I’ve been feeling like I need to build more self-discipline in my life, so I went searching for principles and practices that could help me with this.  I want to share what I learned.  Some of these I can see have a spiritual component behind them, and others I have to think about it more.

1. Get your priorities straight. When you get up, think of the one major thing you are going to work on that day, the thing that if it were done you would be sooooo happy. Tackle it first.

2. Use promises to help you.
1) Make small promises to yourself.
2) Respect yourself as the general over the army of ‘you’ and do what you tell yourself to do. No whining. No complaining. No excuses. “Yes ma’am! Right away ma’am!”
3) Keep the promises you make to yourself and others. This helps build a pattern of integrity in your character. (It also ensures you don’t make promises lightly.)

3. Get rid of distractions. Put phone on airplane mode. Close email. Close all extra webpages. Close browser. TURN OFF WIFI.  Then DO IT.  Avoid checking email first thing in the morning; do it around 11am or so, after you’ve gotten a good start on hard work.  Make a goal of only checking email ONCE a day. (Treat it like your snail-mail box.)

4. Do hard work before you do something fun.  This helps build a habit of delayed gratification in small things, so you can grow towards delaying gratification in larger things for larger rewards. (And make sure the reward doesn’t undo the hard work, e.g. eating ice cream after working out.) 

5. When you think of something you ought to do, try to act on it immediately.  This builds a habit of making impulsiveness work for you. Following good impulses builds your ability to listen and follow the Spirit.
I should get in shape. Drop and do 20 push-ups now.
I should read my scriptures. Go read them now!
I should pray.  Go pray! Now!
I should call so-and-so to see how they are doing.  Call them now! If you’re in a place where you can’t, put it on your to-do list immediately.

6. Tell yourself you are doing it for the discipline, whether it is easy or hard. This sends a good message to yourself that you have a good long-term goal – discipline—that you are working toward. It feels good to know that everything good you do can contribute to it.

7. Cultivate positive self-talk. As the general of the army of ‘you,’ you must become skilled at rallying the troops. Encourage yourself. Remind yourself why you are doing the hard thing. When you fail or feel lazy, don’t yell at yourself or call yourself names. Instead, pull out your inner psychoanalyst and ask yourself why you failed or procrastinated or whatever. There is often a real problem underneath that needs to be solved first, e.g. skills that need to be gained and practiced, a gravitational well of a comfort zone that must be escaped, a lack of confidence that needs to be acknowledged and dissipated with positive achievements, some sort of negative pattern of experiences that has conditioned us to act a certain way that must be fought with positive conditioning.  Focus on finding and solving the problem.

8. Take action.Don’t stew about it. Don’t wait until you feel like doing it. Those ‘blah’ feelings LIE! Defy them! Deep down you do  care, or you wouldn’t be so annoyed at feeling ‘blah.’   “’Tis better far for us to strive, our useless cares from us to drive.”  Motivation often follows action.  Action is the best way for getting rid of that ‘blah’ feeling. Action is a positive use of agency.

9. Face obstacles head on, with courage. Things often don’t go according to plan. The more you practice facing life problems head on, the more you’ll develop the ability to overcome bigger obstacles and the more resilient you become. Your brain will adapt and grow and develop new ways of discovering solutions. Over time, you’ll find it easier to face common-occurring problems. You will meet each new obstacle with more courage, thanks to your mindset in the past.

10. Expose yourself to small amounts of hardship. You will gain satisfaction from overcoming the hardship and thriving anyway. You will learn tolerance for difficulty and discomfort, which will give you a layer of inner toughness and confidence to face future problems and obstacles.  Take a cold shower. Exercise daily. Weed in the hot sun.  Fast for 2 meals.  Work the math problem the long way.

11. Whatever it is, keep at it a little longer than you think you can. This will stretch your capabilities. It shows you that you can expand your limits.  Run 100 more yards. Work 5-20 minutes longer. 

12. Give it your 100% best effort. This is not the same as perfectionism. Best effort means complete focus of energy and attention, you search for resources to help and use them, and you ask for help when you need it.  It means you make corrections as you discover they are needed, and you deliver in the time required. In short, it means you do everything you can think of to make it work, mustering your best thinking and bringing all your talents to bear. It means you take responsibility for the outcome and don’t blame others.

13. Finish the task. Even though the shiny and excitement wears off the new project, you keep going anyway. Even though you are dying to drop everything and go do something different, you keep at it.  Some projects and tasks may be too large to complete in one blast of effort, so you’ll have to break it up into smaller pieces, but you still make sure to finish each piece.  Finishing small tasks leads to the ability to finish bigger tasks.


Ultimately, developing self-discipline is about creating a life in which you are not ruled by your feelings, desires, appetites, and passions.  It’s about keeping the things of the moment in bounds so you can enjoy the things that last eternally. 

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