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Discipline: The Path to True Freedom

   One thing virtually 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.

Mark Abbott

12 Comments

  1. This article speaks to my very soul.

    I love your tips for developing self-discipline because it took me years to learn half of those in my life.

    One of the hardest lessons I’m still learning in life is to set goals and stick with them. Setting the goal is easy, sticking with them is even harder. So I would love to ask, do you have any tips on sticking with the goals we set for ourselves? Or should one evaluate which goal they would stick with before setting it?

    Thanks in advance.

    Regards.

    • Hello, Kashia!

      I would first suggest asking yourself why you have a hard time sticking to your goals, because while most of us probably do, we don’t all struggle with that for the same reasons.

      For example, some people struggle because their goals are too vague, while others have an actual problem with distractions or procrastination. Then there are those who just have too many goals at one time. Someone like that should probably write down and prioritize their goals first, because some will be more important than others. It may be that certain goals depend on achieving others first, which is why it’s important to sort all that out.

      One thing I found to be true for myself is that small goals don’t seem worth the effort. They’re just not inspiring enough to make me move. That’s not true of everyone, of course. But if you’re one of those people who has to think big, then maybe your current set of goals is more representative of what someone else has suggested for you than what your heart truly desires. It’s not that family and friends don’t mean well, because they usually do. It’s just that we’re not all motivated by the same things.

      That’s just a little something to think about, but I’m making a note of this so I can address it more thoroughly in a future post. I’ve had to deal with this myself and it took a long time before I concluded that I just wasn’t motivated by the same things my friends and family were. As a result, their advice never seemed to work for me. I was blaming laziness for what was really just a set of uninspiring goals.

      But as I said, I will be touching on this again soon. I think it would be helpful to outline the many reasons why someone might struggle to stick to their goals, so readers can more easily identify which reasons actually apply to them. They all require different approaches.

      Mark

  2. DiscInline is one major life goals that one must adopt. My childhood was a bit strict because of my parents, especially my dad. He was too discipline and principled and it helped my growing up. In the context of being business discipline, I think that’s a different world entirely, but as itemized in the article, I think that could help. Distractions is major, and a thorough discipline is needed to deal with that. Thanks for the tips, the article is great.

    • Thanks, John! Yes, some parents do get carried away. I actually grew up without my dad, so I can’t say I know what that feels like. If anything, I could have used a bit more of it. In today’s world, there are lots of kids growing up in broken families, and one of the biggest downsides of that is that they often have one very passive parent that lets them get away with everything. I was kind of in the middle, but it’s only now that I’m in business for myself, that I can appreciate discipline’s importance. Having a regular job kept me in line, so I dealt with it by just complaining like everyone else does, but still doing what had to be done. However, once I was running my own show, I found myself wishing I had more self-control and personal discipline. Anyhow, thanks for stopping by!

      Mark

  3. Thank you for this article. I have learnt a lot. It is true that discipline is an excellent thing for the mind. It allows us to stick to things.
    As a dancer, I know what discipline is about. It makes me feel like a prisoner sometimes, because I don’t know how to let go. But in the meantime, it represents a lot of safety!

    • Very true, Elia. It’s not always fun, but without it, we would never accomplish anything worthwhile. Thanks for stopping by and best of luck with your dancing!

      Mark

  4. This post is very important as it captures what people need to become successful with what they do. I think that discipline is a very important part of people’s life that we need to inculcate. I have been a big upholder of discipline because it helps me have a structured lifestyle and I am able to plan ahead. I agree that discipline is far from torture and it’s better not to see it this way because discipline cannot be forced but only embraced.

    • Yes, I think it’s all about how we choose to look at it. To some people it’s a bad word, almost like they view it as a punishment of sorts. But it’s not supposed to be that, at all. It’s simply a pattern for effective living and thousands of years of human evolution have proven its effectiveness. As far as what you mention about not being forced, but rather embraced, I was just responding to someone else about how it’s better to live by example and let them see that, than to condescendingly remind them of how undisciplined they are. If you’re doing it right and you’re a big enough force in someone’s life, at some point they will begin to absorb your better qualities. If they’re children or military recruits, it’s different. I mean, they have little choice but to do what you say. But free adults are stubborn creatures and are best taught by example. Thanks for stopping by!

      Mark

  5. Very good post, more people should read it. There can indeed be no freedom without some discipline. It would be utter chaos and people may get hurt. I was raised with much discipline, perhaps a little too much, but well, I am very disciplined today. Sometimes I let go and break a little discipline I had set upon myself, but that is usually no big one. You give good tips, and I already follow some of them, like stepping out of my comfort zone, rewarding myself, etc. I agree that it’s important to do that. 

    How can I help a very undisciplined (adult) person become more disciplined without appearing like a meddling teacher?

    • Hello, Christine! Yeah, you don’t want to come across wrong. I’ve always felt that the most we can do for someone else is to live by example. At some point, the most receptive among them can’t help but wonder how it is you’re succeeding in ways that they are not. It’s actually human nature to take on some of the habits and characteristics of those we’re closest to. I’m not saying they’re going to take after you in every way, but the last thing anyone wants is to stand out for the wrong reasons. So whatever you do, don’t make them feel bad about the way they are, as that will not help. Just show them how it’s done and make sure they can see the contrast. Honestly, if they get anything at all from your relationship, it should be a better example of how to live effectively and take control of their lives. The bigger a force you are in their lives (without being overbearing or condescending), the more likely they are to absorb your standout qualities. Hope that helps and thanks for stopping by!

      Mark

  6. I like this article. Where this post not only talks about the importance of discipline, but also several ways to develop discipline.

    And the interesting thing is that I just realized that discipline has something to do with childhood. Thanks for this.

    And oh yeah, talking about true freedom, does it only need discipline? I think financial problems also need to be considered. What do you think?

    • Actually, my own personal experience has been that discipline is your best ally for conquering financial problems. It’s easy to give up because you feel the cards are stacked against you, but the truth is that they’re stacked against us all. Financial discipline entails trimming all but the most necessary expenses, while discovering ways to earn more. Contrary to what our deepest urges tell us, entertainment is not a necessity for survival. It helps us cope, undoubtedly, but the most disciplined out there require no such crutches to lean on. Do you really need that cable package? Do you have to eat out because you don’t have a stove or microwave or is it because it’s easier and fancier? Do you really need that six-pack with the buddies on Friday night or could you be working a side-gig for some extra cash? Don’t get me wrong, not all expenses are frivolous, but sometimes it’s easy to get wants and needs mixed up. I had a friend who got stuck with a ton of medical bills from his wife’s cancer diagnosis and even as serious as that was, he didn’t give up. He took on a ride-sharing gig at night for extra money, sold their extra car and one acre from a patch of land they had, and managed to get them back on their feet again. Granted he was always more disciplined than I was, I’ve realized over the years that necessity can be leveraged to develop us into better versions of ourselves than what we’ve settled for. Discipline from childhood does make it easier, but even the most undisciplined soldiers get carved into grown men in the military, simple because they have no choice and their circumstances demand it. Anyhow, thanks for stopping by!

      Mark

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