Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


How to Improve Self-Discipline

Author Brian Tracy offers suggestions—plus yes-ands and yes-buts.

Key points

  • Some people do well to block out 15 minutes a day toward achieving an important goal that could otherwise be left undone.
  • A potent tool for growth: Meet regularly with a trusted person for a half-hour a week in which you discuss each other's goals.
  • Make it harder to do what you're trying to avoid.
Source: Geralt/Pixabay

Brian Tracy has written 80 self-help books with a core interest in self-discipline. He distills his advice on that in a video: 5 Hacks to Improve Self-Discipline This Year.

Here are those five tips plus my yes-ands and yes-buts.

1. Try time-blocking

"Set aside 15 minutes a day to work on your goal. Treat it as any appointment and show up on time…. After one month, you'll have spent seven hours on your goal."

The question is, how to motivate yourself to do it and stay with it? Might it help to write it in your daily calendar, say for just two days? That's not much of a commitment, yet perhaps enough time to help you decide whether it's worth calendaring it for at least one more day.

Or if your goal doesn't feel compelling enough to do even that, maybe you need a different goal. Perhaps something bigger, like a change-the-world goal. Or something smaller and more surely doable, like cleaning your home 15 minutes at a time, so you can feel better about yourself, thereby be more likely to accomplish other things, or so you feel okay about inviting someone over.

2. Get an accountability partner

"Someone who will check in with you periodically, and you can check in with them to help them with their goal. Many of us find it easier to let ourselves down than to let someone else down."

But what if you don't have a viable such partner? People often feel that way because they'd be embarrassed to ask someone. Might you not feel embarrassed if you frame it as, "We all like to grow, and I believe in co-mentoring. Because I respect you, what do you think of our trying a half-hour conversation in which we discuss an issue of yours, and then we discuss one of mine?" Here's more on co-coaching.

Still don't feel like asking someone? Then do you want to try sharing your goal with your social media followers? Just honestly report your progress or lack thereof.

3. Remove temptation

"Remove what will challenge your focus. If you're trying to lose weight, remove unhealthy foods from your home. If you're trying to cut spending, set aside a budget and put the rest in savings."

That can help, but you might more likely keep from buying that ice cream or spending beyond your budget if you create a mantra that reminds you of the key reason you want to achieve your goal. If it's weight loss, is it for your health, attractiveness, or to feel more comfortable in your clothes? If it's spending less, is it to avoid poverty, so you can live consistent with your professed environmentalist/non-materialistic values, or to stop your spouse from guilt-tripping you for overspending? If you want to stop your substance abuse, is it mainly to help your health, relationships, or work life? Try saying your mantra three times in the morning, again at lunch, and before you go to bed.

4. Have an aim, a purpose

That needn't be something earth-shaking—For you, something that big may not feel realistic. My typical client doesn't want to change the world but would be happy living in a decent home with a decent job, raising kids well, giving a little money or time to charity, and having some fun along the way.

So do you have one or more aims, large or small, that feel motivating enough for you to prioritize? If your goal is big, should you break it into baby steps? You might even draw a "thermometer" with the baby steps on the side, which you'd color it in each time you achieved one.

5. Eat that frog

"Tackle your ugliest tasks first. If your start your day with that, the rest will seem easier."

Here, I don't agree. One size doesn't fit all. Morning people who don't have more time-sensitive tasks to do might tackle a frog first. But other people might save their frogs for later in the day when it feels right.

The takeaway

Is there at least one idea here that you'd like to try?

I read this aloud on YouTube.

More from Marty Nemko Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today