How good would it be if you had the discipline to just keep doing what it takes every day – long after the euphoria in which the decision was taken has passed?
How well disciplined are you? How good are you at doing what it takes every day to serve your cause or the outcomes you seek, no matter what? Is maintaining self-discipline easy for you or is it something you struggle with? When does it work for you and when doesn’t it?
Last week I suggested that Patience and perseverance are good bedfellows. This week I’d like to suggest that there is another bedfellow to add to the achievement of most things worthwhile, namely discipline. Self-discpline.
I enjoyed one Thesaurus take on discipline: “training to improve strength or self-control”.
Training would suggest that this is an ongoing learning process, and also that it is never ending.
I see improvement as both an input and an output in this context.
And then we are talking about strength and self control, which I see as paramount in the context of discipline.
Weakness or Strength?
It has been my experience that when asked, most people would suggest that discipline is one of their weaknesses, would you agree? However, if we were to ask a successful sportsperson we would probably find that they would acknowledge it to be one of their primary strengths.
Interestingly, asking the question whether that was always so may well draw the answer that it was either instilled (maybe by a parent or a coach) or learned, suggesting that it isn’t really something some are born with and others aren’t, right?
A significant part of any success is making a commitment to do what it takes to achieve the desired outcome. It is also a fundamental part of the”Law of Attraction” as I wrote about in The blue Honda.
Of course that commitment to the outcome then needs to transfer to the inputs that will be required to do so as to achieve the outcomes or outputs; much like my goals trilogy, where I differentiated “results goals” from “activity goals”, whereby the former are the output commitment and the latter the input commitment.
It is easy to set a goal or a resolution. It is much harder to then do what it takes each day or week or month to achieve its result, right? I have seen character defined as sticking with doing what it takes long after the euphoria in which the decision was taken has passed.
But is it just the commitment we made that fuels our discipline to “do what it takes”? Or are there other forces at work?
My experience has been that the biggest obstacles to discipline come from within ourselves.
For instance, one of the things I value most is my health. Maintaining that health value, as I wrote about in my blog Gesundheit! includes practicing Tai Chi, stretches and excercises 3-4 times a week. To do that requires discipline to get up half an hour earlier than that day necessitates.
I could argue (with myself) that in winter, it is the flannel sheets on my bed that provide the obstacle to get out of bed to do the above excercises, but we’ll “let that one go through to the keeper” shall we?
What then could be the factors that sometimes make this simple discipline step so hard? I have a purpose; a compelling reason. I know it’s important. Is it just will power?
Would you agree with me that if we have a passion for something, it is much easier to commit to doing what it takes than if we “have to” do something? If you have started snow skiing for example and you really come to love it, it can become an obsession, right? We will be prepared to do almost anything to get back “up there” and ski again and again. We will work like blazes to clear our desk so we can take those few extra days off. We willingly accept the queues and the cold and the ski-lifts etc because they all pale into insignificance when we experience the “rush” of skiing down the slope. Passion. Becoming absorbed with something.
No problem with discipline there, is there? Same with golf or other popular and intensely enjoyable (and frustrating) activities.
Now let’s take the skiing example into another context. Let’s say you are a teenager who has chosen to become an Olympic ski champion with a gold medal as your vision and engages in doing what it takes to reach that goal.
It’s pretty likely after a while, that the passion can become dulled by the tediousness of the repetition, repetition, repetition, practice, practice, practice that it takes to become a champion, no matter what the circumstances are. The price that has to be paid to be away at yet another training camp and away from friends and family and parties and the “good times”. Or to switch to swimming quickly – to maintain that mind deadening routine of being up at 4h00 am in the morning EVERY morning to go to the pool to do it all again and again and again?
Can you imagine that there comes a time where every athlete in that situation allows doubt to creep in, which questions whether they are up to being such a champion? Of course they usually have a coach that will help them through that. How? Probably by reminding them of “WHY” they are doing this in the first place, right? Focusing them on the prize, rather than on the price as I wrote in The Price and the Prize.
But is it only the “prize” that drives us? And is that enough to overcome obstacles?
I have learned that we find it so much easier to do what we love to do and want to do than “have to do”; that often the minute we do something we like doing less, or feel we aren’t good at or find it “hard” to do because it is unfamiliar, it can be quite difficult to maintain the necessary discipline to “do what it takes”, can’t it?
Also, we can set ourselves up for failure if the goals we set aren’t compelling enough to “get us off the coach”. Just as (in)effective is setting goals that are unrealistic and perhaps intimidating in that they can invoke procrastination.
However, as I wrote in my blog Procrastination we can often run “strategies” that undermine our will and even allow ourselves to sabotage our own best endeavours, all without us being consciously aware of that. This is where a coach can assist way beyond reminding us of our reason or purpose for wanting to do something. This is where decades of “conditioning” and Beliefs that can hold massive power over holding us back are sometimes uncovered and replaced. With their removal or replacement we often suddenly become aware that we are “no longer playing that old record” and can just get on with it, whatever “it” is.
Just do it
So now we have discussed the compelling reason, the passion and making a true commitment to ourselves to overcome obstacles. We have perhaps also created an awareness of some “conditioning” issues that we could address.
Despite some of that having been in place in the past and some of it made front of mind again now, I can nonetheless sense some of you asking why maintaining the self-discipline to keep doing what it takes (perseverance) can still sometimes be so hard?
You know, I have learned that there comes a time where all the reflection and analysis must come to a head or come to an end, and we have to just “step up” and “just do it”. No more point in wondering or worrying about the right passion or emotion.
Whilst they are useful supplements, at the end of the day we need to “Just do it”.
In German we have a saying: “der Appetit kommt beim Essen”, which loosely translated suggests that even if we don’t feel like doing something, just start doing it and the “appetite” will come. You have all heard that “action cures fear”. In fact, action is more often than not the catalyst that gets most things moving and happening, right?
One of my mentors suggested: “if you want the outcome, you don’t have to like doing it – you just have to do it”. So why don’t we just get used to it and just do it? Why not get into a Rhythm and get on with it? To just keep doing what needs to be done, until it’s done?
I have mentioned my admiration for my (next month) 90 year old dad, who still flew from Durban to Melbourne last year to be with us at Christmas, who EVERY day still swims half a kilometer and does his stretches and exercise – EVERY DAY. I simply can’t find a better example of discipline than that.
I’d like to finish with the “so what” question.
So what if you picked just one topic that you have struggled to maintain the ongoing discipline for and “have a go” for the week to do whatever it takes to get that going for you? Not to wait until “all the ducks are in a row” but to trust that by taking action, they will fall in line and support your outcome? Just take action, and allow that to build some momentum? Display to yourself that you have the self-discipline to “just do it”.
What if that invoked: “der Appetit kommt beim Essen”, and it got you going? I found these two quotes which I thought encapsulated the above beautifully:
- “Discipline is the bridge between the goal and the accomplishment” (Jim Rohn)
- “It was character that got us out of bed, commitment that moved us into action, and discipline that enabled us to follow through.” (Zig Ziglar)
What if you could and that were true?
Ah discipline – my nemesis! I’m guilty of everything you talk about here.
I’m currently reading ‘Change Anything: the new science of personal success’, and the authors suggest we put too much emphasis on personal willpower (aka discipline), praising ourselves when we do what we should, and blaming ourselves when we don’t.
They suggest there are 5 other sources of influence that we ignore but that (can) have a huge impact on our ability to be disciplined. I’d be interested in your thoughts on that.