How to improve your self-discipline: the ultimate guide

How to improve your self-discipline: the ultimate guide

In this article you will discover how to improve your self-discipline in order to become more productive, achieve your professional goals and develop yourself more at work and in your private life.

But before moving on to these tips, it’s important to understand what good discipline can do for the quality of your professional and personal life. Here are some results from scientific research.

A meta-analysis by De Ridder & al. (2012) shows the positive effect of self-control on the implementation of all desirable outcomes. On the contrary, weak self-control is positively associated with undesirable behaviors such as, for example, procrastination Steel (2007).

Finally, several recent studies have shown that high self-control is positively associated with greater life satisfaction, more positive emotions and less negative emotions (Cheung, Gillebaart, Kroese & De Ridder, 2014; Grund, Grunschel, Bruhn and Fries, 2015; Hofmann, Luhmann, Fisher, Vohs and Baumeister, 2014; Wiese et al., 2017).

It is for these reasons that being more disciplined at work and in your private life, becomes an essential issue to create a life full of satisfaction and accomplishment. If these factors are important to you, I advise you to discover my advice to become more disciplined.

But first it is important to define what is self-control. Self-control can be defined as the ability to modify or override dominant response patterns and to regulate behavior, thoughts and emotions (Bandura, 1989; Carver & Scheier, 1981, 1982; Metcalfe & Mischel, 1999 ; Rothbaum et al., 1982; Vohs & Baumeister, 2004).

Here are 6 tips for improving your discipline.

How can you be more disciplined at work and in your private life?

Now that you understand the importance of developing your discipline, here are 6 quick tips to be more disciplined in your professional and personal life:

1 – Start with your values

2 – Identify your most important motivation

3 – Define your most important professional or personal goal of the year

4 – Use the power of habits

5 – Engage with other people

6 – Be proactive to resist temptations more and strengthen your self-control

1 – Start with your values

As you have already read in the previous articles, having a clear vision of your values ​​is important in order to act in coherence with these and pursue significant objectives.

According to Hutcherson & al. (2017) self-monitoring can be viewed as a form of decision based on subjective assessments of the value of different alternatives. These same authors suggest that self-control could be improved by rebalancing the value assigned to a given alternative.

Your difficulty in becoming disciplined could therefore depend on an incorrect assessment of the value attributed to a given situation.

Operational tip: check the consistency between your values and the value you assign to each alternative

If you don’t live coherently with your most important values, one possible solution is to step back from your past and present decisions.

First, reflect on a past event in which you acted without respecting your most important values. You can choose a personal or professional event.

Then give yourself time to remember the value you assigned to each of the possible options. Now that you are fully associated with this situation, would you still be ready to assess the different alternatives in the same way?

Probably not, because now you understand that your perception was wrong or at least exaggerated.

What would you do differently now if you could go back in time?

Now think of a current situation that is problematic for you and against which you are assessing the validity of different alternatives.

Now close your eyes and become a spectator of this situation as if you were watching yourself making this decision.

Do you feel that the value assigned to each option is truly objective?

If not, measure the magnitude of the offset and redefine the value given to each alternative. Now open your eyes and check if this new assessment respects your most important values. If so, you will be able to:

  • to make better choices
  • to take more effective actions
  • achieve your goals faster

Knowing your values ​​will allow you to flourish while becoming more disciplined. Now that you understand the importance of basing your decisions on your values, I suggest you take our second tip to be more disciplined, that is, by identifying your most important motivation.

2 – Identify your most important motivation

You have several reasons to become more disciplined at work or in your private life, but some motivations are more important than others.

Don’t settle for what seems most obvious to you. Take the time to get to the heart of what makes you get out of bed excited every morning.

One of the most important ways to identify your motivation is to imagine how you will feel when you reach your goal.

In this sense, Bartels & Rips (2010) show that one source of failure in terms of self-control is the inability to show empathy for a future version of oneself.

To put it simply, the difficulty in imagining the person one will become when achieving a result and therefore the difficulty in feeling an emotional connection with our version of the future negatively affects the ability to be more disciplined.

It is for this reason that interventions that make the future more real have shown some effectiveness as a means of increasing self-control, Duckworth & al. (2018). Let’s see how to apply the results of this research to your choice to be more disciplined.

Operational tip: connect to the future version of yourself

Imagine the person you will become once you reach your goal and answer the following questions:

What emotions am I experiencing right now?

What has changed in my life?

What is my new way of thinking and expressing myself?

What new actions can I take?

What choices are mine?

What am I unable to accomplish now?

