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.

Speak to Me

Question: Recently I was asked to speak before an industry group. I’m very nervous about giving this presentation. How can I get rid of the butterflies and give a talk for which I can be proud?

Answer: Public speaking offers a terrific opportunity to share knowledge and gain exposure for your organization and yourself. And yet it’s something that a large percentage of the population fears . . . even dreads. Why is that? I believe that the main reason is that we are so afraid of what other people will think of us. What if we make a mistake? Will we be viewed as not having the expertise that we want to project? Perhaps we measure ourselves against the lofty speaking styles of those we perceive to be great orators.

As with most things, successful public speaking is all about mindset. We can allow the fear to consume us or we can turn the tables and actually embrace the opportunity. Think about this. The choice is very clear – consuming fear or a joyful embrace. Assuming that we choose to embrace the opportunity we then must continuously affirm how positively excited and grateful we are to be making the presentation. Making this choice is Step One in the process.

Step Two is to determine the style of speaking that is best suited for us. I detest standing behind a podium and reading a speech. Instead, I need to connect with my audience. I’ve adopted a style where I take a microphone and walk around the room – almost like a town hall format. I ask questions of the audience and encourage their feedback throughout my presentation. Thus, I do not put myself in situations where I can’t adapt the presentation to my style. And when I’ve been asked to stand behind a podium and read a speech, I’m generally able to re-work the format into my walk-around more casual approach. Finding the right style of speaking is a critical step toward a successful presentation.

Step Three is to practice, practice and practice. I recommend that you practice your presentation at least three times in front of other people if possible. The more you practice the more confident you will become. Practice also will allow you to become more fluid in your delivery and to fine tune some of the details that you wish to present.

So, now we have continuously embraced the opportunity with a positive attitude. We have developed a speaking style that is just right for us. And we’ve practiced our presentation multiple times. Now the moment of truth has arrived and perhaps we’re feeling a little jittery. Try “leaning into” the jitters. Instead of allowing them to nibble at our confidence, we turn the anxiety into excitement. Try exclaiming, “I am thrilled to have the opportunity to make the best presentation I’ve ever made in my life!” Say it multiple times along with a few deep breaths, and we’re ready to rock-and-roll.

Speaking in public is an honor. Presenting over and over ensures that we’ll become highly proficient. And then the feeling we get when we’re finished is that of supreme satisfaction.

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.

public speaking