Self-Discipline Drives Success

Person on top of a mountain in silhouette with the words "Self-discipline" on the mountain. An article by Andrew D Pope – the original and best – accept no substitute.

Self-discipline is the real power driving goal achievement, self-fulfilment, and success.  

Your goals might range anywhere from losing a bit of weight all the way up to a complete identity-level life transformation. I’ve done both. Self-discipline got me there.  

However, it takes a lot of self-discipline to develop a lot of self-discipline.  

Developing and consistently applying self-discipline is hard work. It isn’t everyone’s idea of a good time.  

In my experience, most people fail to develop and apply the consistent level of self-discipline needed to succeed. As a result, they generally fail to achieve their goals and ambitions.  

Therefore, if you’re prepared to work hard at developing your self-discipline you will be different. You will have a powerful advantage over those other people.  

When you consistently apply enough self-discipline to the right things over a sufficient period, you will generate huge productivity and achieve the success you desire.  

BTW – if you prefer an audio version of this, I’ve included one at the end of this article.  

What is self-discipline?

Self-discipline refers to your ability to control your own behaviour, thoughts, and emotions on the way to achieving specific goals or maintaining a desired lifestyle.

It’s the practice of consistently making choices which align with your overall or long-term success objectives, even when you’re faced with tempting and enjoyable distractions.

Self-discipline involves you setting clear goals and creating a plan of action to achieve them.

It requires you to prioritise your tasks and responsibilities, and then follow through with consistent hard work and time commitment.

Applying self-discipline will almost always mean resisting immediate gratification impulses in favour of bigger rewards further down the line. It’s also known as delayed gratification.

Most people don’t want to deal with all of that. That’s why developing more self-discipline will make you different and more successful.

Self-discipline and Emotional Intelligence

Your emotional intelligence refers to your ability to recognise, understand, and manage your own emotions as well as effectively navigate and respond to the emotions of others.

The four pillars of Emotional Intelligence (EI) which I adhere to are:  

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-regulation
  • Understanding others
  • Managing relationships

For more information on EI and for links to further articles on the four pillars, you can check out my article “Emotional Intelligence is Vital!

You must have something to apply self-discipline to.  

As a general strategy for success in any endeavour it makes good sense to work out what skills and knowledge, along with any material resources, might be needed to achieve it.  

It also makes sense to identify which key personal behaviours and mindsets are required to make best use of these various resources.  

With that in mind, let’s look at the first two pillars with specific application to the concept of self-discipline.  


Apart from purely material resources, to achieve success in your chosen goal or objective you may well need to develop new skills and/or knowledge. You may also need to apply key personal behaviours and mindsets.

Taking honest stock of where you currently are in terms of your personal attributes and skills is the obvious first step.  

This is your self-awareness. Your knowledge about yourself. Positive and negative.  

Self-awareness is about knowing what you are capable of and to what level of capability.  

It’s also about knowing and acknowledging what you are not yet capable of but willing to become capable of.  

Finally, self-awareness is about honestly and accurately identifying and acknowledging what you don’t want to become capable of.  


Once you have your self-awareness, self-discipline can now be usefully applied to the various identified elements to purposefully move you toward successful achievement of your objective.  

Self-regulation is self-discipline’s spiritual home.  

Positive habits are self-discipline on steroids  

If all of this feels highly structured, planned and ruthlessly efficient to you, there’s a good reason. It is.  

We’ve already established that self-discipline takes sustained hard work and effort. This is why most people don’t succeed with their goals.  

Many people do act and get moving toward their objective, but they then fail to follow-through with enough sustained and smartly applied hard work.  

Self-discipline creates the follow-through and sustained application which gets you over your finish line.  

When you’re self-disciplined enough for long enough, you’ll find that you can quite effectively automate your self-disciplined application of effort.  

You can create a *habit.  

Positive habits are the gold-standard of self-discipline. For me, habits are self-discipline on steroids.  

*Note that bad habits are just as powerful as good habits but in a negative direction. Habits form because of repeated application of effort. Do the wrong thing for long enough and you have yourself a bad habit. You will have to work extra hard to eliminate a bad habit and replace it with a good one.  

Here are two highly recommend books which explain the concept, benefits, and creation of positive habits far better than I can.  

  • “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg
  • “Atomic Habits” by James Clear

Motivation and willpower need help  

“I can resist anything except temptation.”  

Oscar Wilde

Let’s use an example from my past.  

Trying to resist, or even give up entirely, a favourite food, chocolate in my case, was very difficult. I loved chocolate. I still do. It’s delicious. Eating it feels good. Eating it makes me feel good.  

“Why was that a problem?” I hear you say. “A little of what you fancy does you good, doesn’t it?”  

I would generally agree with you, up to a point.  

Here’s the thing, the old me didn’t eat just a little bit of chocolate. When I started, I ate a lot of chocolate. An open box of chocolates was very quickly just an empty box.  

Whenever my waistband tightened this did motivate me to eat less chocolate or even give it up for a little while. I applied all my willpower and left it alone, for a while.  

Then someone would offer me a piece of chocolate, or I’d be overwhelmed in a shop or a restaurant, and off I went again. The cycle repeated itself again and again.  

My motivation and willpower had collapsed.  

What changed for me was the realisation that self-discipline was missing. Self-discipline was the super-fuel I needed to power through the chocolate issue.  

I had to transform my entire relationship and habitual automatic responses to chocolate.  

Long story short, I got rid of the bad habits and installed good ones. Now, I can confidently have a couple of pieces of chocolate, or even a chocolate dessert, then stop. Happy days.  

The self-discipline transformation process is a transferrable repeatable skillset. It works across the board in terms of goal achievement and personal transformation.  

