How to Do What You Don’t Want to Do, Lessons in Discipline

Form your own discipline

Taking the first step in anything is the hardest part of it all, usually. Unless you’re attempting to land a quadruple jump on ice using absolutely excellent form, chances are that just taking the first step and beginning is holding you back. The reason the first step is the hardest is because you need to discipline yourself.

I know a lot of people who lack self-discipline. They say, “Don’t worry, I’ll start working on my (insert task) at 7pm. 8pm rolls by, 9pm, and eventually it is midnight. Soon they realize they’ve failed themselves once again. In fact, one of my closest friends is exactly like this and it cracks me up every time because it is like watching a cartoon rerun.

Chances are that you lack discipline in yourself as well and you constantly lack the self-discipline to begin a less than pleasant task. You know you should start something, you tell yourself you will by a certain point in time, and then you put it off for later. There’s no simple life quote that will open your eyes and make you think you’ve finally got it.

I’m not going to say I’ve always been self-disciplined, but much like all the skills I’ve acquired over the years, it’s been a work-in-progress and I can now say with confidence that I’m far more disciplined than I was four, five years ago.

Here are some of the things I’ve practiced over recent years to be able to simply tell myself to do something and jump to it right away.

1. Acknowledge your lack of self-discipline

Hold yourself accountable for your own lack of discipline. Sure, maybe you do try your best to keep your own promises right now. You tell yourself you’re going to start going to the gym, you tell yourself you’ll take out the trash without having to wait for someone to scream at you, but you still don’t do either.

Accept the fact that you need to work on self-discipline and only then you can begin to improve. There’s no use in denying it.

2. Set a deadline

Deadline ClockThis may seem obvious and from my examples above it seems that it’s something that doesn’t work. However obvious it seems, the key to discipline is by starting somewhere and that is through using a deadline.

Back in my high school days, I had tons of busy work that seem to be rather needless. The way I got through all of this is by making my official “Homework Deadline” 8pm. If it was a school night and I had not done all my work by 8pm, I have failed my mission.

You can get as creative as you want with this. Perhaps no more Nutella or video games if you miss the deadline. Then again, this sort of self-inflicted torment takes discipline as well.

Simply set the deadline and try your best to follow it. If you fail, that’s okay. Don’t give up on the deadline technique yet, but combine it with the rest of the list.

3. Tell everyone about your goal

Make it known that you have certain tasks you must begin or complete. Tell your friends, family, or even your Twitter followers. When you have that pressure of knowing that everyone else is aware of what you need to do, you’ll feel the need to do it for fear of ridicule or simply letting someone down. You can make them accountable by letting them know they should encourage you, but be careful not to be too much of a bother to anyone.

This works a lot better than you would think. Sure, you may be saying, “Nah, I don’t care what others think,” but if you do this with the intention of developing discipline, you will take it much more seriously.

For example, I told a few of my friends about my ambition for starting a blog. There were moments where I so badly wanted to back out and just give up before I truly began, but then I remembered I had told my friends all about my plans. I remembered how excited they were that I was taking the first step in something amazing and I just couldn’t let them down. So of course, I persevered and created Self Stairway, the greatest gift of 2013 that has led to so many new opportunities.

Having that extra push, whether it’s through fear of ridicule or even support and encouragement from others can help you form the habits of telling yourself to take action and actually following through.

4.Talk to yourself

Along with setting a deadline and talking to others about what you should/want to do, you should have this inner dialogue going on at all times.

Don’t drive yourself to insanity, but you should be like your own personal coach. “Come on, you can do it! Just pick up the pen and write!”

In addition to having others being held accountable for your own discipline, you have to remember to put in the conscious effort as well. Scream at yourself if you have to! Get angry! You’ve been living long enough without that self-motivation, now is the time to change.

I’m not going to lie; I talk to myself all the time. Sure, a lot of it is in my own car as I am singing along to The Beatles or pretending I’m a radio host, but the other 20% is my own attempts at self-motivation.

5. Just do it

Nike - Just Do ItThis may seem like obvious advice, but sometimes it’s as simple as just getting out there and doing it.

We all wish life were as easy as living by Nike’s motto. It’s not always that easy, sure. We just have to accept that sometimes we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do.

I don’t always want to wake up at 6am even though I love the morning zen. I don’t always want to follow my deadlines, nor do I always want to drive out to the gym to workout, but I do it anyway.

