Most of us are in some stage or another of wanting to improve ourselves, whether it’s by learning a new skill, kicking a bad habit, or being generally more productive. However, many of us have a hard time achieving those goals, and it’s easy to get discouraged when another year goes by and we still haven’t learned Spanish, lost ten pounds, and written the novel we’ve always meant to. But hope isn’t lost! If you start at square one, by assessing your levels of self-discipline and working to improve them, you’re far more likely to eventually reach your goals. Here are 28 ways you can master self-discipline and start the journey:
1. List your goals – and be specific!
It may seem obvious, but sometimes we fail before we’ve begun by not being specific about our goals. Having a specific goal to work toward will make you more accountable, help you determine benchmarks, and allow you to visualize your goal in a realistic and attainable way.
2. List the reasons for your goals
One of the best ways to maintain motivation is to be reminded why you want to reach your goals in the first place.
3. Be realistic about your goals
In addition to being specific, it’s also important to be realistic. No one can learn a new language overnight or train for a marathon in a week. Try breaking your goal down into achievable chunks instead of jumping straight to the finish line, and again, be specific.
4. Set a start date
Research shows that people are more likely to follow through with their goals if they set a specific date to begin a new regimen. Start on a Monday, or at the beginning of the month, and you’re setting yourself up for success.
5. Prepare for temptation
You will eventually be tempted away from your new plan, so it’s best to get ready early. Imagine all the things that might pull you away from your goal: being too tired to practice, going to a party where temptations are present, etc. Then imagine how you will say no to the temptation. Having a plan in place will make you less likely to stray when the opportunity presents itself.
6. Don’t wait for the mood to strike
Instead of waiting until you “feel” like completing a task, set a time to complete it and stick to it. You may never want to do the task, but you’ll feel better for having completed it. Seek the satisfaction of a job well done rather than the elusive “motivation” that may never come.
7. Get enough sleep
Studies have shown that we are more likely to make poor decisions when tired. Getting a full eight hours of sleep is critical to having the brainpower to stick to your goals.
8. Form a support team
Telling people your plans makes you more likely to achieve them, and what makes your success even more likely is asking others to keep you accountable. Ask your friends to encourage you when you’re tempted to stray off the path and to point out behaviors that might be hampering your goals.
9. Try to make unpleasant tasks more pleasant
Often, having to complete boring or difficult tasks holds us back from working toward our goals. Find a way to combine unpleasant tasks with pleasant ones, like listening to a podcast while you clean the house or chatting with a friend while you go for a walk.
10. Reward yourself
Find ways to reward yourself for achieving benchmark goals, but be sure to find rewards that won’t hurt your progress. For example, don’t reward yourself for losing ten pounds by bingeing on ice cream, or for saving $1000 by spending $50.
11. Set up visual reminders
Post-it notes, phone reminders, and to-do lists are all great ways to make sure you stay on track. Make sure you’re reminded all day so that forgetfulness doesn’t become an excuse.
12. Practice “Out of Sight, Out of Mind”
If you are trying to avoid temptations like social media, snacks, or alcohol, keep them out of sight! Delete the apps from your phone and hide the snacks in a high cabinet. Studies show that it is easier to resist something if you have to go out of your way to see it.
13. Be mindful
Practicing meditative techniques of being present can help you make better decisions and stick to your goals. Consistently take stock of your actions throughout the day and take the time to wonder why you’re doing what you’re doing and how that might affect your goals.
14. Take your time
Plan your day well so that you don’t have to make quick, and often poor, decisions. Doing things like packing a lunch, waking up a little earlier than usual, and not allowing yourself to be rushed can greatly improve your chances of success.
15. Pay attention to the company you keep
Actively pursue friends who you admire for their self-discipline. Peer pressure can work for good and for bad: if you spend time with people who are bettering themselves, it will empower you to better yourself.
16. Eat well
Low blood sugar levels can lead to fatigue and poor decision making. Pay attention to what you eat and how it makes you feel so that you can consistently put your best foot forward with good fuel.
17. Avoid alcohol
It’s possible to be successful and have an occasional drink, but it’s important to remember that the ingestion of alcohol can cause impulsive decision making and adverse effects on energy levels and general health. Use moderation and good timing to make sure your alcohol use isn’t hampering your success.
18. Try interval training
Sometimes, it’s easier to accomplish tasks in small chunks. Practice completing things 20 minutes at a time, giving yourself 5 or 10-minute breaks in between, and eventually, you’ll be able to work harder for longer stretches.
19. Focus outside yourself
Sometimes it can be easier to find the motivation to do things for others than it is to do them for ourselves. Find a reason beyond yourself to keep pursuing your goals, like completing a piece of work so that your family can benefit from your hard work, and it will help you keep at it.
20. Don’t allow alternatives
The world is full of distractions. Set aside a period of time where you will either complete a necessary task or do nothing — no TV, no scrolling social media, no anything. Often when faced with no alternative, we will force ourselves to complete the task, if not work on it until time’s up.
21. Make Use of Technology
There are apps and extensions specifically designed to help you be more productive, like the Focus app. Try them out and let them help!
22. Talk to successful people
Find inspiration in the success of others, and ask them how they got there. They may have ideas and tips that will work for you.
23. Track your progress
It’s easier to maintain energy and motivation when you can see the progress you’ve made. Keep a journal, take progress pictures, or even just make notes in a calendar so that you know the difference your actions have made.
24. Get organized
It’s easier to stay on track when you aren’t navigating messiness. Find a place for everything and keep it in its place. Make lists. The easier you can make your daily tasks, the more brainpower you have for tackling the hard stuff.
25. Be persistent
Failure happens. Whether it’s due to external or internal factors, it’s bound to happen, but you can’t let one failure stop you from pursuing a bigger goal. Dust yourself off and try again tomorrow, and progress will be made little by little.
26. Use “the power of three”
Three may not seem like much, but setting yourself up to complete three tasks a day that get you closer to your goals will lead to eventual success. Setting three goals isn’t overwhelming and will lead to feelings of success that increase motivation.
27. Consult a professional
Sometimes, issues that we see as personal failings can have roots in mental or physical illness. A doctor or therapist can help you navigate the world with these things in mind, so if you feel like you’re consistently hitting the same roadblocks, don’t be afraid to reach out to someone.
28. Be kind to yourself
At the end of the day, whether you have made little progress or lots, remember that you are only human and doing the best you can. Don’t beat yourself up for a bad day; forgive yourself and resolve to try again tomorrow using the list above to help yourself succeed. You’ll be on your way in no time!