Many people wonder how I manage to stay so disciplined. They think my life must be very hard because I’ve always followed a strict schedule, from when I was training to be an Olympic athlete to now, since I’ve co-founded Onbotraining, an online coaching service that helps people achieve their goals.
But I don’t see it that way because I love what I do. My journey to the Olympics showed me what it takes to become skilled at something, and I don’t mind replicating that journey in my professional life. I have never minded the struggle because I know it offers me the opportunity to reach my goals.
I worked full time while I trained full time for the Beijing Olympics. I am not an exception in the world of elite athletes—many support themselves with dual high-level careers and live their dreams by achieving their Olympic goals. They push their capabilities to their limits and enjoy lives of purpose.
These athletes know how discipline works, how it shows you are in control of your life. It’s the path to get anything you want.
So how do you maintain a discipline? By combining an automated brain program—doing whatever needs to be done—with an incredible commitment to your goal.
It becomes increasingly harder to be disciplined in a society that prizes instant gratification. We are more concerned about feeling good all the time, so we seek immediate pleasures, whether it’s a new car, an exotic trip or a new partner. Our long-term goals are not so important anymore. We get comfortable and wait for a special event to give our lives meaning, happiness and success.
Discipline is the difference between being in control of your future and letting your environment dictate your destiny.
Discipline means freedom and happiness. It gives you the ability to do what you want because you know you can learn how to achieve any dream you set your mind to. Discipline teaches you how to control your thoughts—and how to be happy in any situation, to visualize positive emotions and trigger an optimistic mood. Discipline builds self-confidence, mental and physical strength, and inspires you to grow as a human being. With growth comes the ability to enjoy life in deeper, more meaningful ways.
Anyone can develop discipline. It’s a skill and it’s not complicated—you just have to train yourself for it.
When you challenge yourself to achieve bigger goals, you really dedicate yourself to the craft. The more time you spend on it, the harder it becomes to quit. Once you have spent so much sweat, time and effort on it, if you quit, it will be for nothing. The bigger the goal, the more invested you become.
Clearly define what your goal means to you and what you will specifically do to achieve it. If you set a goal to live healthier, for example, will you go running every day? At what time and for how long? Will you eat healthy? If there is no clear goal, there is no opportunity to create the specific steps you’d need to do to accomplish it.
When you wake up in the morning, do you know what’s most important for you to accomplish that day? Every goal, every priority, you have set for yourself has to be done—it will determine whether your dream lives or dies. Athletes know if they skip even one training session, they are already behind; they know they will lose a competition that is still three months away if they don’t do what they said they would, if they don’t follow through with their plan—if they aren’t disciplined.
4. Don’t argue with the plan.
If you want to go to the Olympics, each training session matters; there isn’t one that’s less important than another. It’s the same with everything else in your life. When you start the process, you cannot question it, you cannot hesitate, you cannot back down—you have to work hard every single day to reach your dream, full force.
Build the mindset that no matter what, you will accomplish things when you said you would. No matter what. You have to create pressure for yourself, otherwise nothing will get done. There is good stress and bad stress, and you have to make sure you are operating under good stress—butterflies in the stomach, a manageable adrenaline that stimulates you.
6. Plan a routine.
Create a routine that becomes second nature, automatic, normal. Athletes, for example, know what hours they train, when to break for lunchtime and dinnertime, and when to rest. In training, they know they have to do a warm-up, main training, and cool-down and recovery. By following the same routine, it becomes second nature—the discipline preps them to win. Planning your own routine—and sticking to it until it becomes automatic—can prep you for success, too.
Discipline was instilled in me by my mom. When I would ask her if I could start art, dancing or volleyball classes, she would say, “Be careful in choosing where you will spend your time, because you won’t be able to quit. You will have to follow through with it until the end, and do it well.” So I really considered whether I would be able to commit to something for a long time. And when I knew, when I chose the one thing I wanted to do, it made me want to figure out how to keep getting better at it—it made me want to commit.
Your body and brain will do everything it can to resist change and growth. You need to know that it’s natural to feel lazy and undisciplined—but you also need to know that you have all the power to fight it. Start with your thoughts.
9. Go above feelings.
The hardest part about discipline is maintaining the actions needed to achieve your dream or state of happiness. It requires constant hard work and fighting against comfort and instant pleasures. To do so, you have to separate yourself from the feelings that stop you, like fatigue, laziness or self-pity. You have to go above them, even if your feelings tell you that you are tired, stressed and alone in this struggle. Discipline is the direct training of a fighter.
10. Resist the brain.
All people are lazy, even the most successful businesspeople, the most accomplished athletes and the most talented actors. But it’s not simply laziness—it’s your brain saving energy for you. Any movement takes energy, and the brain is doing everything to stop you from moving by sending body signals about how hard it is to move and thoughts about how scary it would be if you fail. But you can trick your brain: Imagine your body is a beautiful machine and you are operating it as a higher force from above. Separate yourself from your body. Play it as a computer game. You are the one who commands your body to accomplish tasks.
Shift your focus to the process and concentrate on getting the work done faster and better every time. Speed is important; you have to move quickly in order to achieve perfection in a set amount of time.
So many people quit too early. Success is all about persistence, and discipline is what gets you to your final destination—the realization of your dream. The more you learn about your craft and your capabilities, when you start seeing yourself improve, the results will make you hungry for more. Self-improvement is an amazing drug.
I love discipline because it is a source of power. It is an engine that helps us understand and explore our capabilities and life’s opportunities. Discipline is not boring; it’s the freedom to put all our energy into creating something meaningful and beautiful.
It’s up to us to choose the life with discipline or without, with a goal or without, with a dream or without.