“Through discipline comes freedom.” ― Aristotle
I’m immersed in the topic of positive psychology. My coaching is based on it and I’ve taken courses and trainings in its philosophy and application for years now. I’ve seen, and personally experienced, the difference it can make in people’s lives.
For those who aren’t familiar, positive psychology is a newer scientific discipline and is defined by the man considered its founder, Dr. Martin Seligman, as the ‘scientific study of optimal human functioning [that] aims to discover and promote the factors that allow individuals and communities to thrive’.
Flourishing, succeeding, finding meaning and fulfillment – all of these are what most of us are looking for. But what separates those who are thriving from those who aren’t, those who are moving ahead from those who feel they are just getting by.
I want to explore the qualities and characteristics that encourage us to flourish, to show up in peak form and to live our lives in meaningful ways. The first attribute that came to mind and that I’ll discuss today is Self-Discipline.
Why Self-Discipline? Because self discipline and our habits are closely entwined, and both are key to success. Because without it, it can be next to impossible to achieve meaningful goals. Because, in a nutshell, discipline is freedom.
That last point is important, maybe the most important one of all. Discipline is the means by which we are able to get to the good stuff in life. You aren’t going to lose weight and get that fit body without getting off your bum and into the gym or out the door. You aren’t going to have that 3-day weekend off without meeting your deadline for your boss or client. Want a great job when you finish college? Discipline is what it takes to study hard at those times when you want to do anything but. How about the good life – nice car, fabulous vacation, time off? All of these things require a foundation of discipline – financial discipline.
You can be absolutely certain that anyone standing on the podium at the Olympic Stadium getting ready to receive their gold medal will tell you that self-discipline has been vital to getting them there.
I get that discipline isn’t exactly sexy. Or easy. We’re all inclined to look for the easier, softer way. But the reality is that the good stuff – the really good stuff – takes hard work, determination and, yes, discipline. Without it, there is no forward movement.
Being disciplined isn’t easy. It means doing what you have to do, rather than what you want to do. It means self-control, having the ability to regulate your thoughts and behavior. It means getting out of bed at 6:00 am to run 3 miles when you’d rather do anything but because that’s your commitment.
In the end, it’s the character trait that is going to get you where you want to go – rather that goal is getting fit and strong, or getting your Ph.D.
And here’s good news: It’s something that can be developed, it’s a learned behavior. Over time, with practice and repetition, you can become the master of your thoughts, your behaviors and your habits.
Since we can all develop more self-discipline, I’ve put together some pointers that will help you grow yours:
- Have clear goals. Define exactly what your goal is and what you will specifically do to achieve it. For example, if your goal is to lose 15 pounds, how much can you realistically lose each week. What is your target date for your goal? What type of healthy eating plan will you choose?
If you don’t have a specific goal and a clear plan to get there, you are setting yourself up for failure.
- Establish a routine. Remember that discipline and habits are closely entwined. Have a plan for what you will eat, what’s off limits, and the time you will have your meals. If you are going to allow for snacks, plan that, too. Creating a routine will help your new plan become more automatic as time goes on and, eventually, habit.
- Make it a priority. There is no way to master an area of our life without focusing all of our resources on it. If you are half-hearted about your commitment, if you aren’t ready to make it a top priority every day, for as long as it takes, you haven’t made a decision and are setting yourself up for a fall. Go back to the drawing board and reflect on why you want to develop this discipline, what is your vision, where do you want to go, how badly do you want to get there?
- Apply the word no liberally and frequently. When you are building self-discipline, you will have to be able to say no – mostly to yourself. Developing discipline takes work. There’s no way around it. You will have to push yourself to do things you don’t want to do and say no to yourself when you want to slack off. If you want to be prepared for a big presentation the next day, you need to turn off the TV, stop surfing the Internet, and get it done. If you want to be in a rested and alert state for that presentation, you need to get that 8 hours of sleep. It’s up to you.
- Persevere. There will almost certainly be days when you don’t stay on your plan, or get sidetracked. It’s going to happen because it happens to everyone in the process of developing discipline. Decide in advance that you are not going to let a temporary failure get in the way of your commitment. Let go of the inner critic, the negative voice inside that says, “See? I knew you couldn’t do it.” Get back on the track. A temporary setback is just that – a setback – if you treat it that way. You get to decide. Don’t let a temporary setback become an excuse for giving up altogether.
Here’s the essential point. Developing self-discipline takes daily practice, persistence and commitment, but when you have those three things, it’s only a matter of time before you get to where you want to go – the freedom that comes from self-possession and self-control.
Aristotle had it right.