8 Tips for Building Discipline

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People are usually surprised when they hear that I started out as a bad student. “But Sifu, you’re so disciplined!” That’s true now, but I wasn’t always that way. Discipline is something that I had to build.

In the beginning, I was incredibly undisciplined. I practiced now and then, but not regularly. I would miss a day of practice, and then a week, and then a month, and then I’d have to start all over again.

So what changed? How did I go from a bad student to a star student? How did I turn my life around?

My Resolution

I did it with a simple decision: A few days before January 1st, 2000, I resolved to practice Lifting The Sky every day, no matter what.

It wasn’t easy. I struggled. Some days, I just went through the motions. But I stuck with my resolution. Every day, I lifted the sky , no matter what.

One night, a few weeks into my resolution, I was lying in bed, exhausted from a long day at work. As I was lying there, I realized that I hadn’t done Lifting The Sky yet. I sighed loudly, crawled out of bed, and did it about ten times. Then I slumped back in to bed.

Gradually, things started to get easier. I built momentum. Practicing became a habit. And I found myself enjoying the habit.

Today, it’s easy for me to practice daily. It’s a deeply ingrained habit, and an enjoyable one. But back then, it was difficult.

Interestingly, the practice session itself was never that difficult, but convincing my mind to begin the session was often torture. And whenever I missed a session (before the resolution), the guilt would roll in.

Since January 1st, 2000, I have not missed a single day of practice. Not one. By committing to this one decision years ago, I was able to build enough momentum to make other, life-changing resolutions down the road, like quitting smoking, creating the Flowing Zen Studio, and pursuing my life’s passion. That resolution was like the key that unlocked the rest of my life’s potential.

If you want to unlock more of your potential then here are some tips:

1. Start Now

New Year’s Eve isn’t the only time you can make a resolution.  You can start any time. Action has power in it, so the sooner you act, the better.  In fact, why don’t you get up and do the 2-Minute Drill right now.   I mean it.  Get up from your chair and do it.  Start something now, no matter how small.

2. Do a 30-Day Trial

The 30-Day Trial is a fantastic way to implement changes without a lot of pressure. It’s simple. Do something (or quit something) for 30 days. At the end of the 30 day period, there’s no pressure to continue. That’s why it’s called a trial.

Choose something easy for your first 30-Day Trial. Here are some examples:

  • Do 2 minutes of Qigong every morning for 30 days
  • No TV for 30 days
  • Wake up early for 30 days.
  • Do 100 Kung Fu kicks every day for 30 days

The ability to stop after 30 days has a powerful psychological effect. It takes all the pressure off. If you’ve ever felt guilty about not sticking with goals, then the 30-Day Trial is for you!

3. Don’t Fail!

“The only rule is that you can’t fail,” I said to a student. “The rest is up to you.” The student thought for a few seconds, and then asked a smart question. “So I can choose any goal I want, even if it’s super easy, just as long as I don’t fail?”


Far too often, students fail not because they lack discipline, but because they set unrealistic goals. In other words, they set themselves up for failure. And then they feel like a failure because they are practicing failure instead of practicing success.

Don’t do it! Don’t fail! Choose the easiest goal you can think of, but do it for 30 days. Even though the goal was easy, you will still feel successful. And that’s key. Because you’ll feel successful, you’ll be ready to shoot a little higher with your next goal.

4. Remember What You Want

Here is one of the biggest secrets of building discipline: Remember what you want. Through years of grueling training, Olympic athletes never lose site of their goal. In other words, they constantly remember what they want, and that fuels their daily discipline.

After winning Wimbledon, tennis star Andre Agassi said that he had already won it 10,000 times — in his head. For years, he was incredibly disciplined with his practice. He maintained that level of discipline by constantly visualizing his goal — to win Wimbledon.

When working towards your own goals, you’ll need to constantly remind yourself of what you want. And make sure to be specific with your goal-setting. Make sure to read my article How to Supercharge your Practice  if you need help with goal setting.

5. Practice with Friends

I practiced for years by myself. When I finally found people to practice with, I suddenly realized what I had been missing.  What a difference it made!

In my studio in Florida, I work hard to build community because I know how important it is. But many people don’t have a community. They practice alone like I did.

There are two simple solutions to this problem: either convince your friends to start practicing, or find new friends who already practice.

It’s not easy to convince friends (or family) to try these arts, but you owe it to them to give it a shot. Talk about how much you’ve benefited from practicing Tai Chi, Qigong, Kung Fu, or Meditation; or show them my page on Lifting the Sky; or buy them a good book. Unfortunately, most people won’t be interested, but a few may be inspired by your enthusiasm.

The other option is to find like-minded people in your area. It doesn’t matter what style of Tai Chi, Qigong, Kung Fu, or Meditation they practice. What matters is that they are good people who appreciate the importance of community. Even if you only meet once a month, it will still be beneficial for both of you.

6. Read a Book

Even after years of reading and re-reading my teacher’s books, I still find them to be a source of inspiration. After reading a few pages, I invariably want to go practice. Of course, other books on Tai Ch, Qigong, Kung Fu, and Meditation can also be inspiring. Good books are a resource, and you should use them.

Watching a good Kung Fu film (or even a bad one) can also do the trick. As children, many of us were inspired to pursue the martial arts because of what we saw in movies. That source of inspiration can still work today. Even Kung Fu Panda made me want to go practice! Try it. Go watch a Kung Fu movie and see if it motivates you too.