Three self-discipline success tips  

There are many self-discipline skills, techniques, approaches, and mindsets out there for you to experiment with. There are even digital applications to assist you if that’s your thing.  

Check out the mighty interweb but be prepared to plough through a massive array of ideas, materials, and options.  

Here are three success tips to help get you started on your road to a more self-disciplined life.  

Select and design the right goals for you  

Goal selection and design have a big impact on how likely you are to achieve the desired outcome.  

Now, I cannot possibly comment on what you should choose as a goal or indeed why. You are unique and your goals are your unique goals.  

I will, however, offer a couple of thoughts for you to consider when choosing and designing your goals.  

Firstly, it really must be something you want to achieve. The desire to do it must be your desire. The technical term is intrinsic. Intrinsic means from within. If you are trying to do something because someone else wants you to, or you believe it will make someone else happy if you do it, you will likely not have sufficient motivation to get it done.  

If your goal is intrinsic and you are highly motivated, then self-discipline will really help you get there.  

Secondly, big, audacious and/or ambitious goals are great motivators. They can be somewhat overwhelming, and they can also feel very distant.  

I recommend that you break any such goal into much smaller, and therefore more manageable, chunks. Applying your self-discipline to each chunk in turn is far more effective. This approach helps you make steady, positive progress towards your more audacious big outcome.  

Lastly, make sure your goals, big, small or in chunks, are clearly stated and offer a clear picture of what you want to accomplish. Clarity enhances self-discipline.

Our well-formed goal

“I want to live a healthier lifestyle so that I can feel more energetic and be more productive as a creator [An intrinsic desire]. I will start by drinking 4 litres of high-quality water every day for a month to detox my system [A manageable chunk]. At the end of every day, I will see 4 empty 1 litre water bottles which will demonstrate my success [Clear vision].”  

There’s a very good chance that this well-formed goal will get completed.  

Turn your big why into a “because” mantra  

Self-discipline can’t do everything for you. It amplifies motivation and willpower but can’t fully replace them.  

When the going gets tough, and it often does when trying to achieve a big goal, you’ll need to reinforce both your motivation and your willpower.  

Here’s a very practical and applicable method for reminding yourself of your intrinsic reason for undertaking your personal mission.  

Whenever you need extra motivation, repeat this statement to yourself.  

“I am doing this because [add your own intrinsically powerful reason here].”  

For the tip #1 example, I might say: “I am doing this because I want to live a healthier lifestyle so that I can feel more energetic and be more productive as a creator.”  

Give it a go. It works.  

Create a pro-goal environment  

How you prepare or setup your environment can make a huge difference to how successful you are at completing your goals or your goal chunks.  

Preparing a pro-goal environment helps your self-discipline by reducing the overall load.  

It is all based on making the right things easy to do and making the wrong things hard to do.  

For the tip #1 example, the goal is to drink 4 litres of water a day for a month as a detox, so:

  • Filling 4 bottles with high-quality water the night before and leaving them in plain sight makes it easier to do the right thing.  
  • Removing or hiding other unhealthy drinks (e.g., soda) makes it harder to do the wrong thing.  

Reducing choice and removing sources of temptation will help you do the things you need to do.  

Keep the self-discipline momentum going  

Be consistent  

In my experience, self-discipline has the most impact when you apply yourself to a goal or project in a consistent and positive manner. This approach leads to positive habits.  

Consistency supports self-discipline.  

Be patient (play the long game)  

When you start a goal or project, you may get some excellent and highly positive results very quickly. This is always a good feeling. Temptation rears its attractive head again and you might well decide to cash in on that early success and relax.  

I would suggest that being patient will yield far greater results overall. Over a longer timeframe any random ups and downs will even out.  

Playing the long game allows compound growth to kick in and really amplify your results.

Celebrate wins  

However large or small, celebrate all your wins and successes.

Learn from lapses and mistakes  

No one likes to suffer a lapse or make mistakes. I certainly don’t.  

However, lapses and mistakes can be your best teachers if you are prepared to learn from them.  

Here is my 4-step process for handling any mistakes and/or lapses:  

  • Treat them all as potential lessons.
  • Analyse them for any value.
  • Make any required adjustments to my process.
  • Get myself back on track asap.

Keep your eyes on the prize  

Don’t lose sight of why you’re being self-disciplined in the first place.  

Keep clearly and intensely visualising your objective.  

Over to you  

“With self-discipline most anything is possible.”  

Theodore Roosevelt

It takes a lot of self-discipline to develop a lot of self-discipline. It isn’t everyone’s idea of fun.  

So, if you’re prepared to work hard at developing your self-discipline you will be different.  

You will have a powerful advantage over others.  

When you consistently apply enough self-discipline to the right things over a sufficient period, you will generate huge productivity and achieve the success you desire.  

I wish you all the best on your unique journey through life.

That is all for this one

I hope you enjoyed this article. If you found value in it, subscribe to the blog. Also join my “Self-Confidence Matters”  newsletter community. Get exclusive content, news and, just occasionally, some irresistible offers. It all comes with my no BS and zero pushy sales guarantee.  

You might also like to check out these related articles:  

The Baby Step Approach to Goals  

“Project You”  

Compound Growth  

Work Smart AND Hard  

Output Leads to Growth  

PS Do you want to maximise your emotional self-control? Get my super-useful Rapid Emotional State Management Technique audio file. It’s FREE so you can download it and start to learn to manage your emotional states with confidence. You’ll also join my “Self-Confidence Matters” newsletter community. In the unlikely event that you don’t like it, an unsubscribe option is available.

PPS Here is the audio version of this article if you would prefer to listen.

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