Sometimes my four tricks above don’t work and I end up having to fall on number 5. I end up having to just do it because I have to. No one said life is fair and discipline isn’t any fairer. There are times you’ve just got to get up and sprint when all you want to do is walk.

Question: What things do you need more self-discipline in doing?

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Vincent Nguyen is the author of Self Stairway and founder of Growth Ninja, a digital marketing agency that specializes in Facebook Ads. Voted "Most Guapo" five years in a row (lost during 6th year to a hand model.)

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66 responses to How to Do What You Don’t Want to Do, Lessons in Discipline

  1. I’ve often made my blogging and writing commitments public. It’s forced me to get things done.

    • Especially when it comes to blogging for an audience that is used to a specific schedule, Dan! I know most of my writing wouldn’t even be published on here yet if I didn’t set a strict schedule and deadline for myself. When it comes to getting others involved in your commitments it doesn’t have to be about them actually encouraging you or pushing you to do it. Sometimes it’s as simple as knowing someone is waiting for you.

      • I couldn’t agree more with that last statement. When it really comes down to it the people around you wont loose sleep over your lack of discipline, you will. If I had to guess Id say maybe one of my “accountability partners” would openly speak of my failure. What keeps me going insnt the one that tells me iv failed, but the ones thinking to themselves “I shoulda known he wouldn’t follow through”. That gets me going every time… even if that might not be what actually goes through their head.

        • You have to be careful with that, Pat. Although I understand you’re using it as a drive, having that subconscious belief that others don’t believe in you can be draining. Take it from James Altucher, you should “bring those that raise you up closer. Cut out those who bring you down.”

          It can be a lonely road if you’re surrounded by people who bring you down.

  2. Thanks for your insight, Vincent. Great points. Looking forward to more of your work.

  3. Deadlines are great, but it’s interesting: They did studies on this. The longer your deadline is, the less likely you are to complete the task well. A study on college students was done where two groups were given two different deadlines, one was a week, the other was a month. Turns out that a large majority of the ‘week deadline’ group passed, and most, almost all of the other group (with the longer deadline) failed.

    Accountability is essential to, I’m glad you put that in there! We constantly make up excuses for ourselves, and we need those people around us that’ll say, “Hey, weren’t you supposed to be doing this?”, or even something a little more harsh.

    Thanks for the post, Vincent!

    • Ah, yes I believe what we may be referring to is Parkinson’s law. I feel like I should have included that in there but I was unsure if it was needed. It is definitely worth noting now that I think about it.

      As for accountability, I wonder if I put enough emphasis on moderation. Getting others to hold you accountable is good, but there is a limit you have to set for yourself to not be bothersome.

      Thanks for reading, Sam!

    • I have also seen writings on this research, Sam. I am proof that setting a random deadline off in the distance does little to motivate me in the now. For instance, I have to get several lesson plans done this afternoon, and I know it will not take more than 45 minutes. Instead of waiting until the very last minute before doing them, I am going to set the microwave timer right after I finish typing these comments! 🙂

  4. Discipline is a tough nut to crack! Personally I think I’ve only cracked a chunk of it, some things I never miss, yet others I struggle with severely, I guess the attitude towards the two things is where the problem lies.

    I think #1 deserves the top spot, there’s nothing quite like accepting the current reality, that in itself can be a brilliant motivator to get into gear.

    About the self-torment, have you done anything to discipline yourself about Analytics? Perhaps no more Nutella for you! 😉

    • It really is! I’m still a work in progress myself, but I’ve come a far way. I do know people who try their best to tackle the issue of self-discipline, but it sure isn’t easy.

      Good question! When it comes to my “addiction” to Analytics, it isn’t so much an issue of discipline as much as it is… Well I’m not sure how to categorize it. I could not check it if I wanted to, but there are certain things I want to gauge on a daily basis and only Analytics can help me. Maybe I’m in denial. 🙂 But hey, I’m still a work in progress too!

  5. Great topic, self discipline is so essential. I have learned discipline because a little easier once we have formed the habit of doing something. Which requires a daily choice until it turns into a habit.

    I think alongside making it public, having people hold us accountable is so important. People who depending on what we need will offer encouragement or a kick in the rear:)

    Great post and thoughts!

    • It really is a daily choice to work at becoming more disciplined. The hardest thing about it is the fact that often times, you have to hold yourself accountable. Or at least, that is how most people approach it. That is why I suggest having others help you along the way. What better way to improve a certain characteristic about yourself than to get the push of those you care about?

