3 Essential Characteristics of Self-Discipline

I didn’t plan on changing careers.

I mean granted, I disliked my job, inciting sinking evening anxiety, but it wasn’t a mastermind transition.

I simply started tinkering with websites after work, learning how to create a blog for an impending European motorcycle tour (another story).

Soon though, I fell in love with my online experiments.

I couldn’t wait to get home from work to continue learning.

It felt like play, the hours flowing by, initiating a journey I’m still traversing today.

I often think back to this time, especially starting other pursuits, when it frequently feels like I’m pushing a heavy rock up a steep hill.

Ideally, we want our activities to be effortless, like the example above, but all too often they require huge reserves of willpower.

So when new pursuits don’t seem easy, how can we act anyway and what are the characteristics of self-discipline we can leverage for success?

A common example

To be fair, effortless habit adoption doesn’t often happen, at least not to me.

Frequently, it’s a case of grit your teeth determination, and even then we can often only sustain our effort for minimal periods, positive routines stuttering and eventually faltering.

Take exercise, for example.

You know you need to shift that excess timber and start eating healthily.

So you set yourself non-negotiables, buying running gear and replacing your delicious treats with nutritious snacks.

The new routine starts well, with regular exercise and good food, but gradually becomes exponentially harder.

Getting up early doors to lace your trainers is hellish and you can’t even look at another cucumber.

Soon you simply can’t stop thinking and take action, the excuses for returning to your previous lifestyle piling up like snowdrifts.

Eventually, you abandon that dream of a sexy beach bod and return to baseline, hating yourself all the while.

If that sounds familiar, here are three characteristics of self-discipline you absolutely must muster to prevent the rot; at least this is what it means to me.

3 essential characteristics of self-discipline


Self-discipline is usually contingent on a tipping point, a time of utter desperation when we get so sick of our current behaviour and trajectory that we resolve to change.

This initial self-loathing and anger can easily be transformed into constructive action…

A seed of positive growth to be nurtured.

If often develops after numerous previous false starts and failures, when continuing with your current lifestyle seems even worse than the pain of change.

Use this fire to forge an unbreakable internal commitment; one that says, this time, things will be different.

By going all in, both psychologically and emotionally, unshakable self-discipline awaits.


Most self-discipline falls by the wayside because we don’t honour our commitment.

This is especially true when trying to instigate behaviour change before reaching a tipping point.

If we’re only partially pledged to our vision, it’s too easy to fall prey to overthinking and indecision, pulling back when we should be pushing forward.

In contrast, when we’ve gone all in, staying true to our word becomes a matter of personal honour, in which taking the easy option is unthinkable.

Building positive new habits and inviting change isn’t easy.

But each and every time we face down discomfort; run, write, meditate, create – we know we’re delivering on an earlier promise.

Each time you turn away from the comfortable old life courageously create a new one, you build internal credibility and bolster that foundational resolve.


Creating a commitment to change and honouring that commitment through repeated constructive action slowly starts to inform your new identity.

Every time you commit and follow through, you cast a vote for the type of person you want to become.

Borrowing from James Clear’s excellent book on habit formation; you start to see yourself not as someone who runs occasionally, but as a runner.

You transform from someone who writes irregularly into a writer.

You transition from part-time parent, to father.

As soon as you start taking your vision and life purpose seriously, you shift from an amateur to a professional mindset.

When we put in enough self-discipline repetitions to reach this point, the flywheel of habit formation puts our productive habits on autopilot, paradoxically requiring diminishing self-discipline to maintain.

Highly disciplined habits

‘He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how’ – Friedrich Nietzsche

In an ideal world, all beneficial behaviours would be easy to implement.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case and we’re often our own worst enemies.

By adopting these three integral characteristics of self-discipline, we develop the mental tools to thrive under any circumstance.

Persist for long enough and our progress not only becomes automatic, but the results will speak for themselves.