Self-Discipline: Definition and Tips For Development

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 14 December 2022

Published 25 August 2020

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Self-discipline is an inner strength that can help you achieve your goals at any stage in your career. Developing self-discipline enables you to work more effectively. Your efforts make you a reliable worker that your employer can trust. In this article, we explain what self-discipline is, how to become disciplined and how to teach it to others.

What is self-discipline?

Self-discipline is the ability to control your actions and feelings. Having discipline helps you focus on and complete tasks to achieve your goals. That is because the more control you have over yourself, the more you can control the results of what you do. Practicing self-discipline also helps you achieve your potential over time. Being self-disciplined requires a combination of other skills and qualities, including:

  • Ambition: Motivates you to succeed

  • Strong work ethic: Motivates your work and inspires you to be the best employee you can be

  • Focus: Helps you work efficiently

  • Organisation: Helps you use time effectively and prioritise important tasks

  • Persistence: Helps you overcome challenges and reach your goals

  • Resilience: Helps you recover from setbacks so you can meet your goals

  • Responsibility: Keeps you accountable, so you deliver what you promised others

Some people naturally have self-discipline, but it is a quality that anyone can learn and develop if they work hard.

Benefits of self-discipline

Becoming self-disciplined has several professional and personal benefits. These benefits include:

  • Increasing your self-esteem. When you drive yourself to complete tasks and achieve goals, you feel good about yourself. Performing challenging duties builds confidence and encourages you to take on more and push yourself. Self-discipline helps you feel in control of your life, which also boosts self-esteem.

  • Boosting your productivity. Controlling your impulses helps you focus on tasks and resist distractions. When you do this consistently, you achieve more over time.

  • Improving your mental health. Self-disciplined people can control their emotions. This makes them less likely to become stressed or frustrated by challenges.

  • Helping you fulfil your potential. Self-disciplined people are model employees who find achieving their goals easier. They are more likely to get promoted and secure the positions they want.

How to achieve self-discipline at work

Building self-discipline involves adopting productive behaviours and making them lifelong habits. Make these behaviours part of your daily work routine to achieve self-discipline:

1. Arrive to work on time, every time

Arriving to work on time helps you start your workday in a disciplined mindset. It is your first achievement and one which ensures you have the time at work you need to achieve a lot more.

2. Set SMART goals

SMART goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. Knowing your goals that meet these guidelines provides a framework for success. Once you know what you want to achieve, you can effectively plan how to achieve it. Having a SMART goal in mind can also be a powerful motivator.

3. Write to-do lists

Write a list of tasks you need to do to reach your goals. You could write daily or weekly to-do lists. Breaking your projects down into smaller steps can make them feel more achievable. Knowing what you should do can increase productivity and focus. Crossing completed items off your list helps you feel accomplished and motivated.

4. Remove distractions

Staying disciplined at work is easiest if your work environment is without distractions. If you find yourself staring out the window, close the blinds. If email alerts distract you, restrict yourself by only logging on to your email account at scheduled times. Note when you are sidetracked and take steps, if possible, to remove the distractions.

5. Resist impulses unrelated to work

Most people have many impulses during the workday unrelated to work. The impulse to check social media, browse the internet or chat with a friend about TV can be strong. Giving in to these impulses steals focus away from your work. Acknowledge them, but use your willpower to resist them and return to your tasks.

6. Problem-solve ways to remove obstacles

Obstacles may occur that threaten your resolve. Use your problem-solving skills to find solutions. For example, imagine your car has a flat battery. This could derail your plan to improve your punctuality. Instead, you walk to the station and catch a train to the office.

7. Appreciate challenges

Humans naturally avoid hardships and seek pleasure. Resist these instincts at work, where you must complete challenging tasks. Understand challenges always have something to teach you. Completing them also helps you feel accomplished. Remembering the benefits can help you embrace challenges and become more disciplined.

8. Stay in the present

You can only control the present. You cannot change the past or predict the future. Grounding your thoughts in the present can help you feel more disciplined and in control. This practice also helps you resist negative feelings, including embarrassment, disappointment and fear.

9. Take time to rest

It is a misconception that being self-disciplined means working relentlessly. Making time for rest in your schedule is an essential part of self-discipline. Take lunch breaks away from your desk and leave work at a reasonable time each day. Rest helps your self-discipline for the next workday.

How to become more self-disciplined

Becoming self-disciplined takes time. Your self-discipline may wane sometimes. For example, you may feel finding discipline is challenging early in the week or near holidays. These steps can help you improve your discipline:

1. Be kind to yourself

Everyone finds self-discipline challenging at times. Understand this and be patient with yourself. Kindness is a powerful motivator. Treating yourself well should help you feel capable enough to improve your behaviour.

2. Believe in yourself

Self-belief is critical for developing self-discipline. Remove the limits and trust in your capacity for improvement. Tell yourself that you are strong and capable. This positive self-talk helps you build your self-discipline.

3. Examine your motivations

Think about why you are working to become more self-disciplined. Perhaps you want a management position or a higher salary. Remembering your motivation can inspire your changes.

Related: 9 Tips on How to Self-Motivate (With FAQs)

4. Practise self-discipline activities in your personal life

Learning how to be self-disciplined takes time. Start writing to-do lists and setting goals at home to make these practices more natural at work.

5. Focus on improving one self-discipline skill at a time

Being self-disciplined involves a variety of different skills. Improving one at a time should enhance your overall discipline. For example, using email folders and an online calendar may make you more organised. Maintain those habits while working on another skill the next week.

6. Take up a pastime requiring self-discipline

Yoga, tai chi and meditation all teach participants to control their minds and bodies. Adopting a regular workout routine also requires great discipline. Take part regularly, and you should become more disciplined in other aspects of your life.

7. Adopt healthy habits

Living a healthy lifestyle also takes self-discipline. Commit to eating healthy home-cooked meals and exercising daily. Go to sleep at the same time each night for eight hours rest. These habits help you practise discipline and give you more energy for the office.

8. Reframe negative self-talk

Negative self-talk can undermine self-discipline, but reframing it can reduce its power. For example, rather than thinking, “this is too hard,” think, “this challenge tests my skills.” Instead of saying, “I have too much to do,” say, “I have good time management skills, so I can achieve this.”

How to teach self-discipline

Once you master self-discipline, share your skills with your colleagues. Sharing your knowledge makes your team or workplace more productive. Follow these steps to teach self-discipline to others:

1. Talk openly about forces that make self-discipline challenging

The lure of social media or the staff kitchen are some of the forces that challenge our discipline. Encourage your coworkers to discuss forces that challenge their self-discipline, then discuss how to overcome these challenges. For example, someone who spends a lot of time on social media might put their phone on silent during work hours. Someone who finds the kitchen irresistible may plan designated snack breaks.

2. Discuss your expectations

Most employees want to support their colleagues and customers, but some do not know how to go about it. Discuss what you expect from other people to make what you want and need clear. These guidelines help people become more focused and responsible. Use specific language and note relevant details, such as deadlines and appointment times. If your expectations are complex, write an email your colleagues can refer to later.

3. Lead by example

Whether you are a manager or not, your self-discipline can influence others. Share how you have become more self-disciplined and support colleagues adopting similar habits.

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