While other self-development areas such as motivation, productivity, focus have been thoroughly explored and analyzed, discipline studies are less accessible.
And anyone looking for tips for building self-discipline at work, breaking bad habits, or developing discipline for studying would need additional guidance on sifting through online resources not backed by data.
The Dunedin Study, which started in the 1980s, examined over 1,000 participants for 40 years, revealing the correlations between discipline and success. Self-disciplined kids and young adults consistently reported:
- Higher academic achievement
- Prosocial behavioral and mental well-being
- Stronger relationships and social capital
- Greater financial stability and employment success
- Reduced risk of substance abuse and mental health issues
As a business advisor working with motivated executives and entrepreneurs on scaling teams and increased operational efficiency, I’ve been reporting my practical discipline-building strategies here.
How to Be More Disciplined
The semantics around how to become disciplined have been fairly controversial especially when we account for the fact that disciplining team members is using the same verb. The truth is that discipline is merely sticking to an established process, following protocols, and adhering to requirements.
And even the most easy-going startups, or the companies with fun Google-like playgrounds, still require a certain amount of discipline because every business goes through ups and downs, emergencies, bugs, and different escalations. Being able to rely on both yourself and your team to stick to protocol and adhere to requirements as needed, or whenever needed, is the main reason we require discipline.
The more disciplined team members we have in the organization, the more we reduce the odds of certain bugs or issues from happening, and the more we can actually free up time for fun activities. This is the core reason why discipline is essential.
Now, let us check the eight building blocks for developing discipline and the practical tips on how to apply discipline either personally or across your team members.
1. Prime Examples
Here is the first thing that discipline is being built upon: Prime examples.
People look up to certain folks, individuals or principals, or anyone else who defines them as individuals. And if they stick to examples that are more disciplined, those people are likely going to be disciplined as well.
If they stick to people, individuals, or examples who are more easy-going, it is likely that they are going to be more chill and more relaxed in general as well.
This normally breaks down into a group of three different elements.
The first one is role models.
Everyone has their own Elon Musk or even rappers, gamers, streamers, or different types of individuals they look up to. And whenever you or the people you are working with follow those individuals, try to resemble them, and try to stick to their best practices, you can potentially assume that they are going to inherit some of their habits, practices, or rituals as well.
So, working on developing the habit of emulating the best practices of role models, who are disciplined and are achieving goals, and working on lots of different things at the same time successfully is a good action plan to develop discipline further.
The second breakdown of prime examples is family values. Especially over the first seven, or 10-12 years, family is what determines the qualities, values and all the principles within the environment. Being raised in a family that adheres to discipline is likely to develop discipline further.
For example, if you have a healthy living and athletic family and parents who are sticking to a healthy meal plan and sleep habits and all that, it is most likely that you were raised with those patterns as well.
If you, on the other hand, weren’t really raised in a similar environment, you are probably used to going to sleep late, eating all sorts of junk food and so forth simply because that is how family values and matters have been developed and instilled in you.
Over time, family plays a different role in each and every individual. Some people are closer to their parents, siblings and their extended family, and some are not.
So, those that are spending more time around their family are still going to be influenced to a certain extent by certain family values developed within the family.
The third element is one of my favorite principles which is essentially, you are the average of the five people you hang around the most with.
Some of them are going to be your family, your significant other, your closest friends, or your close colleagues at work. But as we tend to teach kids at school, be aware of who you are playing with and who you are making friends with.
It has a similar connotation whenever we are talking about prime examples. For the most part, you are envisioning the five people you are spending the most time with simply because you are trying to look alike and do the same things in a similar fashion which is also replicating the level of discipline you have.
If you are hanging out and meeting for coffee or going to a club, and if everyone is late, you are likely going to have a tendency to be late as well. If everyone is going to cut some slack and not really pay, leave change after the end of the dinner, those habits are probably going to be instilled within you as well. Many of these are going to be replicated across time.
2. Goal Setting
Jim Rohn once said, “Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment.”
So the second principle here is around goal setting. It revolves around two major things: setting milestones and setting KPIs.
