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Jul 25, 2022 Leslie Beale, ACC, JD

Discipline Isn’t a Dirty Word

Discipline. Just the word is likely to make you cringe. It calls to mind images of punishment, pain, and sacrifice. But, there’s no denying that self-discipline is a key to accomplishing your most important goals, especially if you’re serious about leadership.

We often pay lip service to the importance of self-discipline, but most of us don’t do much to foster it in our own lives. The reasons why probably start with our ideas about what it means to be a disciplined person.

Just picture for yourself what someone who is self-disciplined is like. What words come to mind?

If you’re like many people, it’s things like strict and boring. You may picture a world where you are harsh with yourself, have little space or time for leisure, or lack the room for spontaneity.

But, if you’re someone who has actually embraced self-discipline in your life, you know the secret. Living a disciplined life is anything but dull and restrictive.

People who actually practice self-discipline often feel more fulfilled and satisfied with their lives. They have more time for the things that matter the most to them and achieve the things that really matter to them. Rather than feeling like they’re spinning their wheels and distracted, they are able to focus on the task at hand and pursue it diligently until it’s completed.

Self-discipline is the gateway that allows us to fully pursue our dreams.

But, aren’t some people just naturals at self-discipline? It’s not something that can be changed, is it?

The truth is that like any success habit, self-discipline can be strengthened. It’s a skill and requires practice, but it can be built over time. Here’s how to get started.

Address your negative ideas about self-discipline.

The first step in developing self-discipline is to clear out your hesitations. Ask yourself what comes to mind when you imagine living a disciplined life. Do you feel closed off, anxious? Do you worry about getting bored? Make note of these thoughts because they provide clues to the beliefs that are undermining your own self-discipline.

Then, begin to gather evidence to counter these beliefs. Find someone in your life who exhibits a great deal of self-discipline. Spend time really observing her. Does she seem boring or limited? Or does her life seem full and rich? Use what you find to fuel new thoughts about what self-discipline could mean in your own life.

Finally, ask yourself two important questions. What could you accomplish or experience if you were more disciplined? How would that change your life? These are the benefits self-discipline can offer you. 

Pick one area of focus and commit to a plan.

The journey to building discipline in your life is a gradual one, requiring you to focus on incremental gains along the way. If you try to overhaul your entire life at once, you won’t be able to keep up the effort and will get discouraged. Instead, pick one area of your life where you would like to build self-discipline and start there.

For instance, maybe you want to focus on getting to the office fifteen minutes earlier. Brainstorm what you need to do to make that happen. Maybe it’s choosing your clothes and packing your car the night before, getting up a few minutes earlier, or taking a different route on your commute.

Come up with a specific plan of action designed to help you build your discipline in this one specific area. Make a promise to yourself that you will stick to it for an initial trial period – four to six weeks. Commit to doing the hard work of keeping that promise – even when you don’t feel like it.

Resist the urge to take on more before you are ready. Remind yourself that whatever you are focusing on is an important step and that devoting yourself to this one effort will form the foundation for the other changes you want to make.

Know that it will be difficult.

Often what undermines our sense of discipline is the mistaken belief that if we have the right plan, props, or tricks, the goal we’re trying to accomplish will be easy. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Building self-discipline is difficult. There are tools to assist you, but none of them will get you to the finish line alone. You must commit to doing the hard work, even when you don’t feel like it. Even when it’s hard. Even when you’re tired. There is simply no substitute for that work.

In the early days, practicing discipline will feel uncomfortable and particularly challenging. Allow yourself an adjustment period. Accept that growth is a process and discomfort is part of the territory. Be patient with yourself during this time, but do not give up on your commitment. Remember that you are building a skill that will benefit you throughout your life.

Reward yourself for progress.

Finally, be sure you don’t forget to celebrate your successes!

Plan rewards for yourself at certain milestones along the way. A movie with a friend or a new book might not seem like much, but it can provide the motivation to keep you going in the right direction.

Once you’ve reached the end of your trial period, look back at how far you’ve come. Resist the urge to focus on how much you still want to change. You made a commitment and you stuck to it, even if your progress wasn’t perfect. That’s something to celebrate.

The process of building self-discipline isn’t quick, and it isn’t always easy. But it’s a journey that’s worth the effort if you’re serious about pursuing your goals.

Looking for a place to connect with other leaders and learn more about the challenges you face? Check out our forums today. 

Published by Leslie Beale, ACC, JD July 25, 2022
Leslie Beale, ACC, JD