The Power of Discipline: How to Use Self Control and Mental Toughness to Achieve Your Goals

The Power of Discipline: How to Use Self Control and Mental Toughness to Achieve Your Goals

by Daniel Walter

The Power of Discipline shows us how to develop habits that will improve our lives, implement strong self-discipline to perform them regularly, and take charge of our behaviors. The author offers numerous psychological and philosophical scientific facts, principles, laws, and instructions for strengthening our self-control and overcoming the disruptors that prevent us from achieving our greatest goals.

Summary Notes

The Biology Of Self-Control

“When exercised consistently, willpower and self-discipline will improve, and you will experience lasting results. All skills operate under the same principle—the more you practice, the better at it you will become.”

Depending on the structure of our prefrontal cortex, we may find it easier or more complex to maintain self-control. Regardless, it’s a skill that can be mastered and strengthened by making wise and healthy decisions. 

Meanwhile, your self-control diminishes when you make poor decisions that negatively influence your physical and mental well-being. So, we must put effort every day into the things that train our self-discipline, especially delaying our gratification. For example, if you tend to snack on sweets often, train yourself to have more self-control by refusing the snack when you feel hungry.

Self-discipline depends on your focus; as you focus more on your goal, it will become easier for you to perform the necessary tasks. Our capacity to focus is determined by our executive functions, including memory operation, cognitive flexibility, adaptability, and impulse control. Strengthening these skills regularly through brain games and other brain-boosting activities would help us focus better.

Actions to take

The Status Quo Bias

“In this chapter, you will learn about a psychological phenomenon called the “status quo bias” and how it can attack the most self-disciplined and determined individuals. The good news is that once you.”

The status quo bias is the tendency to stay in the familiar circumstances rather than change, often due to protective behaviors that keep us in our comfort zones. Overcoming this bias is the key to improving our self-discipline. 

There are three main reasons why we may resist change:

  1. Loss aversion theory - We don't like to lose things, and when we need to change, we tend to feel like we have already lost something.

  2. Fear of regret - We are afraid we will make the wrong decision.

  3. Exposure - The more we are exposed to something, the more attached we become to it, making it difficult for us to let go and make a change. That is why it is difficult to change beliefs and behaviors. The solution is to expose ourselves to new thoughts and behaviors long enough to adopt them.

Actions to take

Overcome Discipline Disruptors & Build Good Habits

“Energy vampires are people who sap the life out of you with their negative attitude. But there are also things that can hinder your discipline and prevent you from becoming the best version of yourself.”

Some factors hindering the development of our self-discipline are the people surrounding us, unhealthy thinking patterns and beliefs, and bad habits.

Two significant disrupters of discipline that influence our beliefs and behaviors are:

  1. Parkinson's Law - explains that we procrastinate because we give ourselves too much time to finish a task. The truth is that we can achieve everything faster and be more productive when we know we have less time.

  2. False Hope Syndrome - Our belief that change is easy causes us to set unreasonably high standards for quick transformation, which is why we frequently give up.

Building a healthy routine is the key to improving our self-discipline. This includes having a quality morning and evening routine with exercise, meditation, healthy nutrition, and arousal control. 

To achieve a goal, we should set smaller goals and believe in our own potential. One helpful way to do this is to apply the “40% Rule,” which states that every time we feel too tired to do the work, we should think that we’ve only achieved 40% of what we’re capable of and that we can still go up to 100%!

Another way to increase our potential is to set goals ten times more than what we expect to achieve. This doesn’t mean going to the extreme but rather challenging ourselves enough to overcome our limitations and increase our faith in ourselves.

The inability to resist our urges destroys discipline and faith in change. To overcome this, we can apply the “10-minute rule,” where we wait for ten minutes without acting on a destructive urge until it passes. You can wait for another ten minutes if you want to be more productive and efficient.

Actions to take


“There is nothing you can do that is going to make self-discipline comfortable. We need the endurance to overcome those feelings of discomfort and mental toughness to plow through the instincts that are enticing us to choose the path of least resistance.”

Developing our self-discipline can feel embarrassing. It will require you to do things you’re not used to instead of those you’re already comfortable with. That's why it's important to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. This can be achieved by strengthening willpower and exercising our tolerance to discomfort. 

We strengthen our will when we step out of our comfort zone and do the things that make us feel uncomfortable. The more we repeat these uncomfortable actions, the more we get used to them, thereby increasing our discipline. 

One interesting example is Jin Jiang, who held a TED speech on how he overcame his social anxiety by spending 100 days exposing himself to situations in which he knew he would be rejected. Jin conquered his fears, grew more tolerant of discomfort, and changed for the better as a result.

Actions to take

System and Process

“Your habits, whether good or bad, are a part of your identity. When you desire to make a change, and that habit becomes a part of your identity, you will maintain it because it has become a part of you.”

When we’re more focused on our goals than on the system we use to achieve them, we’re likely to fail.  It is easy to set a goal, but the chance to achieve these goals is small if we do not have the right system - a set of good behavior, thoughts, and beliefs that will keep us motivated. 

For instance, while all Olympians have the same goal to win, only the winner is the one to have a better system. This means a  set of healthy behaviors that promote physical and mental well-being, including restful sleep, a balanced diet, regular exercise, learning new skills, and so on.

To develop a good system, we must remove and replace the unhelpful habits that do not contribute to our goals. There are three steps involved: define your goal, develop a good behavior system, and change your identity by changing your actions. 

For example, if you want to become a musician, set a goal to live and act like a musician instead of only aiming to learn how to play one instrument. If you want to read more books, say you’ll be a person who regularly reads, instead of setting a goal to read two books monthly.

