You are probably cheating yourself and don’t even know it. Maybe you’ve set goals for yourself but keep failing to reach them. Your goal might be to lose weight, train for a marathon or develop the body you’ve always dreamed of having. Or maybe your goal is to be a better and more-present parent. Maybe you want to reach new heights in your career. If you have set goals and fallen short of reaching them, it could be because of a lack of discipline.

Many people believe discipline is the enemy of success. The opposite is actually true. I want to show you four ways to fall in love with discipline and help you get control of your life. Discipline has gotten a bad rap, but it can actually drive your success.

When I think about my first experiences with discipline, what comes to mind is going to Catholic school, with the hallways feeling tight and the nuns telling me what I was and wasn’t allowed to do. Also, my dad put pressure on me to follow a routine every morning, and he set a curfew that I, of course, thought was way too early. As a young person, it was tough to live by those rules. I couldn’t wait to get to high school so I could have what I thought was real freedom. That regimented life in my early years gave me a negative view of discipline, until my mid-twenties.

At that point, I began to realize that a disciplined approach enhances my productivity and my everyday living. It’s funny how your perspective changes over time. Now that I’m an adult, I look back on what I thought were the worst things in the world and see that they were some of the greatest parts of what I’ve become.

I feel better when I have structure. The more discipline I impose on my life, the more freedom I have. I know that sounds counterintuitive, but it’s true. For example, I feel better when I get my workout done in the morning. I look better and feel better, and I feel more focused throughout the day.

So, how do you gain discipline and turn it into something you love? Here are four ways to get there.

1. Have a compelling “why”

The first element of effective discipline is a big, compelling “why,” or purpose. The stronger your reason for wanting to achieve a goal, the more likely you will be to reach it.

If your goal is to lose weight, and your reason for setting that goal is that you just want to drop three to five pounds so your pants fit better, that’s not a compelling, strong “why.” It’s just not big enough. Pick a bigger “why” — maybe your doctor has told you that you are prediabetic, and you are dangerously close to being diagnosed with diabetes. You have young children and want to be healthy so you can be around for them for years to come and enjoy doing things with them. That’s a compelling “why,” a strong purpose.

When you have a strong purpose for wanting to achieve a goal, you will be more inspired to achieve it. You’ll also be more disciplined about taking the steps necessary to make it happen. If you have a weak, empty goal, it will be easy to forget why you’re even pursuing it, and you will lose steam. You might even quit. You’ll say, “I’ll ease off today and get back to it tomorrow.” That’s cheating, and we don’t want you to cheat.

Even though I resisted discipline as a kid, I now have a morning routine that is extremely disciplined. As soon as I wake up, I do all the things that are included in that routine. But some mornings, I don’t want to do those things; I just want to go downstairs and get a cup of coffee. There was a time when I had that cup of coffee as soon as I woke up. But when I realized that discipline is a key to being a high performer, I established my new morning routine and committed to meditating, reading Scripture and working out before drinking my coffee.

Once you become disciplined about building good habits, and you don’t cheat yourself, you will actually start to realize that you feel cheated when you don’t follow your routine. I was talking to someone I know recently who said he had started running two miles a day. I asked, “How did that feel?”

He said, “It hurt a lot. I didn’t like it, and I didn’t feel good. But then I started feeling great. And then it got to the point where I needed to run, and if I didn’t, I missed it. I had to do it. It became a habit, something I love.”

Back to the dieting example, it’s fun to have “cheat days.” After avoiding junk food for a few days, it can be fun to indulge in a slice or two of pizza. But the danger with cheat days is that it can be easy to just keep doing them, to the point where you’re no longer exercising discipline to eat healthier food. When you allow yourself cheat days, you are actually focusing on what you can’t have on most days.

  • What is a goal you want to pursue? Why do you want to reach that goal — how will it change your life for the better? How strong is that “why”? Is it enough to motivate you to follow the discipline needed to achieve the goal?
  • Think of someone you know who reached an impressive goal. What was his or her “why,” or purpose for pursuing it? Was it a strong, compelling “why”?

2. Visualize your success

The second way to love discipline is to visualize the success you want now and later.

If you want to fall in love with discipline, you have to love what is going on now. When you love the now in your life, it will be easier to get up in the morning and follow your routine. You will visualize what your day will look like. And then when you wake up, you will feel ready to execute what you visualized the day before. Visualizing your success helps you achieve it.

