We all admire outstanding performers, especially in athletics and the military. We dream of winning the gold medal for ourselves while fearing that we are just another cream puff, that we don’t really have it. We think of the team that won the Super Bowl, and of the fortunate few who went on to the Pro Bowl. Is it all discipline driven?
Why can’t that be me?
I heard one of the world’s best pilots, a lead in the Navy’s famous Blue Angels, one in literally 10,000 pilots who could fly in tight formation a few inches apart. He spoke of a squeaky clean integrity and an incredibly close collaboration with his fellow aviators, as they daily put their lives in each other’s hands. They go through a rigorous, multipoint checkout process every time they even think of going back up into the air.
What do they have that I don’t?
The word “discipline” actually comes from the word “disciple,” applied to the original followers of Jesus Christ. They were close students of the greatest spiritual Master the world has ever known. They unconditionally committed their entire lives to a process of union with God.
Self-discipline is never punishment, or mindlessly working the oars on a slave ship. Self-discipline is a gradual learning process that comes from within, not from without.
To perform brilliantly, you need to be inner-directed.
Your drive comes from a deep vision and passion that demands expression.
The conflict with your mind need not be a struggle among your multiple selves. Your mind is there to help you survive. When it questions things, it is simply doing its job. Your job is to find internal unity before achieving external unity.
Noteworthy accomplishment is impossible without a certain amount of self-discipline. We all know that there are certain things, including death and taxes, whereby we simply must take action, whether we want to or not. Every single year, we face an April 15th deadline. Noncompliance can lead to a painful audit.
When a close friend passes away, you would be a cad to pass on his funeral.
However, with major objectives, we usually have greater latitude in choice. For example, you may find yourself a mid-level manager in a large software corporation past its prime. You perform adequately, and enjoy an incremental raise, but you are never really acknowledged and you have little hope of rising much further in their elaborate hierarchy. So you decide to drop out with an entrepreneurial idea and do a start-up with a colleague or two.
You soon find that your “job” without pay has become much harder. Where is the infrastructure? Where is the support? You graduate from 40 hours a week to 80 hours a week. You are all on your own. Nobody out there seems to care. You have to hustle to try and land investors. You get to do all the dirty work, including taking out the trash.
How will you ever build that $100 million rising star Big Data enterprise? All you’ve got to barter with is sweat equity. Only one thing will ensure perseverance… a massive dose of self-discipline.
Our mind can be ingenious at coming up with options when we are not having a lot of fun, and things are not going our way. Perhaps it is a night out with the girls. Perhaps it a reckless streak of shopping in the middle of the week in prestigious, but pricey boutiques… anything but more code, and more paper work.
Our mind knows us intimately, better than our best friend or lover. It knows our weaknesses, our inner cravings. We all have a delightfully rebellious inner child with a short attention span. When we are young and beautiful, we can charm our way through any mess that we have created. That inner child likes to have fun, and it knows it isn’t having much fun right now.
You can delay this project just another day. After all, you are working for yourself. Who cares if you cheat a little bit? It won’t hurt you. You will find it is just like taking another drink, or hitting the sleep button on your alarm clock. Who is boss, anyway? Don’t you make your own decisions?
Your mind is usually the one that creates all of the objections, puts up imaginary obstacles and resistance.
Your challenge is to befriend your mind. Love and appreciate the little girl in you. The natural, intuitive child is the best part of you, what everyone loves. Your critical parent brings out the worst in her. But your nurturing parent knows how to speak to that child in a way that she will accept.
Just think of a dance.
It takes a partner to tango. When your mind makes a move, you make a counter move. Then the mind makes another move, and you make another counter move. You can actually have fun when you don’t take it all quite so seriously.
You listen to your mind, but remind it that you are bringing bread to the table so that you both can have a wonderful time this evening. You have some special dish in mind to share with her/him at the dinner table. You can hardly wait, but now, let’s get on with the task at hand.
In other words, you condition (warn) it in advance by assuring your mind that you’ll work on a task tomorrow, and once it’s done, you’ll experience a fantastic reward. Associate your big or boring task with a pleasant experience. Evoke the delightful feeling of completion before you even start.
This will get you started and then… immerse yourself in the task and don’t think about it while working on it.
This particular task is the means to a bigger reward; so don’t give it any significance. Just dive in and do it!
We often make the mistake of being a perfectionist. Everything must be just right before we knock out a single page. Our critical parent goes haywire. The chair isn’t quite right. Let me adjust the lighting over here. Dear me, here is an urgent message from my pal, I better take that first. Then I will finally get started.
Even worse, we take on far more than we can handle and insist that we do it all TODAY. I think I will knock out the draft of a new 50-page business plan with financial projections in a couple of hours to take to the investors. If I am lucky, I can sign off on it by 5:00 PM sharp. But, of course, you are on page 15 or 16 and you haven’t even come close to the spreadsheet and working out the numbers.
Self-discipline is a step-by-step process.
If you want to lift 20-pound dumb bells in the morning, and you are totally out of shape, start with a two-pound version. No one will ridicule you and your body will gradually, and gladly ramp up in strength. Then add a couple of pounds every week or so.
We too soon forget that Olympic stars all have the best possible trainers, and they practice hours a day, years in advance of the big show. Why should you do it all yourself overnight?
Tony Robbins is often thought of as THE 20th century motivational and performance master, coaching world leaders in multiple disciplines. What Tony continually emphasizes is that a big enough “Why?” will move you to accomplish anything.
He offers an RPM daily planner which stands for Result / Purpose / Massive Action. Rather than just mindlessly write down tasks each day and prioritize them, visualize your specific, measurable objectives, and get in visceral touch with why they are so important. Only then should you engage in what he calls “massive action.”
Always ask - does IT (your task or project) move the needle? If not, drop it and focus on what will make you leap forward.
We have all heard of the mother whose little boy was about to be crushed by a car that suddenly collapsed. Even though she may be slight in build, she is able to lift up a couple of tons without a second thought to save her pride and joy. Where did that strength come from? It’s within you. Just know, that you can tap into it.
If someone pointed a gun at your head and told you to come up with a hundred thousand dollars by end of day, like all the mafia movies, you would get extremely creative very fast.
The biggest mistake we can make after an extraordinary accomplishment is to fail to reward ourselves, but rather force our body to plop down on the desk and do more work.
Your software team has just designed a killer architecture for A.I. that will ensure you have a shot at becoming a billion-dollar company, and you go back to your desk to shuffle papers.
Take the afternoon off. Take your entire team to celebrate.
Grab a beach blanket, a bottle of wine, a pound or two of camembert cheese and a volleyball net, and go by the seaside to rock.
When you do the right thing and do spectacularly well, thank your mind for being your best friend.
When you finish your tax preparation early Sunday afternoon, go take your family out to a top show downtown, capped with dinner at a gourmet French restaurant. Let your family share the joy of removing a huge burden from your shoulders, a virtual ball-and-chain during the week.
We all can discipline ourselves with time. I found writing papers a nightmare at the university, and spent hours looking out the window as my fellow students were playing outside. But I kept at it. Years later, in business, I became very good at writing. I would sit down in my comfortable chair by the computer, close my eyes for a few minutes, work out an outline and start right in.
All the hours spent at the university to get a grip on the process of writing eventually paid off to the point where I could help other people. All it took was sustained focus. Given enough time, anything is possible.
Wouldn’t today be a good day to start playing with your mind? You may find that it is more than willing to dance along with you.