Self-Discipline for Exercise: 5 Mindful Tips

self discripline

Self-Discipline Tips for Fitness and Exercise

By John D. Moore, PhD

Self-Discipline is one of those words that some people have a negative reaction to hearing. That is a shame because the ability to engage in self-discipline, particularly for wellness activities like exercise, is a necessary part of part of goal attainment. We know from research that the ability to manage time effectively helps to build greater self-esteem.

When you strip it down to its core, self-discipline is really nothing more than your capacity to get yourself to do a certain action, regardless of your emotional state at the time. In relation to exercise and fitness, we are talking about things like consistently getting yourself to the gym, eating a healthier diet or engaging in cardiovascular exercise.

Self-Discipline in Life

If you were a robot, you would have perfect self-discipline because you would be programmed to attend to a given task, devoid of emotions. Your computer “chip” would be activated in a way that whenever something needed to be done, you would simply do it. What’s more – this would happen at the precisely the desired time, guaranteed, without thinking.

As it turns out, you are not a robot. While it may feel that way sometimes as you jump from task to task throughout the day, the truth is you simply weren’t built that way. As a human being, it is important to recognize that self-discipline doesn’t mean perfection and that sometimes, things just don’t turn out exactly the way we might like. That’s just a fact of life folks.

Self-Discipline Perceptions

I am not permission slipping laziness here or excusing blowing off exercise. I am suggesting that (at least for some people) your perceptions of self-discipline may be setting you up for failure. This is particularly true if you have a rigid view of attending to various tasks or if you subscribe to the cognitive distortion of all or nothing thinking.

What might be healthier is to look at self-discipline through the lens of reality, bearing in mind that our goal should be improvement and not perfection.

Any skill that we acquire takes time to grow and cultivate. Like most things, if that skill is not used, it turns atrophy. If you have taken a 10-year break from working out for example, you know exactly what I mean. Getting yourself back into a groove isn’t easy. That’s why goals and themes are always more effective than simple resolutions.

Self-Discipline: 5 Tips

Here are five basic tips for boosting your awareness around self-discipline and by extension, your self-esteem. Some of the tips suggested here may seem like common sense while others will require more thought. Meditating on all of these concepts can help to reinforce their major points and help with the process of mindfulness.

OK – let’s jump right in!

self discipline tips

1. Slip ups are part of the process

Self-discipline is a skill but also a teacher. The worst thing you can do is throw your hands up in the air and quit doing something because you slipped on timing or execution.

This actually will get you no-where fast and damage your self-esteem. Rather than beat yourself up for not perfectly executing a plan of action, why not ask yourself: What can I learn from this experience?

2. Step by step – not all at once

Don’t try to transform everything in one single day. You are just setting yourself up for potential failure. Research has shown us time and again that change is a process that is best implemented through steps. There are various stages to the change process.

Ease into whatever you are trying to change and reinforce a positive message about why you are doing what you are doing in the first place. Many people include positive self-reinforcement as part of their morning ritual for this very purpose.

3. Believe in yourself

This tip may sound a bit cliché but the truth is change will never happen unless you truly feel you are capable achieving a given goal. Part of this process means looking at your self-concept and what you believe about yourself.

Check what tape you are currently playing and think about how it is impacting your self-confidence. How can you change your thinking that reflects something more empowering?

4. Get an objective viewpoint

You might have the willpower to visit the gym more frequently or cut out foods contributing to belly-fat but that doesn’t mean execution of your plan will be flawless.

Sometimes, we need to the input from an objective person to help us make course corrections. It should be no surprise to you that we recommend counseling and coaching under this point.

By the way – getting that objective viewpoint doesn’t have to be from a clinician. Think about people in your circle of support who can give you feedback in a way that is non-critical or overly personal. Personal trainers can also be a resource to think about.

If you are in Chicago, having someone to push you and create greater accountability may be particularly helpful on those days where the winter weather is simply dreadful.

5. Reinforce desired behaviors

Did you reach a mini-goal as part of your journey on the path to greater self-discipline? If so, good on you! Have you celebrated reaching that particular milestone? If the answer is no – how come? Giving yourself a pat on the back is an important part of skill building, particularly as it relates to strengthening self-discipline.

There’s nothing narcissistic about focusing on what is going right. In fact, it is a necessary ingredient to enhancing this skill and building your self-esteem.

Final Thoughts

Creating stronger self-discipline is a process that you hopefully will think about incrementally. One resource I would like to recommend for you to think about is the book, The Practicing Mind by Thomas Sterner.


Inside, you will find page after page of mindful information on how to develop better focus in your life in a way that is doable. There’s no new age mumbo jumbo here – just time honored traditions that spotlights the stuff we know works – like focusing on the process and not the ultimate outcome.

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