Goal SettingPersonal Development

5 Steps to Develop More Discipline

How to Remove the Obstacles to Your Success

We all know disciplined people: they do what they set out to do. They know obstacles and distractions will get in their way. Yet they move forward anyway. How do some people seem to have superhuman discipline, while others start and stop, unable to get traction, and ultimately give up?

Discipline has been on my mind a lot lately. You can’t succeed without it, yet few people seem to possess it. So if discipline is a struggle, is it something you can learn?

Or, as my friend Andy Andrews likes to ask, “Can you make yourself do something you don’t want to do in order to get a result you really want?” And if you can answer yes, then you are disciplined—at least in that area. 

But what’s the key?

You might be surprised to learn that it’s simply focusing on a result you really want. In this sense, the key to discipline is goal setting.

Whether you’re naturally a disciplined person or not, goal setting is a skill you can develop. Over the years, I’ve found that I can become disciplined in any area of my life by taking five specific steps. Whether it’s trying to get in shape, maintain a blog, or develop a great marriage, the psychology is the same.

Step 1: Determine Your Goal

Notice in Andy's definition that the key is in knowing what you really want. If you are going to succeed in whatever’s important to you, you first need to know where you’re going. You need to know what you want. You must be specific, and you need to be able to see it. Write it down, and, while you are at it, add a “by when” date.

Here’s an example: I will lose 10 pounds by December 31. I'll use this example for the rest of the post, so you can see how the steps relate.

Step 2: List Your Reasons

This is often the missing piece in both goal setting and discipline. You have to ask, Why is this goal important? What is at stake in my achieving it? I list both the positive reasons and the negative.


  • I want more energy.
  • I want to lower my cholesterol.
  • I don't want to put myself at risk for heart disease.
  • I want to look more trim, especially on video.
  • I want to demonstrate that I can lead myself.
  • I want to be a good example to my family.

Step 3: Identify Likely Obstacles

As soon as you start swimming against the current, you will start feeling resistance. It's as if the universe is testing you to see how serious you are about succeeding. That's why you have to anticipate these obstacles and build strategies to overcome them.


  • Obstacle: Mindlessly eating what I always eat for lunch.
    Strategy: Plan my lunch before I leave the house—where and what I will eat.
  • Obstacle: Inability to work out on the road.
    Strategy: Make sure the hotel has a workout room before I book it. Also, pack my workout clothes and shoes.
  • Obstacle: Eating more calories than I intend.
    Strategy: Record everything I eat. What gets measured improves.

Researchers call these strategies implementation intentions. And they work.

Step 4: Develop New Behaviors

This is where you should focus. What are the positive, new behaviors you want to develop to replace the old, negative behaviors? It’s not enough to decide not to eat junk food, for example. You’re going to want to snack on something. So what are you going to do about it?


  • Drink 2.5 liters of water a day to stay hydrated.
  • Eat healthy snacks, like raw almonds, celery, carrots, and so on.
  • Share entrees with Gail when we eat out, so that I eat half the normal serving.
  • Choose simple grilled fish or chicken, rather than beef.

Step 5: Stay Focused

Read your goals daily, review your reasons why, anticipate obstacles, and work on your new behaviors. If you get off track, don't beat yourself up. Sometimes it’s three steps forward and two steps back. The trick is to shake it off and re-lock on your goal.

You might also consider changing your strategy to get there. My daughter, and our CEO, Megan Hyatt Miller wrote about that here.


  • If I injure my ankle and can't run, I could switch to swimming.
  • If I hit a weight-loss plateau, I can change up my diet or my exercise routine.
  • If I can't get traction on my own, I'll research and hire a personal trainer.

Discipline is not really about willpower so much as focusing on what you really want. If you get clear on that, it suddenly becomes much easier.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, we will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, we only recommend products or services we use and believe will add value to our readers. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

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