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Building Self-Discipline: A Step-by-Step Guide to Reclaiming Your Routine

Imagine waking up on a Thursday morning, your to-do list stacked with important tasks and projects. As you sit at your desk, the allure of social media notifications, streaming services, and the comfort of your cozy bed beckon. The temptation to procrastinate is strong, and it's easy to get sidetracked by the path of least resistance.



In this fast-paced world we live in, maintaining self-discipline and sticking to a routine can be challenging. Whether it's the demands of work, the distractions, or the disruptions caused by unforeseen events, regaining control over your schedule requires a deliberate and consistent approach. In this blog post, we'll explore the science behind self-discipline and suggest a practical step-by-step guide to help you get back into a productive routine.


The Science of Self-Discipline:


Self-discipline is the ability to push yourself forward, maintain motivation, and take action, regardless of your physical or emotional state. It is when you consciously decide to work towards improving yourself despite other factors and obstacles. While some may possess self-discipline naturally, others may find it difficult to cultivate. However, research suggests that self-discipline is more of a skill acquired through practice, similar to a muscle. The prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain in charge of decision-making and impulse control, plays a crucial role in self-discipline.



Our Step-by-Step Guide:


1. One Thing at a Time

Start by selecting a single goal for your focus, whether it's committing to regular exercise, dedicating time to read, or even small objectives like focusing on work without interruptions. Setting Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound (SMART) goals has been shown to significantly enhance motivation and success. Individuals who set realistic, specific, and challenging goals are more likely to be disciplined. When establishing your routine, begin by defining clear objectives that are in line with your long-term vision. Divide these objectives into smaller, manageable tasks to help you stay on task and focused. As your discipline strengthens, you can expand your attention to other aspects of your life.


2. Uncover Your Why

Understanding the motivation behind your goals is crucial for discipline. When willpower starts to wane, regular reflection on your why, supported by reminders of what drives you, can help restore it. When there’s a deep connection to the purpose behind your actions, you become more disciplined.


3. Remove Temptations

O u t o f s i g h t , o u t o f m i n d.

Identify potential roadblocks that might be preventing you from achieving your goals. Develop strategies to overcome each obstacle and ensure that you're ready to face challenges as they arise. For instance, if your goal is to read once a week, consider time constraints and potential distractions, and plan accordingly—perhaps by ordering books online or scheduling alternate reading sessions. Removing temptations, such as turning the TV off or reading in a room without a TV, helps in breaking and changing habits. Creating environments free from distractions and temptations aids the development of discipline.


4. Implementation Intentions

The idea of implementation intentions was first presented by psychologist Peter Gollwitzer. It entails making a detailed plan for the time and location at which you will carry out a particular action. According to the literature, people who use implementation intentions are more likely to follow through with their intentions, demonstrating increased self-discipline.


For instance, if you want to continue exercising when travelling, searching for a hotel with a gym, or selecting an area with fitness options to stay in, helps you stick to your routine when willpower is low. Having backup plans in place minimises the need to depend on willpower alone during challenging situations.


5. Habit Stacking

Habits are strong drivers of behaviour. Habit stacking—the process of incorporating a new behaviour into an already-established routine—has been shown to increase the likelihood of making habits stick. Studies on habit formation suggest that when a behaviour is repeated in a consistent context, it reinforces the neural pathways involved, making the behaviour more automatic over time. Identify the habits that contribute to your routine and work on building or modifying them to meet your goals.


6. Monitor Your Progress

Observe your emotions and the changes that come with developing self-discipline. You can keep a tangible record of positive changes in your life by journaling your goals and monitoring your progress. As your self-discipline becomes stronger over time, you can apply it to various aspects of your life, promoting ongoing development and personal growth.


7. Social Support and Accountability

Research consistently highlighted the influence of social support on behaviour change. Having an accountability partner to share your goals significantly increases the likelihood of adhering to routines. The motivational boost derived from social connections also helps to provide sustained self-discipline.


8. Mindfulness Techniques

Mindfulness practices, such as meditation and mindful breathing, have been linked to improvements in self-discipline and focus. Research indicates that mindfulness-based interventions enhance the activation and connectivity of the brain regions associated with self-discipline. By learning how to let go of temptations when we meditate, we can consider meditation to be an effective means of cultivating the discipline required to adhere to daily routines.


9. Sleep

Getting enough sleep is essential. If we’re getting less than 6 hours a night, our brains cannot activate the impulse control systems. The prefrontal context is the part of the brain that prioritises long-term goals, such as saving money, and our core values. When our brains are sleep-deprived, literature shows that the threshold for perceiving stress lowers, which may explain why people report higher levels of stress, anger, and anxiety in low-stress situations. In simpler words, our brains need adequate sleep to support our goals.


Keep in mind that building self-discipline does take time, but developing this and reclaiming your routine is not impossible. Through the integration of these evidence-based strategies into your everyday routine, you can effectively and resiliently manage the demands of modern living. Nonetheless, when we find ourselves getting caught up in negative self-talk, skipping our routine, or simply having a bad day, it can be helpful to remind ourselves that practising self-discipline doesn’t mean being harsh on ourselves. Flexibility is just as important when life interferes with our plans. Be kind to yourself, acknowledge even the smallest victories, focus on your goals and your why, and follow through the next day. You can do this!


Xin Yi Ng (Michelle)

Research & Development Lead

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