Unlocking the Power of Self-Discipline for Greater Achievement

Procrastination is a universal experience. Almost everyone has experienced at least one moment where they have put off an important task in favour of something more interesting, like a book, article, or video. In the worst cases, it can be in favour of simply doing nothing. However, while satisfying in the moment, acting on such impulses often leads to heightened anxiety, stress, and pressure later on. The key to breaking free from this cycle lies in self-discipline, enabling us to achieve more while reducing stress.


The Power (and Struggle) of Self-Discipline.

Self-discipline is defined as the ability to consciously resist impulses in pursuit of long-term goals. It is a highly influential characteristic in professional development and success. Research by psychologist Angela Duckworth has shown that self-discipline is a more potent predictor of academic achievement in adolescents than intelligence, significantly impacting final grades, attendance, and homework completion. Additionally, self-discipline is linked to positive career outcomes, contributing to both occupational success and satisfaction.

Self-discipline is undoubtedly important. Yet, it is a struggle for many. Research has revealed that self-control ranks low among character strengths in both adults and children, scoring 22nd out of 24 in the UK and last in the USA. Duckworth attributes this to the difficulty of balancing resources between our present desires, such as social interactions (spurring the urge to check your social media), and our future aspirations.

The ability to hone self-discipline is essential for achieving your professional goals and living up to your full potential. The good news is that self-discipline is a habit that can be cultivated over time. While it might be challenging to start, the more we practise it, the stronger and more automatic it becomes. And the stronger your self-discipline, the more you will experience changes in your professional life and mental health. 


Today we will share our favourite tricks to help you improve your self-discipline and work smarter.


1: Find What Is Tempting You and Self-Monitor

To cultivate self-discipline, it is essential to recognise that it is personal. Everyone has distinct temptations and tendencies. For example, some individuals may struggle to control their social media usage, while others may spend their time watching TV series. Identifying these barriers to self-control is a vital first step in developing strategies tailored to address your specific weak points.

Furthermore, identifying your temptations will allow you to self-monitor, tracking your behavioural patterns throughout the day. This allows you to determine whether your strategy is successful or requires refinement. 

By personalising your approach to self-discipline and self-monitoring, you lay a strong foundation, allowing you to devote your energy to effectively enhance your self-control to achieve your goals and improve your professional outcomes.


2: Look to the Future

According to Duckworth, having a goal-oriented mindset is fundamental to improving your self-control. Research studies have shown that setting specific, difficult goals enhances performance, especially when these goals are made public or shared in a group. Setting goals enables you to focus your attention on a specific outcome, and effectively allocate resources to its achievement.

Furthermore, breaking down a goal into smaller, more manageable sub-goals, has been linked to higher levels of productivity and commitment by making tasks appear more doable. This can enable you to maintain your motivation and sense of progress when working towards challenging goals. 

Once these goals are set, it is crucial to create a plan for their achievement. A proposed strategy for planning is known as mental contrasting and implementation intentions. This visualisation technique involves envisioning the positive outcomes associated with your goals and contrasting them with the current obstacles standing in your way. Through this process, you gain valuable insights that inform a detailed plan to tackle these obstacles effectively. Studies have linked employment of this strategy to significant increases in achievement and motivation.

By adopting a goal-oriented mindset and implementing strategies like mental contrasting and implementation intentions, you equip yourself with tools to overcome obstacles and achieve your professional goals. This will empower you to resist impulses and approach your work with more self-discipline. 


3: Manipulate Your Environment

Sometimes the easiest way to exercise self-discipline is to change your environment in a way that dampens a temptation. Doing this is known as a situational strategy for self-control, and is observable when someone hides their phone away at work, or puts up controls to prevent procrastinatory webpages from being accessed on their computer. In taking steps to remove the temptation from your environment, you are reducing the salience of the temptation in your mind, and minimising your impulse generation associated with low self-control. This will allow you to regulate your impulses and focus your attention on your work to achieve more


4: Practise Healthier Living

A healthy lifestyle significantly contributes to improved self-discipline. We’ve all had that day where we felt like we couldn’t think clearly due to a lack of sleep, or skipping a meal. It is in these situations where our self-control seems to diminish the most, and this is because a healthy mind is essential for mental clarity and good decision making. Therefore, regular exercise, a balanced diet, and quality sleep are all vital for enhancing self-control. This will also help you to build a foundation for better self-discipline in the future.  