      Thanks, Dan!

  6. Wow You wrote this just for me!
    Thanks I needed a good kick start! I agree about the longer your deadline the less likely we are to get going. BUT sometimes I do my best work when I only have minutes to spare…all good advice thanks for sharing.

    • Why of course, Kath. I knew this is exactly what you needed so I had to write it. 🙂

      My friend is definitely in agreement with that rule of less time means more work. He often waits until the last minute not because he is lazy, but because he simply needs that time crunch to really get going and create quality. Thanks for stopping by, Kath! It’s much appreciated.

  7. This is a great post Vincent. I believe that numbers 1, 3 and 5 are most effective for me. Setting a deadline for myself doesn’t work I need self discipline to just stick to that! – it is easy for me to push the boundary as no one is holding me responsible except myself so I end up giving myself leway. Self discipline is so necessary if you want to move forward in anything. I really want to get fit, be consistent in some things and I think telling people has definitely been a bigger motivation (fear has its uses). I seriously believe that there is nothing quite as good as number 5 though. Just do it! My mum had this trait – whatever she wants to do she does immediately and she gets a lot done! I’m working on it and I’m glad you did you went ahead and started your blog because I needed to read it – what I would have missed if you hadn’t!

    • That is true, deadlines require discipline all in itself! Felt silly including it on the list while knowing this, but deadlines are just so important that I couldn’t leave it out.

      I’m glad making your intentions known has motivated you! If you haven’t already, perhaps make it a fun thing like a competition. Whatever your goals in fitness are, make it something where you and a friend aim to get more results. That edge of fun makes the activity seem far more favorable.

      Hm, I wonder if your mom does number 5 through any sort of mental “hack.” It’d be cool to find out if there were any tricks she had to practice over time to develop that mindset of just doing it.

      Thanks for reading, Theo! I am very glad I started it as well because it is teaching me a lot and it allows me to share my experiences with others for them to learn what they can. 🙂

  8. Self-discipline is tricky business. Especially for those who are not naturally inclined towards it. The first key is having a good honest reason for what you need to do.

    Without that reason, it becomes near impossible to go out and force ourselves to do the work. Our motive is what determines the level of commitment we are willing to make. The rest is just going through the motions.


    • I agree, having an honest reason goes a long way because there is no moral conflict. When there is that internal struggle, you are arguing with yourself against whether or not to do something. Life is hard enough as it is, why live it with one more voice to fight?

  9. Oh boy! Great post, Vincent. I find your first point especially helpful — just acknowledge the lacking. What a great way to free ourselves up to get there! I agree with Trevor — it’s tricky and requires a “good, honest reason for what you need to do.” A really important place to start. Thanks for your words, Vincent.

    • Hello, Brianna! Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

      Acknowledging our flaws is difficult because one, it’s hard to see our own weaknesses, and two, who wants to admit they’re flawed? Even though I actively look for my own shortcomings so I can improve, it still sucks to have that realization of weakness.

  10. I love all your suggestions, Vincent. I am a self-talk master although I always have to check what I am saying to make sure it is productive! I am not one to tell people my plans because, as you stated, I don’t want to be a burden. Perhaps it’s also a bit of fear of the what-if-I-don’t-do-this-what-will-they-think variety. Fortunately, I am getting better at caring less about what others think and also realizing that they’re not thinking about me much at all!

    I love your positive spin and honesty in reflecting on your current and past practices.

    • If you are able to find a good balance between being a burden and cooperative, you will be good to go! The safest route is not to do it at all, but then where’s the fun in that? Shutting yourself off completely will ruin the potential that may come from opening up to your supporters.

      That fear is all too normal, Tammy. Try using it to your advantage. Prove to everyone that you’re someone who sticks by their word! I’m still working on the caring about what others think part so I definitely know what you’re going through.

      Thanks, Tammy! 🙂

  11. Back when I was an on-the-road salesman (which I hope to begin again in the future), the hardest part of the job was “just backing out of the driveway.” Once I got that part accomplished, the rest was easy. Being on the road was exciting. Walking up to the door of the school or admin office was exhilarating. Giving the demos brought extreme pride. But I didn’t get to any of the fun steps unless I got in the car and backed out of the driveway. As you say, Vincent… you have to have discipline and then “do it.”

    • Your first sentence reminds me of “Glengarry Glen Ross.” A few days ago, I saw it for the first time and I highly recommend it if you haven’t seen it yet.

