When I sat down to write this post, I intended it to just be the usual brief MM. What spilled forth was something a bit more:
I, like the rest of you, am composed of equal parts flaws and strengths. I am very lacking in the risk-taking department, and would be entirely unqualified to advise you on the best places to skydive, for instance. Being disciplined is one of my great strengths. For that reason, I feel comfortable offering my one post on the subject.
Being disciplined is not a one shot deal. In my mind, there are several elements involved in being disciplined. The first step is to get clarity about what your priorities are– what long-term goals you have, the end result you care about. You must distinguish between what truly matters to you and what doesn’t in order to be disciplined, because you simply can’t apply yourself so steadfastly to every little thing. You can only realistically devote yourself to a limited number of goals; there are only so many hours in a day, after all.
Once you have defined your priorities, the second element involved in discipline is placing meaning upon the small acts you must perform in order to attain those end results. You must shift your perspective on those small acts from menial tasks, to valuable steps on the path to what you care most about.
The third element involved in discipline is, most simply, the follow through. Now, some might say that discipline is merely the follow through. I think, though, that you must have those first two elements in place before you can be expected to follow through. The follow through involves keeping that line of fulfillment alive in your mind; sorting socks is not just sorting socks, but a small task related to the much larger goal of having an organized home, you see.
When you define your big-time priorities and decide to make them a reality, you are in effect committing yourself to them. That means that when it comes time for execution, there is no leeway, there is no backing out, there is no shirking the job. You have signed a contract with yourself to uphold your own decisions, and that’s why you follow through.
This is all a little abstract; let’s try it in concrete terms, shall we? Here’s how the equation looks in real life:
Three of my top-tier priorities include (obviously) living in and maintaining an organized space, eating healthy food that sustains and nourishes my body, and being physically active. To spice things up around here, we won’t use organization, but physical activity as our example.
I decided a while ago that one of my priorities includes being an active, physically fit person, with a body that I can feel comfortable in and proud of. = my priority
My daily work out/ trip to the gym is not just that, then. It is a meaningful act that directly contributes to my overarching fitness goal. Tuesday’s workout is not just some work out on a Tuesday. It is a truly and equally significant piece of my long-term priority puzzle.
As such, it is vital that I not skip out on it. That Tuesday workout matters. By defining my priority of being active and healthy and in great shape, I have signed a spiritual/ mental contract with myself to uphold that decision. I must follow through, or I will be breaking that contract. Whether I am especially in the mood to work out is negligible. I am responsible for pushing through those everyday hurdles like fatigue. Unless there is a real reason for me opting out of my work out such as illness or injury, I am expected (I expect myself) to follow through.
Of course, like I said, everyone has different priorities and goals. While it may be for some, I personally have not defined running a marathon (yet) as a priority of mine. Therefore, I am not contractually obligated to commit to any type of intensive training regimen for one. I am free to choose whatever workouts I please.
I can only be disciplined about a certain number of things. And I must identify what truly matters most to me.
I suggest you do whatever you need to ensure that you follow through. Maybe it would be helpful for you to sign a literal contract with yourself stating your goals and your commitment to the acts that will fulfill those goals. Maybe you need to pretend that you are reporting for work, for duty, and that your presence is being monitored and accounted for. Maybe you need to make a calendar or chart that allows you to visually document your goals and actions. Put a box next to each singular item/act that you must cross off after you follow through on it. Do whatever you need to make your abstract priorities and the acts that lead to their fulfillment a concrete, absolutely defined process in which you are engaged in real-time/ real life, and not just some thing wishy-washy-ing away in your mind.
Start consciously with just one priority if you need. Start today or anytime using your priority in this equation of discipline. Focus your awareness and energies on that one goal, and on making the small acts that are related to that goal meaningful. Then follow through on them.
Know that discipline is not like going on a diet. It is not making some grand and totally unrealistic promise to yourself to suddenly and drastically alter your behaviors; once you eat those potato chips you’ve ruined it and have to start back at square one.
Realize that becoming disciplined is a process which will evolve naturally over time. That the more you commit to the process, the more natural it will feel, and the less you will have to think about it.
Discipline is gaining clarity on what naturally feels like a priority to you, elevating the behaviors associated with it, and upholding your commitment to them.
Discipline is everything. Any time you feel things in your life go slack or become out of control, lack of discipline is sure to be involved in there somewhere. Every client I’ve ever had has admitted to me that their spaces have become cluttered because they haven’t been disciplined about keeping their homes clean and orderly. They haven’t consciously yet made organization their own priority, thus they haven’t valued or made meaningful the small acts related to it like cleaning out a drawer, or filing their papers, and thus, they have been under no responsibility or contractual obligation to follow through on them. (See how I ran that in rewind for you, eh?)
Every successful person in any field has exerted a tremendous amount of discipline to get to where they are, I promise you that. Every pro wrestler, athlete, first chair symphony cellist, corporation vice president, big time blogger or champion homemaker has acted with undeniable discipline.
Being disciplined is not easy. It is far, far easier to remain uncommitted than it is to pledge to yourself to uphold a set of acts and goals. But I will tell you that once and whenever you are ready, being disciplined is what makes the difference.
Image credit: Dax Foley