Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Developing Discipline

Below is an excerpt from a post that appeared at Kinetic Fighting on developing discipline, which as martial artists, we need by the truckload. The full post may be read here.

In my work as a leadership consultant, there have been a few recurring themes. Dealing with failure is one, and discipline is another. These topics are closely related, in that failure can often result from lack of discipline…and in some cases, it is practically assured.

In my last blog on discipline, I made the point that discipline is not dependent on your level of motivation. In fact, it cannot be, by definition. The Cambridge English Dictionary defines self-discipline as “the ability to make yourself do something, even if it is difficult, so that you can achieve a goal”.

The key word in this description is ‘difficult’. When things are easy and fun, discipline is hardly necessary. But, as I learned through many years of soldiering, discipline is what you fall back on when things get tough. When the difficulty is so great that all your focus is on the obstacle, or the pain, that you’re facing, your goal and its appeal can disappear from view. No problem for the disciplined: you’ll keep putting one boot in front of the other, staying the course until the goal again becomes visible. And it will then be those few steps closer, fuelling your motivation to continue.

Not everyone, of course, has this level of discipline.

Disciplinary Deficit

Interestingly, I’ve met people who are somewhat successful, but have still fallen short of their own goals. They fell short not because of a lack of talent, but a lack of discipline. Yes, talent will get you a start, but only discipline will enable you to reach your full potential. 

These talented people who struggle to move beyond their gifts are in need of the same discipline embodied by relatively untalented, yet somehow successful, individuals. Some people will inevitably take longer than others to become elite in their chosen craft, even if working at a higher rate — but discipline will always trump talent in the long run. (You might have previously heard me talk about this here.)

So, what if you lack discipline? What can you still achieve? I’m going to make a strong statement here and say, you can’t achieve very much — certainly nothing meaningful.

There is no silver bullet to being successful, no single ‘big break’ moment. Watch how many people waste their biggest resource, time, by ‘waiting’ for a breakthrough or the chance of a lifetime. I’m sure you’ve heard people say, ‘I could have done (insert achievement here), but…’, as if there is no time and no way to still achieve their goal. Unsuccessful people are never short of one thing: excuses. They will often assign blame to others and fail to take responsibility for their own mistakes. Successful people, on the other hand, are very good at taking responsibility for everything they do, and having the discipline to see things through.

Here’s the good news, though: we can all develop self-discipline, regardless of who we are and where we have come from. We weren’t born with discipline; it’s a quality we can either adopt or reject, cultivate or neglect. Being disciplined is something we must choose to do. 

This is an empowering notion. I’ve encountered successful people from all manner of different backgrounds, and what they all have in common is discipline. None of them drag their feet. Regardless of profession, gender, privilege or poverty, discipline allows the weak to become strong and the strong to become stronger.

Developing Self-Discipline

Discipline will yield best results when applied to things we’re passionate about, as the resulting drive and motivation help us to get going. But, as discussed previously, motivation is short-lived and easily derailed without discipline. So, with that in mind, it’s worthwhile thinking of discipline as a goal within itself, and developing it as such. Then, it’s always in your toolkit for whatever mission you take on. In your mind, you know you’re capable of exercising it as required. It’s a part of your character.

Try this: set yourself a daily task that has no essential value other than to show self-discipline. Basically, you’re exercising discipline for its own sake. There’s a lot of that in the army — I mean, who needs an ironed shirt to be effective in combat? It’s in the martial arts to some extent, too. For you, the task might be as simple as making your bed each morning, if you usually don’t bother. Or, maybe you’re up for more of a mental challenge and resolve to start every shower with a minute of cold water. The less ‘drive’ there is to complete the task for its own intrinsic benefits or enjoyment, the more effective it will be for honing self-discipline. And yet, you can likely see how even these simple activities could have some peripheral benefit. Choose something that’s difficult but has a positive side effect.

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