7. Be Like the Sitar String

Don’t be too hard on yourself, but don’t be too soft on yourself either. The key is to find the happy medium. A quote might help:

“If the sitar string is too loose, it will not play a song. If the string is too tight, it will break.” –Buddha

Setting an easy goal is fine. That’s an example of not being too hard on ourselves. But you have to stick with that easy goal! Don’t be too soft on yourself. Don’t allow yourself to fail.

Find the sweet spot where your string will play a song because it is “neither too tight nor too loose”.

8. Enjoy Your Practice!

My best tip for building discipline? The real secret to my success? It’s simple: Enjoy your practice.

Whenever I practice, I truly enjoy myself. Every day, when I step into my practice room or go outside, I let go of everything else, and I focus on enjoying my practice. When I do this, it doesn’t feel like work. It doesn’t feel like discipline. It feels like joy.

If you had to pick just one of these tips, pick this one. You’ll be amazed at how much discipline you’ll build. And the best part is that it will be enjoyable!

Mindfully yours,
Sifu Anthony

[hr] I’m Anthony Korahais, and I used qigong to heal from clinical depression, low back pain, anxiety, and chronic fatigue. I’ve already taught thousands of people from all over the world to use qigong for their own stubborn health issues. I teach online courses, and also lead in-person retreats and workshops.

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9 Responses to 8 Tips for Building Discipline

  1. Walt - taoboxer October 4, 2011 at 12:30 pm #

    Excellent advise !!! Oddly enough, that sounded like myself ! 4 years ago I had the pleasure of training with you. Just once. 4 years later I still continue to implement your teaching.Honest thanks. peace.

  2. Allyson October 4, 2011 at 12:54 pm #

    Thank you Sifu! This was really great – very inspiring. I encourage both patients and students to work realistically towards their goals to ensure greater success. This was nicely done here.

  3. Seph May 25, 2013 at 3:44 am #

    Hey there Sifu,

    So cool to see that you’re also writing about self-discipline! 🙂
    I’ve have been studying thesubject of self-discipline for quite some time now, and have just released a free eBook about it.
    Maybe you’d like to check it out?
    My blog is: http://www.builddiscipline.com


  4. Fabienne October 24, 2013 at 3:44 am #

    Dear Sipak

    I’ve come back to your site, and especially this article, many times. I keep failing to keep up any sort of regular practice. I DO practice Chi Gong a few days per week during work, all the more when times are stressful, but in an extremely minimalistic and irregular way that does not do justice to what the art gave me in past years and continues to give me so far.

    I always say that I have tremendous respect for the arts and my Sifu, but do I really? If I did, I would practice and do what Sifu tells me.

    One sentence in this article, even though I read it for the 20th time, only rang true today:
    “Setting an easy goal is fine. That’s an example of not being too hard on ourselves. But you have to stick with that easy goal! Don’t be too soft on yourself. Don’t allow yourself to fail.”

    I always want too many things at once and let myself be overwhelmed. For example: stance training. Because it’s the basic of our Kung Fu / Taijiquan, I always assumed that it should be easy to practice it and beat myself up everytime I couldn’t do it. But now I had to realize: to ME, stance training is still hard and I still don’t like it, even after 3.5 years of studying with Sifu. Maybe I really just need to start with the most simple thing: Lifting the Sky.

    Is there something wrong with me? Why can’t I set goals, practice regularly and just make a habit out of practice like everybody else? Lately, I keep thinking that I should maybe let go of Shaolin Wahnam because I keep failing in building discipline (and I sometimes feel tired of picking myself up again and again), but then I also know that I would waste the chance of many lifetimes if I gave up on the Shaolin Arts.

    I apologize for the lenght of this. I have all the knowledge and tools I need to make my success happen. But maybe I’m subconciously hoping that you can give me some insight that might finally push my thoughts and motivation into the right direction.


  5. Dawn April 24, 2014 at 11:30 pm #

    I do an hours worth of qigong a day and it is a struggle… I end up making it the last thing I do at night (procrastination) and because of that I’m tired and usually unable to focus. I’m trying to get myself to do it in the a.m. So it’s not hanging over my head all day. It’s been 7weeks… I look forward to the day I don’t mind it, then the day I actually enjoy it. #fingerscrossed

    • Sifu Anthony Korahais April 25, 2014 at 11:57 am #

      Hi Dawn. I don’t know who your teacher is, and I don’t mean to step on any toes, but I’ve seen many students in your situation. Long story short — there’s nothing more important than enjoying your practice. A short and sweet session is much more productive than a long one that feels like a chore.

      That said, I applaud your dedication. It’s not easy to practice for 1 hour per day. You’ve got some good discipline there.

  6. Diane April 27, 2014 at 12:11 pm #

    This was one of the best articles I’ve ever read. I love my Tai Chi class with my Sifu and we spend about half of it doing Qigong. I always feel fantastic after. But it is SO HARD to do at home, why?? My Sifu has suggested I make a dedicated space at home but I live in a small apartment so it’s hard to do that. Maybe it is because I am doing it alone…? I need motivation and will be reading all of your articles, you give very good advice! Thank you.

    • Sifu Anthony Korahais April 27, 2014 at 3:31 pm #

      I’m glad you enjoyed it, Diane. Your problem is very common. For most people, it’s much easier to do Qigong and Tai Chi in a studio, with other people, and with a teacher leading the class. Making a dedicated space is a good idea. I managed to do that even while living in NYC, so it’s definitely possible (but not easy). Practicing with others is also a good idea.

      My online academy, which is still in its infancy, will attempt to tackle this problems. For example, my long-distance students have found the guided audio lessons from my academy to be particularly helpful. (These guided audios are designed to lead you through a practice session.)

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