The word “discipline” is commonly and frequently misunderstood in popular culture where it is typically perceived as a negative. Discipline is often associated with authority, which sometimes correlates to doing (or being forced to do) things without which there would be negative consequences. Discipline is used as a euphemism for punishment. At work, employees may be “disciplined” by their bosses.
The word discipline is defined in the dictionary as:
the practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behavior, using punishment to correct disobedience.
If we go by the textbook definition, discipline can be thought of more as compliance, with the underlying thought being, “If you don’t comply, you will be punished”. In schools, they train you for compliance. Ditto in organizations. But that is a different conversation (for another time).
Discipline is also seen in the form of setting constraints or limits for ourselves (which most of us mistakenly believe to be a bad thing). More on this below.
Discipline is often misunderstood as having integrity, which is doing the things that you said you would do when you said you would do them. Integrity requires self-discipline to work.
When I talk about discipline, I don’t mean punishment or compliance. Real discipline comes from within, not from external sources such as your parents, teachers, bosses, etc. The discipline you have inside you is your chief source of power.
There are times when we do the things we should do, and that’s fine. Then, there are those times when we may not feel like doing things for emotional/irrational reasons. It is during those times that we need to do what we don’t feel like doing. This is what separates the pro from the amateur. While an amateur is driven by feelings, a pro is driven by values. As my friend and health expert, Adam Gilbert, says, we should make discomfort our compass. The obstacle is the way.
Self-discipline is the ability to make yourself do what you should do when you should do it whether you feel like it or not. And because you have committed to doing that thing before, you’re accountable to yourself.
Here are some reasons why we could all use some self-discipline in our lives.
Self-discipline helps us create order in our life, which gives us the space to think creatively. Unless we are at our best (by way of keeping order in our lives), we can’t get to the good stuff (more creative, freedom, courage, etc.), let alone doing great things.
The only hope of reaching our true potential and to be all that we can be requires a great deal of self-discipline. Having talent (or passion) alone for something is not enough. We need to work our talents and perspire. Without having the self-discipline to do the work, talent will only take us so far. Only by working our passions and talents through the lens of self-discipline do we have any chance of moving forward in life and reaching our full potential.
Contrary to popular belief, discipline is liberating, not limiting. It can mean not having to think about things that we do anyway such as keeping ourselves physically fit, for instance. When we don’t have to think about the things we do, it improves the quality of our decision-making — fewer decisions made better.
Discipline enables freedom (of thought) instead of hindering it, as most would like you to believe. Only when we have the discipline to do things can we do many great things over a lifetime. Remember, process determines outcome.
Self-discipline is about doing the things we should do when we should do it whether we feel like it or not. It’s about doing the things we don’t want to do in order to be the person we want to be (and to live to our true potential).
The single best way I know to creating more discipline in our lives is by way of habits. We are all creatures of habits. Find out the habits you want in your life, then slowly, one by one over the course of time, work to include them in your life. Once you have figured out the habits you want, start with rituals. Rituals lead to habits. Habits daisy-chained to each other lead to routines.
Here are some examples of using discipline in our everyday lives:
Having the discipline to:
- get up in the morning when we don’t feel like it.
- go to bed when we would rather do something else.
- exercise when we don’t feel like it.
- do the work every day because you are a pro.
- process our inbox to empty every day to keep our slate clean.
- define our work every day by reviewing our trusted system.
- eat, move, and sleep at the same time every day as part of maintaining our physical effectiveness and to reduce decision-making, which helps free up space for the important decisions.
- to do the work in the time you’ve blocked for it.
- work first and play later.
- review your past week as part of being accountable to yourself to reach your goals.
- plan your weeks. Make time for the big things and the small things. Whatever gets scheduled gets done.
I could go on and on with examples, but you get the idea. Without self-discipline, we would do things as and when we “feel like doing”, which never happens.
We could all use a bit of self-discipline in our lives. It is the best example available of using the process to determine the outcome. When we are self-disciplined, it can make all the difference in the world through doing things consistently that lead to great outcomes.
The point is that there is no “royal road to success”. We can only reach our goals when we employ self-discipline. Think of self-discipline as a means to reach our end. When you have self-discipline, you are accountable to no one but yourself, and you have higher standards than others.
Only when we have discipline can we create more freedom, creativity, courage, etc. Discipline is the virtue that makes all other virtues (such as industry) possible. It is the price we must pay to become our best selves and to reach our goals. Without it we are simply fooling (and undermining) ourselves.