How to Be Disciplined

It doesn’t matter how much you know about fitness. If you don’t implement it, your knowledge is worthless to you. But the regular practice of discipline can be even harder to learn than the regular practice of exercise and diet. In this article, I will explain five ways to make discipline as accessible and realistic as possible. 

1. Implement Pre-Habits (Make it Simple)

The most common reason people fail at discipline is that their lives are so complicated, and in such a mess, that every time they need to exercise, they have to push through 10 tasks just to get to the gym. Let me give you an example. If you don’t prepare at all, then the decision to exercise includes the following decisions: pack your workout bag, pick a time to workout, pick workout clothes, pick a workout, and pick a goal for that day.

Instead, do all those things the day before. Make all your accessory decisions when you’re making dinner. Find and pack your workout bag. Lay out your clothes. Pick a 6-week workout program. Pick a single, primary goal that this workout program serves.

That way, when the moment of truth comes, and you have to decide either to exercise or to lounge on the couch, the only decision you need to make is: go and exercise. Make your discipline choice so simple that it’s as easy as possible. Set yourself up for success by preparing so that all you have to do is pick up your bag, walk out the door, and go through the motions. That way, if you have to, you can turn your brain off. You can tell yourself: “Don’t think. Just DO.” But if you’re disorganized and unprepared, you have to think. And before you know it, you’re overthinking your workout so much, you decide it’s not worth it to go at all. 

That’s the #1 key to discipline. Prepare. Prepare. Prepare. Then, when your scheduled time of exercise comes, all there is to do is execute.

2. Do What Works Best for You

Discipline isn’t one-size-fits-all. Some people exercise best in the morning. Some people exercise best at night. Some people do really well on the paleo diet, and other people need to focus more on counting calories. Some people want to get really strong, and other people want to get really lean. Some people are good at being intense, but they’re bad at consistency. Other people are great at consistency, but they’re bad at pushing themselves.

Take notes on yourself. Find what works best for you. I personally find that I have the highest chance of working out if I wake up early and go to the gym before work. If I don’t go to the gym early in the morning, chances decrease throughout the day that I’ll go at all. And if I don’t end up working out at all, chances are higher that I’ll eat an unhealthy dinner.

Find what you love to do. Find the path of least resistance to execution, and take that path. The more you customize your plan to your schedule, energy levels, and psychology, the higher chance you will achieve physical vitality and longevity in the long term.

If you keep trying to force a method that works for someone else onto your own life, that might be a reason why your willpower keeps breaking. Experiment. If keep failing to wake up early and work out, try working out during lunch or after work. If you hate the gym, try a bodyweight calisthenics routing in your favorite outside park. If you hate CrossFit, try bodybuilding. If you hate cardio, try powerlifting.

Do what works best for you, and pursue it with as much intensity as you can muster from deep in your gut. The more you do this, the easier it will become.

3. Apply a Learning Mindset Toward Failure 

Every single person fails. There is no such thing as a perfect person. When you fail, there will be a little voice in your head that says: “See? You’re a loser. You can’t do this. Let’s go eat some french fries and ice cream.” That voice is a liar. 

Failure isn’t proof that you can’t be disciplined. Failure is proof that you are on a path to discipline—but you already knew that. So when you stumble, take another step on the path. The book of Proverbs says: “A wise man falls down seven times, but gets back up again. A fool stumbles in times of calamity.” Summary: Get up, don’t stay down. “I stumbled over that hurdle. I’m gonna look out for things like that from now on.”

Did you binge eat after a stressful day at work? Maybe you need to be mindful that you tend to overeat after a stressful day, and find a stress relieving activity with low-willpower cost. Some examples of this sort of activity are: massage, meditation, cooking, a walk with your spouse, a cold shower, time by yourself in nature. All of these activities can help you to decompress from a stressful day rather than overeating unhealthy food. Is binge eating the easiest way to deal with stress? It is for most people. But it will costs you quality of life and years of your life in the long-term.  

So when you fail, take note: “This is what triggered my failure. Here is my strategy to overcome that willpower hurdle in the future.” Don’t stay down. Don’t beat yourself up. Don’t despair. Life isn’t over. And your discipline journey didn’t take that big of a hit. It will take you 12 hours maximum to recover from most fitness willpower failures. Make up the workout you skipped. Spend breakfast fasting instead of eating to compensate for an overconsumption of unhealthy calories. Then, you’re back on the path, and the consequences are negated.  

When you fail, you need to simply get back up, take note, and strategize for next time. Lesson learned.  

4. Use the Right Tools

There are some great tools for discipline. One that I highly recommend is the Jocko Willink podcast and audio album Discipline Equals Freedom (get Part 1 or Part 2 on iTunes). Find someone you can listen to that you find motivating. Find someone who gets you focused, vigilant, and productive. You don’t necessarily want to listen to someone who pumps you up so much that you get a feeling of anxiety, which is very common. You want someone who stimulates the right amount of rational thinking to prevent laziness based on “not feeling it,” as well as someone who inspires you enough to get you out of your head when you’re overthinking it.

Conclusion

You could be your best friend or your worst enemy. It’s up to you. The only factor that will determine whether you help yourself or hurt yourself in your discipline journey is whether you follow these basic principles. Don’t fall into these common willpower traps. Follow these principles, and you will succeed.