How to Develop Self-Discipline in 7 Steps

Note: This post is written by Rick Riddle

Finding the time to do the things we really want to do is easy; finding the time to do the things we don’t like – not so much.

People who love yard work have great-looking yards, although their home interiors may be a mess. They may have the motivation to clean their homes but not the self-discipline to actually get the job done. Discipline seems to be a natural when the tasks are pleasant to us, but not natural when the tasks are unappealing.

The same is true with work. We will always find the time to complete those tasks that are pleasant, engaging, and “fun,” but those that are not appealing will languish. Unfortunately, those unappealing tasks still must get accomplished, but because self-discipline is not present, deadlines will be missed, or we are scrambling at the last minute. The result is mediocrity at best, and the consequences can be pretty serious.

Defining Motivation and Discipline


Today, motivation is often defined using the term “passion.” It is an emotional thing and relates to our desire for something. Thus, we may have a desire to accomplish something – get into law school, start our own business, overcome an addiction, buy a house, etc. These are great goals, and that is really what motivation is – setting goals that we want to achieve.

But how does an addict overcome an addiction just by “wanting” to do it? The answer is, it doesn’t happen. So motivation can be seen as perhaps a temporary or “fleeting” emotion. We may have it strongly at times but not at others. The individual who wants to save for a house, as an example, may give in to a temptation to buy a great car and use some of that house savings for the purchase.


Discipline, on the other hand, is a habit and a strategy. It is how things are accomplished and, instead of an emotion, it is a rational thought process that, once developed, is permanent and habitual. It can even kick-in when the motivation is lacking and still get something accomplished.

How, for example, does the addict overcome an addiction? He joins a support group (e.g., AA); he may get therapy or a medication to boost his efforts. But, the bottom line is this: he has to attend meetings; he has to go to his therapy sessions; and he has to take his medication regularly. That is discipline. Without that discipline, he can “want” to kick his habit every day, but it won’t happen.

Developing Self-Discipline – 7 Steps

Discipline is a learned behavior – we are not born with it. The toddler has no self-discipline. He has motivation. He wants something, and he will go after it. Discipline comes from training, first from parents, then from school, and finally, from ourselves.

If, as an adult, we lack self-discipline, our lives can become chaotic, jumping from one thing to the next, putting out “fires” as they occur, and generally being stressed, unproductive, and not able to achieve goals. If this sounds like you, here are 7 steps to develop self-discipline that will organize your personal and professional life.

1. Get a Daily Routine

You may have certain routines that are already habitual. Think about how you get ready to go to bed at night. You may watch the nightly news or a talk show; you may read; you may wash up and brush your teeth. And the order in which you do these things is your routine. Do you ever veer from that routine? Of course – you may be on vacation; you may have had a late night out. But, generally, you have that routine in place.

You have to have a routine for how you get other things done too, especially at work.

  • Getting into the habit of a routine will require a “to-do” list – every day. While the items will vary, the creation of a list should not. Everything should be prioritized, either by order of importance or by deadline urgency.
  • You start at #1 and move down the list in order. No cheating. The temptation is to skip around to the tasks we like, but that is not being disciplined. 

2. Alternate the Pleasant and the Unpleasant

This is a really good tactic in the beginning. When you craft your list, put a pleasant but very important task as #1. This will get you motivated to actually begin your list. The second item is a very important unpleasant task. #3 can be pleasant. This will keep you motivated to move on, because you know a pleasant task is coming.

Once you have this habit internalized, you will be able to make a list with all unpleasant tasks at the top – your reward will be those that come later in the day that you really want to do.

3. Remind Yourself of the Consequences of Non-Completion

While you may have many tasks about which you have no motivation, you need to remind yourself why you are going to dig in and get them done anyway. Sometimes they will even take you outside of your comfort zone.

If you are a business owner who loves the “people” aspect of your work but hates the accounting and paperwork, remind yourself that invoices and good accounting will bring in profit and keep the IRS off of your back. If you are an employee, think about the positive rewards of completing those unpleasant tasks – appreciation and praise from peers and superiors that can result in raises and promotions.

And think about the consequences too – bad performance reviews, letting other people down, etc.

4. Set Specific Times for Breaks and Rewards

You deserve rewards and breaks – they allow you to relax and re-group. Set certain times of the day for these things, and keep to that schedule as much as possible. You can even insert them into your list – breaks come after a task that was dis-tasteful, but they don’t happen until that task is finished.

5. Get Your Cubby, Office or Other Workspace Organized

This is really a psychological thing. When your environment is orderly, you tend to be more orderly too. Can some people work amidst a mess? Yes, but the majority cannot. And before you quit for the day, set out what you need for the first task of the next day.

6. Talk to Yourself

This is a great tool, whether you do it silently or out loud. If you can verbalize each thing that you need to do as you do it, each step in a large and unpleasant task, you will tend to avoid procrastination, distractions, and lack of focus. And you will have good company. Psychologists state that most geniuses talk to themselves, so join the ranks of Einstein.

7. Stay Tuned to Your Larger Goals

Even if you put a reminder on your screen saver (and that’s a great thing to do), you must continually “see” the longer-term goal – a hugely successful business, freedom from addiction, that mortgage signing, or that raise/promotion.


Motivation is key to success. Without it, you don’t dream or come up with new ideas; you don’t get excited. But it is the discipline that forces you on a path to make those dreams manifest.

Rick Riddle is an up-and-coming blogger whose articles can help you with self-development, personal finance and content management. Follow Rick on Twitter and find more of his articles on Smartpaperhelp.


  1. Thank you

  2. Thanks, great article.

  3. I just started today

  4. my life is down and I really want to get up again
    how do I pick my self up again.i am in real estates I have never sold one house.

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