One thing almost all successful people attribute their success to is good, old-fashioned discipline. The hard work and dedication required to reach this level demonstrate how much discipline they have developed along the way. They were not born with this valuable attribute anymore than they were born with the skills they now possess.
Unfortunately, the word has since developed a negative connotation. To some, it now represents pain, punishment, and impossible strictness. However, discipline and torture are not the same thing. Torture is intended to break you, typically to force your submission to someone else’s demands. But discipline breaks you down for the purpose of building you back up as a new and improved version of yourself. That makes discipline a GOOD thing and that is what we’re going to focus on here.
The Importance of Discipline
Discipline provides a sense of structure within a person’s life. It allows them to function within society in a respectful and meaningful way. Discipline also allows a person to achieve a more gratifying life, beyond mere biological existence. It can be used to carve oneself into a person of greater value to the rest of society.
Discipline promotes the kind of “good” behavior that makes society an enjoyable place for everyone to live. It follows a person through life, guiding them through its many twists and turns, ensuring that they continue to make responsible decisions. Discipline promotes the kind of good behavior that makes society an enjoyable place for everyone to live. It ensures that when tough choices have to be made, others are taken into consideration.
Without discipline, there would be no leaders to set the bar for everyone else. No one would bother creating any of the great inventions society uses to advance itself, because it would simply be too much trouble. No one would take the risks necessary to ensure the survival of others. No one would step up to defend their fellow man.
Discipline and Childhood
For human beings, discipline begins early in life, soon after we learn how to walk and talk. Once we’ve mastered these basic skills, we become free to explore the world. However, that freedom from the confines of the crib exposes us to dangers from which we were previously sheltered. If not for our parents telling us to stay away from busy streets and hot stoves, we probably wouldn’t survive childhood.
A parent does this not to deprive a child of the freedom to explore, but rather to balance this freedom with a certain degree of safety. This is the first hint that freedom itself cannot exist without discipline. The key here is in who is applying that discipline.
When you’re a child, you don’t know any better. You NEED an experienced adult to keep you in check, whether you like it or not. The purpose of maturity is to get you to a point where you no longer need to be held by the hand. The more mature you are, the less you’re supposed to need rules to live by. You should be smart enough not to hurt yourself or others. But how mature are the people you know?
The Role of Discipline in Attaining Goals
Another important role discipline plays is in helping us to achieve our goals in life. It accomplishes this by enabling us to control our behaviors, emotions and impulses, so we can focus on what we’re trying to achieve. Modern life provides a never-ending onslaught of distractions that can easily overwhelm weaker minds. The more disciplined you are, the easier it is to resist the lure of instant gratification in favor of more meaningful accomplishments.
These goals may involve getting a higher education and entering the job market. Whether you want to be an automotive technician or an accountant, you’re going to have to work for the piece of paper that says you’re qualified to do the work. It’s assumed that if you put that much effort into learning the fundamentals, you should be able to handle an entry-level position.
Discipline as a Path to True Freedom
A quote by Cullen Hightower states that “freedom without discipline is chaos.” If you really think about it, a society can’t actually call itself “civilized” if its citizens aren’t behaving responsibly. Only then can free people be trusted not to abuse that freedom by taking advantage of others. When parents tell their kids they will allow them to borrow the car as soon as they prove they can handle the responsibility, they are applying this exact principle.
It’s difficult for some people to make a connection between instant gratification and a breakdown of civilization. It seems like a stretch, because most people think their own undisciplined habits are fairly harmless. After all, the average slacker wouldn’t consciously do anything to unravel the society that makes their easygoing life possible. But if there were no consequences for taking it easy, nothing would get done, desperation would eventually set in and chaos would reign supreme. Thus, the advantage of discipline is that society’s rules are easier to live with when you’re able to control yourself.
Tips for Developing Self-Discipline
Here are some tips you can use to develop more self-discipline in your life:
1. Acknowledge your weaknesses. Everyone has them. Before you can improve your life in any meaningful way, you have to come to terms with your shortcomings. Whether it’s eating bad food, drinking too much, or not thinking before you speak, they all have similar effects on your life.
2. Create a plan. You must also be clear about what you’re trying to accomplish in your life. Success means different things to different people and your plan must establish a path you’ll be willing to stick to. Think about why self-discipline is important within that context and create a plan based on those needs.
3. Set clear goals. Major goals should be big enough to excite you, yet broken down into smaller and more manageable steps. If your goals are too small, you won’t take them seriously enough to push yourself when necessary. Breaking them down into steps allows you to measure your progress more easily and see where you may be getting sidetracked.
4. Remove distractions. In order to develop self-discipline, you’ll need to keep distractions and temptations away or you will never be able to focus. For example, if you tend to reach for junk food when you’re angry or depressed, don’t keep it around. Just don’t buy it. The easier it is to get to, the more willpower you’ll have to muster up to stay away from it.
5. Create new habits. Develop new habits that will make you healthier and more organized. The healthier you are physically, the better you’ll feel inside and out. It takes some degree of discipline to stick to an exercise program or begin waking up earlier. If you can manage a couple new habits like these, it’ll be easier to tackle greater challenges down the road.
6. Get used to discomfort. Few things can hold you back the way your comfort zone can. If you wait until it feels like the “right time” to make changes in your life, there’s a good chance you never will. Remember that when life itself does things that force you to change, it works because you’re caught off guard. You have no choice but to look for a new job when you get fired. Uncomfortable or not, you do it. So start doing things that are slightly uncomfortable and you’ll build up your ability to do more.
7. Reward yourself. The flip side of doing things that cause you discomfort is that you should also reward yourself for a job well done. If you don’t treat yourself regularly, you’ll soon begin to question whether discipline is even worth the effort.
8. Learn to accept setbacks. Understand that sometimes you’re going to fall off the horse. In the beginning, it’s going to happen fairly often. It might take a few months before you can stick to that diet or exercise program, but you have to accept that failure is part of the growing process. Each time you fail and get back up, it gets easier to keep on going. Eventually, the strength of your will to succeed will overcome the petty obstacles that were once enough to discourage you.
There’s a reason parents from every culture have long sought to instill discipline in their kids. Whether we like it or not, some level of discipline is necessary for our survival. It has carried us this far in life and without it, our impulsive decisions would cause us to spiral out of control.
So if you’re looking to develop the one character trait that could have the greatest impact on your future, discipline is probably the one you should work on. No matter where you are in life, there’s a good chance you could use a little more of it. At the very least, it will help make you a stronger and more capable human being.