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The Discipline Virtue

Years ago, when I began my business career (carbon dating says that was exactly 1,000 years ago) I recall my best bosses and other successful business people sighting a common trait that was considered essential for success, that trait was discipline.

Discipline. It’s a word you hardly hear today.  Virtually no one talks about how important self-discipline is to being successful anymore.  It appears that the whole concept of discipline is one that our current culture would rather not confront.  Could it be that things are so different today that personal discipline is not necessary; that the concept of discipline has no relevance?

Perhaps discipline has lost its appeal due to the fact that it’s an age-old concept that is synonymous with hard work and extended effort.  Or maybe it’s because the consultants and gurus can’t figure out how to dress it up as something new and sexy.  Whether the concept is in favor or not, doesn’t change the fact that self-discipline is still a powerful character trait even in – especially in – today’s highly competitive environment.

A few months back I committed to getting back in shape and training more consistently.  As part of my training routine I decided that I would workout (with weights) three days a week and do 20 minutes of cardio at least two times per week.  I also committed to eating better.  Over the past four months or so I’ve been pretty consistent with my training and eating.  What surprises me though, is that it still is a struggle on certain days.  I was hoping that as I created a routine that it would just become part of my “normal” day.  I guess I envisioned it becoming almost effortless; a non-decision like shaving or brushing my teeth.

The truth is that it continues to be a conscious choice that I have to make daily.  And although each day that I choose to exercise and eat right it makes the next day’s choice a little easier, there are days when I just don’t feel like doing it.  There are times when it would be a whole lot easier to choose not to workout or to eat that cheesecake that I’m craving.  It isn’t that the shaving or teeth brushing is without effort, it’s just that the effort is very low, and the benefits are immediate.  With diet and exercise the effort is significant and the benefits are delayed.

My point is this, being successful requires a set of productive routines that I believe are more demanding than those required to be average.  And consistently performing those routines over an extended period of time takes discipline.  Developing discipline will serve you well, because those routines create positive outcomes.  Certainly, there will be times when you just flat out don’t feel like doing what you know you need to do.  Having the self-discipline to push through those difficult times is the difference between mediocre and great.

The great American football coach Vince Lombardi referred to self-discipline as “…a state of mind you could call character in action.”  Discipline is an approach to life that enables you do what you say you will do.  Self-discipline requires you to ignore the immediate gratification of taking the easy road and instead choose the greater goal.  In order to reach your goals, you will inevitably need to work through some difficult issues.  It’s never easy to do the difficult.  In those times you will need to have the discipline to persevere and overcome the enticement of short-term gratification.  Self-discipline takes focus, commitment and courage.

If you are thinking that all this sounds like a burden, you are not alone.  That is why most people are not great.  Successful people think about discipline differently.  Discipline is not stifling; it’s not stodgy.  Quite the contrary, discipline is empowering, uplifting and freeing.  It creates a sense of control and power over one’s course in life.  The rewards of discipline are self-respect, less stress and higher performance.

If you study those who have achieved great things, in any walk of life, you will always find self-discipline in action.  More than talent, more than experience, discipline is a reliable predictor of success.  Perhaps that is why Plato said: “The first and best victory is to conquer self.”