Most of us tend to believe that we will only be happy once we achieve our goals, but this trap leads us to despair, especially if we fail. That is why it is crucial to keep our system consistent, regardless of how fast we can go. Consistency increases self-confidence and our level of happiness much more than the achievement of the goal. 

Remember that the overall process of changing our thoughts, behaviors, and habits can be an enjoyable experience if we allow ourselves to focus on it rather than just the success of the end goal.

Actions to take

Zen and Self-Discipline

“Zen Buddhists hold a reservoir of wisdom about accomplishing goals, overcoming fear, and delaying gratification. All of these actions provide a powerful foundation for self-discipline.”

Zen Buddhists possess a wealth of knowledge on achieving objectives, overcoming fear, and postponing gratification. These practices create a strong foundation from which self-control develops naturally. 

Buddha began disseminating the findings and teachings that led to his enlightenment thousands of years ago. His primary points of emphasis were two: that suffering is a regular aspect of human existence and that we are responsible for the pain we experience.

Buddhists believe that focusing on the here and now is more important than focusing on the past. According to them, the past is only a collection of our perceptions and memories. Besides, they’re also convinced that our preconceived beliefs about who we are as people are self-restricting; they only keep us tied to negative behavioral patterns. 

By applying these concepts to our lives, we will be able to acknowledge that there is no way to avoid pain and will strive for our goals fearlessly. We will also be able to manage our thoughts better, embracing the current moment instead of spending time and energy dwelling on past regrets. Since fear is nothing more than a lack of control, we won't let it keep ruining our lives.

Actions to take

Try vs. Do

“Trying” is a recipe for disaster, whereas “doing” is decisive and assertive. Trying leads to unhelpful, negative beliefs that will prevent you from achieving your goals.”

Eliminating the word "try" from your vocabulary is one of the most beneficial things you can do to enhance your self-discipline. This will alter how you view yourself and raise your sense of self-worth. 

The words we say to ourselves, whether spoken or not, are very powerful. They may change how we perceive ourselves and how successful we may become. This explains why using the term "try" might prevent us from realizing our goals and limit our level of self-discipline.

When you decide that the only thing you can do is to attempt, your potential becomes constrained. Therefore, being bold and determined in everything you say and do is important. You'll learn to appreciate yourself more as a consequence of doing, and others will appreciate you too. So, remind yourself to start doing instead of merely trying.

Actions to take

Rules for Success

“If you are confused about what goals to set for yourself, start with deciding that if you don’t do anything else in life, you will reach your full potential.”

There are five basic principles that will allow you to succeed in all aspects of your life. These guidelines can help you achieve all your goals. When you master these techniques, your productivity, self-confidence, and sense of self-worth will also increase. These are the following:

  1. Know what you want.  First, you must clearly understand what you want and why you want it. Then, you can set a goal, knowing what you must do and what you must give up to achieve that objective.

  2. Don’t cut corners. To succeed, you must not only do your best but also make sure that everything is done correctly. When we cut corners, we increase the chances of failure. When we do a job correctly, we increase the chances of success, and even though we fail, we will still be satisfied because we know that we did our best.

  3. Don’t make a big leap. You’ll feel overwhelmed and exhausted or rapidly become demotivated and disappointed with yourself. It’s better to make a good plan with small steps and follow it than to make a big leap you can’t follow through.

  4. Repetition is the key to success. Repetition is not enjoyable, yet it is necessary for success. No matter what actions you do to get closer to your goal, you’ll not succeed if you’re not consistent and don't repeat them every day.

  5. Celebrate your wins. Focusing only on the result may make you feel disappointed and want to give up. Thus, it’s best to concentrate on achieving modest victories and celebrating them. For example, you may celebrate each time you complete a continuous two-mile run; the next would be five; the next, ten; and so on.

Actions to take

Negative Emotions as Advantage

“Don’t think of your negative emotions as an inconvenience that needs to be removed from your life; instead, view them as helpful signposts leading you in the direction of positive change.”

The emotions of grief, despair, rage, and frustration will eventually overtake you, regardless of how optimistic you are or how near you are to fulfilling your destiny. A broad range of emotions, including both positive and negative ones, are part of what it is to be human. When we are not feeling our best, we try to block out those negative emotions as soon as we can.

However, using our emotions for growth, motivation, and productivity instead of blocking them is a better approach. Embracing your negative emotions is not only healthy, but it also has a lot of advantages for living out your purpose and developing discipline.

Negative emotions are signposts. Despair and sadness, for example, that something isn’t quite right and should be changed. If someone mocks our weight, we will become angry, and we can use that feeling to finally go to the gym and prove that we can lose weight. 

Once we accept our emotions and use them to better ourselves, it will be easier for us to achieve our goals and change lives.

Actions to take

Principles Of Persistence

“There is a lesson to learn from every failure; therefore, use your losses as a springboard to greater things.”

Most of us have felt discouraged when we put a lot of effort into a project and it doesn't turn out as expected. It's common to invest a lot of time in your work yet still feel like nothing has been accomplished. Accepting this reality will encourage you to practice even more self-control, as explained by the Pareto Principle and Sturgeon's Law.

Sturgeon's Law was named after the science fiction author Theodore Sturgeon, who was angry with the critics who rated this genre as low quality. He claimed that the same could be said about any other genre. 

The point behind this is that whatever your work looks like, someone will appreciate it, while others will dislike it. This law is considered one of the seven fundamental tools for critical thinking.

The Pareto Principle, or 80/20 rule, is another important law we must remember. It states that 80% of the results come from 20% of work.  Both of these principles can teach us a few key lessons. 

First, they encourage us to understand that detailed work is important, regardless of outcomes. Nothing guarantees success, but we will be satisfied when we are dedicated to our work. Second, we’ll be more motivated to work harder and better once we acknowledge that even the smallest portion of our efforts can greatly impact our lives.

Actions to take

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