but this place is just right.
It is a slow Sunday in late November, and my friend ML and I are talking about our adult ADHD. We’re sitting on the floor discussing remedies, when she asks if I’ve ever been on the discipline subreddits. I hadn’t, but it sounded juicy.
“Reddit is where I learned the secret of life,” she tells me, “which is that everything is stupid, hard, and boring.”
Reddit, a veritable time-killing institution, is home to multiple curiously thriving self-discipline subreddits such as r/getdisciplined, r/theXeffect, and r/DecidingtoBeBetter. I call this loose network Discipline Reddit. While not explicitly linked to one another, each subreddit is dedicated to self improvement and goal fulfillment. In the current practical philosophy #moment (think the rise of betterment evangelists like Marie Kondo, Queer Eye, and Jordan Peterson), Discipline Reddit offers the possibility of an unscripted, democratized path to success.
These places have a broad cross-section of strivers: high school students, people in recovery, programmers, aspiring musicians, athletes, retirees, former incels. The goals, surprisingly, are less diverse. The majority of resolutions fall under the umbrella of simple personal care habits — things like brushing teeth twice a day, exercise regimens, diets (lots of paleo and keto adherents), and taking meds. Meditation is wildly popular. Other common goals include studying, learning languages, creative practice, overcoming phobias, and building better work habits.
As a profoundly lazy and guilty-about-being-lazy person, my primary gripe with self-help content is that most of it is too general. I don’t want your rules for success for the everyman — I want you to tell me how you succeeded. Discipline Reddit scratches this specificity itch: Many threads include detailed accounts of real-life people running down their goals, and fumbling, and then plateauing, and then ultimately prevailing.
But Discipline Reddit isn’t just about reading inspirational stories from strangers; it’s about accountability, ideation, and positive reinforcement. Its disciples share methods and hacks, post monthly goals and daily plans, and celebrate and encourage each other as allies in the fight against inaction.
On r/getdisciplined, the largest sub, a new mom writes that she’s ready to take time out to take care of herself, committing to daily AM workouts and short meditations. In the early morning riser check-in thread, grinders post their wake-up times and priorities. A user struggling with agoraphobia discusses coping strategies.
Members of r/theXeffect community often post about following the “card technique,” or using a 7x7 grid on a card titled with a habit they’re trying to make or break, with each box representing one day. They aim to successfully cross off each day until they “complete the 50-day journey.” Photos of triumphant crossed-out cards receive hundreds of upvotes. In one popular post, a user shows how he broke his Benadryl habit through applying the technique - literally - via descending lines of marker on the side of his dose cup.
r/DecidingtoBeBetter, which self-describes as “a force for self-improvement, goodness, and togetherness,” is the most ethically-oriented of the subreddits. Members commit to the typical goals (hydration, muscle building), but also to things like taking grandparents out to dinner and volunteering. In monthly goal threads, users pair up to become accountability partners.
In a world saturated with repetitive how-to-live content, what differentiates Discipline Reddit is not only the interactivity, but the indiscriminate warmth of the community. Members are eager to rebut newcomers’ claims of “I’m weak,” “I’m pathetic” and “I’m in a slobe hole,” to wrench their peers from the negative feedback loop of “I’m bad/stupid/lazy because I can’t focus ⇌ I can’t focus when I’m bad/stupid/lazy.”
The Discipline Reddit modus operandi is gradual, incremental change. Success is not about external motivation, its adherents theorize, but intention and repetition. This was the “stupid, hard, and boring” ML had been referring to. One poster on r/theXeffect took the habit-building practice right down to the studs and made the most basic goal of all: to open up their notebook and cross off one box every day. “Simplicity and consistency are my only goals,” they wrote.
To refute the slow-and-steady approach is to invite conflict. In one of r/getdisciplined’s most controversial posts, a user vows to change all of his behaviors and become the superhuman version of himself for 30 days, with exact instructions and draconian restrictions. Commenters were wary. “Humans can’t go super Saiyan,” counseled one, using a Dragon Ball Z term that connotes instant and drastic transformation. Others were more stern. “There is a term for an existence that repeats day after day. Depending on your outlook, it's either a bad joke or a never-ending nightmare.”
Reading about discipline is a tricky thing. Is it a precursor, or delay, to getting the job done? When I asked r/getdisciplined users about their experience on the subreddit, one cited the helpfulness of sticky tips like the “no zero days” concept (a term for a day when absolutely no progress is made on any goal at all). This was qualified, though. “Nothing you sit and read will have any impact—it’s all about turning it into action,” they said. “If you find yourself on these subs more than pursuing your goals, then you’ve answered your own question.”
When I probed Reddit discipline fora's metaphysical ends, I wanted to know whether users were animated by past failures, depression, financial strife, or a capitalist “work for work’s sake” ethos. What I found was that the search was not (in most cases) for material gain, but for something more subtle and interior — a sense of confidence and groundedness. Most of the goals were intimate, invisible tasks, like showering and feeding a pill to the dog. It reminded me of a poster from my high school science classroom: “INTEGRITY,” declared the text that loomed over a pair of ClipArt binoculars with cartoon eyes, “is how you act when no one is watching.”
I had fantasized about emerging from Discipline Reddit as a productivity beast, crushing reps, churning out drafts, pounding nutritious meals, and launching from bed at 5 every morning. But the changes were more gradual. I gave up cigarettes, paid off some pesky credit card debt. I began a modest writing routine. I learned that discipline affects not just your relationship with yourself, but your relationship to time. Setting intention allows you to feel a sense of control over the hours and days that seem to flow and vanish ever faster. While I didn’t go super Saiyan Nico, I’m encouraged by each baby step forward, knowing I’m wobbling closer to my goals.