How to Develop Self-Discipline: 6 Tips From Sharma

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Who Will Cry When You Die?" by Robin Sharma. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Why is self-discipline so important? What steps can you take to become more disciplined in your daily life?

Self-discipline may sound harsh, but it’s actually a form of self-care. In his book Who Will Cry When You Die?, Robin Sharma goes over the six methods you can use to build your self-discipline so you can improve on your own terms.

Here is how to develop self-discipline, according to Sharma.

See Self-Discipline as a Form of Self-Care

Robin Sharma, the author of Who Will Cry When You Die?, argues that being disciplined is a form of self-care. When you exert discipline over yourself, you make choices that are unpleasant in the short term but better for you in the long term. These hard choices also often guide you toward your purpose. Additionally, by putting in the work to improve yourself, you don’t wait around for the world to force you to improve—an experience that’s usually more painful, claims Sharma. 

(Shortform note: Sharma’s a big believer in self-discipline, but others take a more critical stance toward it. Some feel that self-discipline stems from deep-seated anxiety over not finishing projects on time or a sense that your worth is completely based on your performance. Self-discipline, therefore, might not confer greater benefit to you in the long run, as Sharma believes, because you never give yourself the chance to enjoy the fruits of your labors. You’re too busy working to avoid guilt or anxiety over the next project.) 

In his book Who Will Cry When You Die?, Sharma explains how to develop self-discipline.

Approach #1: Follow Through on Your Intentions

Sharma believes that action, not intention, is the key to being disciplined. If you intend to improve an area of your life, don’t stop there—take the necessary actions to improve it. 

Taking action can be difficult, admits Sharma. But the good news is that by regularly taking disciplined actions, those actions become increasingly appealing and easy to make. If you keep pushing yourself to socialize, it will become easier and more fun. 

(Shortform note: Science backs up Sharma’s claim that your enjoyment of a difficult activity increases the more you do it—specifically, science around running for exercise. While running can be unpleasant at first, the neurological benefits—reduced stress and increased mindfulness—eventually make it enjoyable. Of course, it takes time to reach that stage of enjoyment, and in the meantime, you can make running—or any other activity—easier by starting small and building up. As long as you’re acting on your intention in some way, even small, you’re heading in the right direction.)

Follow Through by Always Being Honest

A specific way to exert better follow-through on your intentions, according to Sharma, is to refrain from saying things you don’t mean: Don’t make commitments to yourself and others that you can’t or won’t keep. Don’t, for instance, tell yourself that you’ll go to someone’s birthday party if you know ahead of time that you’ll be too exhausted to attend. Not meeting the obligation will reduce your faith in yourself. 

(Shortform note: Sharma’s advice about honesty is akin to don Miguel Ruiz’s advice in The Four Agreements to only ever speak the truth and avoid meaningless or false speech. But unlike Sharma, who frames this advice in the context of building self-discipline, Ruiz writes about false speech in the context of advancing the greater societal good. False speech can have unpleasant, unintended consequences for those around you—like when you pass an offhand, untrue remark about a friend’s outfit that leaves them feeling insecure the rest of the day.) 

Approach #2: Treat Your Time Like a Precious Resource

Another way Sharma recommends being more disciplined is by treating your time as a commodity. You have a finite amount of hours on this planet, so don’t waste even a single one. As a specific example of treating your time as a commodity, Sharma recommends you don’t always answer the phone when it rings. When you drop a task to respond to someone else’s need, you treat your time like a wasteable resource.

Sharma adds that often, you must train your brain not to respond instantly to every input that comes your way. But when you become less trigger-happy, you’ll realize the things that used to seem so urgent never truly were.

(Shortform note: At the time of this book’s publication, our world was much less tech-saturated than it is today. The importance of not responding immediately to every ping, call, or message, therefore, is all the greater now—yet our resistance to such stimuli is all the weaker. Statistics show that 16% of adolescents have smartphone addictions, with symptoms like phantom vibrations and feelings of social isolation when away from their phones. To combat the encroachment of tech on their lives, some have gone even further than Sharma’s recommendations to ignore notifications and not respond instantly: They’ve turned to digital detoxes in which they go cold turkey on certain tech or phase out tech over 30 days.)

