Self-discipline. The basics of mental toughness

Written for Quora: How do you keep yourself disciplined?

If you are reading this seeking for an easy way to gain discipline, read no further.

If you are looking for a secret sauce behind mental strength, close this article right now.

What I am about to tell you won’t taste as a glazed sweet donut.

There is no fucking easy way to become disciplined.

If you have a strong determination to change your life and work hard in order to build up your discipline level, I will share with you my knowledge that will help you to sort things out and develop an action plan

#1. The Mindset.

Read a book called “The Willpower Instinct” by Kelly McGonigal. This knowledge is pure gold. Her talks on YouTube will also be helpful.

One of the main messages that I loved is about a common misconception. Many people think that workout junkies go to the gym regularly to stay fit and build a body. Wrong.

The main motivation is not to grow some muscles, it is to grow some brain.

Regular exercises cause the development of neocortex, in particular, those parts of it that are responsible for the willpower.

This is why many people say that the willpower is a muscle. Because it is. It can be developed by doing the same thing as the physical muscles — overcoming the pain in the gym.

#2. Take 100% responsibility.

Now, once we have our gym analogy clear, you can understand the following example. If your friend is working out his abs every day in the gym there is no way that you will be the one having a six-pack.

Self-discipline is called so because it starts with self.

Everything that you have right now in your life is your result. Some of the settings that you got at birth are indeed given to you as prerequisites, but what you do with them is a matter of personal choice.

Take 100% responsibility for everything that is happening to you. Take full responsibility for the outcome of your attempts to grow in discipline. You will fail, you will indulge in your weakness and that is ok. It is inevitable but inherent part of learning. Embrace it as a part of the process. Yet stay fully responsible for your result. Own it.

#3. Use the right vocabulary

Starting from this moment you have to revise all your daily vocabulary.

Let’s go one by one.

“I have an intention to” — instead of “I want”.

There are many “wanters” out there — babblers, windjammers, bullshitters. There are few who know how to behave like real men. Rephrasing Elvis,

A lot less conversation, a lot more action.

When you say “I want” the energy of your intention dissipates. How many times did you use “I want” and nothing happened after. You fall into ostrichism. By saying “I want” your brain fools himself to think that something is already actually achieved. It is not.

Here is the TED talk that will shine some light on the underlying mechanism of self-deceit and the message itself: Keep your goals to yourself (Derek Sivers).

Work in silence and let your results speak for you.

“Deploy”— instead of “practice”.

I can’t remember which article on Medium I picked it up from. The brilliance and the precision of this word struck me. I fell in love with it. I can practice playing the guitar, get tired of it, put it aside and go drink some tea. It’s a cozy word.

When I deploy I go to a war. I will keep smashing the task at hand even if I start bleeding.

I like how Americans say “Do or Die”.

In Russian we say:

Die but Do

This is the degree of internal determination to make something happened.


This is how I personally motivate myself.

Works 100% of the time with no flaws. Seriously,

Fuck motivation.

Motivation might get you started. You might even be fueled by it for two weeks. But what will happen when it burns out? Motivation comes and goes. Discipline is what keeps you going.

Now, I am not always that extreme. There is another word that I use instead of “motivation” — “Commitment’.

That’s the whole another level of decisiveness. If you are committed you stay on the path no matter what. You deliberately choose discomfort and keep coming back to it asking for more. Your obsession with discomfort starts to be one step behind mania and masochism. Commitment — that is the secret behind all dramatic transformations.

#4. Embody your philosophy.

The core of my personal philosophy is Stoicism. Why do I think that Stoicism is the philosophy of a new age? The answer is here.

You don’t have to follow it. I highly recommend you but you don’t have to. What you have to do is to develop your personal philosophy. Your creed. Cherish it and live by it.

Don’t talk about what a good person is. Show it.

Time for practical stuff.

Here is the “condensate” of the best practices to beat yourself into shape. Here is what you do:


If I could give you the only one advice to improve your self-discipline that would be it.

Choose a sport and execute. Make yourself feel pain. Pain is the sign of weakness leaving your body. Squeeze the slave out of yourself. You not gonna like it but you will be coming back for more.

If you want to learn what a bit more about different ways to make yourself physically (and mentally) stronger you are welcome to read my another essay — My workout way.

Get a coaching.

