Many people go searching for information, books, and videos on self-discipline looking for the magic bullet that will help them overcome their natural tendencies that they aren’t happy with. I’m here to tell you that there is no such magic and self-discipline takes time and is an ongoing journey.
Even after reading dozens of books related directly or indirectly and implementing methods for self-discipline I am far from perfect, but I am a better version than I was before. All we can really do is to continue to improve and be better version of ourselves tomorrow.
As the definition of self-discipline according to Merriam-Webster states, it is the “correction or regulation of oneself for the sake of improvement.” If we are always working toward that improvement, then we are the embodiment of self-discipline at work.
Self-improvement can be done in many ways but I appreciate for books and their ability to impart wisdom that we may not discover on our own. Part of that wisdom is to understand the difference between motivation and self-discipline, because they are often used interchangeably.
Motivation is your driving force and your purpose for starting down a path for self-discipline and overall betterment. Your motivation might be internal or might be an external force that is driving you or encouraging you.
Unfortunately, motivation can be a little bit of a roller coaster, and it usually starts really high and can quickly lose steam. That’s natural and it happens to all of us which is why you don’t rely on motivation alone.
This is where self-discipline come in because it provides a structure to help you continue forward even when your motivation is low or non-existent. Self-discipline is a contract with yourself and as Christiano Ronaldo says you should “…be harder on yourself,” and we naturally are.
That internal contract is what makes you put on your gym shoes when all you want to do is go back to bed, or to finish that project instead of going out tonight.
Self-disciplineis all the more important when times are tough, because that inner drive helps us push through. When laying down and giving starts to feel like a viable option your mind drives and unwilling body.
From a personal perspective I know that my own self-discipline isn’t always enough to get me through, so I rely on the discipline of others to remind me of my goals. For that reason, the books you will see on this list are not all traditional self-help or self-discipline books, some are just stories of those with the discipline that we all strive for.
You will see a story of courage in battle, or success in business in the face of adversity, while others are more traditional takes on self-discipline. What I hope you take away is that there is no perfect perspective or path to discipline there is only the perfect one for you.
It’s ok to take some from everyone to help you build up your tools to ensure that your own self-discipline is able to carry you where you need to go.
I start with this book because for so many people financial discipline is the most difficult form of self-discipline and can be the most devastating when it fails. I love this book because Tony gives you access to the brightest minds in finance that you would never be able to hear from otherwise.
He breaks down the overwhelming world of finance into easy to manage principles and facts that you can put to work and that I personally have put to work.
As with any self-help person, or accomplished author Tony does take plenty of time to pitch his other products and services which you may or may not find appealing.
While I really enjoyed this book, and most of the 6 habits outlined in the book seem very valuable to learn it is also somewhat idealistic. In the way that is unique to self help Brendon can deliver the material in frame that may not be realistic for everyone. None the less, you should look past that and take away some of the core principles he covers.
The first is that self-discipline can come from simply changing your habits. Habits are how you find yourself always pouring a cup of coffee in the morning while reading the same blog.
Your habits are how you drive home from work without even thinking about which way to turn or which freeway to get on. Two of the 6 habits I like to focus on are generating energy and increasing productivity.
When the last part of the day comes, and your lunch is being digested your body and mind might lose energy. When your energy wanes so do your motivation and self-discipline. Focus on things that can reenergize you, like taking a scheduled break or walk around the building. With that renewed energy you can focus on increasing productivity.
I consume most books via audio book and this one is no different, but it is one of few that I have felt the need to go back and listen to again. Interestingly, I am not a big fan of the voice tonality of the author even though that is what has made him successful.
However, when I focus on the actual word choice this is a must read for anyone that wants to improve their communication.
You might be wondering why I’m talking about communication on a self-discipline post, and it’s because improving your communication takes training and discipline.
4. Simon Sinek: Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t
Simon has become one of my favorite authors because he brings old concepts about in new ways.The saying “there is nothing new under the sun,” is as true as it ever has been, but what it neglects is the ability to look at existing things in new ways. Successful leadership is often a byproduct of an individual with the self-discipline to achieve a result that others can look to.
