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.

Yin and Yang

Plans are only good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work – Peter Drucker (management consultant, author and educator).

Good intentions aren’t enough. People have good intentions when they set a goal to do something, but then they miss a deadline or other milestone – Harvey Mackay (businessman, author and syndicated columnist).

Good intentions never change anything. They only become a deeper and deeper rut – Joyce Meyer (author and speaker).

I have low tolerance for people who complain about things but never do anything to change them. This led me to conclude that the single largest pool of untapped natural resources in the world is human good intentions that are never translated into action – Cindy Gallop (advertising consultant).

Each and every one of us has intentions; and most likely they are good intentions. But there must be another component to “intention” for there to be success. This component is a counterweight of sorts. It’s the yang to the yin. Without commitment good intentions never come to fruition. We’ve talked before about execution and how specifically we act. But before we can take action we must install the middle step of commitment. If we have good intentions and try to take action without commitment, we’re likely to fail.

Commitment embodies obligation, responsibility and dedication. Let’s suppose that I set an intention to exercise every day for at least thirty minutes. So far so good. Then I plunge into exercise activities the next morning and the morning after that. Wow – now we’re cooking! But wait, the third morning I struggle to get out of bed and decide to skip the exercise routine; besides, I have an early breakfast meeting that would probably have shortened the amount of time I could spend on the treadmill anyway. Then the next morning I have another excuse and so on. What was missing here? Why didn’t I follow-through on my good intentions? Very simply, I lacked commitment.

Understanding how to link intentions and sustainable action through commitment may seem elusive. There are two foundational elements to commitment. The first is what I call an “A ha” moment. This is when something in our mind clicks – where all the pieces fall into place – and our intentions make perfect sense. I’m not really going to commit to an ongoing exercise program until there’s a meaningful reason for me to do so. Of course I know that I want to be healthier, but that’s not enough. Why do I want to be healthier? My “A ha” moment came when I realized that my oldest grandson needed me to be in his life for the long haul. At that point, being healthier had a much more important purpose to which I was willing to commit. Often it’s easier to make a commitment when someone else needs us to be committed.

The second foundational element to commitment is that of accountability. Sure, we can be accountable to ourselves, but unless we have tremendous self-discipline this isn’t always easy. If we feel an obligation to others for some reason, then we can be accountable to them for that which we commit. In my case the reason I’m committed to an exercise program is to be alive and supportive of my oldest grandson. And thus I’m accountable to him for this commitment. If for some reason I don’t feel in the mood to exercise, I see his innocent young face in my mind’s eye and it isn’t hard to kick into gear and follow-through with the necessary actions.

Intention and commitment are necessary before we can take action. Making a commitment to another person and being accountable to that person helps to ensure that we follow-through and translate our intentions and commitment into action.

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.


Once and For All

Question: I have some less-than-desirable habits that I’d like to change. I’ve tried before but somehow I run out of gas. Is there a secret to gaining self-discipline?

Answer: Welcome to the club. Like everyone else, we entrepreneurs have things we’d like to change about our lives. Our challenge is to make certain that our bad habits don’t get in the way of our success. Obviously some habits are of more concern than others. Gambling, drugs, alcohol, infidelity – these are issues that can prevent or destroy success. Getting professional help to solve them may be the right move. But there are other habits that we can deal with. Do you want to exercise more or quit smoking? How about losing weight or even something as simple as not interrupting someone else when they are talking?

I wish I could tell you that the answer is simple, and actually . . . it is. What it all boils down to is making a choice. We fail so often at changing things in our lives because we aren’t ready to make the “once-and-for-all” choice. I enjoyed smoking pipes and cigars for many years but one day more than eleven years ago I decided that it would be healthier not to smoke. So I quit cold turkey. I was just ready to make the “once-and-for-all” choice. Something clicked for me. It was a realization that I was having a ball living my life and my smoking habit might someday interrupt all that fun – as in my early demise.

Until we have the epiphany that results in a “once-and-for-all” choice, we’ll never eliminate the bad habit we want to break or launch that great new habit we want to start. Becoming self-disciplined is a process. As entrepreneurs we know that much of the success in our businesses comes through a dedication to process. Start this process by taking inventory. If there are habits you’d like to eliminate (or good habits you want to start), make a list of them. Decide which is most important and focus on it only. As the saying goes, the only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. If you try to tackle everything at once it may be an overwhelming experience. Think hard about what you expect to gain from making the change you want to make. Write down everything that comes to mind. When the “aha moment” arrives you’ll know you are ready to make the change. If you try to force yourself to become more self-disciplined it is likely that you’ll be frustrated when this approach doesn’t work. Only when that “aha” spark occurs will you make the “once-and-for-all” choice. And then the change that happens will be permanent.

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.