Don’t celebrate self-discipline, do this instead

Discipline, don’t you also hate that word? For me it means that I have to hustle every day, doing only sensible things and work my fingers to the bone. While I write this, I notice a whiny voice somewhere in the back of my mind that tells me: “I don’t wanna be disciplined.”

Being disciplined in the way I just described is a value a lot of people strive for. For some reason, we want to be disciplined but find it really hard to be so.

But did you know that you apply discipline already?

From the moment you were born and then later when you tried to walk and talk and write and read, you’ve been very disciplined. You developed habits and beliefs and ideas along the way. Your brain helps you in a way by taking over the most repeated things and turning them into habits. That is why you now find it pretty normal to be able to read this, but once when you were about 6 years old, reading wasn’t all that easy.

But you persevered, and now you can read. You find it so normal that you can open your eyes and decipher letters that you think nothing of it anymore. Your brain just does it. It has become a subconscious process to understand that an E is an E and an A is an A.

Discipline makes life easy

Your brain is focused on conserving energy. What if it had to think hard to make that decision every time that an E is an E? So once it has found out that an E is an E it makes it a habit. So habits are there for your brain to spend less energy.

Another thing is that your brain loves it when things are predictable. That is why there isn’t a cloud in the sky when you get up right when your alarm clock goes off, and you *know* that you have enough time to get ready to go to work.

It’s not the self-discipline but the struggle to celebrate


Shower – dress – make-up – breakfast – coat – bag – keys – car – drive – work. Your brain goes all relaxed when you do it like that. But still, it takes me an hour and a half to get ready. I need to add a book to this routine.

But have you ever noticed what happens in your mind when you sleep through your alarm clock, and you only have 20 minutes to go through the whole cycle? I have! I go mad! And even though I can still do what is needed to get ready in 20 minutes my whole energy reserve can be spent in those 20 minutes leaving me drained for the rest of the day.

Negative habits

It’s the same with habits that work against you. For instance, your brain likes it when you build a habit of eating a bag of chips every evening. It will even remind you to get it. It loves it if you veg out at home watching tv every evening. It loves when you repeat things every day. It is not the eating that your brain loves. It is the habit, the repetition, and the predictability that it gives you. Your brain couldn’t care less about the shower, the book, or the chips. In short: your brain loves discipline even though it might not bring the results that you’re after.

How to be in discipline

So then comes the day that you want to improve your life. You want to get more sleep in, get up early to write or be at work earlier. For this, you have to be willing to give up the comfort of the habits you now have.

To do so, you’ll have to become conscious of your current situation. You’ve got to find out:

  • what your habits are now,
  • when you do them,
  • how you do them,
  • how they make you feel,
  • what the thoughts are that you have around them
  • and so much more

Because you are on an automatic pilot, you have to understand where you come from. Decide your starting point.

Change is unsettling

Way too many people skip this phase and do not know how big their #win is when they are going through the unsettling phase of changing their habits.

Especially when things are still a bit difficult, it can be so helpful to see that you are doing a good job even when you still struggle big time. Understanding that you’re struggling is indeed a big #win because it shows you, you’re on your way. Struggling is good! Your brain is resisting, so that’s good. It is a sign that it works!


See it like this: while going through that implementation phase, you have so many decisions to make. Every night you’re on that couch and when the clock strikes 8.30 pm your brain will ask you: don’t you want some chips? And in the beginning, you’ll answer “no thank you, I’ve decided not to eat that anymore.” And it asks you again and again.

You can handle that for a night or two. On the third night, it becomes difficult, and your brain is starting to annoy you. You struggle not to listen to it. So every time it asks you: don’t you want that bag of crisps? I know you have some back that in that cupboard…  you’ll have to decide if you are going to get it or not. Your new habit is still very very conscious. It is decision time: which discipline are you going to follow from now on?

An important aspect of this is which story you’re telling yourself right there and then? If you tell yourself the story that you can’t eat chips because you are on a diet, your chances are much slimmer than when you tell yourself that cannot eat them because it will help you to create a healthy body and wear a size 6 in the future. Which story will you choose? One that creates positive feelings or one that will make you feel limited?

Celebrate your struggle

This is what I want to advise you: Don’t try to become better at discipline, but celebrate your struggle! Your perfectionist will certainly object to this, but that is because it doesn’t want to see anything but perfection. Struggling is not disciplined. Struggling is not good enough.

Don’t think I’m good at it yet! As a recovering perfectionist, I really need to implement the habit of telling myself that struggle is good; that I’m on my way to being disciplined. I may not be yet, but I’m getting there!

Too often we think that we are only allowed to celebrate when we reach the finish line. But that’s so far from reality. I celebrate every day in which I showed some form of discipline in my gratitude journal. The small wins are also good enough to celebrate even when you’re not there yet.

The struggle is the thing to celebrate!

2 replies
  1. Cynthia
    Cynthia says:

    So true how uncomfortable it feels working on replacing an old habit with a new one! Boy that old habit whines and complains! And true that some late evenings it does still win. However, the new one needs to be patiently persistent.
    Thanks for your thoughts Jolanda!


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