Discipline

Calendar

I’m writing a book and the deadline is looming. I was given six weeks to write it, which is the tightest deadline I’ve ever had. The work of doing this requires a great deal more discipline than I typically afford myself.

At the same time, I’m working with a renewed vigor on my fitness and health. With eating, that means being diligent at every turn, because a busy lifestyle plus travel makes it so easy to justify stuffing any old thing in your mouth to quiet your belly while you do “what’s important.” It means doing the work of exercise all the time, instead of just every now and again (I’m still not there on this point).

All of this makes me think about discipline, especially what’s untrue about it.

Discipline Isn’t Willpower

Rob Hatch and I were talking about a guy who wanted to practice his guitar more (I think this story is from a book, but I forget the book). He put little notes on his calendar to remind him to play guitar. Yet, after a busy day at work, he would come home and watch TV. One day, he realized that the reason he wasn’t reaching for the guitar he intended to practice more was that it was in the closet. He took it out and placed it between the couch and the TV. Pow, instant improvement in how often he practiced guitar.

Discipline isn’t willpower. Discipline is setting up the perfect environment to achieve the goals you have. If you want the perfect book for this, read Switch, by Chip and Dan Heath. If you read it already but still haven’t changed your environment to accomplish what you want to do, then read it again.

Success Breeds Success

Once you feel great about adhering to a better diet, you feel more inspired to work out more often. Once you get your writing into a steady flow of 2000 words a day, you expand your goals to accomplish something else, like resolving to record one video a week, or something. Success breeds success. So, find something simple to start with, build the appropriate environment to succeed, and then feel super excited that you hit something.

Beware Justification

The biggest enemy of your work on discipline is using your early successes to justify slip-ups and slacking. “I went to the gym two days in a row. I can take a break.” That will derail you faster than anything else. Doing what you’ve set out to do is not a badge you can wear. Imagine flossing your teeth once and deciding that you’re done. Discipline is a routine, not a single goal. Discipline is the power that fuels the systems that LEAD you to larger goals.

So make justification the enemy. The minute you hear yourself saying that inside your head, say, “I’m going to do something right now to counter that justification.” Do it. Without a quick snip, that justification will have you in the “I used to do that…” category faster than you think.

Discipline is the Ladder

Discipline is the ladder that gets you from where you are to where you want to go. Once you can write 2000 words a day without flinching, you can take on bigger projects. Once you can work out four times a week, you can take that trip to the mountains without worrying, or you can apply all that extra energy to doing more work (working out has given me more energy to make more money-making projects). Discipline is the ladder you can set against the wall that is between you and what you want. It’s not something to be longing for; it’s something you can accomplish by starting small, setting up the best environment, being consistent, pushing away justification, and then building on your previous successes.

So, where would you want to place that ladder? And what are you working on, discipline-wise? What are your challenges?

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  • http://twitter.com/DerekEdmond Derek Edmond

    Definitely agree. Consistent focus and establishing steps to a goal have been critical for me/our team. Even though this year has flown by, knowing what we’re trying to accomplish and focusing on the steps to get there keep us on pace, even when obstacles or new opportunities arise. Thanks for sharing!

  • http://www.somechum.com Mike Plotnick

    Love this: “Discipline isn’t willpower. Discipline is setting up the perfect environment to achieve the goals you have.” Need to have this monogrammed somewhere prominent.

    • http://rickmanelius.com Rick Manelius

      Absolutely. Discipline is knowing you’re going to be too tired to cook a full dinner when you get home… so you’ve already made the meal and placed it in microwave containers ready to heat up as soon as you walk in the door!

  • http://twitter.com/VMouton Vanessa Mouton

    What a great kick in the rear!  Thanks!  I needed this as kids go back to school tomorrow and I kick my business into a new gear.  The book you mention sounds fantastic also.  Ordering it today.

  • http://www.careersearchamerica.com/ Career Search America

    Great post on discipline. We work a lot with clients transitioning from the military to civilian life…they usually come to us with a penchant for discipline instilled in them — that is, in terms of their workplace and professional lives. A lot of times we also find ourselves informally coaching them on manifesting their discipline in their personal lives, too…pursuing hobbies, spending more time with their family, learning new things. It’s fun to work with them and see how discipline crosses across all aspects of our lives.

    • http://rickmanelius.com Rick Manelius

      I always find it interesting how people can have amazing discipline in one or two aspects of their lives, but it doesn’t necessarily translate into others. So I’m happy to hear that your programs are helping people transfer those skills into other areas.

      I’m (slowly) learning to do this for myself. I used to be a very disciplined athlete. Now I need to take those skills and apply them to business. I never failed in the athletics, so why would I let myself off the hook here?

