How To Make Discipline A Habit

20 May 2011 , by A. Cedilla

Discipline is a habit that, like muscle, gets stronger the more often you use it.

Yeah, so that probably sounded all worn out and hokey, but it still stands. Aside from leaving you with a sense of accomplishment, discipline helps you grow: from “I don’t think that’s possible,” to “Well, yeah, I’ll try…” to “I did that? I did that. Whoa.”

Enough of this, you get a sense of strength you can’t get from just making plans, but from carrying them out to fruition.

Discipline builds self-confidence in your capability, your capacity to do things, and to get them done. You grow stronger in your good habits, and those habits stand stronger in their support of you. So how do you make discipline your strength?

You build it up, training it into your daily habits so you can rely on it. You train it in by conscious, aware repetition.

Discipline adds strength and builds structure into your days. Structure is the foundation on which you can grow security. It enforces consistency, and minimizes struggle and conflict.

Some people would rightly think that structure can mean staidness, conformity, a lack of excitement and the inability to change, but take a good look at the flip-side of the equation:

  • When you’re buffeted by rapid change, the first thing you’ll look for is a stable place on which to stand. Structure gives you that. When the world has gone to hell, you buckle up and keep moving, because someone still has to make sure the kids get up, get breakfast and get to school in the morning. Discipline keeps order.
  • If you’re unsure of what to do in a certain situation, you can fall back on the rules of conduct. You know better than to act out on solemn occasions like funerals, because the whole point of them is to console the living, not make it about your pain or your missed chances for reconciliation or clearing the air. Discipline lets you have control.
  • When there’s too much going on, you want a quiet place to recharge and gather yourself. Having a system or a ritual like afternoon siesta or tea can give you that quiet place. Discipline can leave you room for peace.

Structure gives us guideposts by which to steer ourselves by. Discipline is a timeless aid in this process, and the word discipline itself has cousins: disciple, one who follows or learns from another, is one. In this sense, building discipline enables you to follow a path that you’ve lent control, order and a way to keep some measure of peace.

Discipline builds the bones of your life.
In physiological terms, the more regular stress you put on bones, the stronger they get in reaction. Of course, there’s the initial period of adjustment to a new activity, but the body remembers what it’s supposed to do and reacts by getting stronger and more conditioned. That is, if you keep up with the chosen exercises.

That’s what conditioning is, essentially. You become accustomed to greater demands by rising up to meet those demands.

In the same way, keeping up with a disciplined action strengthens you. Repeated actions create a habit, and habits strengthen over time. Whether they support you, however, is a matter of discernment.

Smoking is a habit.

Procrastination is a habit.

Exercise and meditation can be a habit; so is controlling your temper, or obeying the speed limits.

It depends on how disciplined you are in repeating the actions you want to build, and to what end will they serve you: will they be life-supporting? Or will they just numb you, waste your time and act as smokescreens for things you don’t want to do?

  • “Cultivate only the habits that you are willing should master you.”–Elbert Hubbard
  • “Good habits, which bring our lower passions and appetites under automatic control, leave our natures free to explore the larger experiences of life. Too many of us divide and dissipate our energies in debating actions which should be taken for granted.”–Ralph W. Sockman
  • “Habit is either the best of servants or the worst of masters.”–Nathaniel Emmons

Barriers to building discipline:
Uncertainty — You’re not sure if “it'” is what you really want, whatever “it” is for you.

Here’s the thing: if you wait for 100% confidence and certainty before you can commit, you’ll never start.
Emotion – You don’t feel like it right now….

Screw that. You know it needs to be done, so suck it in and do it. Letting “Wah-wah, Oh, I’m so tired and out of sorts,” get in the way set you up for a bigger sob-fest later. Fear and discomfort are only what-ifs that loom in front of you, but real pain is always bigger in hindsight. Face the discomfort, lessen the pain. You NEED it done, DO IT. Get out of your own way

For example, you set a goal for yourself but find it hard to pin down why you don’t take a step towards it.

If it’s important enough for you to study and set as a target, what point does your waffling serve except to ferment more uncertainty and waste your time? Questioning yourself on whether or not it’s really, really important is the mental equivalent of running in place, or spinning your wheels.

“Is this really for me? What if it doesn’t work out? What if I fail? What if I succeed and people expect more of me? Holy crap?”

Move. Test things out, don’t let it all tangle in your head. Find out what happens when you move in the direction of your desire.

Look at yourself. Look at your goals. Look at your habits. Are they taking you closer to your goals?

You have a destination in mind but you’re not getting anywhere. Pull a Nike and just do it. Do what’s needed for today. When tomorrow comes, when you wake up, do it again. Stop shooting yourself in the foot because you’re afraid of ‘proving yourself a failure.’ Mistakes aren’t failures unless you let them define who you are.


Discipline is also the repetitive triumph of will over feeling.
The alarm rings. “Arrgh…I don’t feel like it.” Snooze button. Hours later you:

  • Shrug it off because you did sleep late the night before, but you’ll definitely exercise tomorrow, you swear.
  • Should all over yourself and feel like a miserable, spineless heap of sweat and lard.
  • Console yourself with a donut, and soda from the machine down the hall.

Discipline asks you to focus on the essentials.
It asks you to say to yourself, “THIS is what I need. This is what I need done for today to get me what I need. And I’m doing it.”

Discipline asks you to make the best use of the moment.
Blocks of time break down into moments. Work with your energy cycles and attention span. Some studies would argue that we can focus only for 90 minutes, then our minds run flat and need a different activity to get out of the rut. Given Facebook, Twitter, email and multiple tabs, the reality might be closer to 10 minutes, if at that.

Discipline builds your focus
It asks you to define, protect and enforce your boundaries. Someone comes in to take time from what’s important to you, you need to respond to the weight of the demands — his and yours.

Whether it’s enabling people with more authority (delegation), setting appointments for discussions instead of letting everybody and their sister walk-in (time boundaries), set up a home office in the basement and hanging a “Do not disturb unless flames or blood are involved.” sign (physical boundaries), you have to protect your space for your goals, and you make room for your goals to come in.

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