Considering Self-Discipline and Will Power

I've heard many different definitions for the word discipline. The one I like best is “to chose long term joy over short term gratification.” I believe that I generally want to do the best things for my family, my employer, and myself. The big problem is at the core of human nature. As humans, we are programmed to react in our own best interest. Unfortunately, the human is often unable to recognize that what may serve us best in the moment, will not be to our best interest in the long term. This is the curse of human nature.

How do we force ourselves to always see the bigger picture. What can we build into our nature and instinct that will allow us to have a greater vision in the moment? This is the question surrounding the nature of true discipline. Whats more, discipline is not just the ability to make a good decision once. Discipline is the practice of making those decisions all of the time.

I think it has a lot to do with will power. Will power is what most of us think of as the resource that we draw on to make decisions that do not come naturally. The resource we use to make decisions that we know are good, despite our instinctive desire to do what is easy. This is why today I want to share two secrets to Will Power that I think can help each of us create a much greater degree of discipline in life.

Will Power Secret Number One

The first secret involves understanding something at the very core of will power. Specifically you must understand that will power is a limited resource. Think of it like a muscle. If you engage in your normal daily activities you probably don't feel any sore muscles at the end of the day right? However, if you start working out, or increase your normal activity from your normal routine then you experience muscle fatigue. As we all know, if you maintain that level of activity your muscles will grow and eventually you will not be fatigued. In the same sense will power acts like a muscle. You have enough to accomplish your current normal level of activity. This probably means that you have enough to get up when you currently do, complete your daily work and activities like you currently do, and then go to bed. If you want to accomplish more during the day, or if you want to do more of the right things during the day, you need more will power than you currently have.

Let me illustrate this. When you have a really tough day of work how does this affect you? If work is more demanding than normal, forcing you to use more will power than normal to accomplish the tasks, then you use up your reserve of will power earlier in the day than normal. What does this do to your evening? You can't force yourself to do anything you meant to do. Paying the bills, working out, and even preparing a decent dinner are all tasks you may now find out of reach. The will power muscle is tired.

Only by using it more and forcing yourself to exercise more than you think yourself able, will you begin to strengthen the will power muscle, giving yourself a greater resource to draw upon.

Will Power Secret Number Two

Do you ever notice that the most “successful” people you know tend to find success in every aspect of their life? The second secret to will power is understanding that if you can build good habits, you don't need to exercise will power as often. Habits are things that you do instinctively without having to exercise the will power to accomplish them. You probably already have some great habits that play to your advantage. Imagine some of the things that right now require you to use will power to accomplish. Consider how you might be able to create automatic patterns around those activities that would allow you to react naturally.

If we teach ourselves simple patterns of behavior and practice the full pattern on often enough, it slowly starts to require less and less effort to achieve. That is the power of habits. Consider right now something in your life that takes effort to accomplish. Something simple. Now, consider how you can build an automatic pattern to accomplish that task. Next, put it into place and do it the same way, every time. It won't be long before the habit will be formed and your will power muscle will be free to move on to other tasks.

Self Discipline isn't too far away. We each can become better and work to utilize our own natural resources to achieve a greater level of discipline.


  1. Stacy Cochrane on April 15, 2013 at 9:47 am

    I like your take on will power, and the definition you sited about choosing long term joy over short term gratification. I’ve never thought of will power as a muscle, I don’t especially enjoy working out, but I think you’re on to something with the analogy. Thanks!

  2. Chad Daniels on September 20, 2013 at 1:36 pm

    “Don’t make a habit out of choosing what feels good over what’s actually good for you.” – Eric Thomas

    Totally agree Jacob. Last year I read “Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength” by Jay Baumeister and he says essentially the same thing about willpower being metaphorically like muscles. He has a lot of other great points about willpower that I think you’ll enjoy if you are interested in thinking more on the topic.

    For instance, one big thing i got was how heavily glucose in the brain effects willpower. Essentially, if willpower can be thought of like a muscle, than glucose can be thought of like protein helping to build the reserve.

    Now, whenever I’m feeling depleted, I’ll reach for an apple, orange, banana or pineapple to replenish my willpower reserves.

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