One of the best things that happened to me in my life was Sparta. Sparta is a Russian coaching-training workshop designed specifically for men.

You can read my story here.

Find such programs in your city, if you can’t go to another city if you still can’t go to another country.

Search the right coach and be willing to pay money for the training that they provide. The cash is paper, the experience is priceless.

Challenge yourself.

Live a life of challenge. Here are some things that you can try:

Decluttering. Clean your house every day and throw out all of the useless stuff for 30 days. All of the objects you possess drain energy out of you. Make space for something new and beautiful to come into your life. For many people doing chores is an unpleasant activity and can become a small but bold step towards self-discipline.

Waking up early. Try to wake up at 4:30 am every day. Ok, I can see this “are-you-insane?!” expression on your face. Make it 5:30 am. Do it for 30 days straight. You will learn about the “magic of early mornings” and get access to time and energy resources that you have never known exist. More information on being an Early Bird here.

Cold showers. If you don’t have a luxury of jumping into the pool or a river, use cold showers. Start with 10 seconds and increase the time every day. Rapid exposure to cold will erase even the slightest traces of sleep, charge you with energy, boost your immunity and will catalyze the genesis of mitochondria increasing longevity. A pretty good deal for a short discomfort.

Push-up challenge. Just for the sake of example, here is one of the physical challenges you can do along with the gym. I and a couple of my friends were doing 500 push-ups every day for 30 days. You can see people reporting their results on the YouTube. Try it for yourself or pick any other challenge.

Fasting. You want to increase your stress-resistance and lose some weight on the way? Here is the practice that will boost your willpower making you a stress-proof beast. Fast for a day, two days or more if you can handle it. See what happens. You will be surprised. You can read more on benefits of fasting in my essay here.

Meditations. Practice mindfulness meditations at least 10 minutes a day for 100 days. My personal pick is vipasanna meditations — concentration on breathing. Works best for me but there are many other options like koan meditations, mantra meditations etc. The point is to anchor attention to one object. The change that will happen to you and the benefits of the meditations will shake your perception of the world. The will lead you to the Awakening.

Little tips

Start small! Don’t take up all of the challenges one at a time. Remember the analogy with the gym. You don’t start lifting weights by trying to pull 200 kg deadlift right away. Pick up a challenge that causes discomfort but not enough for you to bail out.

Find a buddy. My first 60 hours dive into fasting was with my friend by my side. Although we didn’t spend all the time together, short messages like “hey, how do you feel?” really helped along the way. Find yourself a friend who will challenge you and challenge him yourself. A friend is a person who makes you grow.

Track your progress. When I was doing Wild100 — the Crossfit challenge, I made myself a table with 100 cells representing 100 workouts. I put it on the wall filling up one cell with a black marker at a time. Something as simple as a table for tracking progress will keep you going. You will always have it in front of you as a reminder to get back to work.

The discipline that you gain in any of those activities once acquired stays with you and can be used in any activity you want. Primarily, everyone is interested in how to use discipline muscle at work.

Do yourself a favor and learn these two extremely useful concepts: deep work and flow.

Deep work

Read “The Deep Work” by Cal Newport. This book is brilliant I will be writing about it in a separate essay.

The concept is simple. All great work is done by long spans of intense deep uninterrupted work. Learning about the deep work along with the discipline that you attain in your practices will transform the way you execute your tasks.


I wrote about the State of Flow in a separate essay. You will learn how to put yourself in the zone when time flies and hard work gets done. Please, check it out.

Final words

We all have moments of self-doubt. The discipline of the mind is not about having a superpower of not having a negative self-talk. It is about making yourself immune to it.

You are not where you want to be. But you will be.

Just know it.

Have a clear vision of yourself, sort of a slide where you depict yourself as a confident and disciplined person you always wanted to be. Vision and execution. This is how we shape ourselves and shape our reality.

When you get your first results, keep the momentum. Initial inertia is hard to overcome. Momentum is easy to lose. Idleness is deadly.

Keep these things in mind. Work hard.

Good luck.


After you leave this page watch this video. The guy on the video is the toughest man alive. The name is David Goggins. He is a monster, a real beast. When it comes to resilience, I look up to him.

Do you see those clapping hands in the bottom?

Clap as many times for my essay as you are willing to celebrate your new-born discipline.

See you in the discomfort zone.

❓ Do you have a question? Ask me! I answer daily on Quora.