Figure Out Where You Are

Working with the limitations of your own brain requires an honest appraisal of where you are and how you’re functioning. Make it a habit to routinely assess yourself on the following aspects, on a scale of one to ten: Sense of purpose, the presence of positive mentors, sensory-rich vision, self-belief, planning and organization, education and skills, patient perseverance, and the ability to see work as play.

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Imagine a perfectly self-motivated and disciplined person. What do they look like? What is their attitude to life and how do they conduct themselves?

There’s a reason people respond well to inspiration al figures and motivational speakers—their lives can act as a blueprint for a more productive and self-controlled life. They’re like models that pave the way, showing us how it’s done (or at least, one way it could be done!).

Usually, these people are not that dissimilar from one another. They seem to share a handful of traits and personal characteristics that are fundamental to their success. It follows that if we want to act and behave more like them, then we can start by developing those characteristics in ourselves. That is, it’s a question of not what to do, but how to be.

The following characteristics signal a disciplined high-achiever in any area of life, and are essential for succeeding at any chosen goal.

Strong sense of purpose – The big WHY behind everything you do. Without the fire of purpose, calling or passion behind you, you’re not truly motivated. To be highly effective and disciplined, your purpose has to be genuine, clear, and come from within.

Seeks out positive mentors – Your role models matter. If they don’t have inspirational people around them, the self-disciplined seek them out, deliberately valuing their support, input and guidance. They are not jealous or threatened but inspired by others’ success.

Sensory rich vision – People with the discipline to succeed see a vision of their goal—they literally see it. And smell it, hear it, almost taste it. They entertain visions of their own success, rather than dwelling in detail on ideas of their failure. They fill their minds not just with powerful positive imagery, but with positive material on all their five senses. Their visionary goal is imagined in 3D.

Strong belief in self – Those who put their willpower to work bringing their dreams to life must, at a fundamental level, believe that it’s actually possible, and that they have it in them to do what it takes. This may mean self-belief even when nobody else can support your vision. Crippling self-doubt and low self-esteem, on the other hand, will only interfere with your self-discipline.

Ability to plan and organize – Of course, it’s not just vision and self-confidence. People who can get things done are those that plan to get things done. They know how to plot a course of action and they know how to coordinate and focus their efforts to achieve that. Chaos and disorganization can dissipate your energies and waste your time.

High value on education, learning, and skills – For some, education is an obligation, or at bets a means to an end. But for high achievers, learning is a way of life, and they relish the chance to develop, to correct misunderstandings, and to challenge themselves to go further.

Patient perseverance – To find effort and motivation in yourself is one thing, but can you sustain that level for a prolonged period? Can you wake up day after day and keep going, even in the face of intermittent or delayed rewards? Self-discipline requires enough patience to wait for the results of your actions to bear fruit, and to keep consistent throughout. Without this trait, we give up easily and quit things when they don’t work out exactly as we want first time round, or we look for quick fixes and hacks rather than putting in the work.

Seeing work as pleasure and play – People who achieve well at their work usually have a mindset where work is not work, but something enjoyable, interesting, engrossing. They don’t resent it or find it boring. In fact, they may have very little distinction between “work” and “play.” This attitude means that they act from curiosity and inner drives, rather than feeling it’s a burden placed on them.

So, how do you fare on each of these traits?

Time for a little self-reflection. You can conduct a mini appraisal of yourself any time you like, to get a good idea of your weak spots, but also to take note where you’re improving. When you know what areas need attention, you can plan your progress a little more carefully.

Try this: on each of the following eight characteristics, rate yourself on a scale of one to ten where one is the lowest or most negative end of the continuum, and ten the highest.

Sense of purpose

Positive mentors

Sensory-rich vision


Planning and organization

Education and skills

Patient perseverance

Seeing work as play

You can add up your scores for each characteristic for a global score and then compare this in time, or you could do a few self-assessments over the course of a few weeks or months to see how you’re developing in any one area.

Naturally, doing a self-assessment is just a snapshot. It takes real honesty, and it’s not enough on its own—you need to take what insights you glean from it and actually make proactive changes. It may feel a little silly at first, but if you can concretely see the improvement in an area, in numbers, you may feel more empowered and confident in the steps you’re taking to be more disciplined.

Similarly, if you’re trying a new technique or method and after three months’ notice no improvement, you can safely conclude that it’s not right for you, knowing that your decision is honest and data-driven, rather than just being procrastination or an excuse.

Bringing Self-Discipline Traits to Life

Let’s look in more detail at how we can actually develop some of these traits in ourselves. There are practical ways to improve in each dimension, or all of them, and often improvement in one will spur and support improvement in another. For our purposes, let’s say that our main goal is to create motivation and inspiration. We want to spark and grow that passion, energy and even obsession required to build our dreams and get to work on what we care about.

Motivation and inspiration are emotional reactions, but they are also a result of the traits discussed above. If we are deficient in any of them, there’ll be a corresponding weakening in our overall sense of energy and motivation. So, being fired up with passion and purpose is not something we can directly cause in ourselves. However, we can indirectly create the right conditions in which our passion can ignite—and we can do it with conscious creation and self-discipline, one action at a time. Let’s take a look at the eight traits again and a few tips and tricks for developing each within yourself.

Sense of Purpose

The tricky thing with this is that nobody can tell you what feels meaningful or worthwhile to you. It really has to come from within. Many people embark on what they think is a self-discipline program, but in reality, they have merely substituted the teacher or facilitator’s vision for their own, assuming that they want the same things that they do.

To strengthen your sense of purpose, you need one thing: self-knowledge.

You need to know with honesty and clarity who you are, what makes you tick what values matter (and which ones don’t matter!) and what ultimately drives you. Bear in mind, though, that this can change with time. What felt like our life purpose at fifteen may not feel that way at thirty-five. That’s why we need to constantly reappraise so that we can fine tune and readjust, making sure our goals are OUR goals and align with us as individuals.

Therapy always helps with self-discovery, but there are some easy ways to remind yourself of what your purpose is. Ask yourself:

• If you suddenly won the lottery, what would you do? What does your answer say about what you ultimately value in life?

• What would you like your obituary to say about you?

• In the past, when you’ve been fiercely motivated to work on something, what was driving you?

• Who do you admire most, and what about them speaks to you? Is anything of them in you, too?

• Which activities most allow you to get into a “flow”?

Once you’ve identified your values, purposes, and deeper guiding principles, write them down somewhere. These are like your compass to guide you back home when you’re lost and floundering.

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Peter Hollins is a bestselling author, human psychology researcher, and a dedicated student of the human condition.

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