The Top 10 Self-Discipline Books

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What role does self-discipline play in your life? Is discipline a fixed trait or is it something you can improve through practice?

Most people think of discipline as a virtue, an admirable trait that we strive for but don’t always achieve. But science tells a different story: Discipline is like a muscle that can be trained with practice. 

In this article, we’ve rounded up the best self-discipline books to add to your reading list.

The Power of Self-Discipline

Discipline, or willpower, is the ability to exercise self-control when you need it—it’s an instinct that’s wired into our brains. Yet it seems like discipline vanishes at crucial moments, like when your coworker shows up with a box of donuts.

If you want to learn how discipline works and how you can improve it, check out our roundup of the best self-discipline books from Shortform’s library: 

Discipline Equals Freedom

In Discipline Equals Freedom, Jocko Willink argues that the key to mastering your mind, reaching your highest goals, and discovering your full potential is unwavering discipline. Willink is an author, speaker, and podcaster that shares his lessons and philosophy of discipline acquired from 20 years of service as a US Navy SEAL. Through his military and leadership experience, he’s learned that success depends on disciplined, daily decisions like waking up early and putting off your break until tomorrow.

The Obstacle Is the Way

A cult classic among professional athletes, The Obstacle Is the Way is a guidebook to solving any problem preventing you from achieving ambitious goals. It’s based on the tenets of Stoicism—an ancient Greek philosophy emphasizing rationality, discipline, and personal responsibility. Ryan Holiday argues that by choosing to view your obstacles in an empowering way, you can turn them into your greatest assets.

12 Rules for Life

Author Jordan Peterson argues that modern secularism and reliance on science has left a void in answers to important existential questions: What is the point of living? Why do bad things happen to good people? What am I supposed to do to make myself happier? 12 Rules for Life addresses these questions and gives a set of life principles to live by. Learn why you should stop telling lies to others and yourself, how to discipline yourself to stop doing things you know are bad for you, and how to pursue what is truly meaningful for you.

Dopamine Action

Is there something you indulge in more often than you’d like? Maybe it’s checking social media, eating junk food, or binging shows and movies on streaming platforms. In Dopamine Nation, addiction treatment specialist Anna Lembke explores what causes these behaviors and how you can take back control. She explains both the neurological and emotional causes of overindulgence and provides clear actionables to help you strengthen your self-discipline.

The Willpower Instinct

The Willpower Instinct is one of the more scientific self-discipline books. In this book, Stanford psychology professor Kelly McGonigal details how our natural willpower gets compromised by stress, distraction, lack of sleep and exercise, and a host of other factors. Using the latest psychology and neuroscience research, she offers strategies to help us defeat procrastination, control cravings, and achieve our goals.

The 12 Week Year

We all have things we want to accomplish in life, and we all want to be a success in our professional endeavors. We set annual goals, but after a year, we’re no closer to our goals than before. There’s too much time in a year to focus properly on the necessary tasks, and there are other responsibilities and distractions that hinder our productivity. The 12 Week Year will teach you five disciplines that will help you achieve your goals and effect lasting, positive changes in your life. 

You Are a Badass

You were born to be a badass, but are you getting the most out of your life? In You Are a Badass, author Jen Sincero helps you identify and change the self-sabotaging thoughts and behavior patterns that are stopping you from living up to your potential.

Creating a better life requires only one simple shift: Going from wanting to change your life to deciding to change your life. This book will explain why you are the way you are, how to change what you don’t like, and how to love yourself as you create a new, awesome life.

Who Will Cry When You Die?

In Who Will Cry When You Die?, self-help guru Robin Sharma wants to know if you’ll feel happy with the life you’ve led when you’re on your deathbed. Sharma thinks that most people lead lives they’ll regret because they focus on the wrong things—success, money, fame—and none of the right things—family, community, love. If you think you might have end-of-life regrets, Sharma provides a collection of pithy life lessons and advice to help you seize control of your life and turn it into one you’ll look back on fondly.

The Daily Stoic

What do J.K. Rowling, LL Cool J, and George Washington have in common? Stoic philosophy. For generations, Stoicism has motivated scores of people to live well.

In The Daily Stoic, Ryan Holiday and translator Stephen Hanselman share insights from the ancient Stoic philosophers on how you too can live a good life. It was a bestseller in 2016 and has since been expanded into a thriving podcast and website. At the core of Stoicism is the belief that the cardinal virtues—self-discipline, courage, justice, and wisdom—are the source of internal stability and the measure of a good life.

Deep Work

Like most people, you’re probably easily distracted by wandering thoughts or social media updates while trying to be productive. In Deep Work, Cal Newport teaches you how to develop your focus and resist distractions so that you can rise to the top of your field and drive toward your most important goals. He contends that focus is like a mental muscle: Through deliberate training, you can strengthen your focus and expand your mental capacity.

Final Words

The key to getting a handle on your life is to develop self-discipline. In developing discipline, you choose to make active decisions in your life, rather than letting life happen to you. 

If you feel like your actions are driven by circumstances and impulsive emotions, reading self-discipline books can help you seize back control.

The Top 10 Self-Discipline Books

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Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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