Leadership is often thought of as a prize to be fought over, but Simon looks at leadership as a cross to bear. True leaders succeed and bring others up with them via self-discipline and the need to serve.
The title of the book is referencing how, great leaders are more disciplined than those they lead and when the time comes to share in the spoils, they are the last to partake. Something seemingly as small as eating after all your subordinates shows your personal discipline and appreciation for them.
It’s not always a popular take among leaders to hear that they should be held accountable, or in the front lines but it is what the great leaders have always done. The one thing that carries them through is that self-discipline and understanding of what real leadership is.
5. Kelly McGonigal: The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why it Matters and What You Can Do to Get More of It.
While self-discipline and motivation are two different parts of the improvement plan, willpower is very closely related to self-discipline. According to Google, will power is the ability to “…restrain impulses,” meaning that willpower is focused on the avoidance of negative actions. As related cousins, willpower and self-discipline can guide an individual through nearly any trial and tribulation.
Kelly discusses 3 types of willpower that can be used in different situations. The “I Will” power is synonymous with self-discipline and it is accomplishing things that you may prefer not to. The “I Won’t” power allows us to resist things that we know are not in our best interests and is most closely thought of as willpower.
6. Marcus Lutrell: Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Accounts of Operations Redwing and the Lost Heroes of Seal Team 10
It is very likely that you have seen the move Lone Survivor even if you haven’t heard of or read the book. Marcus Lutrell the Navy seal from the story is also the author, and it is the story of his life before and during the events that were depicted on screen.
This book is on my list because the story is a real-life depiction of a different level of self-discipline that most of us could only dream of achieving.
The mental fortitude and discipline necessary to become a Navy seal were the things that kept Marcus alive on that mountain top. All the strengths of self-discipline that we discuss were exuded and pushed to their limits in the actions of Marcus and the seals.
7. Gary Vaynerchuk: Crushing It: How Great Entrepreneurs Build Their Businesses and Influence-and How You Can, Too.
Gary V as he is often referred to is a social media influencer and he is a no nonsense, don’t take any bullshit type of person. In short, he is my kind of guy. His book is geared around building your business in today’s market with the tools that are at your disposal. Although his book at heart is motivational and marketing related it is really about self-discipline.
He talks about how he buillt his family wine business and how we live in an age when anyone with good content and something to offer can reach millions. However, his focus is on doing the work and being consistent. Creating content like it’s your job if that is in fact what you want your job to be.
The Richest Man is 100% about self-discipline in your financial matters butgives the lessons in a story form that makes sense to most. For those that don’t want preachy financial instruction this may be a bit of a turn off, but there is a reason that these stories have lasted so long. The financial principles are sound in any era and any country.
Similar to the Tony Robbins book, it is important to remember that many vital aspects of self-discipline begin and end with personal finances.
9. Timothy Ferriss: The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich
This is a life-changing book for some people who needed to hear the principles that Tim Ferris champions. For myself, the title was always a turn off because I never wanted to work only 4 hours a week.
This reason alone caused me to read this book years later than I otherwise would have, so don’t make the same mistake. The book is a guide for remaking your life in the ways that will make you the happiest.
However my biggest take away is the importance of process and automation. The idea of producing a consistent result is the byproduct of creating a process. A process can be very simple, or it can be very complex, but it is a form of discipline. What is more disciplined than producing a known outcome over and over.
10. Ben Horowitz: The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There are No Easy Answers
You may not know Ben Horowitz, but chances are that you know at least one of the businesses his venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz has invested in.
The Hard Thing is the story of the career before he became one of the best know and most successful venture capitalists in silicon valley according to Forbes. I came across this book without knowing who this person was or who he had become in the financial and tech world.
Should you ever find yourself needing a kick in the butt when you think things cannot turn around this is the book for you? Ben Horowitz built a company, then rebuilt it on the fly to then sell it for an obscene amount of money.
