6 Smart Ways to Improve Self-Discipline

Discipline is one of those concepts that we know we should embrace—right alongside its close cousins, motivation and mindfulness—but can seem daunting at first. While the word itself elicits thoughts of hard work and training (which isn’t wholly inaccurate), it doesn’t have to be difficult. Having self-discipline doesn’t have to mean forcing yourself to go to 6 a.m. boot camp if you’re not a morning person, or trading all the cookies for all the kale. There are smaller, simpler ways to become more disciplined, without shocking or depriving yourself.

Liza Baker with Simply: Health Coaching believes that self-discipline doesn’t have to be punishing. "Creating sustainable change is about arranging your environment so that the healthy choice is the easy choice," she says.

1. Create "containers" of time.

To make healthy choices more manageable, Baker recommends creating "containers" of time in which you have a choice of activities. For example, you might set aside 15 minutes in the morning to breathe, journal, meditate or pray; 30 minutes in the evening to walk, run, lift weights, stretch or do yoga; and so on. "The time becomes the habit, and you can choose a different activity based on how you feel," says Baker.

2. Choose an accessible fitness locale.

If you enjoy exercising outside the home, look for a gym, fitness studio, or outdoor running or walking route that is centrally located. You might choose a gym that is located in between your home and your workplace to increase the chances of incorporating it into your daily routine.

3. Get it done early. 

As diehard morning exercisers will attest, starting off the day with a healthy lifestyle behavior can serve as a springboard into smart choices for the rest of your waking hours. If you’re struggling with a certain healthy lifestyle behavior that you would like to adopt, registered dietitian Summer Yule suggests moving it to the top of your daily to-do list. "Getting it done first means there’s no time to second-guess yourself or let other tasks get in the way." Over time, that morning choice—whether it’s a workout, meal planning, meditation or some other healthy activity—will become an ingrained habit.

4. Set yourself up for lunchtime success.

The mid-day meal can be a challenge when it comes to smart food choices at work, particularly given the convenience of restaurant foods and vending machines. To make it easier to pack lunch instead of buying it, Baker recommends making a large batch of something you can reheat, or always having some different ingredients prepped so you can quickly put together salads or bowls in no time. "If you have a couple of different grains, greens, veggies, beans, nuts, seeds, meats, cheeses and dressings all in separate containers in your fridge, every day can be an adventure," she says.

5. Never cook just one meal.

You’re already putting in the effort, so you might as well reap the rewards for a longer period of time. When preparing food at home, Baker advises always making extra and saving it for a future meal. "That extra cooked chicken can be a shortcut to nachos later in the week, extra brown rice can become a casserole, extra broccoli can become a soup or extra pasta can be used for a pasta salad," she suggests.

6. Find some friendly support. 

Even with the best intentions, a lifestyle change can be a bit lonely without some like-minded allies. Enlist friends, family members or co-workers to join your crusade for healthier living. That might mean inviting someone to join you on a walk, creating a recipe swap at work or just trading motivational texts. "Having a friend join you in a healthy activity can help keep you accountable while providing some social support," notes Yule.