About Making Decisions Ahead of Time

It’s important to keep this fact in the forefront of your mind: self-discipline is all about making decisions ahead of time.

In order to become more disciplined, you need to know the type of person that you want to be and how you want to show up for yourself, your work, and your relationships. As I mentioned before, you’ll then want to identify small habits and action steps that will help you become that type of person.

But often we plan out what we want to do with the best of intentions, yet when the time comes to take action and actually do the thing we make excuses and procrastinate.

So let’s talk about what we can do to help ourselves follow through in the moment. As I mentioned before, a lot of this comes down to preparation, making decisions ahead of time, and self-awareness.

FIVE: Stop Avoiding the Discomfort of Doing the Thing

There will be times when you really don’t feel like doing what you said that you’d do, so prepare for that! Expect it. It’s normal and it doesn’t mean that anything is wrong. Allow for not wanting to do the thing, the emotional pain, and the discomfort. You can feel like not doing something and do it anyway.

Brook Castillo, the founder of The Life Coach School, published a great podcast episode about what she calls “Dread Sprints.” Instead of putting something off because you dread doing it, and therefore spending more and more time in that feeling of dread, you can choose to sprint towards it and get out of the dread.

Allow yourself to feel the dread and whatever comfortable emotions are present and do the thing anyway.

SIX: Understand Your Brain’s Motivational Triad

In order to become someone who follows through it’s important to understand your brain’s motivational triad. Our brain is motivated to (a) seek pleasure, (b) avoid pain, and (c) preserve our energy.

Therefore, very often our brain’s default is to want to relax instead of exerting energy doing what we planned. Or our brain will do whatever it can to avoid pain by preventing us from taking new or courageous actions.

This is where self-discipline comes in. When we plan ahead there is no room for negotiation because you’ve already made the decision that this is what you’re doing at this time. It’s just what you do. It’s who you are.

You might not necessarily enjoy doing the thing, but that’s not an issue because once you’ve established a habit you don’t think about it as much. I don’t necessarily enjoy brushing my teeth, but it’s what I do. So I don’t spend a lot of brainpower thinking about it.

SEVEN: Use Costs and Rewards

In order to use your brain’s motivational triad for your benefit you can create a cost for not honoring your actions and a reward for following through.

EIGHT: Identify Your Motivation Type

This step is all about identifying what motivates you and then using that knowledge to create accountability for yourself. Determine whether you are more internally motivated or externally motivated and then create accountability for yourself accordingly.

Intrinsic motivation (or internal motivation) comes from within. If you’re a more internally motivated person then you tend to be motivated to do things when they align with your values or your interests. Or because you have the self-identity of someone who does that thing.

Extrinsic motivation (or external motivation) refers to external factors. An externally motivated person is driven by external rewards or negative consequences like receiving a pay raise or getting in trouble with their boss.

NINE: In a Pinch Reduce the Scope

Life happens, and sometimes you will find yourself in a situation where you simply don’t have time to follow through on your plans. In this case, it can be helpful to still stick to your habit but reduce the scope.

For example, say you’re building the habit of waking up early and doing a 30-minute yoga practice each morning. One morning you have a hard time getting yourself out of bed. Although you have less time, you can stick to your habit by doing a 10-minute practice. It’s not exactly what you’d planned, but you’re still showing up for yourself and therefore building self-discipline and self-trust.

TEN: Don’t Miss Twice

As always, we want to avoid the all-or-nothing mindset. If you miss a habit once you don’t have to give up or wait until Monday or next month or New Year’s to restart.

If you miss a day then simply pick up where you left off the next day. The goal here is progress, not perfection. Being a consistent and self-disciplined person doesn’t mean being perfect.

ELEVEN: Know When it’s Best to NOT Follow Through

Sometimes there are valid reasons why we should not follow through on our plans or the commitments that we made to ourselves. Obstacles will pop up in life that will cause you to either reconsider or not follow through on your habits.

We can troubleshoot, and create a plan to deal with unexpected situations by deciding our excuses ahead of time. What is a good excuse for not following through on your plans? What excuses will you not allow?

Remember, self-discipline is all about preparation. By deciding how you will handle yourself ahead of time you’ll waste less time being indecisive.

Below are some reflection questions that you can ask yourself when you’re considering whether or not to change your plans or not follow through on a habit.

A few of these questions come from a recent episode of Sam Laura Brown’s podcast, The Perfectionism Project, and others are questions that I created to use myself.

Reflection Questions to Determine Whether or Not to Change Your Plans

    • How am I feeling right now? What is beneath this resistance?
    • What can I do to best support myself right now? What would that support look like? What do I need?
    • How can I best support my FUTURE self right now? What will my future self be glad that I did today?
    • Do I actually not want to do what I’ve planned or is something else going on? Is my brain or body trying to get my attention? What is it telling me?
    • What would I tell a friend in this situation?
    • What better feeling path or action would lead to a similar result?
    • Who do I want to BE in this situation? Who am I becoming?

Let’s connect!

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Thanks for listening and/or reading!

Podcast music: “Bounce” by Coma-Media on Pixbay

Featured image: Photo by SUNDAY II SUNDAY on Unsplash

This is a picture of Eva Peterson. She is the host of the Happy Me Happy Earth podcast and a life coach for changemakers and aspiring activists.

Welcome! I'm Eva, host of the Happy Me Happy Earth podcast and blog. This is a place for changemakers, advocates, and aspiring activists to learn, heal, and get inspired. As a certified Life Coach, Ayurvedic Health Counselor, and follow activist I'm here to support you in expanding your impact while thoroughly enjoying your life!

Self-care for Changemakers:
Be an Agent of Change Without Sacrificing Your Health