The Myth of Self Discipline

by Ron Haynes

Straight to the point!!!

In reading the lives of great men, I found that the first victory they won was over themselves … self-discipline with all of them came first. —Harry S. Truman

Myth: Self discipline is something that you either have or don’t have.

Fact: Self discipline is a tool that you use or don’t use.

Self discipline isn’t the result of your genetics. It isn’t something you’re born with or something you have. Self discipline is a tool and you either use it or you don’t.

Self discipline is most visible by its absence.

Think of it this way: self discipline is a skill, like knife skills in the kitchen. Did you ever see one of those TV chefs showing off his knife skills? He would chop an onion razor thin with a knife as sharp as a scalpel without even looking at his hands. Did he always have this skill? No, he simply practiced and developed it. He probably cut himself a few times as he developed his skill with the knife, but the more he used it, the better he became.

Another example: imagine you’re in Italy with your spouse and you want to find your way to the Colosseum. You don’t speak Italian, but you have a tool … an Italian dictionary! Though you sound ridiculous to the cab driver, you’re able to muddle through and communicate your desired destination. As with the knife, the more you use Italian, the better you become at it. The more you use it, the more you can make happen. The same is true for self discipline.

And the more you use it, the easier it will get. Just like with a language or with a knife in the kitchen, it gets easier and easier with repeated usage. The phrases come more naturally and the onions are chopped so thinly! Pretty soon, others think that skill is something you “have,” something innate, something that’s “inside you.” But you’ll know the truth.

If you can understand that self discipline is something you use and not something you have, then you can use it to accomplish almost any goal you set. You can use it whenever you want or leave it whenever you want.

Most people recognize this truth when it comes to learning a language or learning a new skill, but when it comes to self discipline, why do we want to believe it’s beyond our control? Why do we want to blame other people? Why do we want to say, brag even, that we don’t have it? Most people think it’s a simple character trait or a permanent part of their personality, but that’s a profound mistake.

Have you ever heard someone say, “She has such great potential, if only she had self discipline.” The fact is, everyone has access to self discipline, most people just haven’t chosen to use it. Just like everyone has access to an Italian dictionary or to a chef’s knife, everyone has access to use self discipline. We even teach it to dogs!

Instead, most people stress and worry if they “have what it takes,” They wonder if they have “it” in them, as if “it” was put there by experience, wisdom , parents, or genetics. But self discipline is never “put there,” it’s just a tool like an Italian dictionary or a chef’s knife.

You already have what it takes to succeed. Use it!

photo credit: Daadi


About the author

Ron Haynes has written 1000 articles on The Wisdom Journal.

The founder and editor of The Wisdom Journal in 2007, Ron has worked in banking, distribution, retail, and upper management for companies ranging in size from small startups to multi-billion dollar corporations. He graduated Suma Cum Laude from a top MBA program and currently is a Human Resources and Management consultant, helping companies know how employees will behave in varying situations and what motivates them to action, assisting firms in identifying top talent, and coaching managers and employees on how to better communicate and make the workplace MUCH more enjoyable. If you'd like help in these areas, contact Ron using the contact form at the top of this page or at 870-761-7881.

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Crisis Cartoon


I agree with what you have said. Self-discipline is a skill everyone is equipped with, and it is whether we want to use it or not.

Right now when living in this period of turmoil, it is especially important that we must be more discipline in spending.

My 1-2-3 self-discipline method that I am using.
1) Acceptance – consciously accept it is challenge
2) Willpower – use your mind to imagine what you will achieve by being discipline
3) Persistence – stick to it with all you have and imagine what you will get in the end



That’s a great method to help you develop more self discipline. Great comment!


Ron – I’ve never understood people why brag about their lack of self-discipline. It seems so lazy to me. I’m sure discipline comes easier to some compared to others, but I agree with you that we all have access to it. We just have to apply ourselves.


Yes, in some ways I think it may be “easier” for some and more difficult for others (thinking about the child raised with everything and anything he or she wants), but those who DO find it easier probably HAD to utilize it more often growing up.

Sarah H.

Very encouraging post! I’ve encountered many people who lament the fact (myth) that they lack self discipline…I think you hit the nail right on the head in saying that we all have it in us, we just have to tap into it and practice!


#Sarah H.→
I’m glad you felt encouraged! That encouraged me!

Memarie Lane

i agree, i think it has a lot to do with motivation. we live in a culture of doing what we feel like doing, what makes us happy in the moment. self-discipline is looking beyond the moment and beyond what we feel to what is truly and lastingly important. and anyone can do that, if they “feel like it.”


Everyone has different motivations, sometimes we can’t seem to get motivated until we are put in a situation that we are forced in to it. In a sense it is kind of like a learned helplessness when we say “I can’t”.

The article is so true, motivation requires work and you may fall down a couple of times, but don’t beat yourself up and get back up and try again. Sometimes the results are not instant. The only one that can change it is you.

I get so sick of the victim mentality, or everyone looking for someone else for a quick fix.

Steve Winduss

Great article, thanks. I have for a long time been confused by the mixed messages my mind/ body give me with reference to self motivation.

For instance I regularly exhibit self motivation to cycle, say, 50 miles or run perhaps 15 miles and am self motivated enough to work late into the night once the kids are in bed and so on.

But can I produce the same self motivation to stop eating and lose some weight? Hell no.

The only way I have rationalised this is that my mindset is very resolute about the positive “do” message – ie “do” run 15 miles, “do” cycle 50 miles, but bombs out when it comes to the “don’t” message – ie “don’t” eat so much. Am I alone in this quandry?


#Steve Winduss→
I don’t think you’re alone. The key, at least for me, is to replace bad habits with good ones rather than just abandon the bad ones. If I tried to run 15 miles … I’d need to make sure the will was up to date!

Seriously though, you can’t break bad habits, but you can replace them with good ones. Maybe you could replace the tempting foods in your kitchen with healthy alternatives? Could you change your messages to “do” eat fresh fruit, “do” eat whole grains, or “do” eat baked chicken instead of fried?

Steve Winduss

I like that. Thanks again.


Thanks! Good post. Self discipline is learned for sure. Keep practicing.

Zach Younkin

Great thoughts there!

I wish I practiced self-discipline better than I do now.


Linked from beingfrugal…

You’re right – it’s a Choice!
And I guess I need to make the Right Choice a little more often,
until it becomes a habit.

I think I’ll write it on paper and post it on my kitchen cupboard -
right above the mess that accumulates daily on the kitchen countertop
and annoys me so greatly …. It’s a choice I make daily… and not the right one!


awesome post.. most young people tend to have difficulties grasping concepts that relate to removing bad habbits.

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