Self-discipline is essential to growth and development. Establish small acts of discipline, practice them daily, and build on them as your sense of self-discipline gets stronger.
“Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest.” ~ Proverbs 6: 6 – 11 (NIV)
The Ant And The Grasshopper
Summertime, and the Grasshopper spent his days singing and hopping about, lazing away the hot days. One day the Grasshopper saw an Ant, toiling hard to drag a piece of grain to her nest.
“Why do you work so hard?” asked the Grasshopper. “Come, sing and dance with me. We can do as we please. It’s too hot to work so hard!”
“I’m storing up food for the Winter,” replied the Ant. “You should be doing the same. Summer won’t last forever.”
“Phuh!” said the Grasshopper. “Who cares about Winter? We have plenty of food right now.” And he went on singing and dancing, doing as he pleased.
But Winter did come. Freezing cold and dying from starvation, the Grasshopper saw the Ant and her family distributing the food they had assiduously collected during the Summer.
Too late, the Grasshopper realized: “It is best to prepare for the days of necessity.” [*]
From Grasshopper To Ant
I have to say I was a grasshopper in my younger days. Much of my potential was dissipated because I easily gave up when anything got too hard. As a child, I had a fixed mindset, although that term hadn’t been invented yet. I believed I was smart and that results should come easily to me. If something got too hard, I gave up.
I prefer to say now that I was a “late bloomer”, which is true in a sense, but I bloomed only after I recognized that tendency in myself to quit when the going got tough. I eventually learned to stick with a thing until I mastered it. Slowly, I learned the value of self-discipline.
I can point to many examples where I began to use self-discipline. Going back to school to complete an associate’s degree. Learning to play guitar. Going through the Toastmaster’s program. Going back to school to complete my bachelor’s degree.
Eventually, I evolved from grasshopper to ant. Today, I actively seek ways to practice self-discipline and to continuously improve my mind, body, and spirit. But I don’t try to take gigantic leaps. I take many small steps, day after day after day after day, week after week after week, year after year. Like the ant, I have learned the benefit of living and working today, with an eye to what this will mean to my future self.
Early Adopters (and the rest of us)
I have known and worked with people who seemed to understand early the benefits of self-discipline and working steadily toward a goal. They typically have advanced in their lives and careers at an early age. I presume they were born ants and never had a grasshopper phase. Perhaps you are one of those people and you have an innate sense of discipline.
Or you may have had a similar experience to mine, starting life as a grasshopper and eventually learning the necessity of discipline.
You may be in the grasshopper phase now. If so . . . no shame and no blame.
In either case, you can benefit from the practice of self-discipline.
The Two Paths
There are two paths in life. You are on one of them now. One path leads upward to success (however you define it), happiness, well-being and flourishing. One path leads downward to stagnation, lassitude, poor health, even despair.
However, whether the path is going up or down, the grade is so slight, it isn’t evident which direction you are headed. It is only after many days of taking many small steps on the path that you suddenly realize you’ve made a turn upwards or a turn downwards.
What determines if you are moving on the upward path? A few simple disciplines, repeated every day. [Olson]
What determines if you are moving on the downward path? A few simple errors in judgement, repeated every day. [Olson]
You choose the path. And you choose it through your actions. You choose by developing self-discipline. Or not.
The good news is you can move to the upward path today. If you are living the grasshopper life, you can begin your evolution to become like the ant. Here are some ideas to get you started.
The paths are walked one step at a time. Don’t try to move from one to the other by taking giant leaps. Simply change the steps you are taking.
Don’t attempt to run a mile if you haven’t run anywhere since you were a kid. Or don’t attempt to save 1/2 your income if you’ve been spending everything you make and then some. Don’t try to cut your 2500 calorie per day diet down to 1500 calories. Pick one area of your life and make one small improvement. Then do that one thing every day.
Remember, the results along the upward path come by aggregating small improvements over time.
Once you have selected your small daily discipline, commit to practicing it U-every day. “Successful people adhere to the ‘no exceptions rule’ when it comes to their daily disciplines,” Jack Canfield writes in The Success Principles. “Once you make a 100% commitment to something, there are no exceptions. It’s a done deal.” [Canfield]
I find it is easier to commit to doing most things every day, rather than say, 5 days a week. It’s too easy to say “Today’s my off day” and then skip out. Of course, some things you may only schedule once a week or a few times a week. Pick a specific day, or days, then make a 100% commitment to those days.
