If you are looking to take control of your habits and choices, here are the 10 most powerful things you can do to master self-discipline.
Know your weaknesses
Set clear goals and have an execution plan
Create new habits by keeping it simple
Change your perception about willpower
Give yourself a backup plan
Building self-discipline main traits are taking baby steps along your journey and celebrating the mini wins along the way.
Build Self Discipline Hacks
Check out the video on Atomic Habits by James Clear about 5 Easy Ways to Build Superhuman Self-Discipline:
James Clear is the author of Atomic Habits. He writes at JamesClear.com, where he shares self-improvement tips based on proven scientific research.
The video has been put together here nicely by FightMediocrity youtube channel and strongly recommend you subscribe to it if you have not already.
Here is a full transcription of the video above.
One of the places I like to suggest starting this with what I call environment design. So basically the things that are on your desk at home, your kitchen counter, your office at work, they influence your behaviours. And if you can restructure your physical environment or your digital environment, then you’re more likely to actually stick with the right habit.
So as an example, a lot of people feel like they’ve watched too much television. So walk into pretty much any living room where do all the couches and chairs face? They all face the TV. It’s like, what is this room designed to get you to do? Now, I’m not saying you have to restructure your entire house, but there is a range of choices you could make, right?
You could take the chair and turn it away from the television and have it face a coffee table with a book on it. Or you could put the TV inside a wall unit or a cabinet and a something behind doors so you’re less likely to see it.
You could also increase the friction of the action in the environment. So you could like, um, unplug the TV after each use and then only plug it back in if you can say the name of the show that you want to watch. United Allen, just like turn Netflix on and find something. So that’s an example of curtailing a bad habit with environment design.
But you can also use it to promote good habits. So for example, I used to buy apples and I would put them in the crisper at the bottom of the fridge and I wouldn’t see them because they were tucked down there.
And so then two weeks later that would go bad. I get annoyed cause I’m throwing food out and throwing money away, so I bought a big display bowl and I put it right in the middle of the counter and put the apples in there. And now they’re gone in like three days just because it’s obvious.
There’s a study that I mentioned in the book from a Massachusetts general hospital. They went into the cafeteria at the hospital and they added water to all of the fridges and they also added some of this little rolling carts that have water in it by the food stations in the cafeteria, and that was all they did. They didn’t talk to anybody, they didn’t motivate anybody.
And then six months later, water sales are up 25%, soda sales are down 11% and I always think that’s interesting because if you were to go up to any person in that room and be like, why are you drinking a Coke? I’d be like, I want a Coke, why don’t you have water? This is what I felt like having.
But the truth is some percentage of them chose a just because it was obvious just because of what the environment nudge them toward.
Make it easy
As far as making habits easy, there are a variety of things you can do, but the simplest one is just to scale your habits down to something that is very easy to do. And I like to recommend the two-minute rule, which basically says you take whatever habit you’re trying to build and you scale it down to something that takes two minutes or less to do.
So do yoga four days a week becomes take out my yoga mat or read 30 books a year becomes read one page.
And sometimes people resist that a little bit because they’re like, okay, I know the real thing I want to do isn’t take my yoga mat out. Right, I know I actually want to do the workout like I’m not just looking to build this habit of taking this mat out all the time. So if it’s a mental trick and I know it’s a trick, like why would I fall for it? And if you feel that way, then my recommendation would be, well actually in the beginning for the first few weeks, limit yourself to only two minutes.
All you do is put your shoes on running shoes on, step out the door and lock the door and then you walk back inside. Or all you do is take your yoga mat out.
It sounds funny, but like for example, so I had a, I had a reader who he ended up doing this. He lost a lot of weight loss over a hundred pounds and for the first six weeks he only went to the gym for like five minutes and then he would leave.
So he’d get in the car, drive to the gym, get out to half an exercise, get back in the car, drive home, and it sounds ridiculous, right? It sounds like you’re like, okay, clearly this is not going to be the thing that gets this guy in shape, but when you step back for a second, you realize he was becoming the type of person that went to the gym four days a week.
The art of showing up
He was mastering the art of showing up, and I think that this is like a really deep truth about habits that gets overlooked a lot, which is a habit must be established before it can be improved, right? It has to become the standard in your life, your new normal before you can worry about optimizing it or expanding it from there.
If you don’t become the type of person that goes to the gym for five minutes, you don’t have a chance to be the person who stays for 45 minutes, five days a week. So I think so often we’re, we’re so focused on finding the perfect diet plan or the ideal workout program.
We’re so focused on optimizing that we don’t give ourselves permission to show up in a small way, but even if it’s only for, you know, five minutes or five pushups or one a sentence that you write, do some things that you can master the art of showing up and make it your new normal. And then once you become that person, well then you have a lot of options for expanding and improving from there.
“do some things that you can master the art of showing up and make it your new normal”
Master the entry points
There’s this great story that I mentioned the book about Twyla Tharp, who is a famous dance choreographer and instructor and she trains for still, even now, she trains for two hours a day. She’s, you know, in her fifties/sixties she’s been trained for a long time dancing her whole career, but she doesn’t actually focus on the exercise habit.
