5 Habits of Highly Self-Disciplined People

Willpower versus Self-Discipline

We often talk about having the ‘willpower’ (or not!) to keep us focused on a weight-loss goal, but when it comes to achieving other goals, such as fitness or business-related goals, we tend to use the word ‘self-discipline’, rather than ‘willpower’. Why is that?

If we look at the dictionary.com definition of these words, they’re very similar:

  • Willpower is the “control exerted to do something or restrain impulses”
  • Self-discipline is the “ability to control one’s feelings and overcome one’s weaknesses”

So, I recently asked the question on my Facebook page – define willpower versus self-discipline – to see what the ‘view on the street’ is. And the answers were an interesting read.

Most people agreed that, whilst willpower might initially get you motivated towards achieving a goal that you’ve set for yourself, self-discipline was much more about consistency, application and getting things done. As one person put it, “Willpower gets you up and going and makes you want to achieve your goals. Discipline gets you there.” And, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson is often quoted as saying: “All successes begin with self-discipline. It starts with you.”


A special breed

That got me thinking. If ultimate success requires self-discipline, how do we get this ‘ability to control our feelings and overcome our weaknesses’? What is it that separates self-disciplined people from the rest of us?

And I do put self-disciplined people into a special category. They seem to have it all. You’ll know 1 or 2 in this group yourself I’m sure … they’re the ones we’re not sure if we admire or secretly hate. The ones who seem to get up each day (at 5am when they feel ‘full of energy’! Who ARE these people?!) and hit the ground running. And they’ve usually accomplished more by midday than you have in a week (on a good week!). You look at all they manage to achieve, while you’re bumbling along in the dark behind them. And you can’t help but think … where am I going wrong? Where do they get so much time from? What do they have that I don’t?

The answer is way more straightforward than you might think. Successful people have simply cultivated the habits of self-discipline.

The good news is these habits can (easily) be yours. It’s all a matter of being willing to put the effort in, and then making sure that you repeat these actions day after day until they become habits.


#1: They Don’t Let Themselves Be Tempted in the First Place

Rather than worry about temptation, highly self-disciplined people generally cut it out of their lives entirely. Trying to lose weight and eat right? Then don’t buy food that’s unhealthy. Trying to get work done but social media is constantly distracting you? Then switch off notifications and turn off your phone.

If you want to succeed, sometimes you have to get strict with yourself. By cutting out temptation, you avoid the problem entirely.


#2: They See the Possibilities

The moment you start limiting yourself, you have already failed. If you start thinking that you have no self-discipline, then it becomes impossible to succeed. Our brains pretty much believe what we tell it. So, you have to change the narrative.

“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.” Henry Ford

Instead of telling yourself that you ‘can’t’, or ‘it’s impossible’, you need to start telling yourself it is possible to change. You do have self-discipline.

Once you’ve learned to switch the polarity in this way, you’ll find yourself capable of more than you ever dreamed of.


#3: They Take Care of Themselves

You can’t possibly practice good self-discipline techniques if you’re sabotaging yourself through tiredness, hunger, thirst, or pain. You simply have to take care of yourself. Eat right. Get quality sleep. Drink water. Move your body. It seems so basic, but that’s because it works. Keeping yourself in top condition means you’re ready to take on the next task.

And don’t neglect your mental health either. Health is health whether it’s in the body or the mind. As I often tell my clients, the body doesn’t label ‘health’ differently just because it starts at the neck. Make sure to see friends, spend time with family and do things you enjoy on a regular basis to ensure you have a healthy balance between work and actually living your life!


#4: They Break It Down

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. When faced with a large goal it can look daunting and feel overwhelming. And it’s much harder to stay disciplined if you’re already defeated by the size of the task. It’s really important to break your goal down into smaller, more manageable ‘baby steps’ and watch the magic happen. Need to write a presentation for next week? Focus on getting just the first slide done. Want to run a 5k next month? Start by running for 1 minute today.

When you start with baby steps, it’s a sure way to succeed.


#5: They Do What It Takes

Success only comes with the follow-through. Self-discipline happens when you know you will do whatever it takes to fight to the finish. And when you’re certain nothing will throw you off course, and you’re in this until the end come what may, you’ll find yourself much better prepared to do just that.

This complete and utter conviction that you will succeed is more about your ‘wantpower’ than your willpower. Wantpower naturally pulls you towards taking action, and is the key to consistency and success.


By following these 5 habits of highly self-disciplined people, you can become one of those highly self-disciplined people you used to admire. Just don’t wake me up at 5am as you head out for your morning run.



Dr Marcelle Crinean, PhD, owner and director of Brain Reframe, is a highly qualified therapist, coach and lecturer.

In her busy practice, Marcelle successfully treats sleep and stress-related issues (including insomnia, anxiety and depression) as well as disordered eating, binge-eating and undereating. She regularly holds workshops and webinars, and trains business executives across the UK and Europe in the art of sleep and stress management.