Self-Discipline: Definition & Exercises

Instructor: Michael Quist

Michael has taught college-level mathematics and sociology; high school math, history, science, and speech/drama; and has a doctorate in education.

Self-discipline impacts every area of our lives. In this lesson, we will explore what it is, what it looks like when it is in practice, and how to develop your own self-discipline.

What is Self-Discipline?

Although she knew she wasn't supposed to have it, Susan wanted that cookie. Her hand was halfway to the plate. She stared longingly at that moist, sweet, chocolate chip confection, and she could almost taste it. Then she thought of her mother's face, eyes saddening at Susan's disobedience. She could hear her dad, telling the neighbors confidently, 'Susan is the best kid I've ever known. She has a good heart, and always does what she's supposed to!' Susan decided.

Self-discipline is the ability to manage your own emotions and weaknesses. It gives you a way to do what you think is right, regardless of how badly you would rather not. It provides the fuel for your will, allowing you to win when everything is set against you. It is a part of your character and is something you can learn.

What does Self-Discipline Look Like?

John sees his life, laid out before him. He makes plans, follows those plans, and pursues his goals every day. When he wakes up in the morning, the first thing he thinks about is how beautiful the life is that he has set out before him. He spends time, visualizing how he is going to get there. Then he begins his day. Breakfast for him is a refueling station: He thinks about what his body needs, and about how he wants his day to go. Every meal is crafted to his purpose. Then he gets his body going, by exercising and enjoying the fresh air. He goes to work in a great mood!

Shari has been in bed for months, with pain as a constant companion. The doctors say that one day she might get healthy again, but it will be a long, slow process. Knowing how hopelessness can eat away at a person, Shari goes to work, in her mind, every day. She visualizes her life, the way she wants it to be. Shari forces herself to move her weak body, as much as she can, every day. She focuses on nutrition for her particular needs. She forces herself to create something new, every day, and to be constantly learning. She is always cheerful.

Victor has been in prison for years. His captors yell angrily at him, forcing him to work long hours in very difficult conditions. There seems to be no hope for the future. Victor decides to create hope. In his mind, Victor begins to visualize a beautiful future, including his wife, his family, and his home. Each day, Victor starts the day by focusing on some new skill he wants to learn. Victor practices the piano, oil painting, and his golf swing--all in his mind. Victor remains optimistic.

How to Develop Self-Discipline

Developing self-discipline is like developing any other deep character trait: It takes time and effort. It starts with a frame of mind. It is a choice.

Managing Your Body

One of the first things to look at, when you want to develop self-discipline, is how you treat your body. The chemistry that controls the way you feel about things starts with the materials you put into your bloodstream. Nutrition is one of the first steps to self-control. Exercising is another. Rest is a third. If you see your body as the machine that allows you to reach your goals, then think about maintaining that machine.

  • Eat often, and eat well
  • Get the sleep you need
  • Stretch completely and exercise every day
  • Avoid chemicals that get in the way of your dreams
  • Visualize your body, the way you'd like it to be

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