Most people pick easy over hard, even when hard is a better choice. That’s the background for a classic WeightWatchers speech.

The theme of the speech is, “Pick your hard.” Sure, losing weight and keeping it off is hard, but so is being obese and dealing with the health issues that go with obesity. Pick the hard work today of losing weight and keeping it off and you won’t have to worry about the hard of obesity.

The same principle applies to building legacy wealth. You can pick the hard of sacrifice and self-discipline today. Or you can pick the hard of old age without enough to live comfortably. Pick your hard.

I said that most people pick easy. That’s true. But people who build legacy wealth tend to pick hards that help them succeed.

What wealthy people do

Tom Corley spent five years studying the daily behavior of 233 people with at least $160K income and net worth above $3 million. He also studied 128 people who made less than $35K and had less than $5K in liquid assets. He found that there was a huge difference between the two groups and put his findings in the book: Rich Habits: The Daily Success Habits of Wealthy Individuals.

Wealthy people avoid some things, no matter how much they might like them. They avoid junk food, for example. Wealthy people don’t watch much TV. Corley says that two-thirds watch less than an hour a day. For wealthy people, picking their hard means avoiding distractions that slow goal achievement.

Wealthy people choose to do things that help them achieve their goals, even if those things aren’t “fun.” That takes self-discipline.

Developing self-discipline

Choosing to skip the easy and comfortable thing and do something hard but important day after day takes self-discipline. The good news is that you can develop willpower and self-discipline. It’s not genetic.

You develop the ability to make wise choices by making wise choices, both big and small. But your willpower muscle can get tired, just like a physical muscle. Most people have more willpower first thing in the morning. Try to schedule tasks that require self-discipline early in the day.

No matter how much you develop your willpower muscle, sometimes you’ll use it to the limit. When that happens, give yourself a recovery break before tackling a tough task or making a hard choice. Do something that lifts your spirit to recover more rapidly.

You can build up your willpower the way you build up a physical muscle. Here’s some advice on how to do that from Dr. Heidi Grant, Associate Director of the Motivation Science Center at Columbia University and author of Nine Things Successful People Do Differently.

“Before taking on a goal that requires lots of willpower (e.g., quitting smoking, radically changing your diet), start by strengthening your muscle with regular, less strenuous workouts. Add a few willpower challenges to your day (e.g., making your bed, sitting up straight, taking the stairs instead of the elevator) and build from there.”

Build helpful systems

Build systems that are biased toward wise choices and lessen the temptations for poor choices. Greg McKeown’s powerful book, Essentialism, aims to help you focus on the few things that have a disproportionately powerful and positive effect.

You want to use your willpower muscle for important things, but don’t squander it. Here are some ways to save your willpower strength for the times when you really need it.

Avoid temptation. This is so simple that it’s easy to forget. If you don’t want to eat ice cream, don’t buy any. It’s easier to avoid temptation than to resist it.

Make it easier to do the right thing and harder to do the wrong thing. Put a lock on your refrigerator to make snacking just a little bit harder. Lay out your exercise clothes the night before so all you have to do is put them on in the morning.

Develop habits that make wise choices automatic. Habits are autopilots for your brain. They help you make wise choices without having to do the heavy lifting of making a decision every time.

Let technology help you. You can set up reminders on your phone or computer, so you’re alerted when it’s time to do something important.

Remember your “Why.” Asking yourself questions like “Why should I do this?” or “What can I do now that will help me become wealthy?” connects the hard choice you’re confronting with the bigger picture.

If you aspire to build legacy wealth, adopt the behaviors that wealthy and successful people do. Then do them every day.


What’s your experience? How do you exhibit self-discipline in your life?

This post was adapted from my book, Building Legacy Wealth.


Terry Moore, CCIM, is the author of Building Legacy Wealth: How to Build Wealth and Live a Life Worth Imitating. Read his “Welcome to My Blog.

Click here and find out how Terry and his team can help you make the most important financial decision of your next decade.