Three Reasons Why Self Discipline Is Hard

Why Self Discipline is Hard

Just Show Up

What does it mean to be self disciplined? To paraphrase Stephen Covey, it means the ability to subordinate an impulse to a value. In other words, it means:

  • You get up early to exercise even when you don’t feel like it
  • You sit with your computer and write at least 500 words daily regardless of how you feel
  • You invest at least 20 minutes daily to build up the emotional account with your loved ones even when you are struggling with depression

These, in the words of Woody Allen is about showing up.

However, as simple as it sounds, showing up or being self disciplined is really hard. Here’s three reasons.

Why Self Discipline Is Hard

The Environment

The first reason why self discipline is hard is the environment.

We as a family, have been making a conscious effort to being present. By being present doesn’t mean to be with the person physically. By being present is to clear our minds of all other matters and just focus on the person that we are with.

It is difficult, I know.

And so we started small by introducing “no devices during dinner time” policy at home. Inspired by President Obama, we reckoned that if the most powerful man on earth can live by that rule, mere mortals like us can do too.

At first, it was hard. The temptation to pick up my device when the notification light went off was too strong. And so, I deliberately left my phone in the room so I can see or be distracted by that blinking light.

In this instance, for us to be disciplined to not use any devices during dinner time, we were up against the environment that we are in: the “always on” and instant messaging world of the Internet.

Other People

The second reason why self discipline is hard is because of other people. While we may want to be disciplined about something, not every one around us share the same enthusiasm.

After I completed my two and one-half years serving as a conscript, I went from being struggling to complete the 2.4 km run to being able to finish it under 9 minutes. To sustain my fitness level, I wanted to not only continue exercising, but also to eat healthier food.

What I didn’t realize was I was up against my family’s eating habit. My mother, being the doting mum she is, will always be asking if I was hungry. Not only was I eating a whole lot more, I was also not eating healthily.

It didn’t take long for me to put on more weight and to lose my ability to run like the wind.


The last reason why self discipline is hard is, wait for this, ourselves. Yes. We, often times, are the main reason why we cannot be self disciplined.

Here are three factors:

  • Unaware: After we were married for five years, I had debts up to my eyeballs. I was running a profitable practice offering consulting services to schools and yet, I was having trouble paying my bills. Up until then I didn’t realize I had a spending problem. I was unaware that I lack self discipline in spending.
  • Negative Image: I would get so excited about an idea that I would devote a large amount of time in it. And then I would hop on to another idea, and another, and another. When I look back at all the time spent working on ideas (but never to its completion), I would remind myself of this characteristic: I never had the focus nor the determination to see any ideas to its completion. And where did I get that negative image of myself from? It was because when I was young, I would do the same. And some well meaning adult once said to me: you never see anything to its completion. Well, that figures.
  • Self-defeating Thoughts: Over the last decade, I have spent an enormous amount of time working with schools helping them solve problems. The solution? Establish a set of systems and processes to facilitate the disciplined people in the organization to get things done. But more importantly, to ensure that undisciplined people in the organization comply and get stuffs done too. Despite having all the knowledge and experience, I still find myself having self-defeating thoughts like, who am I and why would anyone listen to me?

One Of These Is Not The Same

Of the three reasons I’ve outlined above, one of these is not the same. And that is precisely what will give you success in becoming self disciplined.

Do you know the answer? Share with me in the comments below.