Ironically, self-discipline is the ultimate freedom. Waking up early, making up your bed, brushing your teeth, and eating healthy breakfast can transform your whole day. By adding in reading, journaling, and meditation, you can supercharge your growth and allow yourself to become a more loving person. You may also find that you become a harder-working employee, a more trustworthy friend, a passionate lover, and an overall interesting person. Self-discipline and consistency pay little dividends but they compound quickly making a big impact in your life.
If we don’t discipline ourselves, the world will do it for us. – William Feather
I started elementary school on September 1st in 1999. I already feel old remembering it. At that time I was living in a small village of no more than 20 people. The village was 3 km away from the school. It was so exciting to finally get out of my small world and meet kids, learn stuff and have something to do. But soon I realized, school is not an easy quest. There is so much to learn and I have so little time. I had to figure it out because like everyone else I wanted to be a good student. To get to school on time I had to get up at 6 am, prepare, eat breakfast and catch a bus to school. In the beginning, it was not too hard because I was thrilled to learn something new and September mornings were quite nice with lots of sunshine. But then the winter came with cold dark mornings and winds. I was not happy. It became harder to get up and due to cold weather outside, I didn’t feel like leaving home. But I had to. Everyone had to.
“It’s not something I choose, it’s my daily duty and I must complete it whether I like it or not.” I thought.
Self-Discipline for Students
In 1999, I started my discipline training that lasts to this day and I must be grateful for what I have now for these cold rainy or snowy mornings in a rural village in Northern Lithuania. Consistently getting up early, making my bed, making breakfast and later taking care of my two younger brothers had a huge impact on my discipline and responsibility muscles.
Fast forward 10 years, I learned a lot of stuff and started to look for more ways to grow and develop myself. Even though I kind of knew what I wanted to do with my life, become a designer, I was still doing my homework, nailing tests and giving back to the school community. I was rebelling a lot against the formal education structure and demanded (unsuccessfully) to give me final exams sooner as I didn’t want to wait but that waiting taught me a lot when I reflect on it now.
You see, I was a good student, getting good grades, talking decently, and treating everyone equally, even though I was against the system I showed up every day and put in work by studying, doing homework and volunteering in my class. This approach of full ownership and responsibility throughout the school years helped me develop enormous self-discipline allowing me to become whatever I wished after I was left on my own.
One September morning, 14 years later, I find myself walking to work in London, a giant metropolis, one of the most famous modern cities in the world. I think about discipline and it occurs to me that it is the ultimate freedom. By making a system and following it unquestionably you allow yourself to get necessary things done so you can spend the remaining time doing whatever you like because you did your duty. That moment was liberating. I was glad this thought occurred to me as I was just discovering lifestyle design and felt like I was onto something.
Here’s how J. D. Meier and Michael Kropp, co-authors of Getting Results the Agile Way, define self-discipline:
Then there’s self-discipline: the ability to correct your behavior. Self-discipline is simply correcting or regulating your behavior for the sake of improvement.
Developing self-discipline takes time and it consists of decisions made every day. Whether you choose to take stairs or elevator, you develop discipline, whether you choose to eat more veggies instead of fast food, you develop discipline. Choosing water instead of soda, that is discipline. Doing your homework is discipline. Even if you do it and get a bad grade you showed up to develop your discipline. I never cared about grades, I knew it’s worthless. You can get lucky, you can cheat, you can copy from your classmate. But you can’t cheat discipline, what is built is there and it works for you. At the beginning it may seem like a total waste of time, why would you suffer doing things you don’t like?
You do things you don’t like to be able to do things you love and gain ultimate personal freedom. Self-control is a rare yet powerful skill. It saves you from making stupid decisions, it makes you more patient, more observant and eventually serves you in your life’s quest.
How to develop discipline? Make it into a game. Self-discipline training is about consciously choosing the harder way. If there is a hard and easy way to do something, choose the hard way and expose yourself to stress and suffering. Get used to it until it becomes normal to you. It will be easier to cope with extremely stressful life events like losing a job, going broke, dealing with someone’s death, combating disease and all the other misfortunes. You can always take a harder path. Instead of taking the bus to work, walk. Instead of eating out at work’s lunch break, cook yourself a healthy lunch and pack it. Instead of going out every Friday, pick up a book, instead of watching Netflix every evening, take up an online course, instead of sleeping in on the weekend, get up early and go for a run or a hike. It all sounds amazing when you read it but once you decide to do it and try it, you will face a lot of resistance and that’s because it’s challenging. It’s uncomfortable. It requires your physical and mental energy.
I have self-doubt. I have insecurity. I have fear of failure. I have nights when I show up at the arena and I’m like, “My back hurts, my feet hurt, my knees hurt. I don’t have it. I just want to chill.” We all have self-doubt. You don’t deny it, but you also don’t capitulate to it. You embrace it. – Kobe Bryant
People are lazy. You and I are lazy. Most of the inventions have been made because we are lazy and want to make things easier so we can chill. By choosing laziness all the time you slowly degrade and become a dying body without ambition and discipline. Even if you develop a burning desire or hit the other end which is desperation you might not succeed making the change because you don’t have the discipline powered vehicle to allow you to tackle challenges, show up when you don’t feel like and put in work on a consistent basis.
