6 Tips For Iron-Clad Self-Discipline

If you fall off the workout wagon, you’re likely to fall headfirst. Here’s how to steel your self-discipline for any challenge.


When I train clients, I can usually tell right away whether they'll reach their fitness goals. No, I don't have special trainer ESP; I can tell by the strength of my clients' self-discipline. Without self-discipline, a person can train hard, but will likely be inconsistent. Temptations to opt out of a workout or eating bad food always lurk, and without self-discipline, they'll win more than you do.

We are not born with great self-discipline skills-they take a conscious effort. Self-discipline is the ability to do a task even when you don't want to. I could think of a million things I'd rather do than hill sprints, especially when it's raining. But it's hill day, so I do them. When I work overtime and arrive home exhausted, the last thing I want to do is heavy squatting. But I still train because I made a commitment to myself.

A Journey Of A Thousand Miles Must Begin With A Single Step-Chinese Proverb

This discipline keeps me accountable to myself. So, when I'd rather be on the couch, drinking beer, and watching ESPN, I still have the drive to train. It's easy to train when you're well rested an inspired, but the real challenge comes when you have to push through a workout despite feeling lazy and stressed.

My self-discipline is just as important to my eating habits. For years, I ate as much junk food as I wanted. Now, I eat as clean as possible. I still endure cravings for ice cream, but I fight these urges by disciplining my mind.

My friends always ask me if feel like I'm missing out. They think I'm miserable and fanatical. I might be fanatical, but I'm nowhere near miserable. I never feel deprived because I eat pizza, Chinese food, and many other foods that might not generally be considered healthy.

The trick though, is that I cook these foods in ways that make them healthier. I've researched recipes, and tried a lot of different combinations to learn how to make healthy food.

I can measure my self-discipline against the choices I see most people making. To me, most people are weak and cave-in to the need for immediate gratification. I have taught myself to learn how to delay gratification.

This is the driving force behind the development of self-discipline. Delayed gratification requires one to embrace pain and make sacrifices. The rewards may take a while, but the payoff is huge ...

Tip 1
Make Specific Goals

When I was doing bodybuilding training, my goal was to get big. I certainly got big, especially in my gut. I had this problem because my goal was too vague. Specific, clear goals like targeted numbers, (on a scale, dress-size, barbell, or stopwatch), are best because they are concrete.

Measureable goals are also more reachable. "Improve my mile time" is much more difficult to work toward than "Improve my mile time by three minutes." Including specific measurements in your goals also make them easier to track.

Once achieved, they also lead to complete satisfaction. Most important, these specific numbers will add fuel to your self-discipline fire. You'll see how far you've come.

Set goals you can achieve in a week or a day. Set one you can achieve immediately to build early confidence in your long-term fitness pursuits.

Tip 2
Visualize Your Goals

The more specific your goals are, the easier they are to visualize. If your goal is to lose weight, see yourself with a leaner, more muscular body. If your goal is an athletic achievement - say, running a 6-minute mile - mentally rehearse finishing a sub-6-minute mile before each run.

Rule Your Mind Or It Will Rule You - Horace

Don't get complacent, though. Just wishing you could bench 225 pounds 15 times isn't going to get you anywhere. Wishing is not the same as using visualization to elicit a behavior. The mental images of reaching your goals should provoke action. Whatever images you have, they must be strong enough to motivate you through a grueling workout or keep you from ordering fries. If not, find stronger and more meaningful images to motivate you.

Self-discipline is all about empowering. When you can truly visualize yourself with a stronger body and mind, you are ready.

Tip 3
Write Down Your Goals And Look At Them

Your pursuit of self-discipline must be proactive. Back up your talk with actions. Write down your goals. Seeing them on paper will hold you accountable for your actions. Too many people rely on others to help them get things done. Learn to depend on yourself.

Olympic gold medalist and my favorite tough guy Dan Gable used to write his goals on index cards and carry them around with him. Georges St. Pierre wrote down his goal, "I will destroy Koscheck," and looked at it the first thing when he woke up in the morning. And what do you know? GSP was the clear winner of that fight.

As you make gains toward your goals, you will feel inner strength and confidence in your self-discipline.

Write down every lift, every rep, and take time to assess your performance. A daily log archives success, so your grandkids can see how you did it.

Tip 4
Learn To Make Sacrifices

When it comes to making sacrifices, two athletes come to my mind: Arnold Schwarzenegger and Ronnie Lott. Arnold was so focused on winning Mr. Olympia that he skipped his father's funeral in order to train. So he wouldn't miss any more games, Ronnie had part of his finger amputated.

I'm definitely not advocating this type of extreme behavior. Yet I am illustrating that, to reach your goals, you're going to have to pay a price. This price might be as simple as skipping dessert, or as difficult as spending time away from your friends and family. See them as a daily test of your will.

A little indulgence can lead to major slip-ups. You only need a few undisciplined moments to spiral. Instead of feeling like these sacrifices are making you miss out on things, see them as gains. Gains toward your inner strengths, gains toward your ability to distance yourself from the weak, gains toward the goals you are working toward. Each sacrifice is a victory for your self-discipline.

Tip 5
Prove Them Wrong

Yourself, the disbelievers - anyone who holds you back from what you want. Prove them wrong. Feeling disrespected is a strong motivator because it gives you something to prove. Take Jerry Rice and Drew Brees, for examples. Nobody worked out harder or was more disciplined than Jerry Rice. Because he was constantly undervalued, he became obsessed with pushing himself to perfection.

Drew Brees proved his doubters wrong too. The questions about his size, arm strength, shoulder injury all motivated Brees to discipline himself to become the most conditioned NFL athlete. He just refused to let any of his teammates outwork him. This training is about proving yourself day in and day out.

Every time you push up a weight or complete a superset, you've proved someone wrong, some fool who said you couldn't.

It's about making people eat their words. Your desire must be so strong that you will do whatever is necessary to have the last laugh. If any obstacle is blocking you (even if it is yourself) from achieving your goal, extinguish it.

Tip 6
Work On Your Weaknesses

For years, I had a decent chest and arms. When I went to the gym I mostly did a lot of benching and curling. I rarely trained my back or legs. And when I did, it was some lat machine pull-downs and a couple of sets of leg extensions. Wimpy stuff.

I was training my strengths, a typical protocol. It was easy and enjoyable, but I stopped making gains. I had to learn how to train my weaknesses. By doing this, not only did I make more gains toward my goals, but I learned more about my character.

If you want to reach the next level, force yourself to work on your weaknesses. Training flaws is a sign of self-discipline. It's not fun, not easy, and definitely not something your mind or body wants to do.

The sheer difficulty of working through your weakness will strengthen your self-discipline skills. However, once you are set on planning your weakness training, you must get it done. Skipping the challenging workouts will cause irreversible damage to your development of mental toughness. Don't be soft.

We all have weaknesses, glaring or secret. Strength training is the antibody of weakness. Reverse weakness and watch your confidence soar!

Make the commitment to turning your weakness into strength. I know it's hard to believe that you might someday love running, or that someday you might actually enjoy your leg workout, but with enough self-discipline, you're body will respond. You'll see the results you've been working for.

There will always be tough days. But as you get better at disciplining your mind, you'll find the challenge enjoyable. With hard work, good goals, strong visualization, and a fierce mind, you can overcome anything. Now go to work.

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