It is really hard to be disciplined unless you have a vision, high-end goals, or a bigger picture. If you want, you can call it “resolutions” which are broken down into milestones and tracked by KPIs. Why are both of these equally important? Because without KPIs, you do not know where you are going and by setting the wrong KPIs, you are going to be demotivated most of the time and not be disciplined to keep track of your accomplishments.
Here’s a short breakdown of setting effective goals by Alex Hormozi:
For example, if you really want to lose 60 pounds and your only KPI is just, “I want to wake up one day 60 pounds lighter”, this is not going to work for the vast majority of people. You need to break it down into certain KPIs.
First off, you need to include body mass index, body fat, or something else so that you can track multiple things in parallel and make sure that even if you are not losing weight, you are actually improving upon different traits. And second, you want to make sure that you have a lot of other types of progress charts that you can look upon, which is where milestones come by.
For example, if we follow this milestone or this goal of losing 60 pounds, and start with 10 or 15 pounds over the first month, then 7 to 10 pounds in the next one, until you reach five pounds each month, down to three pounds because the lighter you get, the harder it is to lose more weight. So essentially, just breaking down into milestones and following those KPIs accordingly is going to improve your perception and grow your skills.
In a business environment, when discussing discipline, it is extremely valid when it comes to traits that you need individually or developing your leadership team. You may feel discouraged and unmotivated if you spend a week on something and no progress is showing.
You need to have realistic expectations. Expect that it will take a certain amount of time or quite longer. You just break it down into milestones and track some progress so you can make sure that you are really making progress over time.
Without focus, you cannot practice discipline.
You need to be in the zone or in the right state of mind to accomplish things.
The first thing you need to learn is how to limit distractions.
Regardless of what sort of environment you are in or of how you are working, you need to free up some time and make sure that there are certain opportunities for you to be able to limit distractions.
This may be possible in different ways. For example, if you are working from home, try to work at night or early in the morning when most distractions can occur. If you are in the office, try to break some non-interrupted times and work there.
If you cannot really accomplish that, buy noise-cancellation headphones and turn your phone off. Just make sure there are just a handful of distractions that can get to you in the first place.
Again, some people prefer a sanctuary while others are more chaotic. Whatever it is, try to make your environment as friendly and as welcoming as possible so you always feel at home and safe. On the other hand, others are more in a military setting and they need to be alert all the time.
“Discipline is the foundation upon which all success is built.”William Frederick
Discipline is required to get the stuff that you need to do, done effectively. For example, if you need to study hard, you do not want to have the distractions of a TV or anything else. Developing the right environment for that is going to keep you motivated.
That is the reason why co-working spaces exist. Having an environment with other people working, even if you are a freelancer or working remotely, can make someone productive.
You need to get to know yourself more by studying yourself.
Check out some popular personality tests out there that you can use:
- Myers-Briggs Personality Test
- Big 5 (OCEAN) Personality Test
- Enneagram (9 personality types)
- Typefinder (16 personality types)
- Career Profiler
- Workplace DISC Test
- Eysenck Personality Inventory
- Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory
- Hogan Personality Inventory
In any case, try to understand yourself first and then develop the right type of focus depending on your own personality and your own personal traits.
Establishing a routine is important because practice makes perfect, and lots of habits take a certain period of time to be developed.
Notice those challenges that take 21 or 28 days? Those challenges encourage people to develop a habit. If you would do something for three months, it is something that you could get used to doing. If you would do something for six months, it is something that would become part of your life.
It varies across different disciplines. But, having a routine in place really makes it easier to be disciplined because there are certain things you need to do on certain days or times of the day.
The longer you keep doing them, the easier it gets.
The simplest way to develop this routine is by adopting “Do Not Break the Chain” by Seinfeld which is essentially a principle of having a calendar. Every day, you must accomplish something and you just cross this day of the calendar and keep tracking or developing a huge chain of recurring events. The longer it gets, the harder it is to break the chain because you do not want to start from scratch.
It is like a gamified approach that is simple yet extremely effective.
Discipline revolves around being as productive as it gets to get maximum output whenever needed.