But a “small / simple daily discipline” means daily. Make sure most of yours are. People say you can’t be “a little bit pregnant”. Either you are or you aren’t. Same with commitment. Either you are or you aren’t. “Ninety-nine percent commitment is not possible. We are either 100 percent or not committed at all.” [Hendricks]
You have probably heard the advice Jerry Seinfield gave to a young comedian who was just starting out in his career. Seinfield’s advice: Get a big calendar and hang it on the wall. Every day, write a joke. After you write the joke, mark a big, red X for that day on the calendar. Then, don’t break the chain.
Seeing that string of red Xs motivates you to keep going. Find some way to keep track of your progress as you practice your small / simple daily disciplines. Keep a list. Or keep a chart. Or mark Xs on your calendar. Then . . . don’t break the chain.
Another key to sustaining disciplines is to start small and make incremental improvements over time. You’ve selected a tiny step to take each day, but that is your floor, not your ceiling.
Stephen Guise developed the Mini Habits concept when, in desperation after failing repeatedly to begin an exercise program, he decided to do 1 push up each day. Most of the time, he did more, but he never missed doing at least one. As Stephen writes, “I bet you can’t do just one push up or write a few words, once you start, you’re going to want more.” [Guise]
Make your discipline so small, it’s hard not to do. Be sure you can do it every day. Then, add to it as you go. But always be sure that you do your minimum.
Celebrate – “That’s like me!”
Another motivating exercise is to celebrate when you have completed your discipline for the day. A simple method, suggested by Dr. BJ Fogg, who developed the concept of Tiny Habits, is to pump your fist in the air and shout “Yes!” Or as Lanny Basshom, Olympic gold medalist suggests, say “That’s like me!” [Basshom]
Or do a happy dance. Pat yourself on the back. Find some quick, easy way to celebrate you. You are building your self-discipline, one small step at a time. And that’s like you!
Here are some examples of small / simple daily disciplines. This is by no means an exhaustive list, just a sample to get your own ideas flowing.
- drink a glass of water when you get up
- get up as soon as the alarm goes off
- think of 3 things you are grateful for
- walk 5+ minutes
- meditate / pray 5+ minutes
- write 50+ words
- do 1 push up
- floss 1 tooth
- write in a journal 5+ minutes
- walk at least 5000 steps per day
- track what you eat
- track your spending
- practice a musical instrument 5+ minutes
- read for 5+ minutes or read 1 page
- put things back in their home when you are finished using them
Daily Action + Time = Amazing
To be truthful, practicing your small / simple daily discipline today is not going to make much difference. If you do it, you’ll feel OK. If you don’t do it, you’ll still feel OK . . . today.
But, how do you suppose you will feel in a year if you practice your disciplines most days? How do you think you will feel in 5 years? Success (however you define it) is not difficult or complicated. Success comes from doing a few simple things, every day, over time. And failure comes from not doing those simple things, every day, over time.
In The Slight Edge – Turning Simple Disciplines Into Massive Success And Happiness, Jeff Olson tells us that consistently repeated daily actions + time = unconquerable results. Time is the force that magnifies insignificant things into something unstoppable. [Olson]
Pick one small / simple daily discipline and begin it today. Do it again tomorrow. And the next day. And the next. Add others as you progress. Make this a life-long habit. You have started on the upward path to success, good health, well-being and flourishing. 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 flourishing, of well-being, meaning, and purpose.
[*] Adapted from Aesop’s Fables as presented on the University of Massachusetts Amherst website at https://www.umass.edu/aesop/content.php?n=0&i=1
Bassham, Lanny. With Winning In Mind: The Mental Management System. Flower Mound, TX: Mental Management Systems, 1996
Canfield, Jack. The Success Principles – How To Get From Where You Are To Where You Want To Be. Collins Living, 2004.
Guise, Stephen. Mini Habits: Smaller Habits, Bigger Results. CreateSpace Publishing. 2013
Hendricks, PhD., Gay. Conscious Living – How To Create A Life Of Your Own Design. Harper, 2001
Olson, Jeff. The Slight Edge. Austin, TX: Greenleaf Book Group Press, 2005-2013