4 Simple Steps to Build Self-Discipline

Updated: July 23, 2012

Vic Magary

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This is a guest post from Vic Magary - fat loss expert, U.S. Army Infantry veteran, and creator of the 40 Days Fit program.

My eyes felt like they were on fire and snot ran from my nose to my knee caps.  I retched and I puked.  When sunlight burst through the thick haze of tear gas as the door began to open, I lurched for freedom from the small cinder block room affectionately known as the gas chamber.  If you asked one of the drill sergeants on hand, they probably would have told you this was part of the Army's way of building discipline.

The pleasant spring evening in Seoul, South Korea didn't stop him from turning the thermostat up to 80 degrees.  In heavily accented but otherwise perfect English the Master said through a smile, "you have to sweat all of the toxins out of your body."  We kicked for two sweat-soaked hours. 

If you ask any martial arts practitioner about the benefits of training, one of the first things they will mention is discipline.

Although experiences of enduring extreme discomfort can help develop tolerance for the unpleasant, they do not in themselves develop discipline.  Discipline is simply doing what you should do, when you should do it, and without being coerced into action. 

Discipline involves making a choice.

When a drill sergeant is breathing down your neck or a martial arts master is commanding the class there is no choice, only obedience.

Discipline is voluntarily enduring temporary discomfort for greater gain at a later date.  The absence of immediate pay-off is what makes discipline so damned elusive.  Discipline ensures what you do when no one is looking.

The benefits of discipline can help propel us to expert status.  Discipline has the marathon champion pounding the pavement on a rainy day, the single mother studying for college exams after finishing the late shift at her second part-time job, and the aspiring basketball star doing one more set of free-throws after the park lights have been turned off.

"Everybody wants to know what I am on. What am I on? I am on my bike busting my ass six hours a day; what are YOU on?” - Lance Armstrong.

Discipline ensures the practice.  When the pianist's hands cramp yet they play the song one more time, they are one repetition closer to mastery.  Some say 10,000 hours is the path to mastery.  I say it depends on the number of properly performed repetitions in those hours - the number of ticks of the clock are irrelevant.

Discipline is the precursor to habit.  Whereas habits are automatic, discipline requires the exercise of will.  Accordingly, strategies and tactics to develop discipline often overlap with those used to develop positive habits and will power:

1.  Start Small

You may aspire to write 1,000 words per day but if you are starting from zero you may want to start a bit less ambitiously.  Try one-hundred words the first day.  Was it too easy?  Bump the number up until it is challenging but still attainable.  Rinse and repeat until you hit your 1,000 words per day mark.

2.  Exercise Your Will

Will power is a crucial component to discipline.  We can practice exerting our will through natural daily occurrences - when you feel the urge to eat, wait an hour for no reason other than to stretch your will.  Or you can manufacture opportunities for practice - try staring at a spot on the wall without being distracted for as long as possible (in today's world of constant digital diversions this can be more challenging than it sounds).

3.  Reserve Your Will

Will power is a finite resource.  And although its capacity can be increased through exercise, it is best reserved for important tasks and new skill development.  As often as possible, remove your will from the equation by using reminders, checklists, and other systems to keep you on task.

4.  Court The Uncomfortable

Perhaps you run a spontaneous marathon.  Or maybe you commit to the 28 days of Cold Shower Therapy.  Or you gut it out and complete the GoRuck Challenge.  These experiences of deliberately enduring uncomfortable circumstances will transfer to giving you the grit to hold on when the inevitable curve balls of life want to knock you off the path of discipline.

Discipline helps you consistently take action.  And you don't need to put yourself through military boot camp or train in the martial arts to get it.  Following the basic tenets of starting small, exercising and reserving your will, and courting the uncomfortable will take you far in building discipline.

You can learn more about Vic's no-nonsense approach to fitness at VicMagary.com and be sure to check out his body transformation program, 40 Days Fit.


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