We all fantasize about what we could accomplish if only we had more discipline. We could lose weight, be more productive, and do all the things that we know that we should do. We admire those who are disciplined and wish that we were blessed with discipline like those lucky individuals were.
The truth is that disciplined individuals were not blessed with discipline. No one is born disciplined. Have you ever seen a disciplined baby? Of course not. They cry. They poop in their diapers. They eat whatever they can get their hands on, even if it isn’t food. Every baby is as undisciplined as a person can get. The good news is that you are already a lot more disciplined than that!
Discipline is a choice.
Charles Givens hit the nail on the head:
“Discipline is a choice, not a legacy. Discipline is not an innate human characteristic, something you were born with or without. To be disciplined or non-disciplined is a choice you make every minute in every hour of your life.
Discipline is nothing more than the process of focusing on any chosen activity without interruption until that activity is complete. It is something you do and not something you have.
You therefore have the freedom to choose to act with discipline and decisiveness – to become what others refer to as a disciplined person requires only that you do discipline over and over as a conscious act until repetition makes discipline a subconscious habit.”
– Charles Givens
To become disciplined, we simply need to “do discipline over and over as a conscious act until repetition makes discipline a subconscious habit.” Subconscious habits are not difficult. The more that we practice discipline, the more automatic and easier it becomes.
How do you make eating better a sustainable behavior? Practice. How do you learn to exercise consistently? Practice. How do you learn to floss regularly? Practice.
“A man can seldom – very, very seldom – fight a winning fight against his training; the odds are too heavy… There is nothing training cannot do. Nothing is above its reach. It can turn bad morals to good; it can destroy bad principles and recreate good ones; it can lift men to angelship. And it can do any one of these miracles in a year – even in six months.”
– Mark Twain
Discipline comes first. Results come second.
For whatever area of life you want to improve, practice discipline over and over again as often as you can. Start small. In fact, start ridiculously small if that’s what it takes.
Start exercising intensely for only one minute, but do it repetitively at a scheduled time, and practice discipline until you never miss. One minute of intense exercise by itself won’t dramatically change your fitness, but it definitely will be an improvement over zero exercise. More importantly, you will begin to develop discipline and change your identity to someone who exercises regularly. You can then gradually increase the amount of exercise that you do.
Make “Practice discipline” your mantra.
Mentally rehearse “Practice discipline” as a mantra over and over again. Apply this philosophy to the important areas of your life. Ask yourself: What simple discipline can I apply to this area of my life in order to improve it? If you feel resistance to it, make it smaller and easier. Then practice this simple discipline religiously. Gradually add new disciplines after your old disciplines start to become habitual. You will then become one of those disciplined individuals that you admire, and results will follow.
- The Charles Givens quote about discipline is from p. 156 of his book Super Self: Doubling Your Personal Effectiveness, a book that I enjoyed enough to read several times. The chapter “Doing Discipline” heavily influenced my view that discipline is something that we can develop through practice. I read the book back in 1995, and I am only now incorporating it into my core philosophy. I guess that the idea just needed to simmer for a while. 🙂
- The Mark Twain quote on training is from his essay “As Regards Patriotism” (which was included in the book A Pen Warmed-Up in Hell: Mark Twain in Protest, which I have not read). I love the quote, and Twain’s take on patriotism is interesting too. The essay is a quick read, so check it out.