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Leo at Zenhabits has a great article today called 6 Small Things You Can Do When You Lack Discipline. I like this article a lot because Leo articulates something I’ve been thinking for a while–that discipline is all about motivation.

I experienced this problem recently when I was trying to exercise. I got up early and did an exercise video 5-6 times per week. The video wasn’t my favorite, but I liked how I felt after I finished it–energized and ready for my day.

The problem was that I had to get up early to exercise, and it was dark outside when I got up. For 6 weeks I kept it up, but every morning was a battle. I hated getting out of bed in the dark, but it just wasn’t practical for me to exercise later in the day.

Eventually, I stopped. I was more motivated to sleep (while it was dark) than I was to exercise. When I get back from traveling this summer, I will have a different schedule. I should be able to get up a little bit later and exercise in the morning light. I’m hoping that this change will make it easier for me to stay motivated about exercising. We’ll see!

Right now, I’m looking for little ways to incorporate movement and exercise into my travel schedule this summer. There’s definitely motivation–our hosts feed us like every meal is our last one! My friend Amy is also interested in exercising, so I am hoping that we can encourage each other to move around and keep our metabolisms working.


I used to think that I was a self-disciplined person. Not anymore. Sure, I did manage to practice piano 1-2 hours/day in high school. I got mostly A’s in college. I used to think that all of my piano practice and good grades practically qualified me for a self-disciplined merit award. Hah!

Now I’m done with college, and I have more free time than I have enjoyed since approximately 5th grade. Since I love learning, this should be the most productive period of my life. I have the internet, which is bursting with free learning materials, and a good public library, and a house full of books. I like to learn, and I’m interested in lots of things.

So, let the learning begin!

Well, not quite so fast. First, I have to decide what to learn. I’m interested in so many things, but the time (alas!) is limited. So I’ll settle on something practical. Something useful. Something that I can focus on.

This is where I realize that I am not disciplined.

(I chose German as my learning-subject of choice. It made sense because we’ll be traveling to Europe this summer on a mission trip, and spending about a month in Germany. We’ll be staying with German-speaking hosts. Knowing German would be incredibly useful. So we bought Rosetta Stone.)

I’m supposed to be excited about my freedom to learn an incredibly useful skill. And some days, I am. I do Rosetta Stone. I actually work at learning German.

Other days, I think about how nice it would be to know German. I search the web for German learning tools. Or I search the web for bagel recipes. Or I just look at my Google reader. Germany is a month away, not imminent enough to make me panic. And I don’t have a test tomorrow, so there’s little to make me study today. Instead, I might explore the Foreign Service Institute Basic German course. Or I might do absolutely nothing German-related.

Learning German is such a great idea. It’s much more practical than reading random articles on whatever strikes my fancy. But somehow, I would rather read about anything (like the Montessori method, DIY Altoids tin projects, swine flu, or the NYC Air Force 1 flyover) than work on German. So much for self discipline.

Self education is a great idea, if you can do it.


I have always been fascinated with people who are experts in their fields. What makes them so successful?

One thing that seems clear (to me, at least), is that people who succeed are disciplined. They may not be disciplined in every area of their lives, but they at least apply discipline to their field.

Ron at the Wisdom Journal wrote recently in The Myth of Self Discipline about discipline. He asserts that discipline is a tool rather than a character trait. I’m still thinking about the implications of thinking this way, but the idea appeals to me. Thinking about discipline this way makes it more achievable. Of course, it puts the burden back on me, but that’s ok. I would rather be responsible for something, because at least then I can control it.

Since I am working from home, self discipline is becoming increasingly important to me. I have trained myself to perform to deadlines. When an obligation looms, I can get things accomplished. But when faced with a vague “ought-to” and no time schedule, I procrastinate. After reading Ron’s article, I decided that some research on the benefits of self-discipline might be good for me.

Here’s what I found:

Washington Post Article: Self-Discipline may Beat Smarts as Key to Success

This article references a University of Pennsylvania study which suggests that self-discipline is a very important factor in students’ academic success. I have long thought this; the problem is figuring out how to motivate students and help them practice self-discipline. Self-discipline may be a skill, but it’s a difficult skill to teach.

Steve Pavlina’s Series on Self-Discipline

Steve shares what he believes to be the five pillars of discipline: Acceptance, Willpower, Hard Work, Industry, and Persistence. After an introductory post, he has a post for each of the five pillars. The posts are inspiring, but after reading the series, I felt like I had read about 6 different topics (self-discipline and the five pillars). He also argues that self-discipline can be developed through hard work.

Study Hacks post on research re: self discipline

I like this post because it links to research about self discipline (I love research!). Much of the post is devoted to exploring the idea that motivation has a lot to do with willpower and self discipline.


Self-discipline is definitely helpful for getting things done. And getting things done is usually necessary for success.

However, self-discipline is no fun without motivation behind it. I’m working on being more self disciplined, but I don’t want to become a productivity robot. So now I’m interested in studying motivation, particularly as it interacts with discipline.