Of all the possible traits I believe that are essential to your success in life and business, self discipline is the hands down the most important. You can have the best idea in the world but if you don't put in the work required to get people to notice you, it isn't going to make a difference. I am a big fan of the billionaire Charlie Munger, he is known for using many models of thinking for decision making including psychology, investing, engineering, and business. Personally self discipline is the very first "model" I see the world through.
There are countless great books out there on the subject of self discipline and willpower but my favorite has to be No Excuses!: The Power of Self-Discipline by Brian Tracy. His definition is essentially "doing things even when you don't want to". I have personally put this force to work in my own life in all areas and it's made all the difference. Whether you are out of shape, single and lonely, broke, or unhappy; all you have to do is learn to take control of your own mind and habits and put them to work for you.
Lets start with your body. It goes without saying that if you want to get healthy you had better start changing your habits from sitting on the couch and eating chips all day to getting to the gym and eating more healthy. The real trick to sticking to things that you don't really like is simply doing them long enough until you do like them! Personally my biggest problem growing up wasn't so much being lazy physically, I had worked out off and on for years. No my biggest problem was that I didn't like it because I didn't know what I was doing! I made exercise a priority in my life and focused 100% on learning as much as I could about exercise routines, healthy diets, and supplements. I initially spent a lot of time on YouTube watching various fitness channels. Before long I realized if I wanted better results I had better invest in myself and go straight to the top. I found out about Ben Pakulski who is a top bodybuilding Mr. Olympia contender. I purchased two of his programs, one was called MI40 , which taught me how to use perfect form to generate an extreme amount of tension in the muscles you want, as well as the science of knowing exactly what to eat and when. The other was a year long program called Hypertrophy MAX that was miles ahead of anything else I found on the market. By spending a little bit of money I cut my learning curve by years. The takeaway here is that you need to get over the initial mental hurdle and just start, then adjust by learning as much as you can.
In order to make self discipline work, you have to be able to generate interest and curiosity in whatever you are attempting. The second half of that equation is seeking the knowledge from top people in whatever area you are interested in. Curiosity is really the dark matter that connects it all together in my opinion. I find once you begin to master your self discipline in one area of your life whether that is studying, dating, sales, exercise, eating, or working, it makes everything else that much easier.
Here's how I apply self discipline to my dating and social life: Go out and actually talk to women! Learn door to door sales! Learn public speaking! Talk to strangers. It is pretty simple in theory but executing it is actually pretty tough if you aren't really naturally outgoing. Due to our brain still thinking we are living in cavemen times, the fear of rejection is akin to the fear of death. Why is that? Well if you think back to the days of living in tiny tribes, if you were to approach the wrong woman there is an excellent chance that you would get smashed over the head and killed by a caveman. Another consequence was being exiled to the wilderness which was also a death sentence. The ancestors who didn't violate the social norms were successful and passed on their DNA to us, which explains that while even though the conditions have vastly changed, our brains haven't caught up yet. This of course ties in to the fear of public speaking, the spotlight bias ( where we think everyone is watching and judging our every action), social anxiety, and much more. Evolutionary psychology is an extremely interesting topic that I suggest you learn more about. Sorry for going off on a tangent there but the point is if you apply self discipline to any social skill be it dating, building a social circle, public speaking, or sales you can become better and better; you aren't limited by anything but your own effort. Make the effort to annihilate your fear of rejection today, it will have an amazing butterfly effect in your life.
So what do you do if you're broke? Well the first step is obviously go get a job, you need an income. While it is a separate topic of how to find a job you love or what you should be doing, you need to be working, period. Since you are going to be spending about 80% of your time working, you had better spend a LOT of time optimizing this part of your life. I would suggest you choose a skill like sales that will pay big dividends the better you get and attack it full force. Ok so now you have an income, what next? There are a few things I would suggest you start doing and learn to love. The first one is paying yourself first. I find this actually starts to rewire your brain to be better with money, no matter how much you are making. A book that really knocked this into my head was the The Richest Man in Babylon, and I would strongly recommend it if you are broke right now. Once you have some money saved up you need to start investing. For me I invest almost entirely back into my own brain, I am thoroughly convinced that your own brain has the highest ROI, not a stock or piece of real estate. You should take the time to master saving, investing, insurance, and entrepreneurship. In general become a learning machine right now. Take the time to read books, there are many benefits to this and its also a topic for another talk.
Finally lets talk about happiness and how you can improve it by self discipline. What we now know is that our brains are not wired for happiness, they are wired for survival and replication. With that in mind Brian Tracey suggests that happiness is a by-product, you feel happy to the degree that you feel you are in control of your life. It comes from 5 ingredients: health and energy, healthy relationships, meaningful work, financial independence, and self actualization. Instead of focusing on happiness, I would suggest taking the Charlie Munger approach of inversion. What makes you unhappy? Cut that out of your life first. The process of subtraction is very powerful in this area. Limit the amount of negative influences you have in your life and start consuming more positive media. You need to ditch people who are constantly complaining, criticizing, blindly judging, and gossiping. This goes for anyone and it doesn't matter whether they are friends, family, or coworkers. Enforce a no negativity law in your life and work immediately. On top of a healthy physical diet, I would suggest taking a "mental diet". This is a powerful mindfulness exercise that I learned from Anthony Robbin's book Awaken the Giant Within. You commit to being positive for a week straight and if you are negative for more than 2 minutes you must restart the process. Try doing 20 minutes of meditation a day as well.
As you can see increasing my willpower and self discipline has had a big impact in my life and it has a special place in my heart. It's the base that you build everything else up in your life. Without it I don't know where I would be today. I am not the smartest person in the world but willpower is what got me through engineering, door to door sales, working out, mastering my social life, and reading over 100 books in a few months. When you start to mix it with other traits like curiosity, faith, knowledge, courage, and adaptability you will go very far in life.