“If you do not conquer self, you will be conquered by self”-Napoleon Hill
If there is one virtue that I struggle with most, it is most certainly self-discipline. I battle with myself almost daily to accomplish the most basic, yet grueling tasks. My strong will pushes back against every effort to reign in my efforts and focus towards greatness. In fact, I become my own worst enemy and I don’t think I am alone in this struggle.
Many men and women of my generation see discipline as a four letter word. We are the generation of freedom and creativity, not the generation of delayed gratification and hard work. We bought the lie that brilliance comes without difficulty, that structure kills creativity, and how wrong we are.
As a writer, I look to the ghosts of writers past for inspiration, but unfortunately I missed the real design of their genius. Looking back at writers like Hemmingway, Carver, and Fitzgerald, I saw men of the world, who drank, cussed, and fought with the best of them. I assumed that brilliance struck them in a flash and then they were back to the bar or out on safari. While some of that is true, I didn’t see the discipline that ruled their lives and made their works possible. Each man had the utmost discipline for the craft of writing and for taking the time each day to trudge forward. They didn’t wait for creativity to strike, they went out every day hunting words and diligently working hard at their craft.
It takes discipline to be great.
Each day we start with a blank page, it is up to us to decide what we want to do with it. We can choose to drift aimless, waiting for inspiration to strike or we can buckle down and hunt greatness everyday. When we let ourselves drift, we are at the mercy of everything around us, our bosses, coworkers, family, that guy that cut you off on the highway; we lose any choice in our direction or goals.
It may feel free to float along, like you are a truly creative person who can’t be contained by the humdrum business of everyday life, but you are really fooling yourself. You are like a balloon; much more likely to float off into oblivion than to end up on display for the praise of others. Trust me on this, I am telling you from experience.
For the first few decades of my life, I fancied myself a young creative, unfettered by the cares of the average man. I was special, I was different, I knew that I was destined for bigger things; all I had to do was wait and it would come to me. Well, guess what…I waited and waited and waited, but never accomplished anything. I let myself bend to every whim of my rebellious self and ended up with nothing to show for it.
Without discipline, you will forever bounce from one whim to another, like a leaf in the wind, destined to wither and die.
“He who gains victory over other men is strong, but he who gains victory over himself is all powerful.”-Lao Tzu
After noticing that I wan’ts getting anywhere in my pursuit for success and looking around at those who were, I realized that I had to gain discipline over myself or I would end up dying full of regret. Natural talent and smarts will only take you so far, without the discipline to shape them into usable tools they will remain in the realm of potential, but never make the jump into reality.
Left to our own devices most of us will choose self destructive pursuits, whether it be drunkenness, laziness, or doubt, but when we discipline our thoughts and actions we can conquer these obstacles.
Self-discipline demands that we set aside the desires of our baser nature and force ourselves to work towards higher virtues.
Think about the things that you value, that you would like to achieve, success, fame, strength, physique, and love. All of these things take discipline to achieve. No one wakes up successful or ripped without putting effort into attaining those results, and if they do, they won’t for long without some hard work. Our goals are goals, because they don’t come naturally, they are unique and difficult to attain. If they weren’t, everyone would have washboard abs and six houses. Anything worth having is worth working for.
To achieve wealth and success, you need to learn business skills and work your way to the top; likewise, to get in shape you have to start eating right and hitting the gym. No one should expect to get rich overnight or lose weight without sweating, if you do, then you are an idiot.
Sadly, we are becoming a world of idiots who fall for every get rich quick scheme or fad diet that promises rewards without investment. We are scared of hard work and depriving ourselves of comfort, we are on a collision course with ruin.
If you want to avoid that fate, start practicing self-discipline today. What does that look like you might ask?
First, create a morning routine.
This is pretty common advice when it comes to developing your self-discipline, but is vital to attaining a stronger will and a more determined outlook on life. Most of us roll out of bed at the last moment, hurrying through our morning in a mad dash to get to work; this sets you up for a hectic, unfocused day.
Instead, get up a little earlier (I know, I know, this means going to sleep earlier too) and start your day with a few moments of meditation or prayer or deep thought to focus you on your day. You can visualize what you want to accomplish for the day or think about what virtues you want to embody during your day, or just let yourself start in a positive frame of mind. Then go about your morning maintenance, while planning out your goals for the day. Take time to read or catch the news. Then make sure to eat breakfast.
I find it helpful to listen to, or read, things that focus on business,leadership, or fitness in the morning, as they help create a frame of mind to achieve results during my day. You may have something different to focus on, but make sure you are doing something to enrich your mind for the day ahead.
Second, create lists to guide you through your day.
Again, this is a common idea that so few of us follow. Take the first few minutes of your work day to sketch out what goals and activities you need to accomplish, that way you will have a framework to direct you through distractions. This doesn’t mean you have to set a rigid schedule, you should allow for surprises, but it helps you to stay focused on what is important. Not to mention, the satisfying feeling you get from checking off another step towards your goals.
Third, decide to focus on learning a new skill or honing an attribute every day.
I don’t mean you have to learn a new skill everyday, though you might, but more that you should take time everyday to learn and better yourself. This can be something like learning a new language, developing a new business skill, or working out. In short, make sure you do something to increase your value and bring you one step closer to your goals.
This serves two purposes, furthering your goals and teaching yourself to ignore comfort for a greater gain. Conquering the part of yourself that tells you not to try and that you will fail, is vital to success.
Fourth, choose to live purposefully and positively.
This is another tough one for me, as I have been accused of being overly negative, but it is true that attitude shapes reality. When you decide to live life with a positive attitude and with a decided purpose, things change. When you see lifes obstacles as opportunities, the world suddenly looks like a much better place.
Life is primarily a mental game, only through training your mind and influencing your perception will you be able to achieve greatness. Look at those successful people around us, they were not satisfied with letting life happen; they decided to bend the world to their wills, not the other way around. They decided for their own good and the good of others, that they must conquer fear and doubt and laziness to achieve results. That is what seperates those who are great from those who are average, the discipline to take one’s destiny in your own hands and work doggedly to achieve one’s goals.
We will touch more on this next time, as it is a work in progress, but let me challenge you to put at least one of these first steps in practice this week. Just focus on one to begin with and then incorporate another each week. They are small steps in developing your self-discipline and will teach you how to take charge of your life. Good luck and get living.
“With self-discipline, most anything is possible.” Theodore Roosevelt.