Without discipline, you’ll get none.
It’s the glue that holds the building blocks of your achievements together, whether it’s getting to the gym, putting an extra hour into your side hustle, or living up to your standards.
There’s only one problem – to build discipline, you need discipline.
I’ve hit the gym for over ten years and stuck to a lot of uncomfortable diets. Saying no to a glazed donut makes you more resilient, but without the necessary mental strength, you’ll binge on sweets and feel bad about yourself.
It’s a classic catch-22, but there’s a simple way to solve it.
In his New York Times bestseller Atomic Habits, James Clear talks about identity change – a powerful concept that helped me hit the gym consistently for over a decade and even compete in a bodybuilding show.
Change How You View Yourself and You Will Change How You Act
Your natural behaviors are also the easiest ones to do.
Warren Buffett doesn’t have to convince himself to read 500 pages per day, he does it because that’s what successful investors do.
Tom Brady doesn’t have to convince himself to train in the gym and on the field, he does it because that’s what footballers do.
The pope doesn’t have to convince himself to pray for hours because… well, you get the picture.
When you adopt a new identity, the associated behaviors become second nature – and the other way round. The moment you stop viewing yourself as a couch potato is the moment you stop acting like one. So how do you shift your identity?
One step at a time.
Eat Your Discipline Cookies
When I was a kid, my mum and grandma often took me on trips to the closest city. Throughout all the memories, one thing stayed the same.
We always took the stairs instead of the elevator. Back then, I didn’t think much of it. But with every step my short legs took, I learned a valuable lesson:
The more often you take the hard path, the more you see yourself as a disciplined person, and the easier it will be to tackle bigger challenges.
David Goggins, former Navy SEAL, American ultramarathon runner, ultra-distance cyclist, triathlete, public speaker and author of the New York Times bestseller Can’t Hurt Me, calls this his mental Cookie Jar. Every discipline-related achievement, from taking the stairs instead of the elevator to reading a book even though you’re tired, represents a cookie. When you feel like you can’t hit the gym or put in extra work, your small habit “cookies” remind you that yes, you are disciplined enough to do it.
The fuller your jar, the more fuel you have.
It’s a long journey from saying no to a donut to hitting the gym every day or building your business on the weekend. The first assumption is that big transitions require big actions. But for identity change, repetitions count more than weight.
Taking the stairs twenty times does more to shift your self-image than hitting the gym once.
If you want meaningful change, implement a simple practice into your daily life and bake your discipline cookies.
One Small Step Is All It Takes
Changing your identity is easy – there are tons of opportunities to build the necessary discipline every day.
- Take a cold shower for three seconds
- Say hey to a stranger
- Skip the sugar in your coffee
- Get to work five minutes early or stay five minutes late
- Do an extra set or exercise at the gym
- Drink water with lunch instead of soda
- Turn off your WiFi and don’t check your phone for a few hours
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator
- Read one page of a book before bed
- Go without alcohol for a weekend
- → Get a ton more ideas for short term goals
No matter who you are, all these are doable. Even if you hate cold showers, you can survive anything for three seconds. Every time you delay gratification, you build discipline.
Not only that, but you also increase your self-confidence by a truckload – because you follow up on your words, challenge yourself, and grow into a stronger man, every day.
This can turn your life upside down in the long run.
I’m a solo traveler. If I don’t go out and meet people, I’ll spend my evenings curled up on my couch alone. That’s why I committed to saying hi to a stranger every day. It felt weird at first, but now that I’ve done it so often, I don’t need to think about it anymore. I have the self-image of a social guy who meets lots of cool people, so it’s the most natural thing to do.
Make It Actionable
You can even make it a fun game.
Create a challenge for yourself. Do something that takes a little bit of discipline every day for two weeks. Hold yourself accountable by tracking your efforts or getting your buddies to join in.
If you succeed, reward yourself with a nice dinner, massage, or weekend trip.
If you don’t, adjust what went wrong or simplify the challenge further until it’s completable. From there, you’ll have a discipline streak to serve as a foundation
You’ll build discipline, become more confident, and your life gets better – three birds, one stone.
All it takes is five minutes a day.
What are you waiting for?