This includes being productive in any emergency or scenario. If you want to lose weight, you need to be productive in preparing your food to save time and so forth. If you want to teach effectively, you need to be productive in preparing slides and training materials and everything else without burning out.
Just aim to be productive in anything that you do. It may entail applying the military approach to be able to react at the right time and be fully prepared and ready to combat.
There are several productivity techniques I’ve explored and studies over the past 15 years. I have listed some of them below:
But even with all these productivity techniques, discipline is required.
6. Intrinsic Motivation
To be disciplined, build upon your intrinsic motivation.
It is really hard to be disciplined unless you believe in whatever you are doing. Why? Well, you can be forced for a certain period of time to do something. But unless you actually believe in it, unless your true intrinsic values and principles lie with the goals, vision, and mission of whatever you are doing or wherever you are involved in, you are going to be less likely to be fully committed to making an effort.
At work, you may be micromanaged or people may be squeezing more and more of you, but unless you believe in that job and the leadership, and unless you believe that this job is worthy of you because it pays the bills and teaches you the right type of skills, it is really hard to be disciplined.
The more you are micromanaged, the more demotivated you become. This cycle will not be broken easily unless you do something internally to be motivated or change something entirely.
Look into your core values. Figure out why you do what you do, what you are willing to put in, and what you are willing to sacrifice to achieve something. And once you have that, once you build that on an in-depth level, then nothing else is going to break it.
Just think of all the great leaders like Steve Jobs and all the great speeches like the “I Have A Dream.” They talk about being laser-focused on core values, beliefs, the bigger picture, and the skills you want to develop or the person you want to be. All of these aspirations are about:
- “I want to become a better person full-time and long term.”
- “This is going to develop me further.”
- “This is the person I want to look up into the mirror with.”
- “This is the person I want my daughter to believe in and trust.”
- “This is the person I want my significant other and my family to believe in.”
- “I want to influence people and inspire people.”
Anything related to your core values depending on you and your goals is going to be the intrinsic motivation you need to develop the right type of discipline.
7. Time Management
A study by SellCell found that half of the respondents spend 5-6 hours daily on their phone excluding work activities.
This habit falls in the same bucket as focus, goal setting, routine, and productivity. Time management is important to develop discipline because even if you have everything else set up, without effective time management, you will cut corners, skip exercises or learning sessions, or anything else.
With the right type of time management combined with a proper routine, goal setting, and everything else, you are going to accomplish a lot more simply because your time is going to be really well-set and well-defined. This way, you can organize everything around your calendar and not the other way around. So, you are going to be proactive and not reactive to whatever happens because you have your goals, plan, and agenda.
It is a lot easier to achieve more when you have your agenda than just going to work and expecting nothing to happen, or going to the gym without having the program for the day or anything along those lines.
It is not always applicable to everything. But whatever you are doing that makes you intrinsically motivated is a form of innovation—becoming better, developing new skills, working towards a promotion, or anything like that.
Even just getting the job done so that you can do something after or being productive, being confident, and being energized at work so that it does not eat up your time is a form of innovation, excitement, and creating something new for yourself or contributing back to society.
So, how do you apply discipline? Let us check some practical steps below.
How to Become Disciplined at Work or Home
There are multiple things that you can do internally and this often starts with reflecting on yourself.
In working with other people and teaching them how to be more disciplined, there are also practical steps that you can take.
Check out below some tips on applying discipline.
A. Developing a Policy
Create a policy that tackles what is allowed and disallowed, what the problems are, or what is potentially getting in the way.
Identify your own personal roadmap or values in a company environment if you are in a position of management or leadership and try to develop a policy that revolves around discipline, why it is important and what actually determines discipline in the workplace.
Others think that discipline can negatively impact a fun and healthy team environment because this can be one of the biggest culprits. About 99% of the companies say that they are not like the military where everyone has to be in a cubicle and must be silent so nobody can say a word.
There can be a certain amount of fun in every organization. You just need to make sure that fun comes after you are doing your homework, so to speak, or when you are getting the job done within the day, within the sprint week, you are available for emergencies or whatever it is.
