Self-discipline: How to build your inner drive

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The struggle for life

Life on the African Serengeti is a daily struggle for life for the animals that live there. They are divided into two groups, the predators, and the prey. Both groups are motivated to survive by completely different forces. Now, you are probably thinking what does this have to do with self-discipline? Read on and find out.

A herd of gazelle is grazing in a field of tall grass, some of the group are eating while others are keeping a close eye out for predators.

Self Discipline: How To Build Inner Drive

A powerful shape suddenly springs out of the grass and the herd leaps as a single unit and begins to run for their lives. The lion singles out one member and locks its sights on taking it down.

The gazelle weaves through the open plains in hopes that its endurance will save its life. The lion continues its relentless pursuit of its prey driven by its hunger.

The gazelle, young and healthy and a bit lucky is able to evade its pursuer and lives to see another encounter. Now that it’s no longer in danger it stops running and continues grazing. The lion, exhausted by its failure continues to be driven by hunger and moves on to find another target.

This encounter can teach us the difference between internal and external motivators to achieve our goals. The gazelle is only motivated to survive when its being chased by a predator.

Once the lion has stopped chasing it, the gazelle will stop until it once again is pursued by a predator. Its motivation to survive only occurs when an outside force drives it. The lion is driven by an inner hunger. It is constantly motivated to hunt for food for survival. It does not need an outside force to drive it.

Motivation vs. self-discipline

Jocko Willink ( checkout his website here:, got me thinking about self-discipline after listening to him speak on the Tim Ferriss podcast. I wanted to know the difference between motivation and self discipline. What is self-discipline? How do you learn or acquire it? Is it connected to motivation?

So this is what I learned. Motivation is acquired from outside forces but self-discipline comes from within. Self-discipline is defined as the ability to make yourself do something that should be done. It has also been described as doing something even though you hate it like getting up early for a workout. I disagree with this definition. Learning to do things that you don’t like could be more described as habit forming. Self-discipline is enduring something that’s difficult because there’s a goal that’s worth suffering for.

Self-discipline makes it easier to motivate yourself. There are individuals who have learned self-discipline from their intense inner hunger to achieve a goal. They aquired self-discipline naturally. If you believe that you aren’t one of these naturally focused people, don’t fret about, it can be learned.

All you need to do to unlock this inner drive is to endure some sort of physical hardship. A physical trial which requires you to push past your physical threshold and find a new level.

Once you have acquired a deep understanding of self-discipline through physical hardship, you’ll no longer require the need for motivation. The habit of working hard for your goals is driven from deep within and cannot be stopped or slowed no matter what the obstacle.

Learning through hardship

When I was younger I did not possess the inner drive naturally. It wasn’t until I began practicing Shotokan karate at the age of 17 that I began to experience an inner drive to accomplish a goal. This style of Karate was a traditional Okinawa style and is physically and mentally demanding.

The weekly practices were hard but I enjoy going. Twice a year all the clubs in the province ( I’m from Canada ) would get together for what was called a Special Training. In was comprised of eight 2 hour practices over two days. Its purpose was more to train the mind rather than train the body.

I remember the very first practice from the first special training that I ever attended. I had been practice for two years and had just achieved the level of brown belt. To further my practice I was encouraged to attend, even though I was terrified that I would not survive the weekend I decided to go.

The first practice was two hours of basics. Marching up and down the floor executing various punches and kicks. At the end of the practice, we had completed 2000 techniques.

A black belt from another club was directly behind me during the entire practice. This guy yelled and screamed in my ear every second of the two-hour practice. He would push me and step on my heels to keep them from coming off the floor ( one of my bad habits at the time).

He made the practice a living hell and I wanted to turn around and deck the guy but I knew that wouldn’t end well so I endured his abuse and choked back the tears. Half way through the practice I decided that these guys were fucking crazy and vowed that I would quit the club as soon the special training was over.

One practice during the weekend, in particular, was considered a test of the mind and is unique to this style of Karate. It was the dreaded kiba dachi practice. Kiba dachi is the horse riding stance ( see photo ). The junior members of the group would stand in a circle facing in and the senior members would be in an inner circle facing the junior members. kiba_dachi

Everyone at the same time would execute the stance and would hold the position for 1 hour and 30 minutes. It’s the most gruelling mental test you could ever encounter. Your legs will burn with pain and begin to shake as the lactic acid builds up in the muscles.

Your karate uniform would be soaked and there will be a pool of sweat surrounding you by the end. People will faint and fall down and then pick themselves up and continue. Once the practice is over you will have a sense of accomplishment that is nothing you have ever experienced before. To my surprise I completed the practice.

As the weekend dragged on and I completed practice after practice I found myself gaining a confidence I didn’t have before. I realized that I could survive these practices. Once the last practice was completed there was a sense of accomplishment that flowed through me. I was a stronger practitioner because of this training and decided to continue to be a member of the club.

I completed a total of seven special trainings over the years with the club and each one was a test to push myself further than the one before. It became a challenge I looked forward to every year. Through these trainings, I learned the true definition of self-discipline that I continue to benefit from even to this day 25 years later. I credit my self-discipline to the hardships I experienced while practicing my martial art.

I’m not saying that you need to participate in a special training to learn self-discipline ( although it wouldn’t hurt) but taking on and completing a physically demanding challenge will help you develop an inner drive you did not know was possible.

State of mind can affect motivation.

When researching the topic of self-discipline I came across a study that looks at self-discipline and motivation. The study looked at how carbohydrates, specifically blood sugar levels affected motivation. It’s findings concluded that blood sugar levels did have an effect on motivation.

The interesting thing about the study was when the participants were instructed to only rinse their mouths with sugar water, they indicated that their motivation level increased even though there wasn’t enough time for the sugar water rinse to affect their blood sugar levels.

No amount of sugar water could have ever increased my self-discipline during the Special training practices. Surviving these sessions required me to dig deep within and push myself to a new level of physical and mental endurance I didn’t know existed. This is why I know the difference between being motivated to do something and having an inner drive which will develop self-discipline.

Proven tactic to improve your self-discipline

I’m going to keep it very simple.

  • Find a goal that you think is impossible for you to achieve and go for it.
  • A physical challenge that will push you to your limit physically and mentally.
  • Train for it, want it and attack it like you are the hungry lion.
  • Push yourself past what you thought was possible and achieve a new level of self-discipline.

Don’t make this complicated. Join a martial art like Karate or Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Challenge yourself to compete in a cross fit competition or a marathon or tackle a weeklong backpacking trip. It’s proving to yourself that you can accomplish something that you thought was not achievable.

It will make lesser struggles seem small in comparison. When you strengthen your self-discipline it will become a part of your being forever. You can draw from it whenever you are thrown into something difficult.

If you like this article please share on your favourite social media site. If you have any comments you can always find me on Facebook. I would love to hear your thoughts on self-discipline.



Further reading:

4 skills that’ll transform you into a modern superhero

Motivation and willpower

Fire up your life by trying new things

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