Self-Discipline: The art of reaching your goals

By Jostle

8 min read

Self-Discipline: The art of reaching your goals
Illustration by Kevin Yu

Goals are important in any area of life, whether personal, academic, or career. For the purpose of this article, we’re going to talk about career goals and how motivation at work can help you reach them. But, as the title suggests, motivation often isn’t enough. Motivations can fade or change completely, and when that happens, self-discipline has to step up to the plate and keep you moving toward your goals—even when the going gets tough. Or especially when the going gets tough. 

Think of motivation as the energy that gets you started on the path to your goal and self-discipline as the superpower that helps you reach the goal.

What is self-discipline?

Self-discipline can be defined as the ability to control and manage your actions, thoughts, and behaviors in order to stay focused on your goals. They can help you make responsible choices even when faced with distractions or challenges. This typically involves setting priorities, resisting the temptation to do something else, and consistently working toward achieving the goal you set.

Merriam-Webster puts it this way. “Restraint exercised over one’s own impulses, emotions, or desires.” 

Characteristics of self-disciplined individuals

Who around you is displaying motivation at work? Can you spot employees who are motivated and self-disciplined? 

You can. Self-disciplined individuals typically exhibit the following characteristics:

  • Focus: They concentrate on their tasks and priorities while minimizing distractions and staying attentive to what they need to accomplish
  • Resilience: They’ll bounce back from failures and disappointments, and use setbacks as a learning experience that will help them to  adapt and grow
  • Responsibility: They take ownership of their actions and decisions, holding themselves accountable for any success or mistake
  • Organization: They’ll typically have orderly environments and routines that help support their goals, since reducing chaos can improve efficiency
  • Time management: Self-disciplined people will effectively manage their time, allocating it to tasks and activities that align with their priorities and goals 

The benefits of self-discipline

Now you know what self-discipline is, and you can spot people who display motivation at work plus the characteristics that point to self-discipline, what are the benefits? Can you benefit?

Anyone, in any area of their life, can benefit from self-discipline. Here are a few ways that your career can benefit. 

Improved productivity and time management skills

Those who practice self-discipline become more intentional about how they use their time and energy—they’re not as wasteful with it. This leads to better planning and organization, allowing them to prioritize tasks effectively and allocate sufficient time for important activities.

Thanks to cause-and-effect, better planning and organization result in improved productivity. You’re able to focus and prioritize on important tasks without getting distracted by things that aren’t as critical. Additionally, self-discipline helps you to resist procrastination and maintain a consistent work pace which will further enhance efficiency.

Better time management and productivity mean you can accomplish more in less time, leaving you with more time for other pursuits such as personal growth, leisure, or anything else.

Increased motivation and confidence

Increased motivation at work and confidence are significant benefits for those who are self-disciplined.

When you practice self-discipline, you develop a strong sense of control over your actions and choices. And even if your initial motivation fades or changes, that control can help you stick to your goal. Additionally, it helps to build confidence in your ability to overcome challenges and accomplish what you originally set out to do.

This spawns another benefit. When you’re consistently making progress toward your goals—thanks to self-discipline— you’ll experience something of a positive feedback loop. Each small success boosts your motivation at work, leading to a growing belief in your capabilities and enhancing your confidence in yourself.

The combination of motivation and confidence can be a powerful driving force that can help propel you forward, enabling you to tackle more ambitious goals and achieve even greater success in all areas of your life. And seeing the tangible results of hard work can push you even further. 

Better decision-making abilities

Self-discipline can help you develop the skill of making thoughtful and rational choices. This is typically due to the fact that self-discipline forces you to consider the long-term consequences of your actions and helps you align your decisions with your goals and values.

As you cultivate self-discipline, you become less impulsive and more deliberate in your decision-making process. This is advantageous since it helps you avoid hasty choices that you may regret later on. Thanks to a heightened awareness of your priorities, you’re better equipped to evaluate different options and make decisions that will align with your overall objectives.

Improved physical and mental health

Those who stay organized, set priorities, and manage their time effectively—all things that self-disciplined people do—experience lower levels of stress and anxiety. These practices help put you in control and reduce the sense of chaos that can lead to stress.

Additionally, reduced stress and anxiety leads to better sleep patterns which can enhance cognitive function.