  • http://www.biznicillin.com Kathleen Jaffe

    This is such a great post, and it really all boils down to making the conditions such that it’s easier to do that which we should do and harder NOT to do it.

  • Dragan

    I agree with you, except that it’s not discipline, it’s building habits… Read a post by Leo Babauta at Zen Habits that explains why… ;)

  • http://twitter.com/psamakesnoise Philip Stephen Allen

    I love that way of looking at it. Why NOT set ourselves up for success? Far better than to set ourselves up to fail. I love the idea of making success an easier choice, the default behavior. Thanks, Chris!

  • http://twitter.com/psamakesnoise Philip Stephen Allen

    I love that way of looking at it. Why NOT set ourselves up for success? Far better than to set ourselves up to fail. I love the idea of making success an easier choice, the default behavior. Thanks, Chris!

  • http://rickmanelius.com Rick Manelius

    My wife and I wrote our own wedding vows and had our wedding officiant use that as a template for his speech in the ceremony. And the one line keeps reverberating in my head is this: marriage is a (daily) choice. 

    You don’t just get married and that’s it. Every day you make the decision to go forward and build on that marriage or you let it slip away. It’s a choice.I not only think about this with my wife, but with my relationships, career, and personal goals. Every moment is a new choice. I either stay the course and keep deciding to do the things  know I need to do… or I don’t.

    I would go as far to say that discipline is also a choice. Actually, it’s a series of choices. In every moment you’re given the option of moving forward or moving away from the goal. There is no sitting still.

    Do I struggle? Yes. The challenge I face is making sure I’m focusing on the benefits of the end goal versus the ‘in the moment’ dilemma of whether or not I should do what I know I need to do. When I do focus on the outcome, the action is easier. When I focus on just the task, that is when I’m more likely to make the wrong choice.

    • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

      Well all struggle. That’s for sure. : ) 

  • Mail

    I love the idea of discipline not as something that one grits one’s teeth while pushing through to accomplish something but rather building the perfect environment to achieve one’s goals. That feels so much healthier and useful.

  • http://www.expatlifecoach.com/blog John Falchetto

    This is why habits are more important than motivation. Setting up habits is what keeps me out of of trouble. 

  • http://www.blogworldexpo.com Lara Kulpa

    This is a fantastic post about the difference between discipline and willpower, and how to learn discipline yourself. It’s said that a habit, good or bad, takes 21 days to form. You can do ANYTHING for 21 days. You can eat vegetarian for the first time in life, or just stop eating fast food for 21 days. You can go to the gym every single morning for 21 days. You can clean up the kitchen before bed every night, for 21 days. Thinking of it as something as simple as that makes it easier to “choke down” and turn into a habit. :)

  • http://www.freelancewriter.co/ Harleena Singh

    Hi Chris,

    I feel so inspired and motivated by your posts, and this one especially takes the cake!

    You are so right in your analysis about the way people tend to justify and give reasons for not getting down to things that they know are important, or not being able to create work environment and getting down to work- though here it could be lack of will power to do so.

    I remember a quote by Jim Rohn -”Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment”.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

      Always happy to help. : ) 

  • http://www.planetoftheherbs.com/ buy herbal incense

     discipline is referred to systematic instruction given to a disciples to train them as students in a craft or trade, or to follow a particular code of conduct or “order”.

  • Eddie Stephens

    Brilliant insight!

  • Claudene

    Eating and exercise are two areas that I’m constantly structuring and revising to require the fewest decision points in the process as possible — because the decision points are where my willpower (or lack thereof) gets a vote. 

    When I set up my environment in advance for success in these areas, such as setting up all the items for a healthy breakfast the night before, or laying out all my workout clothes and gear the night before, I am much more likely to follow through to the right result. 

    Autopilot — structure — increases my discipline and my success rate immensely. And, it increases my self-esteem for having made health and fitness a priority. 

    It’s a double win, both physically and mentally.  

    • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

      With you on all counts, Claudene. Thanks for sharing your perspective. : ) 

  • http://www.twitter.com/joeldon Joel Don

    Discipline is a dish best served with every meal.  Makes a great snack, too.

  • http://raulcolon.net Raul Colon

    I have to be very grateful that our mutual friend @joesorge:twitter got me in the habit of doing my morning pages. Early in the morning I write about 1500 words and then during the day I might write a bit more. At first it was a bit difficult but now I have it to the point that I can go on with my Day if I have not completed that task. 