You also have to visualize what you want later so you can focus on your final outcome — whatever you are working to achieve. When you picture yourself achieving your goal, it will inspire you to practice the habits that will help you get there.

  • Think of a goal you are pursuing or want to pursue. Visualize what it looks like for you to start following a routine that will help you reach that goal. What will tomorrow look like? What habits will you form to reach that goal?
  • Now visualize yourself reaching the goal. What does that look like? How does it make you feel?

3. Focus on the positive

A third way to fall in love with discipline is to focus on the positive and push away the negative. This is absolutely crucial. You cannot succeed if you focus only on negative thoughts, influences and feelings. For example, if you’re dieting, it is not going to inspire you to focus only on what you’re not able to eat anymore. Focus instead on the healthy foods you do get to eat and, more importantly, on the incredible way you’re going to look and feel at some point in the future.

Negativity kills motivation. Negativity kills discipline. If I associate motivation with discipline, I succeed. But if I associate deprivation with discipline, I will constantly be angry and frustrated with discipline.

When you are pursuing a goal, remind yourself of all the positive things you’re working toward and how much better your life will be when you reach your goal. Begin with the end in mind, and then work backward.

Back to when I was a kid, little Scott was mad because he had to follow rules that he thought were infringing on his freedom. The truth is, those rules were not infringing on my freedom; instead, they were providing the foundation for me to be successful.

  • Looking back at your life, do you see the benefit of discipline that someone — maybe a parent, teacher or coach — imposed on you? Can you see how that discipline and structure helped you succeed, even though you may have resisted it at that time?
  • Think of a goal you are pursuing. To what extent do you focus on the positive aspects of the discipline you need to follow to achieve that goal? What negative aspects do you allow yourself to think about? Be aware of them, and as soon as a negative thought enters your mind, replace it with a positive thought.

4. Create a circle of accountability

Sometimes, the people around us feel uncomfortable, or even threatened, when we set ambitious goals and set out to pursue them. They might not realize they are trying to sabotage us, but it happens all the time. This is why it’s important to surround yourself with people who want only the best for you and will cheer you on, every step of the way. It’s called creating “a “circle of accountability.”

If you have always gone out on Saturday for pizza with your friends, and all of a sudden you tell them you’re not eating pizza anymore and you’re going to go train for your marathon, some of them are not going to be OK with that., They want you to do what they’re doing because it makes them feel better. And they feel threatened when they see that you are determined to become better.

So when you lay out a disciplined approach to succeed at something, and you share it with them, be prepared to experience some pushback and criticism. If that happens, you’ve got to change your circle. You need to spend time with people who share your goals and want you to succeed. Start hanging out with others who are training for a marathon.

Sometimes, our own family members are the ones who criticize our dreams and goals the most. If every time you walk into your mom’s house, she says, “You’ve got to eat this cake; I made it just for you,” you have to stay disciplined. Tell her, “Mom, I appreciate that so much, and your cakes are the best, but I’m trying to get healthier. I’m trying to lose twenty pounds. My doctor told me I’m in danger of becoming diabetic.”

I am incredibly lucky because my family, especially my mom, bends over backward to help me follow my discipline. My mom will make anything for me or do anything to help me achieve my goals. She goes overboard with it.

If you want to fall in love with discipline, surround yourself with people who are excited about your goal and will do everything they can to help you reach it. Create a circle of accountability, a group of people who love you enough to tell you the truth, people who will hold you accountable, people who will listen and encourage you when you’re struggling to stay on track. We all struggle with whatever we’re trying to do. When you do this long enough, you will experience success, and with success comes freedom. Discipline leads to freedom. They work together.

That discipline my parents imposed on me when I was growing up laid the foundation for me to embrace, and even love, discipline at this point in my life. When I was young, the “ultimate freedom” I longed for was really just laziness. It’s a trap. That kind of “freedom” is empty, and it does nothing to help you become a high performer. Discipline is the path to real freedom. Fall in love with discipline. I think you’ll be happy you did.

  • Have you ever set a goal, only to discover that the people around you wanted to sabotage your efforts? How did you handle that situation?
  • If you want to set a new goal, which of the people around you do you anticipate will try to sabotage your efforts? What will you do to distance yourself from them, even if they are family members?