To be a successful entrepreneur, you have to be highly motivated and acutely focused on specific goals that you set forth for yourself and your company. In short, you have to be self-disciplined. Despite what you might think, self-discipline is a learned skill, not something you’re born with or without. It may seem like your friend who always passes up that afternoon chocolate bar has an iron will, but in fact, she has taught herself to resist temptation.
That’s a simple example, but one that gets the point across. Consider the process of learning self-discipline as part of an overall self-improvement process. In a Stress in America survey by the American Psychological Association, 27 percent of respondents said it was a lack of willpower that prevented them from achieving goals. The good news is that anyone can learn self-discipline. It’s going to take time and effort on your part, but the results are well worth it. Here are nine ways to get started.
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1. Pinpoint weaknesses.
If checking your social media account every few minutes is your Achilles’ heel, boldly identify it as such. Once you’ve addressed the things that distract you and interrupt your focus, you can take steps to prevent them from getting in the way. Learning what gets in the way is the first step toward better self-discipline.
2. Write down a plan of attack and hold yourself accountable.
Just like you needed a business plan when you started your company, you need to outline a self-discipline strategy with clear steps to achieve your goals. “You’ll have new awareness of how your time is used or abused, invested or squandered, organized and controlled, or let flow about at random,” says Dan Kennedy, author of No B.S.: Time Management for Entrepreneurs.
The next step is holding yourself accountable. “It doesn’t make you weak to reach out and get help,” says marketing strategist and business coach Marlee Ward. “Having someone to remind you of a deadline on the horizon is only going to ensure you do what you want to do in the first place.” Build your own personal support team and assign someone to be your personal accountability partner who checks in with you on a regular basis. A long-term commitment to self-discipline requires accountability efforts and correcting behaviors when you get off track.
3. Find role models.
IQ Matrix suggests finding role models (friends, family, or colleagues) whom you admire for their self-discipline. Ask them how they stay focused and set out to achieve that same level of commitment. Having someone to look up to helps keep you motivated.
4. Adopt a do-it-now mentality.
Ward says the “I’ll do it later” mentality is the fastest way to get overwhelmed and let self-discipline fall to the wayside. The things you constantly put off start to pile up, and then you have a huge mound of tasks to do, leaving you stressed and your workflow disrupted. “If something lands on your plate that you can execute in less than 10 minutes, touch it once and do it now. You’ll be much better off for it,” she says.
5. Eliminate temptations and set yourself up for success.
Let’s use a simple example again. Say you’re on a new no-sugar diet. Well, that pantry full of cereal and cookies sure isn’t going to help you avoid sweets. Donate them to the local food bank instead. Out of sight, out of mind is a highly effective principle. “Starting is relatively easy. It’s follow-through that is usually the hard part,” says Kennedy. “That’s where the tough-minded boss-of-self comes to bear. Relying on sheer willpower is rarely successful. You have to create an environment in which high self-discipline is supported.”
6. Create a system of rewards.
Remember that making a plan with zero wiggle room often results in failures and disappointments. We are human, after all. Instead of creating a drill-sergeant-like regimen, work a reward system into your success plan. For each report you finish, head outside for a breath of fresh air. After you complete payroll, treat yourself to another coffee. Working toward these types of fun goals helps make you more productive and positively motivated.
7. Learn to handle discomfort.
No one said self-discipline was easy. Chances are you’ll experience a lot of uncomfortable feelings throughout the process. “Practice allowing yourself to experience uncomfortable emotions like boredom, frustration, sadness, or loneliness and increase your tolerance to the negative emotions that you may experience as you increase your self-discipline,” says Amy Morin, psychotherapist and author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do.
8. Set your sights on the long game.
While you’re muscling through all the tough stuff, always keep the long-term benefits in mind. “People invariably seek the fastest and easiest way to get the things they want, right now, with little concern for the long-term effects of their behaviors,” says Brian Tracy, author of No Excuses!: The Power of Self-Discipline. When you visualize the time you might free up or the clients you’ll win for being more disciplined, you see how wonderful it will eventually feel to reap the rewards of your labor.
9. Bounce back from slip-ups and use them as lessons.
We wouldn’t be human if we didn’t make mistakes, and we know from experience that life doesn’t always play out according to plan. The important thing is not to be too hard on yourself for slipping up. Instead, use these hiccups as learning tools. Forgive, but don’t forget, and then move on.