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What makes some people more successful than others?
Or rather, what is the driving force behind their success that other people don’t seem to embody?
That success isn’t limited to financial gain or career advancement, but can also encompass keeping their house clean, or staying in good physical shape.
Generally, people who are successful at the things they do in life share one thing in common: discipline.
But what does discipline mean?
Most people associate that word with other people’s rules, and the punishments that follow if those rules are broken. In this instance, however, discipline is defined by self-control, structure, and order.
Below are some of the main things that disciplined people do that bring them success.
1. They don’t make excuses.
Most people have a litany of excuses as to why they don’t do one thing or another. Either it’s not the right time, or they don’t have the right equipment, or they have to take care of X things first.
Disciplined people know what their priorities are, and they set everything else aside until they’ve taken care of what needs to be done.
If they’ve decided to wash the dishes every evening but one night they want to chill and watch a movie instead, they know the movie can wait. They made a commitment to do this, and that commitment takes precedence over anything else.
If they black out from exhaustion or pain, that’s a different story, but choosing to set aside a priority for the sake of wanting something else more isn’t an option for them.
Similarly, if an obstacle comes up that they didn’t anticipate, they’ll find a way around it and won’t use that obstacle as an excuse not to do something.
2. They have established goals.
A disciplined person who wants to attain a goal will make sure to go about it the right way. They’ll usually use the SMART method: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.
For instance, instead of saying “I’d really like to learn Spanish sometime,” they’ll say “I will reach B2 Spanish proficiency within two years of study.” That covers the specific and time-bound portion of the program. Then they’ll choose how much time they spend studying and practicing said language weekly and keep track of their progress. Additionally, they might reward themselves as they reach different milestones.
This is an effective approach because it’s neatly laid out and follows a very specific path. They don’t have to wonder which steps they’ll need to take next: there are stepping stones and guidelines to follow.
3. They have a regular routine.
Having a regular routine takes the guesswork out of what to do on any given day. Instead of waking up and wondering how to allocate that day’s time, they know exactly what their plans are and what’s needed to get them done.
They might start every day with a shower and a smoothie, or end every evening with yoga and journaling. Maybe they go to a class every Tuesday and Thursday so they know they have those days to either burn off energy or to look forward to in terms of creativity and socializing.
People thrive on routine from infancy onwards, although many get rebellious and try to live as spontaneously and chaotically as possible. Here’s a fun tip, however: if you pay attention, you’ll find that even the wildest party people also have a routine, even if they refuse to admit it. This may be as simple as ordering the same thing every time they go to their favorite café. It’s a touchstone they hold subconsciously to maintain some degree of order and security in their life.
4. They aim for consistency.
This is a bit different from a routine, as not everything has to happen daily (or weekly) for it to remain consistent. Rather, it’s holding fast to a commitment, whether it’s at home or abroad. It might relate to a decision they’ve made about their food choices, dedication to learning a new language or skill, and so on.
For example, they might decide that they aren’t going to eat sugar anymore. As such, they won’t keep any sugar in the house, nor will they buy any pre-made products that have added sugar. In order to maintain consistency, however, they’ll also avoid consuming it when they aren’t at home.
The same goes for learning something new or meditating. If they’re travelling, they might install a language app on their phone so they can keep practicing on flights or train rides. Or they’ll take a few minutes to meditate first thing in the morning, and do a bit of yoga before bed. This way they maintain a consistent practice regardless of extenuating circumstances. (Remember the “no excuses” bit mentioned first? That.)
5. They eliminate distractions and don’t waste time.
These two go hand in hand, as many people waste countless minutes (or hours) of their life on empty amusements.
Pay attention to what you make time for, and what you don’t. If you say that you have “no time” to exercise or study, but you can play games on your phone for hours, then you have plenty of time: you’re just choosing to spend it poorly.
Successful people will not waste their time on things that don’t move them toward a desired outcome, outside of allotted leisure or social time that is. They will set aside all possible distractions so they can focus on the task or pursuit at hand.
If they’re going to exercise or study, they’ll leave things such as phones or books in another room so there’s nothing within reach to tempt them. Think about a dojo or ashram: these are large, clean spaces that are empty of everything except vital equipment and water bottles.
6. They make lists (and stick to them).
I’m an enthusiastic list-maker now, but I wasn’t always this way. About 20 years ago, I had an amazing, inspiring boss who shared his method for staying on course. Every morning, before diving into the day’s work, he made a list of everything he needed and wanted to accomplish that day.
He estimated how much time each task would take to accomplish and wrote down that number beside every item on the list. Then he determined which were the most important, and which could be done later. As such, he could approach the day’s tasks like triage, knowing which were priorities and allotting himself X amount of time to do each of them.
Only rarely was he unable to accomplish everything on his daily list, and those occasions were always due to extenuating circumstances such as a power outage or fire drill.
