How to Build World Class Self-Discipline in a Single Year

Don’t start the New Year without reading this post. Create a simple self-discipline improvement plan now. It’s not as hard as you may think.

Self-discipline is the most critical quality to achieve success. For most of us, it’s not a question whether we can or we can’t achieve something. It’s a question of whether we will or we won’t. We humans are extremely capable beings. We can learn whatever we set our minds to. It takes time and effort and that requires self-discipline. If it all comes down to self-discipline, it’s worth thinking about a few questions.

  • How can we cultivate self-discipline?
  • How can we build world class self-discipline in a single year?
  • Is it even possible?
  • If it is possible, will it be a year of agony?

Yes, it is possible to build world-class self-discipline in a single year. No, it doesn’t have to be a year of agony. On the contrary, putting yourself through agony can be counterproductive to your self-discipline.

It’s a Progress

Let me ask you another question. Could you build a great physique if you exercised every day, watched what you eat, and have sufficient rest every day? Of course you could. It’s the same with self-discipline. It’s a muscle just like the ones in your body. The more you take care and exercise it, the stronger it will get.

What do you do to build muscles in your body? You start lifting weights that you can lift with slight discomfort. As you get comfortable lifting a certain set of weights, you increase the weights. By gradually increasing the weights you lift, you increase your lean muscle mass.

“Self-discipline is a muscle just like the ones in your body. You can build world class self-discipline just by improving it 1% every day.”

The trick here is the gradual increase in weights to maintain a slight discomfort when you’re training. It’s not lifting the weights that are completely in your comfort zone. It’s also not trying to lift the weights that are completely outside of your comfort zone. It’s about finding that sweet spot between these two extremes. It’s the same with building your self-discipline.

You don’t want to overextend your self-discipline, so that you burn out and give up completely. You also don’t want to neglect your self-discipline, so that it weakens. You want to increase your use of self-discipline every day by 1%. Can you do that? Of course, you can. What would be the result of 1% increase in self-discipline over a year? 3778% improvement in a year, or in other words, 38 times improvement.

How do you do that?

It’s very simple. Make a list of all the things that require self-discipline in your life. Think about the habits that you want to quit and the habits that you want to adopt. Write them down.

Now, pick one of those habits and break it down to minimum increments. This would work the best with a diary. I prefer a physical diary over a digital one, because a physical exercise makes this exercise tangible and increases accountability. If you want to increase the accountability, you can make an agreement with someone as your accountability partner and report them your daily/weekly progress. If you want to increase the accountability even more, you can make your goal public and post your results on a daily basis on social media.

Use Case #1: Meditate 20 Minutes a Day

Suppose that you want to start meditating for twenty minutes every day. Start meditating for a minute today. Increase the duration by one minute every day. Within twenty days, you will get to your target level. Now, all you have to do is to maintain that habit. Don’t give up if you fail to follow up on your goal. Just pick up the practice where you stopped. Once you get to the twenty minutes a day, keep that habit going while starting another self-discipline goal.

Use Case #2: Minimizing Social Media Use

Imagine, you spend an hour or more on social media each day and you want to decrease that to fifteen minutes. To do that, use a method that is called timeboxing. In this method, we are going to allocate a timeslot to social media and use social media only in that timeslot. Before starting this exercise make a commitment to consume social media only within the designated timeslot. Outside of that timeslot, you will use relaxation techniques to deal with the withdrawal symptoms.

On the first day, allocate an hour of uninterrupted time to social media. The challenge is twofold here. The first challenge is not to use social media outside of that hour. The second challenge is to not exceed that hour once you start. You need to make a commitment to both of them.

“Set a timer and place it away from your where you sit. That makes you stand up and walk, which interrupts your auto-pilot mode.”

You better set a timer at the beginning of that hour and put the timer away from where you consume social media. That way you will need to stand up and walk towards that timer. This interrupts your pattern of consuming social media and increases your ability to tap into your self-discipline. At the end of that hour, stop using social media for the day.

The next day, decrease your social media consumption by three minutes. Decrease your social media consumption by three minutes each day until you restrict yourself to fifteen minutes each day. At the same time, keep the other self-discipline challenges going. Each day write down a little report in your self-discipline dairy. You better get a dairy with the dates prefilled, which makes it obvious if you skipped a day or two. Writing down your accomplishment every day will improve your motivation to push the bar 1% every day.

Use Case #3: Reducing Caffeine, Sugar, etc. Consumption

Suppose that you want to reduce your caffeine consumption.

  • Measure your caffeine intake on a given day. For example, four cups throughout the day.
  • Determine your goal. For example, one cup a day in the morning.
  • On the first day, replace the last coffee with green tea. That makes three cups of coffee and a cup of green tea.
  • On the following days two days, keep replacing the last cup of coffee with green tea.
  • Once you are down to a cup of coffee and three green teas, start dropping a green tea per day until you only drink one cup of coffee per day.

Eventually, you can use a hot beverage that is completely caffeine free to replace the coffee and/or green tea. I enjoy grain coffee on cold winter days. It has a similar taste to coffee and completely caffeine free. Similar regimes can be developed for reducing your sugar consumption and other foods.

Conclusion

“What gets measured gets improved.” Peter Drucker

You can build world-class self-discipline within a year just by making 1% improvements every day. All you have to do is the following.

  1. Make a list of self-discipline improvements.
  2. Pick up a challenge at a time.
  3. Measure where you start.
  4. Determine the goal that you want to achieve.
  5. Make a 1% improvement towards your goal until you reach it.
  6. Once you reach your goal, pick up another challenge and repeat the process.
  7. Don’t forget to maintain your self-discipline by maintaining your previous improvements.

What do you think? Is it possible for you to build world class self-discipline in a single year using the 1% improvements? Which self-discipline improvements are you going to make in the next year?

Burak Bilgin
Software developer with a Ph.D. and 15 years of experience. I write daily on personal development and life lessons. Sign up to my email newsletter to receive a weekly overview of my latest content on personal development and life lessons.

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