    Once I had the morning pages going our other good friend @robhatch:twitter recommended that I use Ommwriter for my writing. This second recommendation helped me focus a bit more and accomplish my daily writing goals in an efficiency way. I guess I need to make the effort of improving my grammar skills so maybe I will work on that next. The most important thing about discipline is also having great people like you, @joesorge:disqus , and @robhatch:disqus    to give you better tools and ways on how to accomplish them. Maybe the guy with the guitar needed a good friend to help with accomplishing that daily goal. 

  • http://raulcolon.net Raul Colon

    I have to be very grateful that our mutual friend @joesorge:twitter got me in the habit of doing my morning pages. Early in the morning I write about 1500 words and then during the day I might write a bit more. At first it was a bit difficult but now I have it to the point that I can go on with my Day if I have not completed that task. 

    Once I had the morning pages going our other good friend @robhatch:twitter recommended that I use Ommwriter for my writing. This second recommendation helped me focus a bit more and accomplish my daily writing goals in an efficiency way. I guess I need to make the effort of improving my grammar skills so maybe I will work on that next. The most important thing about discipline is also having great people like you, @joesorge:disqus , and @robhatch:disqus    to give you better tools and ways on how to accomplish them. Maybe the guy with the guitar needed a good friend to help with accomplishing that daily goal. 

  • http://www.nahzu.com Dr. Mark Smith

    I had never thought of discipline as a matter of my environment. I had always thought of it as a matter of personal diligence. Yours is a very enlightening viewpoint. I take care of a great many people and am always battling with their excuses as to why they cannot follow my recommendations. I never considered that the reason may very well be that they have not constructed an environment that lends itself to their success. This gives me a new avenue to develop with them and a new perspective can make all the difference. Thank You!!!

    • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

      Well, happy to help, Doc. Let me throw you some billable rates. : )  (teasing) 

  • http://www.alspaulding.com Al Spaulding

    Discipline is key toward the attainment of success. Everywhere in history where you have seen us as a civilization, as a country, as a corporation, or as a private entrepreneur thriving there has always a certain amount of discipline. Brian Tracy said something along the lines of, “You can’t eat the dessert before eating your dinner.” You have to do the little things that go hand in hand and enrich and improve your life overall before you can tackle the bigger things. I love it when you said, “The biggest enemy of your work on discipline is using your early successes to justify slip-ups and slacking.” That’s a damn reality slap right there to a lot of us. Kudos to you Chris for this enlightening post.

  • http://thisoldbrain.net Mike Kirkeberg

    I see discipline as doing what you want to do anyway, even when you don’t want to do it. I have always walked 5-6 days a week. But I would lollygag around all morning much of the time and not get out walking until late in the afternoon. A couple of months ago I started walking with my sweetheart. We walk every other day, do it early in the morning, and haven’t missed on since we started. It feels great to have it done so early.

    • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

      Good for you on the walking. I think I’ll consider that for part of my next me. : ) 

  • http://twitter.com/MegStiffler Meghann Stiffler

    My favorite line in this post is “Justification is the enemy.” That is so true!
    Just last night, I was telling my fiance that I want to start running. I have always hated running! And as much as I have tried to like it, I just don’t. I know it’s because I have never stuck with it and have always found a reason why not to stick with it. Mind over matter, mind over matter… That’s my biggest challenge right now. Our damn minds are so powerful! :)

    • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

      But why would you want to run if you hate it? Aren’t there other ways you could find yourself to make yourself feel fit? Bicycling, for instance? 

  • Eric Goebelbecker

    My father used to say “Discipline is doing the things you have to do before you have to do them.” Not sure where he got it from, but it’s something that runs through my head whenever I feel like procrastinating….

    • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

      That’s certainly not a bad thing. Those sound more like chores. : ) 

  • http://lifeallin.net Jacob Musselman

    Discipline is environment; it’s not willpower. What a freeing thought! When discipline is willpower, failure brings guilt and shame with self-flagellation as the only recourse.

    But when discipline is environment it means I was in the wrong circumstances. I can change that.

    Whew! Great insight.

    • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

      That’s *exactly* it. That’s 100% it. You still have to do the work, but the work is cut down by making things perfectly ready for such an action to happen. 

  • http://lifeallin.net Jacob Musselman

    Discipline is environment; it’s not willpower. What a freeing thought! When discipline is willpower, failure brings guilt and shame with self-flagellation as the only recourse.

    But when discipline is environment it means I was in the wrong circumstances. I can change that.

    Whew! Great insight.

  • Ashley

    I’m right with you on “success breeds success.” It’s like the ripple effect.

    I once read a quote that said something like, “If you have time to do something wrong, you have time to do it right.”

    Here’s to doing it right!