      It’s amazing to see how excited you were about it. It’s a tough job, I know that much, but it is a job often depicted as being very rough and challenging. I’m glad to see you viewed it in such positive light and had a great attitude during the journey.

  12. Vincent, Woaw!
    I am impressed with your mature thougts and writing…your beautiful site as well. It is so encouraging to see a young man who is ambitious, yet with depth and discipline and honor few in your age possess.
    I found great wisdom in all the comments and your replies. Agreeing with it all, I won’t add anything new other than the fact that I grew up with a very desciplined mother and thus I realized early on its importance. To me, moderation and discipline come in a package, because only then do both of them become functional and healthy.
    Blessing young man, and light!

    • Hi, Katina.

      Thank you for all the kinds! It’s great to be able to grow up knowing the important of discipline, especially at a young age. Not too many people are blessed with that!

      Thanks for stopping by!

  13. Great post, Vincent (and one that I needed to read). Glad you have you in Tribe Writers.

  14. Great article vincent,
    Having a bad day at work and this article helped to clear up somethings.

    Keep up the good work.

  15. I think that telling others about your goal is important and definitely motivates me. If my goal is just sort of out floating in my head than I usually end up forgetting about it or not following through. Telling someone forces me to be accountable and I try a lot harder because I want to prove that my goal is something I can actually achieve!

    • It really is easy to forget about our goals! Having others hold you accountable and to remind you of you ambitions is a wonderful gift. It’s okay to want to prove to others you can do something. Besides, what is life without a little bit of pride? 🙂

  16. Awesome work, keep it up!

  17. Great post. Very useful tips.

    I’ve always wanted to start a blog but have been procrastinating for the last few months. Finally started one today.

    Looking forward to more awesome posts.

    • Wow! That is a wonderful first step to an amazing new habit (hopefully!) I really like the color scheme you decided to go with because it’s very soothing with a topic like yours. Thanks for stopping by, Nix! 🙂

  18. Great stuff!


  19. Hi Vincent,

    It’s great to be at your blog and I really enjoyed your post. I could definitely resonate with tip number 2 about telling everyone about your goal. I think out of all the ways I motivate myself to take action, this approach is probably one of the most powerful.

    As you said, making our goal public creates a tension, because if we don’t go through with our action, our reputation is on the line.

    • Thanks for dropping in, Hiten! Glad you found it a good read. 🙂

      Ah, reputation. We all want a good one and it’s only natural to want to protect it. Since we know this, it’s a good idea to purposely “put it on the line.”

  20. 1. That has got to be the OLDEST private I’ve ever seen come through basic. We don’t take people that age anymore as enlisted.

    2. Great post, mate. There is another nifty trick that I learned. If you force yourself to start it, your brain will bug you – its naturally programmed to want to get tasks that it starts done. I’m putting all this into practice right now with some more of my posts 😉

    – BIlly

    • Just like your email, you are hilarious, Billy! 🙂 Honestly, it took me WAY too long to realize what you were talking about.

      Ah, I actually forgot to mention that! That’s another mental mind hack that I use myself. The first step is the hardest part, but once you just get started you’re going to want to finish. Thanks for the reminder, Billy!

  21. I learned to do the important things first when attending college classes and having and then raising a child. If the child is sick, that is unplanned, and the infant/toddler can’t exactly tell you they’re feeling run down. Most parents know that when you have a very young child like this, you’re going to get sick too. All the time!

    Found that some tools helped me out: chunking, delegating what I can, and remembering what is important. I had the similar task-management redirection when needing to work or start on school papers and had cupboards of clean shiny dishes and glass, silverware, etc. Learned quickly after a child, that having a clean house wouldn’t kill anyone, but a bad grade for late work turned in might kill my chances for a good grade, and I paid for that class with good money, darn it. Over time, I found that having a checklist of tasks and accomplishments really revved me because I’m visual.

    I’m not affiliated with a company that makes Taylor Planners, but found that the way their planners were set up really resonated with me. I also found out from a professional Organizer who I was speaking with, that many of her right-brained clients simply cannot use tools made for left-brainers. I didn’t even know about these planners since they were not sold in local stores.

    So here is the company: and what’s really nice is that listed in the Resources on the lower left column, there is a sample page where visitors of his site can see different samples that are offered. I used the smallest size of various colored Post-It cut in half (local printing shops can cut this with a guillotine cutter they have for a nominal fee, so I take a chunk in at a time of different colors). I will write my goals and tasks down so they’re just prompts, and color-code so I can see at a glance and know (for instance, family members have own color, job, home maintenance, vehicle maintenance, to name a few). If I can’t get done with the task, the Post-It moves to the next day I can “follow-up”.

