Self-discipline, in its most simple definition, is the ability to do the things that we may not want to do, but know that we should do. It is having the willpower to conduct our lives in a fashion that yields the most success. In fact, self-discipline is the most renowned characteristic to have in order to achieve success at all. It was my New Year’s resolution, and if you’re someone who made a resolution for 2019 as well, whether it was to get in better shape by going to the gym more or feel healthier by eating less, having self-discipline is probably part of your resolution, too.
I have often struggled with self-discipline. For a long time, I would set drastic goals for myself that reflected what self-discipline looked like – or so I thought. I changed my diet to only smoothies and juices (my mini-fridge was stocked with Naked juices at one point…did I even know how to read a nutrition label?!), stopped enjoying social events with my friends so that I could go to sleep earlier, and even spent money on a ridiculous amount of money on pills and powders to aid in my new “disciplined” lifestyle.
These actions didn’t last long because for some reason, I wasn’t happy. I was not seeing any results in my body, there was no recognition from others, and it felt like I was throwing money into a fire. Thankfully, my unhappiness makes sense to me now, and I appreciate my new-found idea of what it means to have self-discipline: it’s about the climb to the top; the hard stuff. From what I have learned, self-discipline doesn’t instantly yield happiness; in fact, most acts of self-discipline are hard, unpleasurable, and the opposite of what we wish we were doing. This is why we have so much respect for those around us that possess self-discipline; they do hard things to accomplish what they have.
A favorite inspirational video of mine is from a commencement speech given at the University of Texas in 2014 by Admiral William H. McRaven. Admiral McRaven is a veteran of the US Navy SEAL Team Six, SEAL Team Four, served in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm and commanded SEAL Team Three. His list of accolades and achievements goes on and on – basically, this man is the epitome of what many people envision when “self-discipline” needs an example.
While Admiral McRaven’s entire speech was nearly 20 minutes long, one segment stuck with me and influences my life to this day. He said:
“If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.”
Nearly everyone in the audience chuckled for a moment. Was he serious? Is this highly decorated man of honor giving college graduates advice to make their beds? He continued:
“If you make your bed every morning, you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and will encourage you to do another task, and another, and another. And by the end of the day, that small task completed will turn into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that the little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things right, you’ll never be able to do the big things right. And if by chance you have a miserable day, at least you will come home to a bed that is made.”
Even though this piece of advice was small, it was from someone whose presence and accomplishments were great. So, from that day on, I started making my bed every morning. It was the first time in my college-life that I formed a habit I was really proud of.
What I’ve noticed since I started making my bed everyday (which takes literally under a minute!), is that Admiral McRaven was right. This small chore sets the tone for the rest of my day and often snowballs into many other little achievements. Even on the earliest of mornings when I feel like I could care less about whether or not my bed was made, that’s when the self-discipline whispers at me, “I know you don’t want to, but I also know that you should.”
Of course, there have been many mornings where my bed doesn’t get made, and that’s okay. We should all remember that inevitably some days don’t go as planned, but it doesn’t mean we have lost progress or should be any less proud of what we have accomplished so far. We should also remember that having self-discipline isn’t a promise that it will get easier or always make you happier because as you become more disciplined your expectations for yourself will grow higher; this is how success is cultivated.
Along with a link to the full commencement speech from Admiral McRaven, I wanted to share a couple more tips and reminders about developing self-discipline in hope that you, too, can find one that resonates with you from this day forward.
Here are my 5 Tips to Develop Self-Discipline in Your Life Starting Today:
1. Start with small changes first (they will lead to bigger ones!)
2. Practice tolerance for the tasks that you don’t always enjoy
3. Recover from your mistakes and start again tomorrow
4. Acknowledge your weaknesses
5. Make. It. A. Habit. Practice your discipline every day for the best chance at success.