To further facilitate this process, proceed in stages by going back in time and asking yourself the previous questions by adding an increasingly important time delay.

For example:

What emotions do I experience now, just a year after I have managed to become more disciplined?

What has changed in my life, 5 years after becoming more disciplined in my work?

What am I able to accomplish now, 10 after becoming disciplined in my personal life?

Doing so, while taking the time to feel the emotions associated with this potential reality, will allow you to become more disciplined at work and in your private life.

Being aware of your most important motivation will allow you to be happier while strengthening your discipline.

Now that you understand the importance of basing your actions on your strongest motivation, I suggest you move on to our third tip to be more disciplined, namely, by defining your most important professional or personal goal of the year.

3 – Define your most important professional or personal objective of the year

It is important to choose goals that are important to you and allow you to express your true nature and therefore allow you to be yourself.

In this sense, as research shows according to the theory of self-determination (Deci and Ryan, 2000), individuals are more successful in achieving goals that reflect their true interests and values ​​(Milyavskaya, Inzlicht, Hope and Koestner, 2015 ; Sheldon & Elliot, 1999) as well as their intrinsic or true self (Sheldon, 2002; Sheldon, Ryan, Rawsthorne & Ilardi, 1997). The true self represents a person’s belief about who he / she “really is, regardless of their outward behavior” (Schlegel, Hicks, King & Arndt, 2011, p. 745) and is therefore often contrasted with the public self of individuals (i.e. who the people are around others, even if it is not really what they are).

In summary, if you want to flourish while maximizing your chances of achieving your goals, choose to pursue goals that meet what is important to you and not what others expect from you.

Stravrova, Pronk & Kokkoris (2018) show that self-control positively influences the pursuit of goals consistent with the intrinsic self and the achievement of these same goals.

So you understand that being more disciplined will allow you to flourish more while achieving the goals that are most important to you.

Operational tip: define a single specific and consistent objective with the person you really are

You can’t improve everything at once!

Identify precisely which aspect of your organization you need to improve as a priority.

An effective way to choose this aspect is from your most important professional or personal goal of the year.

Once this objective is defined, you can write a list of solutions allowing you to make up for your lack of discipline at work or in your private life.

These solutions can be actions to take to close the gap between your current state and the ideal state you would like to achieve.

Here’s how you can do it:

  • set a goal allowing you to bring out your real identity more
  • verify that this goal is not actually a way of conforming to what the external world expects from you
  • create an action plan by being particularly specific about the first actions you will take
  • assess the effectiveness of your actions and improve your approach
  • congratulate yourself for your achievements and plan the following actions in your to-do list

This way you will be able to focus your abilities on the most important goal of the year while becoming more disciplined day by day.

Defining your most important professional and personal goal of the year will allow you to become more productive while becoming more disciplined.

Now that you understand the importance of basing your actions on your important goals, I suggest you move on to our fourth tip to be more disciplined, that is, using the power of habits.

4 – Use the power of habits

Working in effort relying exclusively on your sources of motivation and your conscious effort may not be enough to overcome the lack of discipline.

Becoming disciplined at work and in your private life requires developing a new attitude at work and in your personal life. One of the best ways to do this is to create, perfect and strengthen new habits.

In another previous article on productivity, I discussed research showing that a very effective way to develop new habits is to use the power of contextual factors. These are various elements that will facilitate the execution of a new habit, even in situations of low motivation.

These results are consistent with those of De Ridder & al. (2012) who show that self-control has a greater effect in the case of automatic behaviors compared to those which can be controlled. In this sense, meta-analyzes show that self-control is more strongly associated with automatic behaviors than with deliberate behaviors (De Ridder & al., 2012).

Finally, as the research shows, the differences in terms of self-control would not depend on individual differences. So it may well be that people with high self-control don’t just work harder than people with low self-control, and the crucial difference between people with high control and people with low control the self does not reside in an innate ability to inhibit impulses, but rather in weak unsuitable routines and high adaptive routines which would imply that they can save their energy of self-control for attempts to initiate the pursuit of the goal (Mann & al., 2013).

It is for these reasons that preparing the ground for more disciplined behavior at work and in your private life becomes essential for carrying out your most important projects.

In practice, this involves finding tips that will make it easier for you to modify your automatic behavioral patterns by replacing them with new ones that are much more productive.

The initiation component of self-control (adopting desired behaviors) is an essential part of successful self-regulation (De Ridder & al., 2012). This means that to be more disciplined it is not enough to avoid unproductive behavior but that it is also important to create new habits that are more effective and aligned with the goals that we set for ourselves.