As as long as you are committed to that and you are not impacting other team members, it is fine to do whatever else it takes. This is the core principle for most organizations, even in the biggest corporations. As long as you are not impacting other people in the opposite direction, you are delivering upon your to-do tasks, and as long as you are not making huge mistakes and you are ready to jump in in case of a problem, you are good to go whatever else you do.
B. Conducting One-On-One Sessions
Whenever there are problems with people, try to do one-on-one sessions. It could be formal or informal, depending on the scenario and the context. But in any case, do one-on-ones wherein you can say:
“Hey, this is something that you are violating here, I know it is a personal trait, yada, yada, yada but you need to work on that. Working on that is really going to make a huge difference for you.”
Even if it is as simple as filling out timesheets, you can approach it by saying:
“Hey, everyone else is doing that for a reason. We are compiling this data because this data matters a lot to the way we do billing reports and invoices.”
It is really important to just be disciplined. Or, you need to give the right example to everyone else so that they can count on you and you can progress further in that environment.
C. Listening Intently
People have different reasons to not be disciplined. You want to make sure that you are listening to them especially during those sessions to figure out what the core problem is. Most of the time it is a lack of intrinsic motivation and it is something they have not explored yet, or issues with productivity, time management, routine, focus, goal setting, and any of the other aspects we work with.
If things have been happening multiple times already and they have been recurring, especially with new team members, use the Three-Strikes rule. Give them a warning the first time. Then, if things are recurrently happening, sit down and have a really serious meeting.
The third time it happens, put them under a Performance Improvement Plan where you lay down to them that this is going to be the final time you would be having a conversation. This is why you have to make sure that new team members fit in your environment. Make sure that the culture is not getting ruined due to a lack of discipline. Otherwise, work closely with those people just to make sure that your expectations are aligned.
It must be clear that you are on the same page no matter what so that you can keep working together for the things that actually matter to the organization.
D. Coaching Teammates
Now, all these tips mentioned above are really important. But what are the main things that you want to figure out how to do better?
The first thing is to teach them how to perform better. The main goal of discipline is to help everyone else perform better and do whatever it takes to get the job done. Once you unlock the intrinsic motivation, set the KPIs and goals, and work around the principles of discipline, help your people perform better in order to get the job done.
For example, if the issue is all about filling in the timesheets correctly and promptly, the goal must be to help them comply and perform better. Reiterate the importance of filling in the timesheet before doing anything else at work.
Another thing to remember about coaching teammates in the best possible manner is to find direct channels of communication so that you can actually stay in sync as their mentor, coach, or manager. Find direct channels of communication so that they can report to you daily or you can have weekly syncs of how things are going and how things are doing.
Whatever it is, just have a direct channel you use for seamless communication.
Conducting regular feedback also helps. We already went through the Three-Strikes rule but sometimes, things are somewhere in the middle—they are not worse, they are not better, or they are slightly getting better but very slowly or fewer mistakes are being made. Just make sure there are regular feedback sessions.
If there is something good coming up, give them props. Tell them you are doing okay and things are getting better. If it is not, then let them know as well. They need to know that things are still not working well, and that they should really try to work on that. If they are somewhere in the middle, tell them you have ups and downs and you can work on reviewing that.
Keep And Nurture Talent
Retention, not termination. This is the last thing you need to remember.
In the best-case scenario, retention is the goal you are striving for. Replacing teammates is an expensive endeavor. It goes through working with recruitment companies, job offers, interviews, applications, and lots of other things that could only be a waste of time. And then, you have new people that require an onboarding process. There may be cultural misfits or other problems that may come up, but termination is rarely the answer.
However, again, if needed, you need to work towards this direction if things are really not going according to plan. Ideally, 99% of the time, your goal should be retention. So, you need to be as open and direct as possible. You need to be goal-oriented with KPIs, steps, and things to improve, identifying the actual areas of improvement to help them actually deliver upon your goals.
This level of discipline is what we instill in our Business Community here.
Some people are not motivated, but they are actually trying their best—they just do not know what delivers ROI for the business, what loses money for the business, or how they waste a lot of time or screw other teammates over because of their mistakes or their delays.
So, work in that direction towards developing discipline and you will build a healthy organization and make you a better person in the long run.