Self-discipline: The Key to Success in Sport and Life

Self-discipline: The Key to Success in Sport and Life

We can see many successful people in the world around us. However, we often don’t have to go far when it comes to achieving goals in reality. It can be our friend who has just been promoted at work or a gym partner who is in great shape. What is often less visible is the hard work behind their success.

Following your diet plan, taking the right supplements and working out hard enough costs a considerable amount of effort and ability called self-discipline. And that is the key to success. If you master it, this year can be a turning point for your goals.

However, self-discipline is not born overnight. From a psychological point of view, we can define it as: [1] 

  • the ability to control our behaviour so that we avoid temptation and achieve set goals
  • the ability to postpone satisfaction and withstand undesirable effects
  • limited source of motivation that can be depleted
How to maintain self-discipline? It is easier if there are two of you.

Source of self-discipline vs. science

Self-discipline is one of the scientific anomalies that researchers have been dealing with for decades. Many of them refer to the simple Self-control strength model. It claims that our brain has at some point a limited amount of energy that it can use in a controlled manner. When it is exhausted, we should be more prone to temptation and our level of self-control decreases. According to several studies, the answer to how the brain is recharged, lies in glucose. [3]

Glucose is one of the most important substances that acts as a fuel in the brain. Its daily consumption is about 160g. Most of it is used to drive transmission mechanisms. These affect the membrane potential needed to transmit nerve impulses. Glucose metabolism allows every part of the brain to perform its functions. [4]

Several studies suggest that self-discipline may be sensitive to glucose fluctuations. In particular, studies mention its low level or inefficient transmission from the body to the brain. In extreme cases, this can cause, for example, an increase in aggression and impulsive behaviour or a decrease in concentration or ability to regulate emotions. [5] [6]

Self-discipline may be prone to glucose fluctuations.

Five ways to build your self-discipline

According to Professor Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D., disciplined people have a high personality trait, which we call conscientiousness. It is a tendency to apply your actions consistently and carefully. However, multiple small steps are necessary to develop consistent habits and overall self-discipline in regards to exercising. [2]

1. Start with little things

Even the little things can bring a big change over time, which will help you on your way to a strong will. For example, make a rule for yourself to drink a glass of water every day with your breakfast, make your bed or take a half-hour walk. If you succeed, gradually add more little things that can grow into something big over time. [10]

2. Set your goals

Every enthusiasm initially comes with wanting something. We want to have a good figure, we want to start running, we want more strength and so on. However, just asking for things is not enough.

Your goals should be:

  • measurable and timebound, allowing you to track your progress (for example: in three months I will make ten repetitions of a 50 kg deadlift) [7] 
  • achievable, whilst maintaining a certain level of difficulty (for example: if you have never run before, it is not realistic to expect to run a marathon in a month) [8]

3. Try to exercise regularly

One of the methods to increase self-discipline is regular exercise. This was observed in research from 2006, which showed a significant improvement in self-discipline in respondents who exercised regularly for two months compared to the group that did not exercise at all. Physical activity included repeated expressions of will, thanks to which the sample of people who did exercise improved their self-discipline. This improvement can then have a positive effect on other areas of life. And don’t forget that you can also exercise at home[9]

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4. Forgive yourself

Nobody is perfect. Did you sleep half an hour extra instead of exercising? Did you decide to have dessert for dinner? To maintain self-discipline, it is important to learn to forgive yourself. Don’t give too much value to missteps and get back on track. Re-evaluate your goals. If necessary, adjust them slightly so that they are achievable. Worries and moments associated with not following the plan usually lead to feelings of anxiety, which can later prevent you from making the effort needed for self-discipline. [11]

5. Work on your weaknesses

Don’t be afraid to face the truth. Try to analyse your weaknesses and work on them. Regarding your workout routine, it is a good idea to bring up your lagging body parts.

By working harder on them, you can achieve your goals faster and improve your body. Mistakes during a workout are a sign of self-discipline. You strengthen it precisely by continuing to work on your mistakes despite everything. Strength workout can be a good tool. It will gradually show you how much your physical strength increases, which will also help improve your self-confidence. [12] 

You can read more tips in our article 6 Steps to Build Iron Self-discipline to Achieve Your Fitness Goals.

Self-discipline has many benefits that will push your life in the right direction.

What are rewards of self-discipline?

It is not easy to follow everything above. But remember that even small steps can lead to big victories. It is important to make the first step and an amazing journey full of physical and mental self-discovery awaits you.

Other benefits you can achieve with a strong will include [13] [14]:

  1. improving body and health
  2. academic achievements and career growth
  3. better problem management
  4. a happy and fulfilled life
  5. higher level of self-control during stressful situations
  6. ability to make decisions more easily
  7. improving interpersonal relationships

Let’s end it with a short quote, which perfectly summarises today’s topic.

We all have dreams. But in order to make dreams come into reality, it takes an awful lot of determination, dedication, self-discipline, and effort.  – (Jesse Owens, American athlete and four-time Olympic winner)

And what helps you to increase your self-discipline? Don’t forget to tell us in the comments, and if you liked the article, support it by sharing.


[1] Angela Lee Duckworth , Heidi Grant , Benjamin Loew , Gabriele Oettingen & Peter M. Gollwitzer – Self‐regulation strategies improve self‐discipline in adolescents: benefits of mental contrasting and implementation intentions. –

[2] Christian Finn – You Don’t Need Motivation to Lose Weight, You Need Discipline. –

[3] Roy Baumeister, Kathleen Vohs, Dianne Tice – The Strength Model of Self-Control. –

[4] Jeremy M Berg, John L Tymoczko, Lubert Stryer – Biochemistry, 5th edition. –

[5] Matthew T. Gailliot, Roy F. Baumeister, C. Nathan DeWall, Jon K. Maner, E. As – Self-Control Relies on Glucose as a Limited Energy Source: Willpower Is More Than a Metaphor. –

[6] C. Nathan DeWall, Timothy Deckman, Matthew T. Gailliot, Brad J. Bushman – Sweetened Blood Cools Hot Tempers: Physiological Self-Control and Aggression. –

[7] Jenny McCoy – How to Set Realistic Fitness Goals You’ll Actually Achieve, According to Top Trainers –

[8] Robert J. Davis – 7 Simple Ways to Motivate Yourself to Exercise –

[9] Megan Oaten Ken Cheng – Longitudinal gains in self‐regulation from regular physical exercise. –

[10] Natalie Wise – The Self-Discipline Handbook: Simple Ways to Cultivate Self-Discipline, Build Confidence, and Obtain Your Goals.

[11] Rob Harris – Self-Discipline in Eating and Exercising –

[12] Jackson Yee – 6 Tips For Iron-Clad Self-Discipline –

[13] Heather S. Lonczak, Ph.D. – Self-Control Relies on Glucose as a Limited Energy Source: Willpower Is More Than a Metaphor. –

[14] HARAPPA – The Importance Of Self-Control In Leadership And Life. –

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