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6 Habits to Build Discipline, Based on Science

6 Habits to Build Discipline, Based on Science

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6 Habits to Build Discipline, Based on Science

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We can all find ourselves lacking a bit of motivation and discipline at times, whether it’s at work, school, sports practice, or at home. There are always parts of life that can be improved with an extra bit of discipline and dedication.

Discipline is a critical characteristic of success as it helps you to put in extra hours, analyze the results of your work, and make meaningful changes unaffected by emotion. 

It’s not hard to imagine how building discipline can improve your life, the hard part lies in actually implementing it. 

We all want to do our best, but not all work can be inspiring and fun and so it can, therefore, often be hard to maintain motivation.

Here are six simple habits that can help you to break bad habits and stay focused on your goals.

1. Meditation

Meditation is not just for those who want to feel zen, research tells us that it may also help you to build discipline by improving attention.

Maintaining task focus is a key part of building your discipline and ultimately helping you to succeed. However, the longer the task, the harder it can be to maintain focus. 

One study from 2010 found that intensive meditation training managed to significantly improve attention span. 

Research also tells us that meditation may even physically alter parts of the brain. One study used MRI scans to show that individuals who regularly practiced meditation had more grey matter, a structure of the brain that plays a key role in attention and focus. 

Overall, regular meditation may be able to improve cognitive function, increase attention, and protect the brain. 

Monk on the rock

If the prospect of a longer attention span gets you excited, you can start practicing meditation by simply finding a practice that works best for you. Zen, Shamatha, Mindfulness, and Breath Awareness meditation are all meditative techniques that can help improve concentration, attention, and overall discipline.

2. 5-Second Rule

The 5-second rule is a technique that can help you to grab opportunities and improve your work ethic and discipline. Developed by motivational speaker and author Mel Robbins, the 5-second rule states that if you have the instinct to work on a goal, you have 5 seconds to make a physical action toward that goal or else the motivation is lost.

Hand clock

What this means is that if you think about going for a run you have to stand up to put your shoes on within 5 seconds, if you think of studying for an exam then you have 5 seconds to move toward your desk. If you miss this window, Robbins’ theory states that your brain will kill the motivation instinct and therefore you will lose an opportunity to improve your discipline. 

Brain anatomy tells us that there may be some truth to this theory. The prefrontal cortex is an area of the brain that is involved in decision making and executive function. 

Executive function is especially important as it is the brain’s ability to work towards goals and predict outcomes and consequences.

It is therefore possible that, like the 5-second rule claims, the simple act of counting down from 5 and making a physical movement is enough to activate the prefrontal cortex and help you to start your goals, focus your concentration and build discipline.

3. Cold Shower

Increasing your alertness and discipline can be as easy as changing your surroundings and jolting you back into attention. One such technique that science tells can do this is cold showering.

Man in ice bath

A cold shower is any shower below 70 degrees Fahrenheit. This cold shock can significantly improve your cognitive functioning. 

Exposure to cold temperatures is known to increase levels of noradrenaline in the brain. Noradrenaline is a neurotransmitter that can increase heart rate, blood pressure and widen pupils, all physiological changes that result in increased focus and attention. 

Our skin also has a large number of cold receptors, meaning that a cold shower can send an immense amount of electrical impulses from those cold receptors to the brain, activating certain cognitive functions. 

One theory for why cold showers improve cognitive functioning is that adapting to changes in temperature (thermal exercise) is a stressor experienced throughout millions of years of evolution and so experiencing cold may be essential to optimal brain functioning. What we do know is that being shocked into focus through a cold shower can be a great way to set yourself up for a day of discipline and action.

4. Nutrition

To really build up discipline, a healthy diet is an important way to keep your brain functioning at an optimal level.


There is a range of foods and supplements that can help improve your memory, focus, and brain cell health to ensure your brain is ready to be active and attentive as you dedicate yourself to tasks. 

Such foods include:


Often touted for their antioxidant effects, blueberries can improve neuron health, cell signaling, and cell survival. One study even found that consuming berries, such as blueberries, can improve learning and memory. 

MCT oil:

MCT oil, otherwise known as medium-chain triglyceride oil, refers to oils such as coconut oil which have been shown to have a range of health benefits. 

Because of their shorter chains, MCT oils can be used as a rapid energy source and are particularly useful as an energy source for brain cells. Having optimal energy sources such as MCT oils is one way to help your brain function at its full potential as you work on your goals. 


Caffeine, which is found in tea and coffee, is a central nervous stimulant that studies have shown may improve your mood, reaction time, vigilance, attention, learning, and general cognitive performance. Overall improvements in brain function can help you focus more and be more disciplined. 


Vitamin B12 is found naturally in animal products and is often taken as a supplement. One of the symptoms of a B12 deficiency is a lack of energy and so for those not getting enough vitamin B12 in their diet, a B12 supplement can give you the boost of energy that you need to maintain focus and productivity.

5. Flow State

There are some simple psychological tools that can help you to improve your overall discipline. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi coined the term ‘flow state’ in his book Flow, which refers to a mental state where one is fully focused, engaged and enjoying a task.


To reach a flow state you must have a task with clear goals, clear and immediate feedback, and confidence in your skills vs the challenges of the task. Outlining your task in this way with a set structure can help you to enter a fully focused state where you are ready to meet your goals and rise to any challenge.

One study of athletes found that athletes who had set goals and increased confidence in their skills were more successful in reaching a flow state.

6. Reduce Negative Thoughts

This one may sound obvious, but it’s hard to put into practice! 

Negative thoughts can significantly affect your confidence in your abilities and overall motivation to be disciplined. 

Author Russ Harris mentions this in his book “The Confidence Gap” which states that many opportunities in life are missed because of a lack of self-confidence. 

Techniques to improve self-confidence and reduce negative thoughts include practicing mindfulness, highlighting your positive qualities and values, and visualizing how your actions would change with full self-confidence. 

As highlighted in John Medina’s book “Brain Rules”, understanding brain science and which conditions lead to optimal brain function can also help you to build confidence in your cognitive abilities.

Drawn brain in a hand


The key to success lies in discipline and with a few easy techniques you can overcome a lack of motivation, confidence, and focus. Research tells us that techniques such as meditation, nutrition and a range of psychological tools can help to improve your attention and cognitive function.

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 Happiness  Confidence  Stress  Energy  Productivity  Focus  Motivation
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