Without discipline, we are like a ship without a rudder. We may be taking lots of steps, but making no progress. The good news is that you and I don’t require tons of discipline to succeed. We can learn discipline through small steps. And small, simple daily disciplines, practiced day by day, eventually lead to the destination we desire.
“You Are In Control”
“So you have to start making yourself do things that help you exert control. Invent things, one after the next — some disciplines of a minor nature, others more major, but get the ego used to the idea that you are going to get it doing things it doesn’t necessarily like. It’s got to buy the idea that you are in control. For the most part, it doesn’t matter what disciplines you pick as long as you pick something.” [Wilde]
For many years, this was the story of my life . . . I’d start a new endeavor, say an exercise program for example. For two or three weeks, perhaps, I’d show up every day to do what I had decided to do. Then, I’d miss a day. Perhaps two. I’d recommit to my program and, again for a while, I’d show up every day. But then I’d miss a day or two. Or a week. Or two. In a few months, my exercise program or whatever project I’d embarked on was a dim memory.
As you may guess, I was not a disciplined person growing up. Not as a teenager. Nor as a young adult. Or for the early part of my married life. In fact, there was a time when I mistakenly equated discipline as being rigid and unimaginative, the opposite of freedom and creativity.
I am grateful that I eventually learned how wrong I was; that, in fact, discipline frees you up to be creative. Creativity without discipline is chaos.
I developed discipline the way I’ve made most of the changes in my life . . . little by little, step by step. A big improvement came when I first read the words of Stuart Wilde some years ago. He gave me the understanding that discipline is something you develop through practice. I caught on to the idea that discipline doesn’t always have to be used only to tackle big projects. Discipline can also come through small steps. In fact, the more ways you can find to practice it, the stronger your discipline “muscle” becomes.
Why We Need Discipline
I believe most of us realize that we are never going to be successful (however you define it) in any endeavor without discipline. Discipline is why you get up in the morning and start on your most important tasks. It’s how you push past obstacles and consistently work just outside of your comfort zone. Discipline gives you the ability to stick with the hard things and do difficult tasks. It allows you to take care of yourself, do your work, and care for your world with excellence.
Without it, we run into all manner of difficulties: distractions, procrastination, health problems, relationship problems, money problems, clutter, and overwhelm.
With discipline, we make steady upward progress. Of course, we’ll fail from time to time, but we fail forward and we quickly recover. And we’ll hit plateaus where we don’t seem to be improving, but with discipline, we eventually take the next step upward. It looks something like this:
Without discipline, instead of making progress, we bounce around from the height of productivity one day to the depths of wasted time and effort the next. Sometimes going forward, sometimes going backward. Sometimes not moving much at all. We’re all over the place and our path looks like this:
Inch by Inch
“The secret of getting ahead is getting started.” ~ Mark Twain
Discipline is not a burden that we have to carry, even though we sometimes look at it that way. (Or, at least, that’s how I used to see it.) Small, simple daily disciplines help us to succeed. In fact, they are a necessary ingredient. And while not always the easiest thing to do, small steps can help us improve our discipline “muscle”.
Small steps help us get started. They help us overcome inertia and get us moving. “An object at rest” and so forth. As Jeff Olson suggests in The Slight Edge, we need a plan – or help – not to finish but to get started. Because that first step? It’s a doozy!
Small steps create momentum. (Refer to Newton’s First Law above.) As we saw in the first illustration, small, consistent steps lead us on an upward path. Even when we fail, we move forward. And step after step, we are gradually moving to higher and higher plateaus.
Small steps lead to consistency. I believe consistency is the magic powder that enables us to succeed. Because success, Olson reminds us, is a few small, simple, easy actions repeated every day. And failure? A few simple errors in judgment repeated every day. [Olson]
Small steps are more likely to “stick”. So it seems consistency can help or hinder us, depending on if we are consistently taking steps on the upward path, or consistently failing to take those steps. When we take small steps, it makes it easier to do every day, easier to stay on the path.
Small steps bring big results. In The Compound Effect, Darren Hardy writes that the “path to success is through a continuum of mundane, unsexy, unexciting, and sometimes difficult daily disciplines compounded over time.” [Hardy] Keep that in mind always. The small disciplines we’re talking about are not exciting, are not always easy, and they don’t lead to overnight success. But it is the only guaranteed path to success. Small steps, over time, lead to the BIG results you want. You just have to keep at it.
Discipline Through Small Steps
“Invent things, one after the next — some disciplines of a minor nature, others more major.”
To strengthen your discipline, you must set objectives and meet them every day. You may not do every one every day, but you must do something. And I’ve found the ones I do only on certain days are not as effective. I’m apt to forget that today is the day I’m supposed to do it.
Here are suggestions of some disciplines you could add to your day. Some of these are my own, things that I do. Some I’ve “borrowed” from other sources. Understand that these are not necessarily disciplines that you undertake, but simply a list to get you started. Feel free to use any that appeal to you, or let this list help you come up with your own ideas.
Stretching and calisthenics
P&B (Pee & Balance): “After I pee, I do a balancing exercise.” (adapted from Tiny Habits [Fogg])
Read 15 minutes
Toss 2 things
Put something in its home
Walk 250 steps per hour (use a fitness tracker)
Walk 10,000 (or whatever works for you) steps per day
Intermittent fasting (e.g., eat only between 7:00 AM and 6:00 PM, or whatever schedule works for you)
Make your bed
When you get out of bed, say “Thank you!” for another day
Write three things for which you are grateful
No coffee after 12:00 noon
Stand up when you talk on the phone
Do a Sun Salutation
Say “I love you”
Read a daily Bible verse or other spiritual message
Read an Excelerated Life™ blog post (<– shameless self-promotion!)
“Yard by yard, it’s hard but inch by inch, it’s a cinch!”
Without discipline, we are like a ship without a rudder. If we ever make it to port, it is totally by accident and it is extremely likely that it isn’t the port we were sailing for. The right disciplines, practiced daily, will lead us into port, that is, the destination of our goal, every time.
The good news is that you and I don’t require tons of discipline to succeed. Small, simple daily disciplines, practiced day by day, eventually lead to the destination we desire. The most disciplined among us don’t rely solely on having unlimited discipline; they combine small steps with just enough discipline to create the habits that lead to success.
Like other skills, discipline requires practice. “[Y]ou have to start making yourself do things that help you exert control,” as Stuart Wilde reminded us in the introduction. “For the most part, it doesn’t matter what disciplines you pick as long as you pick something.” So pick something. Either from the list of suggestions above or something that is relevant to you. What you do isn’t as important as that you do something. And you do it consistently. Small steps lead to the goal BUT you must take the steps. Because you build discipline through those small steps. That’s the power of Excelerated Discipline™. And it’s a step in embracing your Excelerated Life™!
When have you consistently followed a certain discipline?
What were your results?
Share your experience by leaving a comment below.
Excelerated Discipline™ — doing what you say you will do — is one step in creating your Excelerated Life™, a life of flourishing and well-being, and a life of meaning, purpose, and service.
Read more about the Excelerated Life™.
Fogg, Ph.D., BJ. Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2020.
Hardy, Darren. The Compound Effect. Boston, MA: Da Capo Press, 2010.
Olson, Jeff. The Slight Edge. Austin, TX: Greenleaf Book Group Press, 2005-2013.
Wilde, Stuart. Infinite Self: 33 Steps to Reclaiming Your Inner Power. New York: Hay House, 1996.