The Working With... Podcast | Episode 17 | How To Build Your Self-Discipline

This week, I answer a question about self-discipline and how to build better and stronger self-discipline so you can get the important things done. 



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In this week’s episode of the Working With Podcast, I answer a question about becoming more self-disciplined.

Hello and welcome to episode 17 of my Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

This week, I am answering a question about self-discipline, or rather how to become more self-disciplined, something that is surprisingly easy to do as long as you begin with small steps. 

But before we get in to that, I just wanted to let you know that this month’s online course special offer is my Complete Guide To Creating a Successful Life. This is one of my most comprehensive courses and is designed to take you on a voyage of self-discovery and evaluation. By the end of the course you will have a complete, easy to follow plan to create a life you want that focuses on your happiness, goals and learning. Don’t miss this chance to get 50% off this fantastic course. The links are in the show notes, so go on and get yourself enrolled. 

Okay, time for this week’s question. So let me now hand you over to the mystery podcast voice for this week’s question:

This week’s question comes from Jessica in Canada. Jessica asks:

I really struggle sticking to my plan for the day. I spend time at the end of a day planning what I want to do the next day and go to bed with all the best intentions. But when I wake up, I don’t have the motivation. Is there anything I can do to improve my self-discipline? 

Okay, thank you so much for this question, Jessica. I know so many people really struggle with self-discipline and I myself also struggle with it from time to time. 

Let me begin by telling you a true story that happened to me last year. Last year I decided it was going to be the most productive year I have ever had. I wanted to get two books and six online courses published. I also wanted to put out a minimum of three YouTube videos each week. It was a big ask, but I was determined to get it done. And I did do it. 

Unfortunately, one of my core values suffered. I love keeping fit and exercising. I hate it when I gain a few kilograms. But as I was always doing something to create content, I let my exercise regime slide and I gained around 5 kilos. (that’s around 11 pounds for you non-metric people). So I ended the year having achieved one goal, but in achieving that goal, I let one of my core values slip and so the celebration of hitting a goal was diminished by the excess weight I had gained. 

When I started 2018, I made it a goal to lose those 5 kilos and get myself fit again. Well, things did not start off very well. I found myself making excuses. First there was jet-lag, so I would start exercising properly again next week. Then I caught a cold, so I delayed starting my exercise programme until the following week. Then I had a busy week and so on and so on. You get the picture. There was always an excuse. And I always told myself I would restart next week. 

Well, as I am sure many of you know, “next week” never actually happens. It wasn’t until the middle of February that I realised what I was doing— I knew what I was doing before really, but I always had an excuse—and said to myself I have got to stop making excuses and get my exercise regime started. 

So, I made a plan. Every day, I would do 4 sets of planks and press-ups—no excuses— and 5 days a week I would do a minimum of 20 minutes of exercise each day. The planks and press-ups would not take longer than 10-15 minutes and I knew I could always find that time each day. And by exercising for minimum of 20 minutes five days a week, would allow enough flexibility to have busy days. 

Well, almost three weeks in, and I have now lost 3 kilos, and have stuck to the plan. 

To make this happen has taken a lot of self-discipline. It was my lack of self-discipline at the beginning of the year that allowed me to make excuses for six weeks. It was when I saw what I was doing, and I have to admit it was my journal that was telling me, that I was making excuses, that I stopped myself. 

But the thing is I did not go crazy. Self-discipline is like a muscle. If you try and do too much too soon you will fail. You will give up and your pride and self-worth gets a battering. Instead I made sure that the programme I developed was easily achievable. All I had to do was make sure I did something for at least ten to fifteen minutes per day and that would soon create a chain reaction. And that is what has happened. Every morning now, when I wake up, I make sure that I have fitted in my exercise for the day so I know when I need to start. 

To build self-discipline, you need to start small. Let’s say you want to lose 5 kilos, as I did. Then you first need to decide how you will do that. Are you going to diet, exercise or a combination of both? Once you have decided how you are going to do it, you need to start small. For example, you could decide that you will cut the number of teaspoons of sugar you put in your tea and coffee from 2 to a ½. That could be what you do in the first week. Then for the next week, you can do twenty minutes exercise every day. Now that could be walking for twenty minutes, or doing 20 minutes of Yoga in the evening. The important thing is you do not try and do too much and overwhelm yourself. Start small and train your self-discipline muscle. 

As your self-discipline develops, you will find it harder and harder not to do what you are trying to become more disciplined at. 

Take for example Robin Sharma’s 5 AM Club. This is something that Robin Sharma, the leadership coach teaches. That is to wake up at 5 AM every morning and do the 20/20/20—that’s 20 minutes exercise, twenty minutes planning and twenty minutes studying. 

Now for most of us not accustomed to waking up at such an unearthly hour of the day, starting something like this is going to be a huge shift in our daily lives. My guess is if we tried it, most of us would fall off the wagon before we get to Wednesday. I would further guess, a lot of us probably wouldn’t be able to do it on the first day! 

However, let’s say we built up to it. Instead of waking up at 5 AM in the first week, we focused on doing the 20/20/20 rule first. So if we normally wake up at 7:30AM and need to leave the house at 8:30AM. Then why not start off by waking up at 7AM and doing the 20/20/20. We would still have time to have a shower and something to eat before 8:30AM. 

Once we have developed the habit of doing the 20/20/20 system, and we feel uncomfortable NOT doing it, then we can start getting up a little earlier each week. If you woke up 30 minutes earlier each week, you would soon find yourself waking up at 5 AM. 

During the period of transition, you would be training your self-discipline and you would be becoming stronger and stronger. 

The thing about self-discipline is it grows your confidence. When you start becoming more self-disciplined in one area of your life, you can apply it to other areas of your life. It becomes easier and easier. 

Self-discipline is really the ability to form habits. And positive habits at that. A habit is something you just do without thinking. If at the moment you are a bit of a couch potato, then the thought of getting up off the couch and going for a walk for an hour be unthinkable. But, if you were in the habit of going out for a walk every evening for a walk, the thought of spending the evening sat on the couch, would be unthinkable. The great thing about habits, is we get to chose our own and we can change old habits. 

The first step, is always to just start doing what you want to do. Take each day as it comes and make a conscious effort make it happen. Don’t try and change too much. Focus on one thing at a time. We all have far more time than we think, and if it takes three to four months to develop the habit, then focus on that one change you want to make for those three to four months. Only after you begin doing your new, more positive habit, without thinking should you move on to developing the next thing you want to develop. 

Waking up in the morning with your plan in place means waking up, focussed on the one thing you want to get done that day. Once you have done that, move on to the next thing on your list. The key is to do these in small steps, develop the habit, and then move on to the next thing. Slowly, but surely your self-discipline will develop and pretty soon you will be able to achieve things you never dreamt possible.

I will end this episode with one of my favourite Jim Rohn quotes:

“Success is a few small disciplines practiced everyday. Failure, is a few errors in judgement repeated every day.” 

The meaning, is do the things that will improve your life with discipline everyday. And don’t repeat the mistake of not doing them. 

Thank you very much for listening to this episode. If you have a question you would like answering, please get in touch either by email ( or message me via Twitter or Facebook.

It just remains for me now to wish you all a very very productive week.