5: Engage in Mindfulness

Mindfulness strengthens self-discipline by increasing self-awareness and curbing impulsivity and stress. Embrace mindful meditation to observe thoughts and emotions without judgement, fostering a calm and focused mindset. This will allow you to “surf the urge” without needing to act on your impulses. Simple deep breathing exercises serve as powerful tools to stay focused in challenging situations, empowering you to make deliberate choices rather than succumbing to distractions or negativity. By incorporating mindfulness into your daily routines, you enhance focus and self-control, reducing procrastination to pursue your long term professional goals.


As you implement these practices, you will hone your self-discipline, enabling you to achieve your full potential in your work. Remember, it's a journey of progress, not perfection, and implementing even one of these techniques will bring you one step closer to achieving your professional goals. Ready to work smarter?



  1. Duckworth, A.L. and Seligman, M.E.P. (2005) ‘Self-discipline outdoes IQ in predicting academic performance of adolescents’, Psychological Science, 16(12), pp. 939–944. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280.2005.01641.x.
  2. Choi, I. et al. (2018) ‘Comparing two roads to success: Self-control predicts achievement and positive affect predicts relationships’, Journal of Research in Personality, 76, pp. 50–63. doi:10.1016/j.jrp.2018.07.001.
  3. Park, N., Peterson, C. and Seligman, M.E. (2006) ‘Character strengths in fifty-Four nations and the fifty US states’, The Journal of Positive Psychology, 1(3), pp. 118–129. doi:10.1080/17439760600619567.
  4. Duckworth, A.L., Milkman, K.L. and Laibson, D. (2018) ‘Beyond willpower: Strategies for reducing failures of self-control’, Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 19(3), pp. 102–129. doi:10.1177/1529100618821893.
  5. Duckworth, A.L. et al. (2013) ‘From Fantasy to Action: Mental Contrasting With Implementation Intentions (MCII) Improves Academic Performance in Children’, Social Psychological and Personality Science, 4(6), pp. 745–753. doi:10.1177/1948550613476307.
  6. Duckworth, A.L., Gendler, T.S. and Gross, J.J. (2016) ‘Situational Strategies for self-control’, Perspectives on Psychological Science, 11(1), pp. 35–55. doi:10.1177/1745691615623247.
  7. Savage, M., Boni, G. and Duckworth, A. (2022) The mental hacks that level up your self-control, BBC Worklife. Available at: https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20191217-the-mental-hacks-that-level-up-your-self-control


Take a digital detox

Digital Detox

Casedo is a tech company, and so more than most we can suffer from 'overtech' and find that we spend most of our time on screens, gadgets and other 'labour-saving' devices. Katie McKenna looks at how to manage this, and perhaps be a little more human again.

Nightmare! My Wi-Fi connection is down. I am happy to confirm that yes, I have turned it off and turned it back on again in true the IT guys style but alas, the problem is much bigger than my lack of IT knowhow. So, with mounting pressure to perform despite a global pandemic how can I use this time wisely? I am sure you have been in this situation before. Though the term 'digital detox' can stick in the craw, there are things that can be done offline of course but thinking outside of the box a little, here are a few ideas to keep you busy and productive.


Think about your why

Can you remember why you studied law in the first place? If you’re anything like me, you made that decision a rather long time ago. Have a think about what drives you? What about your job makes you happy? When you do you feel most in flow? To put it simply, why do you do what you do? Are you dedicated to making your clients lives easier? Are you fighting for justice? Are you righting wrongs? When you know your why and publicise it, it makes you more attractive to prospective clients, it provides a sense of authenticity to your practice and inspires your colleagues.


Thank you

Everyone has had a hard year but if you’ve been lucky enough to receive instructions, why not take the time to say a heartfelt thank you for the support you’ve been provided during a trying time? It might be hard to recall without access to your electronic files, but it does provide an opportunity to think about the year past, connect with what you achieved this year and which cases stand out. We should be spending more time on kindness in 2021.


