7 Secrets of People with Incredible Discipline

published Oct 28, 2018
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(Image credit: Esteban Cortez)

Have a goal (or a few of them) you want to meet? You probably already know that discipline is your friend.

Whether you want to learn how to get things done more efficiently at the office or just muster up the motivation to check the first thing off your to-do list, you won’t accomplish much without the daily grind of hard work. We all know the satisfaction that comes with checking something off a to-do list or sticking with a project long enough to see results—so why do getting started and staying motivated feel like an impossible magic trick?

With the right mindset, discipline doesn’t have to be elusive—or even hard-won. Here are a few practical tips and tricks for integrating a little more good, old-fashioned hard work into your daily life:

Reframe your desired habit as a benefit instead of a task

More often than not, people read goals or to-do list items as things they “have to” or “should” accomplish. This mindset zaps motivation because it’s shaming: I have to make a budget because I’m bad with money, or I should go to the gym in the morning because I’m so out of shape. What if you reframed the “shoulds” and saw them as “get tos”? For instance, you get to save money for retirement, and you get to build endurance at the gym. Putting a positive spin on your goals keeps the benefits of staying disciplined in plain sight, which means you will be more likely to achieve lasting results.

Segment your week into specific themes

Nicholas Kinports, founder of Lonely Brand, says he creates a smooth workflow by breaking up his weekly grind into categories. So instead of constantly shifting gears throughout the day, he’s able to focus on one thing for a longer period of time, which contributes to his productivity. “For example, Monday is for focusing on sales, Tuesday is for operations, and Fridays are for billing,” Kinports says. In the midst of his busy schedule, Kinports also says healthy habits help keep him focused on the parameters he’s set for his schedule. “Within those days, getting up early and working out, eating on time, and getting as much sleep as possible all contribute to the momentum.”

(Image credit: Sandra Rojo)

Add the new habit or activity to something you’re already doing

Instead of viewing the new habit as something entirely separate and isolated from the existing rituals of your daily life, think of it more as an extra step in a routine you’ve already got down. “If you want to add in a new activity, add it to something you’re already doing. So, if you’re already journaling on a regular basis, and want to try meditation, add your meditation in before or after your daily journaling,” says therapist Heidi McBain. Since adding onto an existing routine can feel far less intimidating and out of reach than a lofty, vague idea, it’s far more likely you’ll stick with it.

Break up big goals into smaller ones

It’s fun to dream about huge goals, but the big picture can feel overwhelming and out of reach in day-to-day life. Staying on track with a goal, whether it’s to train to run a 5K or save up a certain amount of money for vacation, is so much easier when you break it up with little milestones. Meeting a smaller goal more frequently encourages momentum toward your ultimate goal because it incentivizes discipline. Imagine the confidence and excitement you’ll feel when you’re consistently reminded that hard work and discipline pay off!

Use a timer to stay on track

Sometimes, you have to turn off your phone and keep your head down for a few hours to get something done. But often, with big goals or projects, open-ended timeframes can feel overwhelming — and we all know just getting started is the hardest part. Simple solution: Use the timer on your iPhone, or, if it’s better to have your phone off, try your kitchen timer. Next time you have something big to get done, set five or 10 minutes of time, and tell yourself you can call it quits after it goes off. You’ll likely have found your rhythm by then and won’t stop.

(Image credit: Heather Keeling)

Procrastinating? Set a concrete deadline for getting started

Itamar Shatz, author of “Solving Procrastination,” uses a countdown technique to get things done in a timely, effective way. “Simply put, a countdown involves picking a small number (such as 7), and then counting down from it whenever you find yourself procrastinating on a task that you know you need complete. Once you finish the count, you have to get started, no matter what,” he says. “The countdown is effective because it imposes a concrete and imminent deadline, which motivates you to get to work. It also prevents you from constantly postponing things, because you’re counting down, so there’s no room for you to say ‘five more minutes.'”

Leverage technology to your advantage

While screen time can be a distraction in many cases, Lori Cheek, founder of the dating app Cheekd, touts technology as an essential part of her disciplined exercise routine. Many health and meditation apps are built like social networks, which can provide a built-in sense of solidarity and motivation when you’re meeting a goal. “I use the app Lose It!, which allows you track your food and exercise, and connect and share your goals and activities with your friends and family,” Cheek says. “Just like in the world of startups, it’s always easier to achieve a target when you’ve got a team helping you keep on track.”