Learning Discipline: A Beginner’s Guide
Discipline: It’s the one essential element that can make or break you. Without discipline, many aspects of your life would fall into disarray — you would lose your job, your physical and mental health would spiral out of control, and your relationships would quickly break. The truth is, we practice discipline all day every day, in a variety of forms. Whether it’s waking up in time to catch the bus, making a wise decision about what to eat for lunch, or going to bed at a reasonable hour — discipline is what holds our lives together.
If you know or have seen an incredibly undisciplined person in action, you know just how much of a dumpster fire their life can be. Is your life in a similar state of discomposure? What can you do to become disciplined? How can you learn to instill a sense of discipline, and gain a sense of control?
The first vital thing to realize is that discipline is all about control. The word itself is a derivative of “disciple,” meaning to accept and follow a set of rules or instructions. In terms of fitness and health, those rules or instructions are up to you, and will ultimately be determined by your goals and aspirations. By instilling a sense of discipline, you’re setting up guidelines for yourself, and focusing on building mental toughness.
That way, when you hit what author Stephen Pressfield refers to as “Resistance” — be it in a craving for a Twinkie, the wanting to stay up all night and play Call of Duty, or the desire to skip a workout — you’ll be ready to cast those feelings aside.
You’re adopting a warrior ethos. An unflinching and unrelenting sense of responsibility to yourself. Once you have adopted the right mindset, you can do anything. You can lose all of that weight, or pack on some muscle. You can get a new, better job. Any of your goals are achievable.
But it all starts with discipline. So, how does the undisciplined man become disciplined? We circle back to control. You may have to wrangle your thoughts and feelings into order, and that starts by doing things you don’t want to do. This is the essence of discipline: Facing obstacles or challenges that you resist overcoming, and teaching yourself to overcome them. You face each challenge as it comes. You do what needs to be done, not because you want to — but because it needs to be done.
Now, there is no guaranteed, step-by-step method to becoming disciplined. Each individual will need to forge their own way. But again, it comes back to control, and taking baby steps. It can be as simple as resisting the urge to dump three sugars in your coffee, and drinking it black. Or not hitting the snooze button, and getting up earlier. These are small steps, on their own — but in aggregate, they can change your life.
This is a method we’ve covered before. By creating a chain of small, disciplined actions, you can actually build momentum and psychological fortitude. You grow to fear breaking the chain, and sliding back into your old habits.
Discipline is mental. And the greatest battle you’ll fight against yourself will take place in your psyche. It’s a matter of balancing your wants and needs, be it your need for physical exercise or healthy foods, with your want to play video games all day, and inhale pizza. Which will be stronger, and eventually become the victor? That’s on you, and if you simply get up, put on the gym shorts, and get out the door, you win.
To become more disciplined, you can think of it as a muscle. To make a muscle stronger, you exercise it; you apply resistance. So, every time you feel the urge to do something you shouldn’t do (eat a pie, binge drink), resist it. Work on your muscle. It’ll only get stronger. The act of defying resistance to the things you should be doing, which will help you reach your goals — whether it’s going to the gym, writing more, or learning new software — will become easier. You’ll want to do the things you used to hate doing. You’ll relish the time you spend improving yourself, and look forward to it.
On the flip side, you’ll become better at resisting the urge to waste your own time, or do anything that will put more distance between you and your goals. It’s about controlling resistance, and letting it work for you, not against you. That’s what’s at the heart of discipline: A mastery over yourself. And it all starts with the tiniest steps — steps that will lead to a healthier, happier, and more disciplined life.