Hands up if you'd like to be more self-disciplined with your studying?

The great news is; self-discipline isn’t a skill you’re either born with or not. Self-discipline and willpower can be taught, it’s like a muscle you can work out and improve over time.

In fact, a study from the University of Pennsylvania demonstrates that self-discipline is key to academic success. Students with high self-discipline generally outperform those with low self-discipline – even if they are all of the same intellectual ability.

So if you’re looking for higher grades, you may not have to become smarter. You may just have to become more self-disciplined.


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5 Powerful Ways to be More Self-Disciplined With Your Studying

1. Develop your studying self-awareness

A lot of self-discipline advice tells you to look at what’s NOT working, and what your weaknesses are.

But I want to start on a more positive note.

The first stage to being more self-disciplined with your studying is to become more self-aware about how YOU study best.

So you need to work out what your most effective study-self looks like. What do you need to be the best student you can be?

Try to answer these questions.

  • What time of day are you most effective? Are you an early bird or a night owl?
  • Where do you get your best studying done? E.g. desk, kitchen table, the library
  • Do you always do your best work in the same place or is it good for you to mix it up?
  • Are you most effective studying in short bursts or longer study sessions?
  • Are you more effective studying in silence or with music?
  • What helps you be super productive and effective? E.g. good study snacks, new stationery, a clear desk?

2. Work with your study preferences to set yourself up for success

Now you’ve worked out how you study best, make sure you work with these preferences, rather than fighting them.

It’s important to understand and work with your limitations, rather than try to overcome them.

For example, I read lots of articles on how to become a morning person. They all say how my life will improve by waking up and getting shit done earlier. But, I KNOW I don’t work at my best in the morning. So it’s a waste of my time, energy and happiness to try and force myself to study first thing.

Instead, I need to understand this limitation and work with my strengths instead.

For some reason, even when I’m sleep deprived, I have the most energy in the evening. So this is when I should be scheduling my study sessions.

If you work with your study preferences, you will find it easier to be more self-disciplined with your studying.

3. Call out your BS

While it is important to work towards your strengths, you have to be able to distinguish between acceptance of your limitations…and excuses.

Let me give you an example.

When I was writing an essay last year I felt really overwhelmed about how to start and I wasn’t really sure what the question was asking of me. My ‘plan’ was to start writing and hope something good came out. But I found myself just sitting and staring at the blank page, as nothing I thought of felt good enough to write down.

I could feel the excuses coming on. Thoughts were creeping into my mind like, ‘I’m just rubbish at starting essays’, or, ‘this isn’t working – I can’t do this’. I actually stood up, moved away from my desk and switched on the TV for a few hours.

I was making excuses, when instead I needed to call out my BS.

Accepting my limitations would have looked very different. Self-acceptance is saying, ‘this isn’t the way to do this so I’ll find another way’. I should have remembered I hate starting essays from a blank page. That I work a lot better when I spend some time upfront creating a detailed outline and plan before I try and start writing.

When you accept that a method doesn’t work for you, you need to find what does and try that, rather than giving up.

Try to recognise when you’re making excuses and instead call yourself out on your BS so you can be more self-disciplined in your studying.

4. Create back up plans

Maybe at the start of the week you promised yourself you would study this weekend. But now the weekend is looming and you’ve got family coming down to stay. It feels like it will be easier to just ditch the studying, because it will be too hard to fit it in, right?

Obstacles are going to arise in your studying, especially if you’re trying to fit it around an already busy work/family life. But that doesn’t mean your self-discipline should go out the window.

What you need is a back up plan.

Psychology Professors Gabrielle Oettingen and Peter Gollwitzer from NYU have coined the term ‘implementation intention’ to describe the back up plans we sometimes need to make to achieve our goals.

They explain this goal process like this. ‘I intend to reach Z. If situation X is encountered, then I will perform the goal-related response Y’.

They give an example of someone trying to reduce their alcohol consumption - 'If the waiter asks me for a second drink I will order a mineral water’. Studies show that making a back up plan increases the likelihood you’ll achieve your goals.

So, let's apply this to the example of weekend study plans being interrupted, ‘I want to study this weekend. If my family visit unannounced then I will plan 3 short study sessions in between the activities to get some studying done. I will also rearrange next Monday’s cinema trip so I can make progress on my essay.'

If your study plans regularly get derailed by life, make a back up plan BEFORE the obstacle takes over, so you can be more self-disciplined with your studying.

5. Reward yourself

Sometimes our self-discipline crumbles when we don’t see immediate results from our effort. Planning an essay that's due next week doesn’t produce instant results. Starting your revision for an exam that’s still weeks away won’t provide immediate gratification.

This means you need to find other ways to reward yourself that aren’t tied directly to the achievement of high grades.

3 ways you can use rewards to be more self-disciplined with your studying

1. Plan a small treat for after every single study session.
As soon as you sit down to study, decide on a small treat for yourself when you’ve completed your task list. This might be some chocolate, a hot bath, a glass of wine – anything that will encourage you to stay disciplined throughout the session

Make sure you download the worksheet that goes along with this post, so you can implement the strategies and start seeing instant results.

2. Plan some future rewards and treats
As well as immediate treats, it’s great to have some to look forward to in the future. See if you can plan some treats for during or after some tough study times ahead e.g. around essay due dates and exams.

Some of my favourite things to plan: pre-order a new trashy novel, book in a dinner or drinks date with friend, schedule in a new haircut or a massage.

3. Track your achievements daily
It’s very easy to move from task list to task list, never really recognising the progress you’re making. If you’re really struggling to stay disciplined, try tracking your achievements as well.

Keep a sticky note near you during your study session and note down every task you complete. At the end, you’ll have a list that should make you feel great and help you be more self-disciplined with your studying in future.

Make sure you download the worksheet that goes along with this post, so you can implement the strategies and start seeing instant results.


How to Actually START Your Essay

Workbook + video training to take you from procrastination and overwhelm to understanding your question and mapping out your ideas with momentum. Easier, faster essay writing (and higher grades) await.

Start Your Essay

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