Self discipline – the single most important predictor of success
*This article is the second issue of my newsletter. You can subscribe by leaving me your email address in the available field on my homepage. Every two weeks you will receive an email with actionable insights, events and therapy openings.
In today’s edition, I’m discussing self-discipline – the essence of any form of growth, whether academic, professional, or personal.
In the second part, I recommend
an article on how we learn and
two podcasts about what it means to be mature.
In the third part, I announce the events I’m organizing in the first quarter of the year and therapy openings.
I Self-Discipline: A Foundation for Success
If I were to focus on a single concept, a single skill that could serve me on all fronts, it would be self-discipline. This concept is omnipresent and fundamental to success, so I will dedicate the next ten editions (at least) to exploring it in detail.
Most people complain about too little self-discipline rather than too much. There are individuals for whom persisting in tedious or unpleasant tasks for an extended period is effortless, but they are rare. Sometimes, behind this ability, there lies an obsessive personality. Although this trait may have some advantages, I believe it is not what we are looking for because the motivational drive, the energy to persist, doesn’t predominantly come from a desire for development but rather from an inability or anxiety about failure (oversimplified). Mental health involves the freedom to choose between internal forces/passions that motivate you and the ability to create a balance or compromise between divergent impulses. Even individuals for whom persisting in certain areas is easy still have aspects of life where they fail miserably (like any of us, for that matter).
So, for all those who procrastinate, make promises and then don’t follow through, start but give up, want but claim not to have time, try but don’t succeed, dream but don’t act – for all those with a desire that they want to turn into reality, I hope this series of articles will help you understand yourselves better, unlock your potential, create an action plan, and execute it!
What is Self-Discipline?
Self-discipline is the cornerstone of any form of personal development. It guides us towards our aspirations and goals with unwavering determination and focus. If we have it. If not, or if just the utterance of the word ‘discipline` gives us a chill, we are probably at a considerable distance and a slow pace from much success.
Self-discipline is the ability to control our impulses, remain dedicated to a task, and persevere through challenging moments—a crucial quality when it comes to success in its various forms. Self-discipline is the hallmark of maturity. As you may have guessed, emotional or mental maturity is not the same as biological maturity; having white hair is pointless if I still have the mind and behavior of a 5-year-old. No matter how well-dressed I am or what position of responsibility I hold, I can still whine or throw a tantrum when things don’t go my way, complain that something is too difficult, get upset that others don’t listen to me, and want to console myself with something sweet/a beer/a cigarette or vent my frustrations on someone else (partner, child, subordinates). Regardless of my adult age, I can still avoid life’s big truths, struggle to cope with pain and loss, and be afraid of death, suffering, cemeteries, and going to the dentist or for a blood test.
In essence, self-discipline is about making decisions that lead to long-term benefits rather than giving in to immediate pleasure. Sometimes immediate pleasure is merely the avoidance of discomfort. For example, I don’t board a plane to avoid confronting my fear of flying, avoid getting a mammogram/prostate checkup/blood tests because I fear the procedure or finding out I something is wrong. Self-discipline means facing momentary discomfort for the sake of long-term comfort, health, or pleasure.
The Benefits of Self-Discipline
People with a high degree of self-discipline tend to have much more success than others on all fronts of life: academically, professionally, or in personal relationships. They are better prepared to set and achieve goals relevant to them, work more seriously towards their fulfillment, and handle various difficulties on the road to success.
In a world full of instant pleasures and distractions, those who can resist the seduction of immediate rewards and comfort have a chance to lead a conscious, free, and healthy life. Physical, intellectual, or emotional comfort has become the norm in modern societies. For every inconvenience, there’s a band-aid to distract us from what hurts or what’s not truly working. There’s always something to keep us semi-numb in the comfort zone, no matter how unhealthy it may be in the long run.
Self-discipline goes beyond the realm of personal achievements. It is the basis of moral behavior and responsible decision-making. The impact of self-discipline is enormous in the world. The rigor and discipline with which we think and act influence everything: politics, economy, society, education, the environment, etc. Individuals with good self-discipline consistently adhere to moral principles, act responsibly in personal and professional life, and contribute positively to society. In a world where integrity is a rare commodity, an individual’s self-discipline becomes a marker of trust and security.
Cultivating self-discipline requires a combination of active self-awareness, goal-setting, and habit formation. You need to identify your long-term goals, break them down into manageable steps, and create routines that support constant progress towards your chosen direction. Of course, this is not something that is achieved overnight; it’s more of a journey where you continually improve and become more adept at what you’ve set out to do.
In psychotherapy, self-discipline is the catalyst for deep self-transformation and growth, maturity. It is the force that gives you the power to navigate the complexities of your inner world, develop resilience, and open access to untapped inner resources. Self-discipline plays an essential role in this journey of self-discovery that is psychotherapy because it brings the structure and commitment necessary to navigate this process. It takes a lot of self-discipline to persist in an honest exploration of your thoughts, emotions, behaviors, especially when the mind empties with each attempt to investigate or when shame shots you up. Furthermore, self-discipline is needed between sessions to continue observing yourself, try to understand yourself better, and act differently when changing relational patterns or unhealthy habits. Self-discipline is what creates the bridge between the moments of insight in therapy and different behavior in everyday life.
Anyone who wants to grow and develop, must embrace a form of discomfort. Anyone who has decided that they are fine as they are and has nothing to improve embraces comfort at the cost of ceasing to evolve. Life on this earth is change, whether we like it or not. We can consciously and actively choose the direction in which we change, or we can freeze in present comfort and eventually solidify into a state that will sooner or later become obsolete. We all have an expiration date, but with self-discipline, we can determine how much we will enjoy what happens to us until that expiration date.
In the upcoming editions, I will delve into: procrastination, lack of focus, impulse control, attitude or mindset, work, effort, repetition, willpower, decision-making, behaviors, the impact of willpower on physical health, cognitive abilities, and emotions, intrinsic motivation vs extrinsic motivation, executive functions, and much more. I will study one book for each newsletter edition, aiming to shed more light on the concept of self-discipline.
This article on how to learn effectively
Available on any podcast platform you use. Here’s the link on Spotify.