Check in on someone

As much as we don’t acknowledge it, mental health was strained in the profession before the pandemic and sadly, things will only have proceeded to get worse given our new stressor and his friends. It might be worth taking the time to pick up the phone to call that colleague, referrer, contact, friend to check in, see how they’re doing and brighten up their day.


Write that article

If your firm has a website, chances are you’ve been hounded to write something at some point. It can seem daunting and cuts into your billable hours. Astound yourself at what an article can do for your reputation and personal brand awareness. I personally find the act of writing down my thoughts quite cathartic. Once you have an idea, you’ll be surprised how quickly an article can come together. What should I write about? I hear you cry. How about your thoughts on a recent case? How have you found working at home? Are you a fan of digital hearings? How do you make your Zoom meetings pop?


Clear desk(top), Clear mind

When time is sparse and pressure is high, good practice can sometimes disappear and every so often I’m sure that files have ended up in the wrong place or there is a rogue local copy on your computer desktop. This could be the time to clear a messy computer desktop that is overcrowded, ensure that the files are saved into correct folders or deleted before your IT team notice. Indeed, it might be that you are not using the right digital tools to begin with! It’s also a great time to use folders and subfolders to declutter your electronic workspace and your mind.

There is also the literal desktop; be it a proper desk in your home office or the kitchen table. It’s a great time to think about the space you work in, day in day out. Is it clear of distractions? What can you do to make it more pleasant? Is there anything you can add to inspire yourself when working? Taking the time to improve the environment we work in can have a great impact on your productivity going forward.


Revolutionise your mindset

Your brain is amazing, and it will never make you a liar. If you constantly live your life focusing on the negative (and let’s not lie there is a lot of negative out there right now!) it will constantly reinforce that view and all you will see are the problems that surround your life. The trick is, that you should make your beautiful mind work for you. Gratitude is my constant attitude. I start my day by listing all the things that I am grateful for in my life which makes me constantly look on the bright side and see the good.

I do have bad days, like everyone else, but I know that how I react and what I do next is constantly within my control. Don’t believe me? The Emmons and McCulloch study confirmed this very fact. I also know that I need to take a whole body approach to my mental health. I digital detox is not the whole story, and that a healthy diet is absolutely key to my well being.


UPDATED: 2022.11.09

Person holding a rainbow of coloured vegetables to illustrate that you are what you eat

You are what you eat.

Katie McKenna delves into what we're all made of. We are what we eat, after all!

In my case, I must be chocolate. In all honesty, our reality is driven by what we consume daily and I’m not just talking about carbs and protein. Naturally, lawyers train to be risk adverse and see potential issues, problems and horrors awaiting in every transaction.

We take action to mitigate these risks and concerns obviously but it doesn’t fully escape our attention and we are always watching our own (and our clients backs) for the potential for financial, reputational, time consuming and miscellaneous damage causing monsters.

With this heavy burden hanging over us, it’s not a massive surprise that a lot of us can feel a bit down/low/negative.

We are what we consume, and we spend our professional lives gorging on a varied range of problems. Yes, we have skills for solving them, contracting for the possibility of same and offering practical solutions but how do we as a profession, see the positive again.


Feed your body

We work hard and when in court, at our desks, or knee deep in a massive client issue. We can forget to eat at all let alone take the time necessary to make a proper nutritious and fortifying meal. Water is such a vital part of our internal functions, but rarely do we hydrate using anything other than coffee. If you do anything after reading this, have a glass of water!

It’s not just about calorie intake, it’s about feeding our bodies with movement and proper rest. Make time to go for that walk, work it all out at the gym or go to bed early! It might feel counter intuitive with a deadline hanging over you, but it can make you feel so much better. If we neglect our basic needs, our performance will not be the best it could be.


Feed your mind

When we deal predominantly with worse case scenarios, our brains naturally operate from a rather negative place. For example, when you think about buying a new car, all you can see from then on is that make and model car everywhere you go. Your brain will never make you a liar. So, if you believe the world is full of horrible people, all you will see are the actions of horrible people whilst all the kind and good-hearted deeds go unnoticed. Gratitude is a really easy way to rewire your thoughts. Just think of five things that you appreciate on a regular basis. Amaze yourself at how this simple practice can change your mindset away from one of negativity.


