How to be More Disciplined - 2 Key Factors

The Two Key Factors

Self-discipline usually comes down to two key factors: time & pleasure [1]. Your mind runs a quick simulation of all the activities it could do and compares them. How pleasurable is each activity and how quickly could that pleasure be obtained? Is it worth waiting the time to achieve the resulting pleasure? One of the best ways to develop self-discipline is to play around with these two factors.

Think about activities that you want to do. Could you increase how rewarding they are and decrease the time it takes to get that reward? Can you make activities that you don’t want to do less rewarding or increase the amount of time it takes to get that reward? 


Let’s start by looking at the easier of the two factors to understand: time. Let’s suppose that you want to do some writing on your computer, but you always get distracted by social media. Social media is pleasurable, and it’s also easy to obtain that pleasure. Newsfeeds are designed and individually tailored to show you the most pleasurable thing that it can think of as fast as it possibly can. 

One way to compete with the products that social media companies put out is to increase the time it takes to log in and use one. You can delete apps off your phone, or use an app like self-control that will block certain websites on your computer. If you find that gaming or watching Netflix is a problem for you, you can disconnect your consoles and TV and move them into storage rooms. Try to only take them out on special occasions. 

On the otherhand, if you wanted to replace these actions with an alternative one, like reading, decrease the time it takes to do that action. If you make books more accessible to you, you may be more likely to read them. If you find that you have trouble finishing books, start with books that are smaller and easier to read.

Adjusting the time it takes to receive a reward is powerful, but it’s only a fraction of the whole story. 


There are things in life that are so rewarding that we will go through any length to obtain them. In Homer’s The Illiad, Helen is said to be so beautiful that her abduction caused a war. Beauty, love, revenge, power, conquest, and paradise are just some of the pleasures that humans will walk to the ends of the Earth for. 

The pleasure associated with any activity depends on the individual. Hiding your TV or blocking apps on your computer won’t be enough to stop you if those activities are pleasurable or meaningful enough for you. 

Here’s the real question: how do we change how pleasurable we find an activity? How can I find healthy eating more pleasurable than eating junk food? Can I make myself enjoy working or studying more than partying? 

One way that this can occur is through education or obtaining knowledge. An individual may go their whole life eating meat until they encounter the right set of facts or experiences that changes their beliefs. They start to feel empathy for how their actions will affect animals and feel more pain in performing those actions than pleasure. Think of an activity that you really want to do. Can you learn more about this activity that would increase the pleasure associated with doing it? Can you learn all of the downsides associated with doing an activity that you don’t want to do? 

An alternative way is to reframe one pleasure as an obstacle to gaining a greater pleasure using a technique known as WOOP. WOOP was coined and scientifically validated by the psychologist Gabriele Oettingen [2]. The acronym stands for Wish-Outcome-Obstacle-Plan. Think about something that you really want to have happen in the future: this is your wish. Make sure that it’s something that you can realistically achieve. What would your life be like if you obtained this wish? Imagine the outcomes completely. Now, what in your life is an obstacle standing in the way of that future? Really think about and imagine these obstacles in detail. Once you’ve done that, you need to formulate a plan using what Peter Gollwitzer calls “implentation intentions” [2]. I talked about this technique in one of my previous videos on self-discipline. Use an “if-then” statement to plan how you will overcome the obstacle if it arises. It will sound something like this, “if obstacle x arises, then I will do action y”. Oettingen performed study after study showing the efficacy of the WOOP method in motivating individuals to achieve their goals. You can read about them in detail in her book Rethinking Positive Thinking. 

If you find that the WOOP method is not working, consider that you might have set too large of a goal or a goal that’s not realistic. Try setting a smaller or more feasible one and restarting the process. Don’t just do it once, either. Try to do it everyday and maybe even multiple times a day.


The techniques and ideas presented in this video are just a tiny and narrow look into the complexity of self-discipline. I can’t guarantee that they will work for you but they will increase your probabilities of remaining disciplined. I’d recommend taking a looking at my video called “Why Self-Discipline is so Hard”, which you can watch by clicking the card in the top right of your screen, to get a more complete picture of this complex behavior. As always, thanks for watching, and I’ll see you next time. 



2. Oettingen, Gabriele. Rethinking Positive Thinking: inside the New Science of Motivation. Current, 2014