Operational tip: prepare the ground for your new habits

Start with your most important goal of the year and think about the challenges you might face in achieving this outcome.

Then, once these obstacles have been identified, write down a list of all the changes you can make to your professional and personal life in order to facilitate or automate behaviors allowing you to overcome the obstacles previously identified.

The purpose of this is to eliminate in advance any situation that puts your self-control and motivation at risk.

Then plan these behavioral changes to make in your to-do list and take action.

Evaluate the effectiveness of your actions and if you are not progressing, identify what is blocking your progress and take regular actions to improve yourself.

This is how you will combine the effectiveness of three essential components of self-control, namely planning, problem solving and creating new habits. This will allow you to be more disciplined both at work and in your personal life.

Using the power of habits will allow you to become more disciplined while being less in conscious effort. Now that you understand the importance of using habits to your advantage, I suggest you go to our fifth tip to be more disciplined, that is, engaging with other people.

5 – Engage with other people

Your professional or personal entourage can be a later driver to allow you to become more disciplined.

As research in social psychology, including that by Robert Cialdini, shows, one way to change behavior is to show commitment and act consistently with that initial commitment.

Research also shows that monitoring your behavior while making it public and recorded makes it easier to reach your goals.

Operational tip: engage with a person who wants to become more disciplined

Make your change easier by finding another person who wants to become more disciplined in their personal or professional life. Depending on your goal, choose a colleague or friend who wants to progress like you.

Take one sheet for yourself and one for your partner. In this sheet write:

  • the goal you want to achieve
  • the actions you are going to take to get there
  • the benefits for you if you reach your goal
  • the downsides if you fail
  • the behavior that your partner should have if you do not respect your commitments

Your partner will follow the same process, then you will exchange this sheet.

In this way, you will both increase your motivation by each becoming the guarantor of the other’s behavior.

Engaging with other people will allow you to become more disciplined. Now that you understand the importance of having external motivation, I suggest you take our sixth tip to be more disciplined, that is, by being proactive.

6 – Be proactive to resist temptations more and strengthen your self-control

Psychological states associated with well-being and good functioning can promote self-control, which further supports the idea that successful self-control is not a question of inhibition in itself but rather consists of taking measures to achieve the desired objectives (initiatory dimension of self-control), De Ridder & Gillebaart (2016).

Recent research shows that contrary to what one might think, self-control is more linked to an active approach on the part of the individual in order to create the best conditions for action in order to achieve the desired objectives.

In line with this research, the most effective way to be disciplined in your life is to be more in the action towards the pursuit of your projects and less in the expectation of resisting various difficulties that may present themselves to you.

One way to become more proactive is to combine mental contrast with implementation intentions.

In this sense, research shows that after having articulated an objective, an individual mentally opposes the imagined positive result (“What would be the best result to achieve this wish?”) To the obstacle that gets in the way (“What – what could prevent me from realizing this wish? ”). Finally, the individual develops a plan (“What is the effective way to overcome this obstacle?”). This combination (MCII) has been shown to be more effective in supporting self-control as compared to creating implementation intentions or engaging in mental contrast alone (Adriaanse et al., 2010; Kirk, Oettingen and Gollwitzer, 2013).

Finally Nielsen, Gwozdz & De Ridder (2019) show that once exposed to a situation that can cause less self-control, attentional deployment (focusing attention voluntarily on another situation or object) and reassessment (the modification of the meaning attributed to a given situation) are much more effective self-control strategies than those of avoidance.

Another very effective strategy to reinforce self-control is joint evaluation, which consists in examining at least two alternatives at the same time as this allows more self-controlled and rational choices to be made Duckworth & al. (2018).

Operational tip: program your attack and your defense

Becoming more disciplined has two aspects: what you do to stay disciplined and what you do to avoid being disciplined.

That said, start with your most important goal of the year and do the following:

  • define two strategies, one for attack and the other for defense
  • structure your attack strategy by identifying potential obstacles in advance and solutions to overcome them
  • organize your defense strategy by identifying all the situations and people who could jeopardize your discipline and write a list of antidotes to these dangers

Simply put, imagine that you want to become disciplined to save more money for your retirement or personal projects.

Your attack strategy may be to set up direct debits to a savings account or to give you the means to increase your income.

On the other hand, your defense strategy can consist in reducing your impulsive purchases by implementing a procedure allowing you to:

  • focus your attention on your most important goal of the year
  • question more the relevance of your expenses
  • compare an expense to other options more aligned with your goal

Conclusion on how to be more disciplined at work and in your privacy

This article on how to be disciplined is finished.

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Français Comment être plus discipliné dans votre vie : le guide ultime
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