Don’t worry if you think you squandered years taking the least resistance path. We all do in one way or another. Some of us have great discipline at money while we suck at relationships. Some of us are great lovers but completely ignore health and take the least resistance path indulging in sugar while binge-watching TV series. That’s life. People are different and some have stronger self-discipline than others but I don’t believe in talent and luck. I believe in hard work.
The Power of Self-Discipline
Now I will share how I upgraded my discipline and literally transformed my lifestyle by designing my miracle morning.
Meet Hal Elrod, a motivational speaker, entrepreneur, and author of The Miracle Morning. In his bestseller, Elrod talks about how it is possible to transform your life before 8 am by creating a simple yet empowering morning routine to activate your physical and mental resources in order to start the day like a champion and enjoy the benefits throughout the day. Without even knowing about his powerful book I was working on my morning routine trying to find that perfect combination.
In 2014, I was struggling writing my first book, Mobile Design Book, I was running Despreneur, freelancing and growing a startup. The book was not the main focus and quite soon, I lost interest in writing it. Lack of time and interest was killing the venture. But I was lucky. I had a co-author. We gave each other permissions to kick our butts if we weren’t progressing.
Sooner than I expected I wasn’t progressing. She told me she’ll travel to Europe for the summer and I should visit her in Prague, Czech Republic. I agreed. I had to catch up on writing because I wanted to show that I was following our writing schedule and putting in work. I decided to wake up one hour earlier and only work on the book, after that I could make coffee, have breakfast, go to the gym and get to work. The plan sounded good because most of the time after a long day of work and interruptions I wouldn’t feel like writing. I would have too many excuses and would just leave it untouched. The decision was made.
The next morning, I woke up at 7 am and started typing. It wasn’t easy. I was thinking to myself, “this is nonsense, who is going to read this? What about thorough research?” I kept typing despite my internal chatter and doubts. In an hour I was able to squeeze in nearly 1,000 words and felt extremely good. “This book is possible!” I realized.
I wrote a lot of stuff that had to be revised, double checked, maybe rewritten but at least I had some substance to work with. I was inspired to get up at 7 am and work on the book for one hour until I finish my part of it. The next morning was a different story. I couldn’t write a sentence, I felt like a complete loser and couldn’t understand what was going on. “Is it because I don’t know anything? Maybe I didn’t sleep well? What if I am sick?” All of the negative thoughts were buzzing in my head. One hour passed and I had two long sentences written. “Now that didn’t turn out that well.” What about my progress? It’s slower than expected but it’s moving forward. I was determined to wake up one hour earlier and only write and nothing else. A couple of weeks later I realized that my part of the book was almost complete and I made huge progress by simply spending a focused hour on it every morning. It felt like having a superpower. I was curious if I could wake up even earlier like 6 am, the time when I was going to school and hated waking up in the dark.
It was a different motivation now. Early in the morning, I could read and spend time on things that will make me happier, smarter, healthier. I needed private time in silence with no agenda, no disruptions, no notifications, and no responsibilities. I decided to wake up at 6 am to read and write. It was working wonders. I felt so much better throughout the day, I felt accomplished and motivated. Not every morning was good and easy but simply showing up daily, I made noticeable progress at reading and writing. Waking up early became much easier and more natural. My body clock adjusted to waking up right before 6 am and it felt good.
One day I came across an article by Filipe Castro Matos. He challenged himself to wake up at 4:30 am for 21 consecutive days. It was fun to read his story, his struggles, motivations, and accomplishments. He was based in Lisbon and worked on a startup, by starting his day at 4:30 am he would have plenty of time to exercise, read and work and leave the office at 2 pm with lots of time to unwind and have a nice early dinner and enjoy the sunshine. It sounded amazing. I was lured. I decided to shoot for 5 am. For the first week I was waking up at 5:30 am to make the transition smoother and then switched to 5 am. It wasn’t that hard to be honest, only if I went to bed at 9 pm. But things happen, you go out or get lost on the internet and you go to bed at 10 pm or 11 pm and then your rhythm is ruined and instead of getting 8 hours of sleep you’ll be getting, only 6 or 7 hours which most likely affect your morning in a big way. I always thought I was the night owl and mornings looked like a good place to rest and sleep in but I never felt good after sleeping in. I would miss half of the day, my head would be heavy or I would even have a headache, I would feel sleepy and tired. Where on the other hand, having a disciplined sleeping regime allowed me to get consistent night sleep of 8 hours, morning agenda and clear time for bed before 9 pm. Even If I decided to work past 9 pm the next day would be ruined and the overall progress would suffer.
You might be thinking that I am crazy saying that I like waking up at 5 am. I really do. I get the same hours of sleep as you do, I just go to bed earlier and wake up earlier. In fact, many successful leaders get up early, CEOs, athletes, writers, artists, and politicians get up early. Examples include Tim Cook, Michelle Obama, Kobe Bryant, Jack Dorsey, and Richard Branson.