7. They’re organized.
People organize their time and schedules in ways that work best for them. For example, one might have a digital planner in which they keep track of things like work deadlines, appointments, and so on, while another keeps a notepad in their pocket so they can check things off as they complete them.
I have two massive dry-erase calendars on the kitchen wall: one is a weekly planner, and one covers three months at a glance.
This type of organization also extends to physical items. Everything has a rightful place to be stored, so shoes and clothes are tucked away neatly instead of thrown on the floor, different culinary ingredients are stored in a manner that makes sense to the cook, and so on.
In my case, ingredients for different cultural dishes are kept together. I know that I’ll always find the ghee and kaala chana flour in the same pantry container, and another box contains tahini, sumac, and za’atar. This is logical organization, with items that go together being stored together.
8. They keep company with people who have similar goals or dedication.
Few things are as detrimental to self-discipline as being surrounded by naysayers and saboteurs. You might think that most people wouldn’t try to dissuade or sabotage those around them—especially those they claim to care about—but a quick scan through the AITA subreddit will change your mind.
Friends and family members might mock you for your lifestyle choices. If you’ve gone vegan, they might sneak meat juice into your food. Or they might break your exercise equipment to prevent you from getting into shape. This often happens when people feel insecure about their own lifestyle and try to force others to their level.
Disciplined people surround themselves with those who either share their type of discipline, or encourage it. They keep each other on track, and they won’t bring temptations or negativity into the group.
9. They hold themselves accountable.
We talked about excuses earlier, but this is different. Many people blame others for their misfortunes rather than taking accountability for how things panned out.
Some take the victimhood approach, talking about how a trauma in their past means that now they get triggered if they don’t finish a project on time, thus making their shortcomings someone else’s fault.
Disciplined people know that they are the authors of their own stories, and thus are the ones ultimately responsible if endeavors are successful. Or not.
If they screw up because they procrastinated or forgot to get something done on time, they own it. Furthermore, not only do they hold themselves accountable, they also take steps to remedy the situation.
This doesn’t just apply to their personal pursuits, either. Disciplined people make great employers because they own up to missteps and make amends for them quickly, rather than trying to pass the buck or explain away their errors. This shows immense integrity and earns them a great deal of respect.
10. They stay in their lane.
Or, in simpler terms, they make their own lives a priority instead of pouring time and energy into others’ emotional black holes. They rarely get involved in other people’s drama because they know that isn’t their burden to take on.
Sure, they’ll still be a listening ear for those close to them, and they’d help out in an emergency, but they have neither the time nor the patience to carry others who refuse to walk on their own.
Furthermore, they encourage others close to them to sort themselves out, and might even offer to help them if and when they get to that point.
11. They don’t bite off more than they can chew.
This means that they don’t try to do too many things simultaneously, as they know that will spread their energy around too thinly. Instead, they’ll choose one or two things that they know they can do thoroughly (and well) rather than a dozen things they won’t be able to focus on properly.
These pursuits will often be different, but complementary. For instance, they might choose both a physical and an intellectual challenge that they can divide their time between. They might do an hour of exercise in the morning or afternoon, and then spend an hour in the evening with the aforementioned language learning, or studying a topic that fascinates them. If they did two or three physical things a day, they’d be physically drained. The same goes for too much mental stimulation: they’d get burned out and wouldn’t be able to concentrate on anything.
12. They don’t quit.
Disciplined people know that everyone can suffer setbacks, but those setbacks aren’t an excuse to give up. Much like finding a way around unexpected obstacles, they’ll regroup and either try again or find another way to stick to their routine or meet their goal.
Depending on the setback or obstacle they come across, this might require shifting the goalpost or even changing direction entirely. The key here is that they don’t give up and simply lie on the floor in a puddle of despondency. They work with what they have available to them that day—be it energy, resources, able-bodiedness, or equipment—and carry on.
If you’re aiming for more self-discipline in your life, you may benefit from incorporating some of these habits and approaches. They won’t all work for everyone, and as mentioned, different people will approach time management in different ways.
The key is to find the combination of methods that works best for you, and then to be consistent with them.
Want to be more disciplined but are struggling to do it by yourself?
We really recommend you speak to a therapist to get where you want to be. Why? Because they are trained to help people in situations like yours. They can help you to identify the reasons for your lack of discipline and provide tailored advice to get you through those mental blocks.
A good place to get professional help is the website BetterHelp.com – here, you’ll be able to connect with a therapist via phone, video, or instant message.
Many people lack discipline and most try to muddle through and force themselves to do things – unsuccessfully. If it’s at all possible in your circumstances, therapy is 100% the best way forward.
Here’s that link again if you’d like to learn more about the service BetterHelp.com provide and the process of getting started.