11. Travis Bradberry& Jean Greaves: Emotional Intelligence 2.0
This is a book that you will find referenced in many other books by renowned authors, because it is packed with some amazing information.
However, because it is packed you may want to take notes or reread some sections to get the most value out of the book. Keep in mind that this book is not only about self-discipline, but understanding yourself and how your mind works.
Self-awareness according to an interview with the co-author is possibly the most important skill discussed. As the Greek aphorism says, “know thyself,” but in reality very few people really know themselves.
In my experience everyone thinks they can go cold turkey or commit 100% to the gym or change their diet overnight and maintain it. Now ask yourself how many people actually do those things with sustained results?
12. Charles Duhigg: The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business
If you want to worry less about your motivation, or willpower or even your long-term self-discipline why not focus on changing your habits. This book focuses on the science of how a habit is formed and thus how a negative habit can reprogrammed to have a positive outcome for us.
The idea of reprogramming your brain in some ways removes the element of self-discipline because you have created a habit loop that you can operate almost independently.
The habit loop is broken down into 3 parts, including the cue, routine and reward. The “routine is the behavior you want to change…” such as eating late at night. The cue is what triggers the action and it may not always be what you first think. Just because you’re eating doesn’t mean that you’re hungry you might just be bored.
The author advises that if you aren’t positive of your cue to experiment with rewards. For example, if you are bored, getting up to go to the kitchen and have a glass of water may provide the same reward as having a snack.
13. Michael Bungay Stanier: The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever
A book about coaching might seem unusual to be on the list about self-discipline, but it’s not if you consider that many people including myself have goals of improving our communication.
For myself as business owner that communication often comes in the form of coaching, and what I have learned from the Coaching Habit is that we want to hear ourselves talk. Most people, myself included don’t listen to gain information, we listen to respond.
While we are doing that, we aren’t understanding what the other person is saying. The Coaching Habit provides tools to allow us to retrain ourselves and to restrain ourselves when we so badly want to speak.
This book teaches you to be more curious and ask more questions while giving less advice. The author calls it the lazy question, “and what else,” to draw more information out of the other person.
14. Phil Knight: Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike
There is nothing groundbreaking about Shoe Dog that will change the way you see the world or open your eyes, nor will it give you amazing new discipline.
What this book did for me was remind me that we all must grind, and we all have to wake up on days when the world seems against us. What we don’t all have is the discipline to do this day after day and year after year.
This book is an autobiography so like Lone Survivor it is one man’s version, but it kicks you in the butt when you need it. To see how many times the greatest shoe company on the planet was on the verge of collapse reminds us there is hope.
15. Dale Carnegie: How to Win Friends & Influence People
This is an oldie but a goodie, and it has maintained over time in a way that few books have. Self-discipline can be difficult, and it can be painful, but Dale Carnegie reminds us that to get the things you want you can be kind. You can smile and be amazed at the things you find open to you. A simple smile gets lost in the mixt of all the things you need to do.
Show interest in others, real interest in what they have to say. People will often tell you exactly what you need to know to accomplish your goal through a simple conversation.
Most importantly what I think this teaches us is to stop criticizing, condemning and complaining. It is so easy to do these things, but these put us and others in a negative mindset and derails our plans. Focus on being positive, because that takes self-discipline too.
Can I be honest? The irony of this post is that it took much longer to write because my self-discipline is still a work in progress and holding myself accountable was more difficult than it should have been. I feel like its an important take away to understand that self-discipline isn’t a one-time event and doesn’t stop today.
1.) The Power of Habit because changing your habits is the closest thing to a life hack there is and we all need one!!
2.) The 4 Hour Workweek because it pushes process and automation which I firmly believe it helps to artificially inflate our self-discipline. High achievers need more ways to get more done.
3.) 7 Steps to Financial Freedom because when your finances are not in order it is difficult to be focused on bettering the other parts of your life. No matter where you are right now this is a plan you can follow.