The Art of Self-Discipline

I have my parents to thank for my level of discipline. I think perhaps I’m naturally wired for discipline, but there’s no doubt that the conscripted nature of their approach was very influential. As a young boy, every morning for nine years, I would get up and practice the piano at 5:30 AM on weekdays. I practiced the clarinet every weekday as well. I (dutifully) mowed the lawn, shoveled the snow, cleaned up the dog poop in the backyard, did my homework and practiced basketball. There was no choice. It was either get with the program or I’m sure there would have been even more horrific chores for me to do around the house. So I complied – I didn’t want to find out what the consequences would have been otherwise. So, today, whether it’s diet, exercise, investments or daily routines, I’m blessed with more than enough discipline. But I’m well aware that I may not be normal in this respect.

Discipline is a critical ingredient to an entrepreneur’s recipe for success. Without it we lose the “stick-to-itness” that is needed to follow through on a project or focus on a long-term strategy. The beneficial implementation of various systems and processes is dependent upon a level of discipline. It’s obvious to every adult that adopting a disciplined approach to multiple facets of our lives is essential.

So what do we do if we are less inclined in the discipline department? First, we decide where to pick our battles. I’m a neat freak – my wife, not so much. My shoes are organized in cubbies in my closet and every time I take off a pair they go directly into the cubby in which they belong. My wife’s shoes may be on the floor in front of the love seat where she sits in our den. In fact there may be more than one pair there. She has cubbies in her closet too, but they are packed full and she has dozens of pairs strewn about haphazardly on the closet floor. Naturally this used to bug me being the ultra-disciplined obsessive compulsive individual that I am. But I’ve learned that it’s not that big of a deal. And I’ve actually taken a page from her playbook and decided that there are some things on which I can lighten up in my daily routine. The point is that we don’t have to be disciplined about everything. Thus, we give ourselves permission to be less so with the things that don’t really matter.

Next, we identify those areas where we definitely need to be more disciplined. This applies to both our personal and professional lives. This starts with envisioning what it looks like when we get there. In other words, we paint the grand picture of success for whatever endeavor we are pursuing. Let’s take an easy example – weight loss. We see in our mind’s eye what we look like when we are 25 pounds lighter. We visualize a new wardrobe, how much easier it is to climb stairs, how wonderful the compliments are from our friends and overall how much healthier and vibrant we are. This visualization exercise needs to be performed daily until we have the desire to fulfill it. This process is necessary to build commitment. Without commitment discipline may be fleeting – look at gym attendance in February (or even half way through January).

Once we visualize our outcome and become fully committed, we next determine the steps that must be taken to achieve our outcome. Perhaps we want to become more disciplined about being aware of current affairs in our industry. Just jumping in and starting to read more trade publications, doesn’t ensure that we’ll have the discipline to continue this on a long-term basis. Instead we decide which information channels will be most productive. We determine a specific time of day we want to set aside for this initiative, and we also pick the environment most conducive to making this happen. In my case, it would be the easy chair in my den at home between the hours of 7:00 and 8:00 PM. I may read a couple of print and numerous online publications that are proven to have the content I’m seeking. There are some endeavors requiring discipline that need to be broken into bite-sized pieces or require a build-up of some sort. I walk about 10 to 12 miles each day but I didn’t start out that way. My initial Fitbit goal was 10,000 steps. Then it became 20,000 and now it’s 30,000.

Developing self-discipline is a process that starts with identifying what actually requires such discipline, followed by a visualization of the outcome we desire which builds to a commitment to follow-through. Then we map out the steps we’ll be taking – but always, always we keep visualizing our end goal.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 86 – Alligator Food

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.


Question: I am very goal-oriented and set very specific objectives for myself. I meet my goals fairly consistently but I just don’t think I’m making the kind of progress personally or professionally that I desire. Any suggestions on how to step up my game?

Answer: Conventional wisdom says that we should always set goals. We’re also told to set “stretch” goals – that is, we need to set objectives that may be attainable but with considerably more effort than normal. Setting goals and achieving them – especially stretch goals, can produce a very satisfying feeling. But think about this for a moment. Is it our goal to simply be satisfied? Or do we want to accomplish amazing things?

Setting and meeting goals doesn’t usually allow us to accomplish amazing things. Let me clarify something here before you get the wrong idea. There is nothing wrong with setting goals and in fact, it’s a necessary process in business and in our personal lives. The differentiator is the mindset we hold about our goals. When we focus only on achieving the goal . . . we probably will. But if we use the goal as a minimum standard for achievement we open ourselves to the possibility that we might accomplish something even bigger and better.

