The Habit Of Discipline

“The ability to discipline yourself to delay gratification in the short term in order to enjoy greater rewards in the long term, is the indispensable prerequisite for success.” ~ Brian Tracy

In an interview I heard recently with Brian Tracy, a leader in the field of self-development, the interviewer asked Brian if he had one overarching “secret” of achieving success or attaining a goal. Brian stated that he had been asked this question hundreds of times, usually at the end of a TV or radio interview. And for years, he declined to answer the question, believing that there were a number of strengths and skills needed for one to achieve success in any of its forms. However, Brian stated that he has come to believe that there is one attribute that is more important than all the others in determining the likelihood of one’s achieving any goal. What is the attribute? The “secret” of success? “Do what you say you will do.”

Do what you say you will do.

Have you ever had a goal or desire that you just couldn’t stick with? Maybe it was (or is!) to save money, lose weight, stop smoking, get organized, be on time, or . . .? But you never got around to starting the activities you needed to do to achieve your goal. Or if you did start, you didn’t stick with it. What was the missing ingredient? I suspect it is self-discipline.

Discipline has a negative connotation for many of us, usually involving some type of punishment. We sometimes think of self-discipline as making ourselves do something we don’t want to do. In this view, discipline is thought of as an antithesis to “freedom”.

However, self-discipline is not a hindrance to freedom. True freedom means you have options. Self-discipline gives you more options. “Never are you less free,” says Gary Ryan Blair, “then when you are held hostage by your excuses and lack of discipline. When discipline is lax, enslavement and mediocrity follow!” [Blair]

Make self-discipline a habit.

To develop the habit of self-discipline, use what you already know about creating a new habit. Start small – so small that it is practically impossible not to perform the step.

To begin, instill one daily habit. Make it something that is good for you and makes you feel good about yourself. And once you start, do it EVERY DAY until it becomes second nature. Once it is an habitual practice, add another daily habit. Continue adding small habits until you have 10 new daily habits that bring you joy and peace. Some people are so caught up in what they should do or ought to do, that they find it hard to come up with 10 pleasurable things to begin doing. The idea is not to think up things you think you should do (“I should eat more vegetables”), but to come up with 10 things you love to do. Discipline improves with practice so you want to make it easy and pleasurable to practice your new habits.

Sometimes it helps to have a ritual – a set series of activities you perform to start an action you want to make into a habit. Think about some daily habits you already have – brushing your teeth, taking a shower, getting ready for bed or getting dressed for work each day. You likely have a set pattern that you do to begin the activity. A ritual helps “burn in” the habit by helping you perform the actions that will become habitual without having to think about them too much.

Use Implementation Intentions

Peter Gollwitzer, a psychologist working at the University of Konstanz in Germany, discovered that using environmental cues could move someone to take a specific action toward her goal.[Miller and Frisch] Gollwitzer calls these cues “implementation intentions”.

Implementation intentions specify when, where, and how you will take the actions that lead to goal attainment. They take the form of “When situation x occurs, I will perform response y”. [Gollwitzer] For example, when you put on your pajamas, you floss and brush your teeth. When the alarm goes off, you get up – no pressing the snooze button. Hang your gym clothes where you’ll see them 1st thing in the morning (or sleep in them) to make it easier to start your exercise program.

Tap in to the power of discipline.

You won’t make changes you want to make without using self-discipline to help yourself get into new habits of behavior. The good news is that you can increase your ability to select and perform the actions you must take to reach a new goal or objective. Do what you say you will do. Select some small activity and perform it consistently until it becomes a habit. Then select another, then another. In this way, your self-discipline grows and you are able to perform bigger acts consistently. That is how you build the habit of discipline. And that is embracing the Excelerated Life!

Excelerated self-discipline — doing what you say you will do — is one step in creating your Excelerated life, a life of happiness and well-being.

Blair, Gary Ryan. Everything Counts! Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2010

Gollwitzer, Peter M., “Implementation Intentions: Strong Effects Of Simple Plans,” American Psychologist July 1999: Vol. 54 No. 7 493 – 503.

Miller, MAPP, Caroline Adams and Michael B. Frisch. Creating Your Best Life. New York: Sterling, 2009

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