The habit that she focuses on building is I put on my workout clothes and my sweatshirt and I hail the cab on the side of the street and if I’ve done that, then I’ve completed the habit and I think that the insight that she realized is that habits are often the entry point, not the endpoint. They’re the cab, not the gym.
They’re like an entrance ramp to the bigger routines in your life. And if you can master that habit, that like little decisive moment that determines what happens in the next chunk of time, then the rest of it kind of falls in line.
I have this moment each morning where either I open up Evernote and I start writing the next article I’m going to work on or I go to ESPN to check the latest sports news. And what happens in the next hour is really determined by what happens in the first like 30 seconds. Because if I go to ESPN, then the next hour is kind of shot.
But if I start writing the article, if I master that entry point, then I’m kind of speeding in the right direction, and the momentum carries me into the rest of the task and I think that for me that’s a little bit inspiring when it comes to building habits because what you realize is that there’s actually not that much to change.
There may be five or 10 of those little decisive moments, those little entry points throughout your day that determine whether the next chunk of time is productive or not. And if you can organize your environment or join a community or restructure your habits so that those entry points are mastered, then you’re much more likely to live a good productive day.
“So many of our habits are socially reinforced”
So many of our habits are socially reinforced. I have a whole chapter in the book, but even though I wrote a whole chapter on it, I think I undersold the importance of social environment and how important it is for building your habits. So you have a job interview and you wear a dress or a suit and tie and not a bathing suit or workout clothes or something just because you know that’s the expectation of the other people in the group.
Or you walk onto an elevator and you turn around to face the front, even though you could face the back or the side or whatever, but that’s not what people do so that you do what everybody else does. Or you move into a new neighbourhood and you walk outside on Tuesday night and you see that all of your neighbours have their recycling bins out and you’re like, Oh we need to sign up for recycling because I guess that’s what people like us do in this neighbourhood.
And then you stick to that habit for 20 years, right? Mostly because it’s socially reinforced. And so there are all kinds of things. The things we do at work, the way we dress, the things we do at school, the religion we do or don’t practice, they’re all reinforced by the people that are around us.
So I think the punchline to this is that you want to join a group or join a tribe where your desired behaviour is the normal behaviour. Because if it’s normal in that group, then it’s going to give you a reason to stick to it because your habits are going to be a signal to the people around you. Hey, I belong to, right, like I get it. I fit in.
I’m part of this tribe as well. So social environment is a big driver of whether you stick to habits for the long run and joining groups that have your desired habits I think is a great way to reinforce those for good.
Use variable Rewards
One reason bad habits stick so readily that they’ve formed so easily is because bad habits often the immediate reward is favourable, right? Like what’s the immediate reward of eating a doughnut? It’s kind of great, It’s sweet, it’s sugary, it tastes good. It’s only the ultimate reward if you repeat that habit for six months or a year or two years, that is unfavourable.
Meanwhile, good habits are often the exact opposite. The immediate reward of going to the gym or going to the gym for like a week isn’t really that great. Your body’s probably sore and you don’t have much to show for it. Your body looks the same. Weight hasn’t really changed.
But if you stick to that for six months or a year or two years, then the ultimate reward is favourable and so a lot of the challenge of building good habits and breaking bad ones is figuring out how to pull the longterm costs of your bad habits into the present moment so you feel a little bit of that pain right now and have a reason to avoid it and pull the longterm rewards of your good habits into the present moment so it feels good and you have a reason to kind of make it through that like Valley of death in the beginning and stick with it while you’re waiting for those delayed rewards to accumulate.
But there are other things that you can do in the short term to feel more gratified while you’re working on these habits. So here’s just one little tactic. Let’s say that you’re either trying to work out or be able to have habit, a meditating or something and so each time you do your habit of meditating for five minutes, you have this little jar of marbles and you got like a hundred marbles in there and 90 are red and 10 are blue.
And after each instance of your habit, you walk over and you pull a marble out of the jar and if you pull out one of the 90 then nothing happens it’s just like pat on the back, good job, you do what you’re supposed to.. but if you pull out one of the 10 then you get some kind of a reward that’s exciting to you.
Maybe you get to watch Netflix for an hour and not feel guilty or go for a walk outside or take a bubble bath or buy yourself a new jacket, whatever it is. Like something that that feels rewarding. And what you just did was you introduce an element of immediate gratification and of like surprise and delight to the whole process.
And so yeah, that first week when you’re meditating, you still might not identify as a meditator or you still might not have a sense of calm wash over your life, but you have this other interesting thing that is rewarding right away that maybe gets you to stick with it while you’re waiting for those longterm rewards to accumulate.
Check out all the life hacks articles below.
The blogs are summaries of motivational books or videos online.
To summerise, the main points cover – restructuring your physical environment to influence your behaviours. Increasing the friction of the action in the environment to promote good habits. Scale your habits down and limit yourself to make it easy to achieve. Master your entry habits which will in effect ramp your bigger routines in life for a much more productive day. Join a community as our habits are massively socially reinforced. Use variable rewards and tactics i.e. surprise and delight and reap those long term rewards.
I’m a full-blown Search Engine Optimization specialist earning the majority of my income from SEO-focused endeavours, including affiliate marketing, lead generation, as well as SEO services. Love travelling the world networking while working on my laptop. Life is a perception of your own reality. You have no excuses and should be making memories every single day.