    That website has other areas where they have simple tests I thought were fun and may be enlightening, as well as checklist samples. Under Time Management, there is a Time Management Checklist, though I see it more of a Task Management checklist. I can’t manage time, but I can sure manage my tasks!

    • Wow, thanks for taking the time to leave a great comment!

      Personally, I don’t use any physical sorts of organizer because I rely on Evernote to plan as a calendar and to keep track of what I need to do. Oh, and I just bought a whiteboard and installed it in my room as a secondary to-do list.

      Remembering what is important is VERY important. One of my Evernote lists is titled “Priorities,” and I use it to remember what should be done first. I find that my mind is a lot less stressed when I have it laid in front of me in a nice order of prioritization.

      Interesting planner brand that you’re mentioning. Although I think I’ll stick with my systems of planning, I appreciate you leaving their url! It will help someone else that is looking for a reliable brand. Thanks for stopping by! 🙂

  22. You have some great advice here, Vincent. I especially like the idea of being your own personal coach. It makes sense when you think about it. You are usually the one who keeps you disciplined so you have to be the one who talks you into doing things.

    Sometimes it’s just so hard to get up and do things. It’s way easier to let it slide for a little bit of time…then a little more…then a little more, until you’ve wasted hours away instead of just starting.

    I think another good thing to keep in mind is when you acknowledge the lack of self-discipline that you also recognize why it is happening. What’s keeping you from starting? That could be watching TV, video games or a bunch of other things. It’s good to know what it is though.

    • Recognizing the problem is a huge part, but I find that most people realize they’re procrastinators. However, they don’t do what you suggest, which is understanding what keeps you from starting. This could be something like video games or tv, but there could be a deeper issue within that is stopping people from starting. Fear of failure, not wanting to drop what they’re doing, the list can go on forever.

  23. This is great stuff, Vincent. I’ve been a silent reader and thought I’d come out of my shell today. We should also take note that it’s never too late start what we want to do, however disciplining ourselves is where we should begin.

    • Awesome! Thanks so much for stopping by to leave a comment. They’re always appreciated and it’s fun to see people in the discussions.

      You’re right, it never, never, never is too late. That’s just an excuse some of us use that holds no weight to reality. There’s always time! 🙂

  24. Great article and blog Vincent!

    I used to so often find myself procrastinating important tasks over and over again, only to find out that at the end of the day, I hadn’t accomplished much! 🙂

    Definitely a good set of tips!

    Look forward to reading more of your blog & connecting with you!

    • Hi, Gabriel! Thank you for stopping by the comments and for the kind words!

      That’s definitely a slap in the face when you reflect on the day and you have that realization! It suuucks! Sometimes you’re going to have those days, it’s inevitable. The key is to minimize the amount of those days.

      Awesome! Hoping to see you around here more often.

  25. Vincent,

    Thanks for this post! I started reading a book this morning called Take the Stars and it’s all about doing the things that you don’t want to do. Avoiding hard things is why I made little impact during my 20s and why the first few months of being 30 have been absolutely incredible.

    Love the part about Nutella. Not gonna lie, I love the idea of hanging out at home, watching Doctor Who and eating Nutella so much more than going to the gym or doing something that challenges me. But I don’t want to waste another 10 years again so I’m able to be much more disciplined.

    • Ah, Nutella and Doctor Who. The American (Er… English) Dream!

      I have not read that book but I like the title. It’s cheesy but just the right amount of cheese.

      That’s great that you took control of your life through self-discipline. It’s tough and very easy to fall into a life of inaction. Glad you’re making a difference! 🙂

  26. Great article Vincent! This post hits me. Approach #5 is the best strategy for me. Just do it now and always..

  27. This is brilliant, I love it. Definitely need to implement some of these more often. Thanks!

  28. Great one Vincent!

  29. Vincent, I really enjoyed this post. I’m naturally an analytical thinker (personality type is INTP), so I’m do very well at anything I put my mind to, but also have a tendency to lack follow-through. Self-discipline and trying “not” to over-plan have been two concepts I’m continuing to struggle through. Yes, it’s true to be “angry” at yourself during these times, too – that’s how I personally know that I’m breaking an old habit and undergoing change.

    Thank you,

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