I have been practicing this concept for a number of years and the results are not incremental. Let me explain. Earlier in my career I spent a lot of time visualizing the results I was pursuing. And most of the time those results were realized. But after doing this for a while, I came to understand that by only working to achieve my goals I was actually limiting myself. So I began setting goals in a manner I called Minimum Achievable Standards (MAS). This didn’t mean I set minimal goals – a very important distinction. I made sure that the objectives were realistic and sometimes even of the stretch variety. But then my focus became on how I could become more creative and innovative to perform the task at hand. I really didn’t worry about the goal at that point because I knew it would be achieved. The real question became how far beyond the goal could I go. The results have been exponential ever since.

Goals can be inspirational or perspirational. We can work very hard to achieve our goals. Or we can use goal setting as a springboard to soar to amazing new heights and beyond.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.



Question: Sometimes when I’m trying to make decisions I begin to have doubts. There are so many external factors that could impact my decisions. How do I get past this paralysis?

Answer: We are so inundated with information these days it’s easy to become overwhelmed. And when we’re overwhelmed the paralysis you reference sets in. Sometimes rather than becoming paralyzed, this crush of information causes us to reach false conclusions and we act irrationally. The best example of this is the stock market. The day starts out with good economic news and the Dow Jones Industrial Average soars. So does the NASDAQ and the S&P 500. Early in the afternoon word of political issues in a foreign country cause a major reversal and the markets close substantially down. The next day, the markets rebound and close higher. How can a seemingly unrelated event in a foreign country have that much impact on our economy and on our financial markets? It shouldn’t and it really doesn’t.

It’s all just noise. Markets move on fear and on jubilance. Neither really makes much sense. But we’ve become conditioned to volatility in the financial markets and the overload of information permeates the rest of our lives causing similar volatility in our decision-making process . . . or just paralysis.

It’s important that we recognize noise when it’s present. The best way to do this is to have a clear understanding of the goal or objective we are pursuing. That goal has attached to it a series of decisions that must be made. Is there information that we sift through that might have a true bearing on this goal? If we always measure against the goal we can then block out the noise. For example, let’s say that my goal is to renovate an historic building in a small town and convert it to apartments. A lot of data will come flooding at me every day. I’ll hear about political strife in another country; political strife in our country; the stock market rose/fell 200 points; oil prices may be rising; a competitor just abandoned an historic renovation project (what does he know that I don’t?); interest rates may increase; the cost of lumber may increase; new regulations may be implemented by OSHA, and my favorite restaurant is closing. What to do?

I focus on my goal and I quickly process the information deluge. Of course there are a lot of unknowns, but if I’ve properly assessed the risks of my project, I have a mitigation plan for things like rising interest rates and higher material costs. The rest of it . . . I ignore.

Life is full of noise. The trick is to turn it into white noise that is in the background with no discernible impact on our daily lives. We do that by remembering our goals, our assessment of the risks and our plan to mitigate those risks.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.


No Crystal Ball Needed

Question: I’m not sure what the future holds. How do I deal with the uncertainty?

Answer: No crystal ball is needed. Write your own obituary.

Now I know you’re wondering what this has to do with peering into the future. Stay with me and I’ll show you how. The future is only uncertain to the extent that we allow it to be. In reality we can shape the future if we have vision. I define “vision” as “what it looks like when we get there.” In other words, to what exactly do we aspire? How many years from now will it be before we accomplish our goals?

To be a successful entrepreneur and to succeed in life, we must have vision. Floating along the river of life may work for some people, but for most entrepreneurs we need more clarity. Developing a vision can provide definition and lucidity. Which brings us to the obituary. I know suggesting that you write your own obituary may feel more than just a bit awkward and maybe even a touch morbid. But if you do it correctly it will be a very eye-opening exercise. What you are doing is looking back at the life you will have lived and envision how you want it to have been.

Avoid the shallow objectives such as, “he was the best father he could be,” or “she lived life to the fullest.” While there is nothing wrong with these statements, don’t we want our lives to be deeper and more meaningful than that? Ultimately you will write a strong and powerful statement about the life you want to have lived. From your future “obituary” you will begin to see the vision of what you want your life to become.

Once we create our vision we can develop strategies that will deliver that vision. And then we are able to shape our future, eliminate the uncertainty and move forward with confidence to purposefully pursue our passions.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.