Strategies for building self-discipline

Building self-discipline doesn’t happen overnight, it takes time and effort. But when you consider the benefits that we’ve already discussed, it’s time and effort that will be well spent.

To help you reach your goal, consider these strategies:

Set clear and specific goals. A clear goal provides you with a target to work towards. It gives you a sense of direction and purpose and helps you to stay focused and committed, even if you face challenges or discouragement. Since you know what you’re aiming for, it’s easier to channel your efforts.

Here’s a few tips:

  • Make your goal specific
  • Make it measurable
  • Only set achievable goals
  • Give yourself a deadline
  • Put your goal in writing

Establish a routine and stick to it. Routines give your day structure, reducing decision fatigue and making it easier for you to prioritize your tasks. When you’re dealing with habitual actions, you’re less likely to waste mental energy debating on whether or not to do them.

Here are some tips on establishing a routine:

  • Identify your priorities
  • Create a daily schedule
  • Start with small, manageable tasks
  • Assign fixed times for routine activities
  • Track your progress
  • Be flexible but accountable

Practicing mindfulness and self-awareness. Mindfulness and self-awareness help you to understand your thoughts, emotions, and impulses. For lack of a better analogy, think of it as something of a leash between a stimulus and your natural response. It gives you the time and the opportunity to make a conscience, disciplined choice rather than reacting impulsively.

Here are a few tips on how to practice mindfulness and self awareness:

  • Focus on your breathing
  • Reject negative and distracting thoughts
  • Practice meditation
  • Pause before reacting
  • Consider journaling your thoughts, feelings, and experiences
  • Acknowledged the things you’re grateful for
  • Reflect on your actions and choices

Avoid distractions and temptations. Take some time and identify the things that tend to divert your attention—anything that robs you of your focus. For example, if you work at your computer, do you find yourself constantly distracted or tempted by social media, video games, emails, or anything else? Because that would be bad—not that I’m speaking from experience, of course!

Here are a few strategies that should help you tackle the challenge:

  • Make sure your environment is distraction free
  • Use techniques like Pomodoro
  • Set clear boundaries and make sure others know when you’re focusing on important tasks
  • Only concentrate on one task at a time
  • Reward yourself for progress and accomplishments. Sometimes, being self-disciplined means doing things that you may not enjoy. Knowing there is a reward for seeing a task to its end can keep you motivated and focused—it’s not going to magically make you happy about your task, but you will be happy when it’s done.

Appropriate rewards will be unique to each individual, so choose something that will motivate you. 

Overcoming obstacles to self-discipline

Overcoming obstacles to self-discipline is crucial if you want to build a strong foundation of self-control and achievement. Becoming self-disciplined can be a challenge in itself. Learn not only how to identify the roadblocks but also how to get around them.

Here are some common challenges to self-discipline and some tips on what you can do to overcome them:

  • Procrastination: Try breaking tasks into smaller, more manageable steps 
  • Lack of Motivation: Determine the reason behind your goal and then visualize the end result, even if the end result is simply that your job is done
  • Lack of Structure: Set clear goals for yourself and establish routines and schedules that provide structure
  • Don’t Be Impulsive: Be mindful and take a pause before making quick decisions that could impact your long-term goals
  • Negative Self-Talk: Learn to challenge negative thoughts by replacing them with realistic perspectives
  • Fear of Failure: understand that failing is part of the learning process and focus on lessons learned, seeing them as opportunities for growth 
  • Burnout: Prioritize self-care, making sure you get adequate sleep, take regular breaks, and relax when necessary


What have we learned about motivation at work and self-discipline? 

When it comes to successfully achieving your goals, self-discipline is a critical ingredient. It will provide you with the consistent effort and focus needed to make progress even when your motivation begins to falter or challenges arise. With self-discipline, you’re able to prioritize tasks effectively and steer away from distractions. Instead, you’re able to concentrate on what really matters. It can empower you to overcome obstacles and setbacks and enable you to persist even when the going gets tough.

Ultimately, self-discipline can help you to transform your dreams into reality. It will help you to navigate the path toward your goals with dedication, resilience, and a strong purpose. Simply put, self-discipline can help you realize your potential and fulfill your ambitions.


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