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Self-discipline is an essential and often underrated tool for success. Like most healthy behaviors, self-discipline is something that is learned and developed. Developing the tools to gain self-discipline will prepare you on your long journey to a healthier lifestyle.

Start by Setting Realistic Goals for Yourself

Break down goals into small tasks that will be easier to complete; the more frequently you accomplish these smaller tasks, the more you will feel motivated to take on something bigger. If you are not sure where to start, write down the first thing that comes to mind. If it is not realistic, cut it down into easier steps with a time frame to complete them.

Stay Organized by Tracking Your Goals and Progress

Try making a spreadsheet or keeping a journal to track your progress. You could write down things that motivate you as well as your fears. You could write down your food intake for the day and the amount of physical activity you did to keep yourself accountable. Seeing your progress will motivate you to stay disciplined, and seeing your failures will inspire you to get back on track. There are also many tools on the Web that can help you record your progress.

Remove Temptations and Distractions

Start removing negative factors in your life to increase your chances of success. Try not to keep tempting foods in your kitchen, but if you do have tempting treats at home, try to keep them out of immediate eyesight. Try to recognize the cues that trigger you to engage in unhealthy activities. When you recognize these triggers, you can use them to transform your bad habits into good habits. Distractions and temptations can also be emotional. For instance, if you are overeating, it could be due to stress; try to spot those factors in your life so you can counter stress-eating. Also, research factors that can reduce stress, such as exercise and meditation.

Learn From Your Mistakes

Accept responsibility for your mistakes. Learning to be more open and embracing your past failures can help you see opportunities to grow. Habits do not form overnight; they take time to develop, so accidents will happen. If you find yourself engaging in an unhealthy habit, ask yourself why you feel the need to do this and what changes you feel you could make. If you monitor your eating habits in a journal, you should make note of your mistakes as well. This can help you spot areas where you need improvement or factors that are triggering you to act on unhealthy impulses.

Stay Motivated, Even After a Slip-Up

Does the fear of failing motivate you more than the positive outcomes of changing your lifestyle? Find out what motivates you and use it to your advantage. For example, if you want to lose weight because you are afraid of health risks such as high cholesterol or diabetes, focus on those negative health risks to drive you toward your goals.

Have a (Healthy) Reward System in Place

Be sure to reward yourself when you accomplish your goals: The bigger the goal, the bigger the reward. Try not to use food as a reward, though; rather, use incentives such as splurging on an item you want to purchase. Letting yourself buy items that can help you achieve your fitness goals, such as new yoga pants or a pair of high-end headphones, can be a great motivator. Make sure that you take the time to really celebrate your achievement, then use this feeling to help you visualize completing your goals. Really focus on what completing your goal will feel like, and use this mental picture to motivate you.

Practice Until it's Hardwired in Your Brain

If you stay motivated and keep working on your goals, eventually, healthy behaviors will become routine. You will find yourself making fewer excuses through consistent effort and hard work. All of those small goals you set for yourself will become good habits that feel right and natural, and you will begin to see the results from your gained self-discipline and hard work.