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Academic Success Center

(979) 458-4900 9th floor Rudder Tower

Developing Self-Discipline

Since much of college learning happens outside of class, having the self-discipline to commit to a dedicated and diligent study schedule can be the key difference between students who excel and those who struggle. This 50-minute lesson combines interactive discussion, videos, and lecture-style instruction to share with students that they can use to establish and practice self-regulation and develop positive habits.   



  • Understand the concepts of self-discipline, self-regulation, and willpower
  • Assess current level of self-regulation
  • Understand the key factors of willpower
  • Recognize the power of habits, both good and bad
  • Understand the stages of self-regulation
  • Gain awareness of behaviors, thoughts, and feelings that could interfere with academic success
  • Explore methods to strengthen academic willpower
  • Recognize the difference between growth and fixed mindsets

Instructor resources

Sellers, D., Dochen, C. W., & Hodges, R. (2015). Academic transformation: The road to college success. Boston: Pearson, 137-148.

Duhigg, C. (2012). The power of habit: Why we do what we do in life and business. New York: Random House, 130-144.

Baumeister, R. F., & Tierney, J. (2011). Willpower: Rediscovering the greatest human strength. New York: Penguin Press, 11-17.

Summary of actions, via slides and activities

  • Introduce the concepts of self-discipline, self-regulation, and willpower.
  • Discuss how much willpower students believe they exhibit currently.
  • Have students complete the Willpower Self-Assessment exercise.
  • Discuss why willpower is important in college.
  • Introduce the highlights of willpower.
  • Willpower has a finite limit—once you expend it, it does not replenish until the next day.
  • Willpower is like a muscle—while it can be fatigued and become temporarily weaker, it can be strengthened by exercise over time.
  • Improving your willpower by exercising it in one area can create a positive “spillover” effect into improved willpower in other areas.
  • Habits are a mixed blessing. They require less willpower than intentional behaviors, however, falling back into poor habits running on auto-pilot can negatively impact academic performance.
  • Certain habits are “keystone” habits.  Significantly improving those habits leads to overall improved performance across other activities/actions:
  • Sufficient sleep
  • Physical exercise
  • Healthy diet
  • Stress management
  • Study?
  • Introduce the stages of self-regulation, but be prepared for regression:
  • Stage 1:  Chaos
  • Stage 2:  Stability
  • Stage 3: Flexibility
  • Stage 4: Mastery
  • Have students complete the Behaviors, Thoughts, and Feelings exercise (can be done individually, in pairs, or as a group discussion at the instructors discretion) and discuss results.
  • Introduce methods to strengthen academic willpower:
  • Ownership (Can’t vs Won’t)
  • Self Esteem
  • Intent
  • Initiation
  • Self-Talk
  • Mindset (Fixed vs Growth Mindset):

Last Updated: 09/12/2019

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. You may reproduce it for non-commercial use if you use the entire handout and attribute The Academic Success Center, Texas A&M University.