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  • http://www.danieldecker.net Daniel Decker

    Such a powerful post. Discipline is the difference between being here and getting there. I’m currently reworking how I work and my environment to create more discipline in what I do so that I can get more of what I want done. Hard but worth it. 

  • http://cashwithatrueconscience.com/rbblog Ryan Biddulph

    Hi Chris,

    Awesome notes here.

    Developing discipline becomes easier when you make disciplined living a habit. The foundation? Having a clear -cut goal of what you want to achieve. The goal is your compass, and when you feel low energy or bad, you are simply walking away from your goal with undisciplined activities.

    You can set a goal and get so excited about it that it’s easy to stay disciplined or you can be wishy-washy about your goals.The clearer the goal, the easier it is to remain disciplined, and set up your environment to keep you on the goal-achieving track.

    Thanks for sharing your insight with us Chris!

    Ryan 

  • http://www.i95dev.com Henry Louis

    Discipline is a crucial factor but not the only one. I think Dedication is much more important than anything.

  • http://www.teamwfg.com/getting-started.html WFG Online

    Doing anything without discipline results in failure….So it must be necessary to have discipline in your life so that things goes on well planned…

  • Caldreaming

    Great viewpoint…..been going through some stuff in my life, and have always known, idle hands is the work of the devil. But sometimes you just need a gentle reminder to bridge that ladder in life.

    • http://www.videoconverterfactory.com/resource.html HughDiego

      I totally agree with you~

  • http://twitter.com/ReneeTaylorCPA Renee Taylor

    Fortunately for me, I’m (in)famously disciplined in my pursuit of my goals. (INTJ’s are known for this characteristic, for better or worse.)  I love the metaphor of the ladder. But sometimes for me, to paraphrase Stephen Covey, the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall — which right now feels like The Wall Of Perfectionism. I’m feeling that I have to know EVERY LITTLE THING and get it all just perfect before I can “ship.” So I’m working on moving my ladder over to The Wall of Good Enough.

    And as for health and fitness, Chris, may I suggest Mark Sisson’s “The Primal Blueprint.” Following his plan has been truly world-changing for me and actually requires very little discipline. You may want to give it a look.

    Thanks for another great post.

    • http://www.TheCorpsGroup.com Badgerf14

      Renee, one of the things that was very successful for us in fighter aviation
      was the idea of devoting enough time to planning to get it ‘good enough’. We
      learned about the importance of the 80% solution. There is never enough time or
      information to create the perfect plan, the perfect product, the perfect
      ‘whatever’.

      But by NOT taking action, waiting for perfection, you are now at the mercy of
      the decisions that others will be making in the interim.

      Don’t be afraid to fail, get in there and make it happen :) !
       

  • Anonymous

    I like the little story about the guitar. I am going to put my gym gear between me and the fridge and see if that works. I’ll probably step over it to get to the desserts!

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    Detailing a discipline model for handling behavior problems in the classroom setting.

  • http://lighthouseinsights.in/ Prasant Naidu

    Discipline is what one needs to achieve something in life and i am lacking it at-times. Your article gives me more insights :) 
    “Discipline isn’t willpower. Discipline is setting up the perfect environment to achieve the goals you have”- love this line :)

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  • http://twitter.com/heidimiller Heidi Miller

    Agreed. I’ve worked out three to five times a week for the last ten years. Some ask me how I do it. Well, first, I have the benefit of having a chronic condition that makes me feel absolutely awful if I don’t stretch and move. So there’s a bit of motivation there.

    But really, it’s because I created the habit. At this point, it feels odd NOT to work out almost every morning. All the obstacles were removed, and I am usually rewarded with a feeling of energized relaxation. It wasn’t willpower. It was just a matter of admitting that, if I wanted to work 9 hours a day and attend social media events at night, the only time to energize is 5:30 AM!

  • John

    This was really helpful. Thank you for your insight!

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  • http://mesotheliomaandasbestosresources.com/ Frank

    Parents should begin by talking to each other about how they want to handle discipline and establish the rules.

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    I totally agree with your statement Chris,that discipline isn’t the will power.
    And discipline is the only way to success.
    Good post,appreciable work done.

  • https://www.shop4herbalincense.com/wholesale-herbal-incense wholesale herbal incense

    I totally agree with your statement Chris,that discipline isn’t the will power.
    And discipline is the only way to success.
    Good post,appreciable work done.

  • Anonymous

    Inspirational and spot on. Thanks for the refocus on “commitment” and pushing ahead when things are a bit foggy.
     
    I just love this: “Discipline is the ladder that gets you from where you are to where you want to go.”

    Have to get back at it. Thanks for the lift with your words!

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