How to hack discipline

Most people are born more disciplined than others, but it can also be hacked. Here’s one way to do it.


To be disciplined you need to be determined and have a strong will. I could end the post here, but let’s dig a little deeper, to see if we can figure out how to hack discipline.

What is discipline? According to Wikipedia:

Discipline is the assertion over more base desires, and is usually understood to be synonymous with self control. Self-discipline is to some extent a substitute for motivation. — Wikipedia

That is one definition of many, and if you’re familiar with Wikipedia, you know that discipline could mean something in academia, in the military, etc. So lets create a definition for the startup world. What is discipline in startups?

Discipline is doing the hard things continuously and consistently.

Create a habit

So now the question isn’t how can I be more disciplined, it’s how can I do hard stuff continuously and consistently? To do this, you need to create a habit and in order to create a habit you must, according to Charles Duhigg who wrote ‘The Power of Habit’, establish a cue (a trigger), a routine (how you do it), and a reward.

Let me give you an example of what this would look like:

Let’s say you have a news app and you want to become Instafamous & get a bunch of followers on Instagram. Assuming you already know what type of content you’ll be creating, these are the steps to follow.

  1. Set your cue: Go to your calendar and set 3+ times on your daily schedule that will alert you when it’s time to post new content. For example set 9:00AM, 12:00PM, 3:00PM, and 6:00PM on your calendar. Another personal cue of mine is whenever I am alerted to an interesting news story.
  2. Set a routine: Draft a process of what you will do when the cue alerts you and it’s time to post new content. For example, my process would be to go to different tech blogs, find a cool story, read it, find a cool image that represents the story, go to WordSwag, create my Instagram photo, write a brief summary of the story on Instagram, look up interesting hashtags, and share the image. I would then share the same content on other social networks, monitor likes, follows, retweets, comments, etc and interact with the audience, and finally look for ways to improve the quality of the content.
  3. Set a reward: The short term rewards are the aforementioned likes, follows, retweets, comments, etc and the long term reward is building a recognizable brand.

So hopefully, with this example, you can become a habit setting master, but their is a tricky part to this process. The cue and the rewards are awesome to experience. You get an alert and you feel pumped to get started (cue) or you get a bunch of likes and you feel super satisfied with yourself (reward). But what about the routine part? This is the part that sucks. It always has been. You set your alarm for 6:00AM (cue), you wake up, put on your gym clothes and start working out (routine), then you go to the beach and everybody is looking at your awesome beach bod (reward). You tell me which is the sucky part.

Love the routine

James Clear recently wrote the article “How to Stay Focused When You Get Bored Working Toward Your Goals”, where he mentions how people fall out of love with the routine. And he states, that the difference between professional athletes and mere mortals — apart from natural ability — is that professional athletes learn to work through the boring and hard routines. Do you think that Lebron James always loved to wake up every morning and do pushups, run a mile, and practice 8 hours a day? I don’t think so. I think he learned to love it.

So now the trick is to learn how to love the routine. There are a few ways you can do this:

  1. Actually love the routine. For example in my case, I like to read the news a lot, so I actually enjoy the routine of reading news articles and posting them on Instagram.
  2. Create short term rewards. The biggest reason people don’t get into shape is because it takes a long time to get an awesome body. If you could do one pushup everyday and look like a stud or studdess, then you would probably do that pushup everyday. But that’s not how it works. It takes a while to get into shape, so what you have to do is find short term rewards that help you get through the routine. For example, I lost 16 pounds in 4 months by establishing two short term rewards. The first was to drink an energy drink as a reward for waking up at 6:00AM, and the second was drinking a delicious chocolate protein shake after my workout. This worked for me, but it might not work for you. Find your own short term rewards.
  3. The value of the reward. It is also very important to actually have an award you feel brings value to you and that justifies the effort. I stopped exercising when I figured out that the protein shake and the energy drink might be dangerous for my health in the long run. So now I had an excuse to diminish the value of those rewards.

These are three things you can do to learn to love the routine. And I believe this is the sticky part of being disciplined.

So in summary, how do you hack your way to become disciplined? You create a habit and you learn to love the routine.