Management & Leadership

Self-discipline: 6 Tips for mastering the art

Apr 15, 2020

Key takeaways

  • Some people are better at self-discipline than others.
  • Self-discipline is not an innate ability, but instead can be learnt.
  • Self-discipline is critical to success.
  • By using a few simple techniques students can learn to focus on what they want out of life rather than what they want right now.

Chances are you have read about people bursting with self-discipline. You know the type, they’re up at 5am to meditate and plan their day. Then it’s gym before 6am followed by a kale and spinach smoothie before they cycle to their trendy new start-up, the 4th they’ve successfully launched in just a few years. They don’t waste time and their achievements are endless and astonishing. Yet, you’ve already hit the snooze button twice this morning. You’re behind at work and you’ve run out of clean clothes…

How is it that for some people sticking to a schedule seems effortless, whereas for others it seems impossible? The difference here is self-discipline. Self-discipline is critical to success, be it in your studies or life in general. It’s waking up that hour earlier to study or staying in on Friday night to complete that assignment.

Putting self-discipline to the test in times of stress

These are stressful times, with the coronavirus forcing the world into lockdown. But it does present an opportunity to put your self-discipline to the test. Especially if you’re one of the many people forced to work remotely. Can you maintain the discipline necessary to get work done without the familiar office routine and imposed schedule?

Research shows that self-discipline is not in fact innate and can be created and encouraged. Here are six simple steps to help you do just that, so you can maintain a “getting things done” attitude even during times such as these.

1. Remove temptations

Whether you’re a student working on an assignment, or a professional working from home during the lockdown, being able to remove temptations is key.  Disconnect from your social media accounts, turn the TV off, and hide that book you can’t stop reading.

Obviously, when working from home, you can’t afford to turn your phone off, as colleagues may need to contact you. Furthermore, during the lockdown, phones provide a way for you to keep in touch with friends and family.

But at least try to set the phone aside during the periods when you’re trying to get work done. There are apps like Slack and Skype that make it easy to conduct conferences and communicate with colleagues, and it’s better to lean on those than rely too heavily on the phone, as the latter has social media and other elements that can distract you.

2. Feed your brain

Practising self-discipline empties your tanks. Did you know that forcing yourself to ignore what you want now in order to focus on your long-term goals rapidly depletes your glucose levels?

Turning off technology and creating a focussed space to study will do little good if you can’t stop thinking about those chocolate biscuits in the kitchen cupboard. Before you start, be sure to have a meal or snack rich in brainfood – scrambled eggs, veggies or fish should do the trick. Also, be sure to avoid sweets, chocolates and the usual suspects. These will only send your blood sugar levels soaring, followed by a huge and unproductive crash.

3. Time management

Knowing how to manage your time is one of the most important aspects of self-discipline, especially if you’re working from home and no longer have the routine of the office or classroom space.

You can create a similar schedule for yourself by setting aside specific times of the day to work, and having a dedicated workspace. Try to wake up at the same time every day, and be sure to incorporate coffee breaks and meals into your schedule.

Don’t fall into the trap of procrastinating, as there will always be some distraction, or something else that needs to get done. Also determine what the priority tasks are, as part of time management is knowing which things you need to get done first.

4. Give yourself a break

To maintain focus and momentum it is important to give yourself regular breaks while studying. Keep in mind however that a break does not equate to an hour on Instagram or a two-hour power nap, but rather a few strategically planned minutes. Set an alarm, not your phone that is turned off remember, for 45 minutes. Commit to studying and not leaving your desk for that time. When the alarm goes off give yourself a 5 – 7-minute break to go to the bathroom, get some fresh air and a snack if necessary.

5. Reward yourself

For some, just being self-disciplined is reward enough. For the rest of us, sometimes the key to self-discipline lies in the quality of the reward. If you’re just learning to nurture your willpower a good reward goes a long way.

Set yourself a goal, for example focus on a specific chapter for 45 minutes. Once time is up and you have successfully completed the task give yourself a small treat. This could be five minutes on social media or a delicious coffee, whatever works best for you.

Be sure however that your reward system itself doesn’t become a distraction. Self-discipline is not created by 45 minutes of hard graft followed by three hours on Facebook.

6. Baby steps

Show yourself empathy, especially in the beginning. Remember that self-discipline is not an innate ability. While some people seem to have stronger willpower, the rest of us have to keep practicing.

According to research it takes 10 000 hours to become an expert at something. Self-discipline is no different. Be sure to set small realistic tasks to begin with. If you start too big you will become overwhelmed, which will produce the opposite result. When it comes to self-discipline slow and steady wins the race. And with the lockdown in place, now is the best time to devote your time and effort to mastering something.

Self-discipline strengthens your will

The key to great results lies in self-discipline. By honing this skill now, you will set yourself on the path to success not only in your studies, but throughout your life.

Learn to focus on what you really want rather than what you want right now, and provide yourself with the mental tools needed to face unfamiliar challenges, such as that being presented by the coronavirus and the lockdowns that accompany it.

Improving oneself and working towards life goals is the basis for professional coaching. If you’re interested in learning more, and perhaps even pursuing a career in this growing industry, then you should consider studying coaching at SACAP. Courses on offer include part-time and full-time options. For more information, enquire now.

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