Students demonstrate the trait of self-discipline (i.e., will power) by: 

  • Doing what they should do even when they might be able to get away with misbehavior 
  • Doing what they need to do without procrastination or excuses. 
  • Resisting temptations and urges for immediate gratification. 
Key Beliefs:

I will be a better student if I act on the following beliefs:

  • I can make sure that my behavior is appropriate and reflects my values. 
  • Just because I feel like doing something doesn’t mean I should, or that I have to do it
  • The ability to be self-disciplined will be important to get things done in school and life.
  • Doing what’s best in the long-run despite short-term temptations
  • Explain and illustrate how to make positive decisions in difficult situations, resist peer pressure, and exercise self-control. 
  • Role-play scenarios in which students may be tempted to engage in unhealthy or destructive behaviors. 
  • Eliminate distractions.
  • Know your own inclinations.
  • Reward yourself after studying hard.
  • Have planned goals and strategies.
  • Use technology.
  • Make decisions in advance.
  • Create a routine.
  • Identify strategies for practicing self-discipline when in heated situations, such as county to 10, stopping to breathe deeply several times,  going for a walk, thinking about the consequences, and trying to identify what the other person is feeling. Have students give an example of when they have used these strategies.
  • Discuss what Benjamin Franklin meant when he said, “He that can have patience can have what he will.”
  • Discuss the benefits of going to school for 12 or more years. Does it take patience to come to school day after day? What are the rewards of getting an education?
  • Talk about strategies for being on time. Choose a hypothetical situation, such as being on time for school, and strategize ways to be punctual.
  • “Talent without discipline is like an octopus on roller skates. There’s plenty of movement, but you never know if it’s going to be forward, backward, or sideways.” – H. Jackson Browne Jr.
  • “Willpower is character in action.” – William McDougall
  • “Self-discipline begins with the mastery of our thoughts. If you don’t control what you think, you sure can’t control what you do.” – Napoleon Hill
  • “I can’t always control my thoughts but I can choose how I respond to them.” -David Cuschieri
  • “With self-discipline most anything is possible.” – Theodore Roosevelt  
  • “The first and best victory is to conquer self.” – Plato 
  • “Self-respect is the root of discipline. The sense of dignity grows with the ability to say no to oneself.” – Abraham Joshua Herschel
  • “You can never conquer the mountain. You can only conquer yourself.” – Jim Whittaker 
  • “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle  
  • “If we were supposed to talk more than we listen, we would have two mouths and one ear.” – Mark Twain 
  • “He that cannot obey, cannot command.” – Benjamin Franklin

Students who have trouble staying on task and are easily distracted often lack self-discipline. By helping students improve their working memory skills, you can help them pay attention and develop self-control. Try playing brain games like Memory, or word recall where students have to recall the words or pictures that they were just shown. Another fun game is to have students take turns drawing something, then cover it up to see if their partner can recall what they just drew. By simply playing these games a few minutes a day, you can significantly impact your students’ working memory and self-control.

Mindfulness Activity to Promote Self-Control

  • Stop and count to ten.
  • Take a deep breath.
  • Think about how you are feeling (hurt, afraid, angry, frustrated).
  • Think about the choices you have before you decide to react.
  • Take time out by yourself.
  • Do some breathing or relaxation exercises.
  • Write in a journal about your feelings.
  • Talk to someone about how you are feeling.
  • When in a conflict situation, you will discuss and brainstorm ways to potentially resolve the conflict. When there is a conflict situation, you will identify and state your feeling using an “I feel_____” statement. You will initiate varied appropriate topics for discussion and communication with peers.

Who Made You Move?

In this game, students will use their self-control to move their bodies only when they hear the drum (or other musical instruments). When the drum stops, students must use their self-control to stop moving. Students will understand that it is up to them to control their bodies.

How to play

First, allow the students to hear and see the drum. Choose a body part that the students will shake (hands, shoulders, elbows, knees, and so on). Tell the group that when they hear the sound, they should shake the body part chosen. When the sound stops, the students must use their self-control to stop moving and remain still until they hear the sound again.

Life Application Lesson on Self-Discipline for Middle School Students
Learners connect self-discipline with individual choices and apply it in a personal situation.

Graphic Organizer

Learners will use a graphic organizer (Venn Diagram or T Chart) to develop the concept of cause and effect within a life application situation.

Understanding the Importance of Self-Control for High School Students

WOOP for Classrooms

Declare a Wish, then contrast the positive Outcome it would bring with the negative Obstacle that stands in its way. Create a Plan to get around the obstacle.

  • Ashima’s Ascent: Rocking the Climbing World
  • Self-Discipline Advice from a Roman Emperor  – A video for high school students.  Marcus Aurelius, who ruled Rome from 161 to 180, had some thoughts on self-discipline that he wrote down in his book “Meditations.” I think you can apply his thoughts to your own life.
  • The Marshmallow Test The lessons from the marshmallow test can offer some pretty good insights into our level of self-discipline, as long as we’re honest with ourselves. Most people look at the video and think “Hey, that’s not me. I’d be the one who can just sit there and wait.”

But consider these real-life situations that involve a different kind of marshmallow:

    • You’re talking with your parents at dinner, but you keep checking your phone for a text from a friend who said they might want to meet you after dinner.
    • You’re supposed to transfer your class notes to note cards, but your favorite show is on TV early tonight, so you put off the note cards since it’s not going to take that long to rewrite them anyway.
    • You know you’re supposed to clean up all of your Chemistry lab experiments, but the last bell of the day rings, and you go catch up with your friends, having cleaned only three test tubes.
    • You know the reason you failed the last Geography quiz is because you didn’t study, but you just don’t want to get ready for tomorrow’s test, so you make a note in your planner to ask the teacher for extra credit.
    • The truth is, we all have marshmallows in our life, and we all have spinach, or liver, or something we really don’t like to eat. In a world of choices between marshmallows and liver, we’re inclined to go with the marshmallow every time—even if it’s the situation where the “marshmallow” is a text from a friend that might never come. And the last example, where the student is counting on extra credit to get them by? This happens way too often in school, and always ends up badly—but that’s liver that’s coming later, and it isn’t worth eating the liver of studying they’d have to eat now to avoid the liver they’ll have to eat later. (