Feed your soul

When was the last time you did something good for yourself? This has been a hard time of uncertainty and we all need to make time for ourselves, to rest and relax and enjoy life when we can. When did you last take a moment to truly listen to what you need and appreciate how far you have come. We also feed our souls when we help others. We help people professionally day to day, but we can help without using our legal skills too. Looking for inspiration here? Try getting more involved in your local area and the causes that are active therein. You could reignite your passion for tennis, volunteer to help your local Brownie or scout troop or get involved in projects to create positive change.


Feed your career

This is not just about progressing up the ladder, it’s about creating a career and reputation that brings you joy and fortifies your purpose in life. It’s about widening your own knowledge and experience. So many in our profession are consumed with the here and now that we rarely find time to fully consider what we want.

For example, when was the last time you properly thought five years ahead? What steps, training or action do you need to complete to achieve this? Research it and make a plan.

Have you taken time to think about how you can utilise your skills out with the law? There are so many valuable non-executive director, trustee and board positions than can widen your skillset and knowledge. In a similar vein, have you considered how your experience can help the next generation of solicitors or how you can benefit from same? There are some excellent mentoring schemes in place that are always calling out for willing participants.

This is just food for thought. Hopefully, by binging on all the delicious and good stuff in life we can stop worrying about impact the reality of our professional lives can have.


UPDATED: 2022.11.04

Female office worker is tired of work and exhausted.

How does work pressure affect legal professionals?

It’s fair to say that bringing up the topic of work pressure to non-lawyer friends isn’t always guaranteed to trigger a massive outpouring of sympathy.


The problem lies in the old myth that a lawyer’s life must be a glamorous rollercoaster ride, packed with variety, intellectual stimulation, high-octane court showdowns, along with a bulging bank balance. If there’s a little stress along the way, then surely it’s just all part of the job? The facts paint a more worrying picture. One survey suggested that barristers are more stressed than NHS workers(1), while a Bar Council report(2) found that 58% of criminal barristers and two-thirds of family barristers are under too much work pressure. According to the Bellweather Report: Stress in the legal profession, almost 66% of solicitors currently experience high levels of stress, and three quarters think that stress/mental wellbeing is a major issue across the profession.

The law has a stress problem, but understanding an issue makes you much better able to manage it. With this in mind, we take a closer look at stress and the problems it can lead to, why it’s such an issue for lawyers — and the practical steps you can take to manage work pressure.


What is work stress?

Behavioural experts define stress as the “biological and psychological response experienced on encountering a threat”(3). Sometimes referred to as ‘fight or flight’, it’s an essential part of the body’s emergency response system. Your brain senses danger and therefore triggers the release of certain chemicals such as adrenaline and cortisol to equip you with the means to deal with it.

A certain element of stress can actually be a good thing. Let’s say, for instance, that you are about to start cross-examining a witness: positive stress responses such as a slightly raised heart rate, heightened awareness and increased concentration can be just what’s needed to help you think on your feet.

Stress becomes a problem when you are no longer in control of it. If you’re frequently in crisis mode and feel unable to cope, it can have serious physical, mental and professional consequences.

What are the consequences and symptoms of work-related stress?

how-does-work-pressure-affectIn 2018-19, almost 13 million working days in the UK were lost due to stress, making it the top reason for workplace absence(4). To try and plough on without taking time off, it’s also common for sufferers — lawyers included — to self-medicate through alcohol and substance use. For instance, in one survey, 1 in 5 lawyers reported problematic alcohol or drugs use at some point in their lives, and three-quarters of these said it had arisen after they had entered the profession(5).

Common signs of problematic stress include the following:

Physical: Insomnia, exhaustion, weight changes, muscle aches, feeling faint, headaches, digestive problems, a pounding heart and chest pain.

Mental: Panic attacks, feelings of restlessness, guilt, anger, insecurity, mood swings, forgetfulness, hopelessness and anxiety.

Behavioural: Problem avoidance and procrastination, becoming withdrawn and an unwillingness to engage with your colleagues, irritability with colleagues and clients, personal neglect.


Why is stress such a problem for lawyers?

