The Ultimate Guide to Develop Self-Discipline.

You don’t have discipline; you learn to cultivate it.


Most people think self-discipline is something you have or you don’t. Nothing could be further from the truth.

This fixed mindset towards discipline is why most people give up on their self-care goals. They genuinely feel like they never won the discipline lottery, which justifies a continual lack of change.

The truth is that you don’t have discipline; you cultivate it. It is learnt and learnable.

  • You learn to wake up early.
  • You learn to stop procrastinating.
  • You learn to say no to the foods that contradict your health goals.
  • You learn to create a morning routine.

How do you learn discipline? Here are four unexpected ways to cultivate discipline:

You learn discipline through trial and error.

The Tao te Ching talks about the middle path. The middle path generally refers to the avoidance of two extremes of practical life. To find your middle path, you need to know what the extremities are to find your way back to the middle.

Someone that has experienced burnout has gone to the extreme of being a workaholic and neglected their self-care.

To make the necessary changes, they had to go through this experience to find their way back to the middle path of work/life harmony.

The more challenging choice for this individual is to stop work at a reasonable hour and have the discipline to relax on the weekend rather than create something work-related to do.

It is the self-discipline to move from the comfort zone of extremity to harmony. This shift is not mediocrity; it is the lesson of finding the way back to the middle path. We won’t always get it right; you have to move across either side of the line to know you are out of alignment and choose to come back to the middle path.

It is a dance, and you move with the music of life depending on what is going on. Sometimes to cope, we make choices that are not in our own best interest. Self-discipline is your tool to bring you back to the middle path when you can recognize you have veered off.

Rather than view previous decisions as mistakes, they are, in fact, your greatest teachers. Without this experience, you would not have gained the lessons needed.

You learn discipline by experiencing results.

Let’s say you want to start an exercise routine in the morning, so you set your alarm for an hour earlier than usual.

At first, when the alarm goes off, your body isn’t used to the new wake up time, and it resists you. Your mind gets involved and coaxes you with excuses such as ‘it’s early, it’s cold, this feels terrible, I’m still tired, how will you get through today? It’s much better to go back to sleep’.

Your mind makes a good case, so you hit snooze, go back to bed, and ditch the walk. You put this down to a lack of discipline, and this is the great lie.

Of course, it’s going to be hard to get up. It will feel uncomfortable and unnatural — you have to train your body what it feels like to get up early. That’s the physical part of this practice — discomfort doesn’t feel great.

Let’s say you do conquer the snooze button and complete your walk. This ritual of keeping the promise to yourself feels so amazing that you do it again. Over time, something unique happens — you begin to see tangible results.

You feel stronger, more focused, your mood has improved, and it’s all these noticeable results that help you sustain the practice.

Fast forward to a few months of consistent action and results. Now on the days where your alarm goes off and your mind defaults to the ‘I don’t feel like it’ excuse, you no longer listen to your mind. You don’t fall for its old tricks.

This process is how you learn discipline. You now understand and internalize what not getting up feels like. You now have the experience that breaking this promise will leave you feeling worse, not better.

You have learnt through your experience that ten extra minutes in bed is never worth it. It crushes your dreams rather than helps you realize them.

When I find myself questioning my morning training session, I ask myself, ‘how will I feel if I don’t go?’. I know the answer. That level of truth pushes me to go even when I don’t feel like it at that moment. The instant gratification of excuses will never generate the same feeling of self-pride and satisfaction as going when you don’t feel like it.

When you can make the more challenging choice, you instill the practice of self-discipline. It is not about demonstrating your physical strength but your mental strength.

You learn discipline by understanding your values.

Someone who values fitness will wake up at 5 am to get their run in if they have an early meeting.

Someone who values creativity will say no to the social engagement so they can focus on their craft.

When you value adventure and freedom, you will select a career path that reflects this rather than a desk job. Or you will choose a hobby that allows you to experience the adventure you crave.

When you know what you value, you can replace the word discipline with freedom.

The freedom that comes from working on your craft. The freedom of not seeing the junk food on the menu. The freedom of saying no to something that will take you away from matters most to you.

Discipline is not a punishment that takes away things you love; it’s the decision to live in alignment with what you value most.

When you know what you value, you will begin to make decisions in your own best interest.

That’s why discipline is learnt. If you have always been overweight and avoided exercise, decide what you value more. If you value having energy for your kids and longevity, you will realize nothing tastes as good as healthy feels.

Your values make it possible to make difficult choices in the short term, but that’s where you gain in the long term. Once it’s part of who you are and can see the results, it’s no longer a mental tug of war and a struggle; it’s automatic. It’s a habit.

You no longer need the discipline to make choices; your values drive your decision making because they are the code through which you live your life. The stronger your values, the easier it becomes to make the hard choices of what to say no to.

You learn discipline through self-awareness.

Discipline is learnt through self-awareness and having an honest conversation with yourself about any self-sabotaging behaviours and patterns. Here are those excuses you know too well:

  • You’ve meant to stop weekday drinking, but it’s too hard with seeing people again.
  • You’ve meant to exercise in the morning, but there’s no time.
  • You’ve meant to make that phone call, but something always comes up.

When you can stop lying to yourself and hide behind your excuses, you will find the real reason for not making the change. It’s often not about discipline but fear. We call fear stress to make it more palatable.

Are you avoiding the task because you’re lazy or fearing judgment and not being perfect? When you can name the fear and take the first step, you never need discipline but some good old self-love and encouragement.

How can you use your future self to help you in those crucial decision making moments?

Can you play the movie in your head of what happens when you give in to the excuse versus choice two, which is to replace wine with tea or get up half an hour early and walk?

Would you ever go and see a bad movie more than once? So why are you replaying the same scene day after day? What is the movie of your future self if you continue to make choices that do not align with your future goals?

Focus on cultivating the discipline to put yourself first and make a change because you are worth it. Choose yourself, and you will never need discipline again.

Final thoughts.

Self-discipline is learnt because the more you know yourself, the easier it becomes.

Self-discipline is not a punishment but an enabler; it is not about losing anything but gaining everything.

When you can choose yourself as your why, you will begin to make better choices for your future self.

It is no longer about making a tough choice; it becomes the only choice.

Here’s to choosing yourself,

Warm wishes,


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Lori Milner

Lori Milner


Author. TEDx Speaker. Trainer. Coach. Mother of two. Passionate about personal growth and creating work/life harmony.