The Five Pillars of Discipline

On 13 October 2012 by Alisa Damaso

“Hard at Work” by Amanda Szymanski

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” — Aristotle

Nothing worth having comes easily. Long-lasting rewards come from patience, travail and discipline. Like all things worth having, achieving your goals means putting in the time and effort — ultimately you’ll end up with what you’ve invested. A common analogy experts use to demonstrate the effects of discipline is body building. Know your limits, reach them, and then gradually build beyond them over time to get your desired results (or exceptional results, depending on how far you push yourself). Sure, there’s pain and sacrifice along the way, but you’ll come out on the other end with a really bangin’ body. Work up your discipline muscles and your productivity may inspire those around you to do the same!

It’s difficult for some individuals to muster the discipline to kick a bad habit, lose weight or work on a laborious project. The remedy is gradually developing positive habits and thought patterns that work toward your goals. Picture the end product: What will be most enjoyable or rewarding about completing the task? Keep this in mind with every daunting project.

There’s a great series of articles by motivational speaker Steve Pavlina about discipline. He identifies what he calls the “Five Pillars of Self-Discipline,” which are: Acceptance, Willpower, Hard work, Industry and Persistence — A WHIP, if you will. Since these articles are quite lengthy (yet worth the read), I’ve summarized these pillars below, demonstrated by my own examples.


The first pillar of self-discipline is acceptance — the ability to genuinely recognize reality for what it is and acknowledge your actual capacity for self-control. Without acceptance, ignorance and denial will take its place and block your improvement. So be realistic when setting your goals. For instance, when taking on a commissioned project, establish a reasonable deadline for both you and your client. If you’re notorious for pushing back deadlines over and over, setting a realistic deadline could help build back your credibility, reputation and business. The better you know your faults, the better you can work toward fixing them.


The next pillar is willpower, the initial boost that gives you momentum to implement your plans of action. An easy way to boost yourself is to gradually change your current environment into one that will allow you to achieve your goals. For example, if you give in to distractions while working, turn off your phone or your computer — or both. Another motivator is establishing positive habits so that change becomes natural — but you must start small (one habit at a time) and give it at least a month before adding on another routine. An additional path to willpower is being your own cheerleader. Don’t put yourself down if you fail at something; tell yourself you can do it and push yourself harder. These methods can keep you moving upward and onward.


Hard work is something most people tend to avoid, which means there’s less competition and more opportunity for those who make it their ally. The harder the challenge, the bigger the prize. These challenges feel like brick walls, but as the late Randy Pausch said, “[T]he brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.”

“The Wall” by adrianismyname


Next, industry is the time you invest in your projects. Knowing how to effectively manage this time will increase your personal productivity. For artists, compare a drawing you did in 10 minutes with one you did in 3 hours. Notice the difference in detail and refinement? Imagine applying this time and effort into other aspects of your life. The possibilities are endless.


And finally, persistence is what allows you to continue toward your goals, regardless of a desire to quit. Continuous action yields positive results, which can be very motivating in itself. For instance, I took up running on my days off. I developed a habit for getting up before the weather warms up, stretching and then heading out. Each couple of weeks I’ve been able to build my distance. Before I started, I wasn’t able to run 1 measly mile without stopping several times to rest. But a few weeks later, I was able to run a mile without stopping, no sweat. And after making my best time (10 min), I went farther. 3 months later, I’m able to run a sustained 2 or 3 miles.

At first I didn’t want to do all of this, but being in shape was my goal and reaching that goal was more important than satisfying my fleeting desire to give up. And guess what? Through the habit of running every other day I now crave it every time my body feels unbalanced (like after eating two cupcakes!). I even track my routes with MapMyRun and post them on Facebook as proof, and the encouragement from my friends keeps me going.


Self-discipline means wanting something bad enough. Set realistic goals and tell everyone about them to create a motivating support system that will not only help you hit your mark, but greatly improve your lifestyle — and you’ll have yourself to thank for it.

“We Win” by Noitusan

Got any discipline-building tips? Share them in the comments below!


Alisa Damaso

Alisa Damaso is an illustrator, graphic designer, and writer based
in the San Francisco Bay Area. She enjoys the magic of the outdoors,
watching campy horror movies, and singing songs about food getting
stuck in her teeth. Her hand is married to a pencil and she never leaves
the house without a sketchbook.

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