The issue of stress in the workplace is a well-documented phenomenon across the legal profession, yet it seems that the sector struggles to tackle this problem. Various aspects of the working environment and culture at the core of the legal industry factor in creating workplace stress issues for lawyers:


Caseload management

From the never-ending stream of deadlines through staying on top of targets, life as a lawyer can sometimes feel like being hit by pressure from every angle. Day-to-day relationships can also be stressful to negotiate; particularly the difficult conversations you need to have in order to manage the expectations of clients.


Workplace culture

Too often, competition rather than collaboration is the driving force in a law firm. In this type of environment, churning out the bills and maintaining healthy work-in-progress becomes all-important, while asking for help or admitting that you have too much on is seen as a sign of weakness. Long hours are also seen as the norm rather than an exception — compounded by the possibility of being contacted about work 24/7 via mobile.

It’s an atmosphere that can be particularly damaging to inexperienced lawyers. As an example, the Junior Lawyers Division (JLD) found that a quarter experience “extreme” work stress, while 1 in 3 admitted to making mistakes that wouldn’t have happened if they were not overworked(6).

Changes to the profession

In areas such as crime, family, housing and immigration, legal aid cuts have forced firms to rethink the way they operate; something that can place considerable pressure on individual lawyers(7). Survival for firms can sometimes mean over-reliance on junior caseworkers on complex matters, thereby piling on extra stress, while increasing the likelihood of mistakes being made.

Meanwhile, in civil litigation, lawyers are dealing with the onward expansion of fixed recoverable fees as a replacement to traditional hourly billing(8). For the lawyers whose job it is to run these files, the pressure is on to get them concluded as quickly and efficiently as possible to keep the numbers up.


How do you handle pressure at work?

The first step is to recognise that you have a problem — and that you’re certainly not alone in facing it. Next, it’s about putting together a workable plan to tackle it — and this usually involves taking a good look at your caseload to see what can be done to make it more manageable. For instance, do you need to reduce the number of files so you can stay on top of everything? Is what’s currently expected of you realistically achievable? Would some extra administrative support or technical assistance help you become better organised? 


Why not read more about this on Legal Futures? Click HERE for more.

For further advice on the risks currently encountered in the legal sector, along with hints and tips on improving your business processes, be sure to explore our Insights Hub.



  1. Walters, M. (2018). Barristers ‘more stressed’ than NHS staff. [online] Law Gazette. Available at: https://www.lawgazette.co.uk/law/barristers-more-stressed-than-nhs-staff/5064880.article
  2. Barcouncil.org.uk. (2018). New report from the Bar Council reveals true impact of struggling justice system on barristers’ profession. [online] Available at: https://www.barcouncil.org.uk/media-centre/news-and-press-releases/2018/may/new-report-from-the-bar-council-reveals-true-impact-of-struggling-justice-system-on-barristers%E2%80%99-profession/ 
  3. Mcleod, S. (2010). What is the Stress Response | Simply Psychology. [online] Simplypsychology.org. Available at: https://www.simplypsychology.org/stress-biology.html 
  4. Palmer, S. (2019). 12 million working days lost to work-related mental health conditions last year. [online] People Management. Available at: https://www.peoplemanagement.co.uk/news/articles/12-million-working-days-lost-to-work-related-mental-health-conditions 
  5. Cidambi, M.D, I. (2017). Drug and Alcohol Abuse in the Legal Profession. [online] Psychology Today. Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/sure-recovery/201707/drug-and-alcohol-abuse-in-the-legal-profession
  6. Walters, M. (2017). One in four junior lawyers suffers ‘severe’ stress at work. [online] Law Gazette. Available at: https://www.lawgazette.co.uk/law/one-in-four-junior-lawyers-suffers-severe-stress-at-work/5060631.article
  7. Bowcott, O. and Duncan, P. (2018). Strain of legal aid cuts shows in family, housing and immigration courts. [online] The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/law/2018/dec/26/strain-of-legal-aid-cuts-showing-in-family-housing-and-immigration-law
  8. Rose, N. (2019). Fixed costs impact: “Less income per claim but more cases” – Litigation Futures. [online] Litigation Futures. Available at: https://www.litigationfutures.com/news/fixed-costs-impact-less-income-per-claim-but-more-cases