Series: Improve Your Mental Game—Habits and Discipline

11 July 2022

We’re covering the Jr. NBA and NBA Academy’s Next Level Mentality program, a 10-part series curated from mental health performance coaches in the NBA and WNBA that’s designed to help youth athletes improve their mental approach, and individual and team performance.

Success doesn’t happen overnight—ask any professional athlete. It takes hard work, good habits, and self-discipline.

In this article, we use expert guidance from mental performance coaches in the NBA and WNBA to break down the difference between habits and discipline, so you can discover how to effectively lean on each of them to achieve your goals.

What’s the difference between habit and discipline?

Self-discipline is the practice of controlling your own actions and feelings. It’s the ability to pursue what you want to achieve, even when you don’t feel like it. When someone has strong self-discipline, they can motivate themselves to stay on track.

Habits, on the other hand, are behaviors you do on a regular basis. You often perform these actions without really having to think about them.

Now here’s where the two connect: discipline is the conscious effort to create a habit. When you use discipline, you’re training yourself how to act, and once you do that enough times, your actions become routine—a habit. And once this new habit is established, you’ll need less discipline to reinforce it.

Picture this: You want to wake up early to practice ball-handling drills every morning. Even though you’re not a morning person, you’re determined to become a better ball-handler. So you wake up 15 minutes earlier each day to practice before school. You need self-discipline to get going, but once you’re consistent with this action, it eventually turns into a habit that’s part of your morning routine.

Bottom line: It’s totally possible to create new habits that will help you achieve your goals. You just need a little self-discipline to make it happen.

5 strategies to implement habits and discipline

Remember that it takes time to form a new habit, anywhere from weeks to a few months. Follow these five strategies to help implement good habits into your routine:

Create a goal plan

Goal setting provides you with clear direction, which helps you see what needs to be done, and most importantly, how you can discipline yourself to get there. See our first guide in this series on goal setting to get started.

Identify what motivates you

What do you want? What’s your end goal? The best way to build healthy and sustainable habits is to know the why behind them. Plus, positivity and optimism are crucial when it comes to achieving your goals, and you’ll only get there when you believe in them and yourself.

Know your strengths and weaknesses

Recognizing your distractions and removing them will help you get to where you want much faster. Think about it this way: do you constantly have an urge to check your phone when you’re studying? One habit you can build is leaving your phone in a different room during study time. Similarly, identifying your strengths will help you make smarter decisions around your goals too.

Surround yourself with support

Inevitably, there will be times when things pile up and you feel your attention slipping. Maybe practice feels just too long one day or you just need a break. Surrounding yourself with people who support you and can help you keep going the next day will be key in those moments.

Practice gratitude

Don’t underestimate the effects of gratitude, from improving your mood to increasing your self-esteem. When you focus on what you don’t have, it’s impossible to remain disciplined and motivated because you use so much mental capacity on self-doubt. Instead, spend a few minutes each day thinking about things you are grateful for.

To learn more about Next Level Mentality and view the nine other guides, visit Jr. NBA’s website.*

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