Recently, I found myself listening to a talk that explored the topics of discipline and punishment. It dawned on me that we look at both discipline and punishment in a negative light, and far too often we conflate the two. The difference between them, though, is quite simple. Discipline looks forward. Punishment looks backward.
Punishment is in response to something we’ve done. It’s paying the piper. It’s simple. Do something wrong, get punished. Discipline though is a much more complex animal. Like I said, discipline looks forward. Discipline is action we take because of what it will bring in the future.
Too often, we see the idea of discipline skewed even further when it is used to justify poor behavior choices. For instance, if I run 6 miles or ride my bike 40 miles, then I should eat this burrito or milkshake. That’s not discipline. That’s justification, and that will lead you into some dark places, but that’s a topic for another episode.
Discipline is really just the art of making the choice to be better in your own life. It’s a selfish choice – a wonderfully selfish choice. Oddly enough, too many view discipline as some sort of sacrifice, or something that should be dreaded. For instance, they view sacrificing sleep and the warm comfort of your bed when going to swim at 6am on a cold morning as a dreaded sacrifice. Not so. This choice to abandon comfort for the act of getting better is not sacrifice, but something we must desire. Something we must crave. Discipline doesn’t deprive our lives; it fills it up with what matters most: the act of getting better each day.
Discipline will make your life better. As Jocko Willink says, Discipline Equals Freedom. Truer words have never been spoken. We should want that, not dread it. Here’s why.
Discipline Brings Security
The more disciplined we are in every aspect of our lives, the more secure our lives are. The more financial discipline we have, the less pressure we have on us with bills and living expenses. The more disciplined we are with our diet, the longer, healthier lives we’ll live. This is all security. It’s something humans have biologically ingrained in them to seek. By the way, don’t confuse security with comfort. This security though, is not possible without discipline.
Discipline Creates Confidence
No matter what situation you’re in, you will perform better if you approach it with confidence. Big test or big presentation at work? Studying and rehearsing beforehand will allow you to approach that event with confidence. Big season coming up in a certain sport. Getting your body prepared during the off-season will put you on more confident footing. Doing the work beforehand is discipline. That discipline breeds confidence, and that confidence more often than not breeds success. There’s a reason that the most appealing trait people find in the opposite sex is confidence. Confidence is a precursor to success.
Discipline Makes Us Happy
This is where we lose a lot of you. Those of you that are stuck in the rut of thinking that discipline means going without or sacrifice will find this one tough to swallow. For those that practice real discipline though, taking a disciplined approach to their lives brings infinite happiness. Putting your head on the pillow each night, knowing that you didn’t leave anything on the table, knowing that you did everything you could to improve yourself and achieve your given goal on that day is a feeling of happiness that few things on this Earth can match.
But think about it, why shouldn’t it? It’s what you’re supposed to do. You’re not here to waste time. You’re here to make the most out of every second. People say, “but I want to enjoy life?” The best way to enjoy life is to discipline yourself to work hard at an ambitious goal. The funny thing is that the achievement of the goal ultimately won’t matter, as much as the satisfaction you found in following your disciplined approach.
I remember my first Ironman. I was scared to death. It seemed like the most daunting goal I could imagine, so I focused on a disciplined approach to my training. Did I feel like I was missing out on things? Hell no. I was thrilled to be on the track toward success. But what’s so interesting to me, is that when I look back on that, I rarely think about the satisfaction or relief I felt finishing the race. I think about the long, lonely 100 mile bike rides through the desert. I loved them. I even miss them. The disciplined process is what brought the happiness. Discipline not only brings happiness, but it will do so to the point that it outshines the goal or result itself.
The moment we start choosing comfort over accomplishment is the moment we’ve lost. When we start choosing time on the couch over a workout. When we choose pizza and cheeseburgers over salad and chicken. When we choose time on Instagram and Facebook over time in a book. When we choose time at the bar over time with our family. When we choose drugs and alcohol over our health and families’ concerns. When we choose to be complacent at work over having the hard conversations that improve our company. All of these are comfort. And all comfort is temporary. But discipline and accomplishment are not. They will define you in a way you should want to be defined.
Yes, this is a site and show about leadership. So, of course, the reason I’m writing about this is because discipline is a vital ingredient in leadership.
Discipline Sets an Example
When the members of your team see you pursuing your goals in a disciplined manner, you set an example that inspires and motivates others. Leadership is really about doing just that, so discipline is key if you want to effectively lead your team.
Discipline Makes Teams Better
This one should be pretty obvious, but when leaders operate with discipline, their team follows. Of course, this means that the team will then operate in a disciplined manner in how they choose and approach projects. How they communicate. How they set and meet deadlines. Discipline is the foundation for all of these, and your team will be better as a result.
Discipline Creates Stability
Looking back at some of the worst teams I was ever a part of, the common trait is that they all lacked discipline. For instance, in one case, we had a leader that was unpredictable with his anger. You never knew how he would react or what level of wrath you’d incur. The not knowing was worse than the actual anger itself. This taught me that one of the keys teams need is stability. Consistency from one day to the other in mannerisms, communication, workflow; all of these things. It’s so vital in creating an environment for your teams to do their best work, and none of that is possible without discipline ensuring that it happens.
You need discipline. I do. We all do. That much is obvious. But what’s not obvious is why we don’t all want it the way Ralphie wanted his Red Ryder BB Gun in A Christmas Story. It’s the one selfish decision that we can’t afford not to make.