Being an early riser isn’t about trumpeting how hard you work. It’s about doing everything within your power to help your business achieve success; and if that means you have to get up at an hour not known to most, then you might as well enjoy the sunrise. – Richard Branson
In the morning you have the most precious focus and mental clarity. You are not exposed to stress and interruptions of life, work, and relationships. You have time for yourself and things that matter to you. If you want to advance in some area of your life, wake up one hour earlier and work on it. If you want more from life, wake up 2 or 3 hours earlier and work on what matters to you the most. Self-education, exercising, meditating, journaling, praying. Make it count.
Establishing discipline is not an easy quest. There is an entire industry on willpower and discipline building including motivational material. However, if you internalize the concept of taking full ownership and responsibility of your life, you will be making these necessary choices with ease. Instead of resisting you will embrace the uncertainty, you will expand your suffering and growth zone, you will tolerate the process because you know it will make you into a warrior and get you closer to your goals. No one likes people who whine and complain all the time. Once you redirect your energy from all these mentioned activities you will have enormous power you can use to tackle daily challenges that will turn into iron discipline and then you will be able to achieve more than you ever dreamed of. As superhuman David Goggins would say, “I don’t stop when I am tired. I stop when I am done.” That’s what I wish you to understand and take home after reading this.
How to Develop Self Discipline
Here are some more daily habits you can adopt to help you develop discipline and design a fulfilling morning routine.
Make Your Bed First Thing in the Morning
According to psychological research, people who make their bed in the morning are happier and more successful than those who don’t. If that’s not enough, here’s more:
- 71 percent of bed makers consider themselves happy.
- While 62 percent of non-bed-makers are unhappy.
- Bed makers are also more likely to like their jobs, own a home, exercise regularly and feel well rested.
- Whereas non-bed-makers hate their jobs, rent apartments, avoid the gym and wake up tired.
Crazy, right? Something so simple. Yet, when you make your bed first thing in the morning, you knock-off your first accomplishment of the day. This puts you in a mindset of “winning.” Do it! It only takes 30 seconds.
Read Essentialism by Greg McKeown
The Way of the Essentialist isn’t about getting more done in less time. It’s not about getting less done. It’s about getting only the right things done. It’s about challenging the core assumption of “we can have it all” and “I have to do everything” and replacing it with the pursuit of “the right thing, in the right way, at the right time.” It’s about regaining control of our own choices about where to spend our time and energies instead of giving others implicit permission to choose for us. In Essentialism, Greg McKeown draws on experience and insight from working with the leaders of the most innovative companies in the world to show how to achieve the disciplined pursuit of less.
Write Your To-Do List, the Night Before
Plan your day ahead. Starting the day with a clear plan in mind reduces stress and helps you to focus on the right things.
Say “Later” to Preserve Willpower
I know you want that cake now, you want to check your Instagram, you’re curious about your weekend plans. Simply tell yourself “later” and allow to do these things later if you still want to.
Know How to Say “No”
According to Brian de Haaff, co-founder and CEO of Aha! Labs Inc. “Telling people ‘no’ does not need to be an act of rejection. Learning to say no the right way can prove you’re an attentive teammate.” By saying “no” to distractions and mediocre things you allow yourself to say “yes” to things that matter.
Tidying Up, Minimizing
Keep your environment and mind tidy. Tidying up every day and evaluating if you need another pair of shoes, another gadget, or another commitment can help you get rid of the things that clutter your life.
Remember That Effective Time Management Makes You More Rather Than Less Flexible
Rather than asking “What’s the most important thing I can today?”, time multipliers ask “What’s the most important thing I can do today that would make tomorrow better?”
Time tracking and management allows you to do the things that you really want to do rather than the things you really have to do. Knowing where your time goes will help you to act on it and save more time in the future. RescueTime is a great app to help you track your time.
Schedule 1-2 Hours Just for Yourself
For me it’s mornings. For you might be evenings. Having a scheduled block of uninterrupted “me” time will allow you to fully focus on your tasks.
Set a “No Meetings” Day
It enables you and your team to have a free mind and focus on your work thanks to some uninterrupted work time.
Write in Your Journal for Five Minutes per Day
It’s another mindfulness and gratitude practice that will help you develop discipline, clear thinking and feel happier.
Set a Weekly Goal
Weekly goals keep you motivated and focused during your week. To make things easier, break down most important big tasks into actionable chunks and every evening prepare your to-do list for the next.
Start Your Day with an Intention
Nomad and polymath, Patricia Parkinson, describes Incense with intention as one of the most influential habits in her life:
Most mornings, I wake to watch the sunrise while ritualizing the lighting of incense. I use these as anchors to provide foundational consistency in what is otherwise an inconsistent and varied day. During this time, I meditate and reflect on my three current intentions for being. At the moment, these take the form of discipline, decisiveness, and discernment. I also use this alone time to quiet my mind and visualize my ideal day, before I move into my habitual social media perusal, comms, and general busy-ness.
Every morning Benjamin Franklin, the Founding Father of the United States, asked himself, “What good shall I do today?”
What Good Will You Do with Your Day?
Why is self-discipline important? Because it allows you to live on your terms. Now go out there and start working on self-discipline that will turn into the ultimate freedom.