Approach #3: Be a Disciplined Listener

Another important element of increasing discipline is becoming a more disciplined listener, insists Sharma. View every interaction as an opportunity to grow and build trust between you and the other person—not as a chance to express your views. When you listen in a disciplined way, you’re more likely to learn and grow as a result of the conversation. 

(Shortform note: Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life provides a further reason to listen in a disciplined way: You can learn from others’ mistakes. Peterson asserts that many people use speech to reason through their thoughts. They make sense of the past and plan for the future by talking things out. When you listen well, therefore, you learn lessons from their lives and avoid the difficulties they experienced.) 

Sharma proposes three specific strategies to become a more disciplined listener:

Strategy #1: Don’t Speak for More Than a Minute Straight

If you find yourself talking for more than a minute without input from your conversation partner, you’re talking too much, says Sharma. Be mindful and don’t speak for longer than this amount.

(Shortform note: Sharma recommends curbing the amount of time you speak at once. While this likely remains a good general tip, there are some fields where talkativeness, a common trait in extroverts, is useful: People who like making small talk tend to perform well in public relations, sales, and event planning.) 

Strategy #2: Don’t Interrupt

Interruptions are often just a way to wedge thoughts or opinions into a conversation, claims Sharma. Instead of doing this, double down on listening.

(Shortform note: Sharma advises against interrupting, but different people have different views on this practice. For some, interrupting is a sign of engagement, not a show of narcissism or rudeness. Therefore, before applying Sharma’s advice, gauge how your conversation partner reacts to interjections. If they seem not to mind them, then continuing to interject can keep the conversation flowing smoothly.)

Strategy #3: Take Notes

If you’re in a professional setting—for instance, a meeting or an interview—take notes during the conversation, advises Sharma. This tells your conversational partner that you’re paying attention and are committed to learning from them. 

(Shortform note: Beyond showing that you’re listening, notes can help you use the content of the conversation to your benefit. In Getting Things Done, David Allen suggests capturing everything you need or want to do in note form so you can act on it.)

Approach #4: Be Silent for an Hour a Day

Another form of self-discipline Sharma recommends is being silent for one hour a day. Intentional silence builds willpower that you can apply to other areas of your life. 

(Shortform note: Silence has health benefits in addition to cognitive benefits. In moments of stress, silence can help lower blood pressure and muscle tension, decrease your heart rate, and calm your breathing. However, building quiet into your day can be hard, especially for extroverts who often need noise to feel comfortable. Extroverts can start small, by, for instance, drinking their morning coffee without talking, and build up to completely silent and still moments.) 

Approach #5: Take Care of Yourself Physically

Sharma advises you to bring discipline to the care of your body. When you take care of yourself through exercise and wholesome eating, not only do you reap the benefits of good health, but you also strengthen your mind and gain perspective on life. 

(Shortform note: Scientific evidence links good physical health to good mental health, thus backing up Sharma’s argument. Exercising regularly reduces the effects of anxiety and depression and elevates your mood and self-esteem.) 

Approach #6: Prepare for Downtime by Bringing Reading Material

The final form of self-discipline Sharma advises is to always bring a book to read during unexpected downtime. Make the most of minutes spent in transit or waiting for a friend by expanding your knowledge. 

(Shortform note: Sharma recommends filling downtime with meaningful activity as a self-disciplinary practice, presumably so you can make the most of your time. But others argue for regularly giving yourself time to be idle. When you allow your mind to wander and dream, you enhance your creative powers and productivity and recharge your brian’s battery.) 

How to Develop Self-Discipline: 6 Tips From Sharma

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Here's what you'll find in our full Who Will Cry When You Die? summary:

  • Why most people end up leading lives they’ll regret
  • How to seize control of your life and turn it into one you’ll look back on fondly
  • How and why you should set intentional breaks in your daily life

Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

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