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Discipline: Why It’s The Wrong Goal

Discipline: Why It’s The Wrong Goal

Kathleen Day is a professional organizer specializing in soft skills training for organizing and professional development and in this article, she helps us understand why and how to be more disciplined.

It seems like all the successful people have discipline, doesn’t it? Google it and get the latest tips on millionaires doubling down on discipline, morning routines for taking charge of the day, and discipline hacks of the world’s top athletes.

Clearly, it’s the missing link to overcoming your struggles! It’s hard NOT to imagine how all your goals would fall into place if you just had more discipline:

  • All those tasks you “should do,” “know to do,” and “have to do” would become a resistance-free reality.
  • The perfect – and effortless – blend of yes and no choices would optimize your life.
  • Counterproductive habits and pointless distractions would fall away, and your true purpose in life would be actualized.

But wait. You can strive to copy the “success strategies” others use – but should you?

Is prioritizing discipline proving to be more of a bottleneck than a bridge to success?

The argument against discipline

I propose a simpler, more direct approach to reaching your personal and professional best.

While you might not list discipline as a top-line goal, it’s baked into every “Master Plan” you’ve ever made. As such, it’s worth a peek at how we define and interpret what it means:

  • Self-control
  • Restraint
  • Punishment
  • Following rules
  • Behavior vigilance

So, right away, this sounds about as much fun as putting on a wet bathing suit!

And there are even more obstacles along the way:

#1 Internal Struggle:

We have a love/hate relationship with the idea of discipline. Losing freedom and flexibility NOW seems like a high price to pay for someone who only lives once!

Sure, be like a marine, but without that extreme regimentation, please. Be like an overachiever, but without the driven, type A personality. Be as focused and calm as a monk, but without the austerity of choices.

#2 Ridicule Fuel:

Repeated failures to BE disciplined lead most people to the conclusion they have a character flaw. This increases subliminal and not-so-subtle thoughts of being lazy, weak, or ineffective. A sense of futility results in putting the whole endeavor on the back burner, again.

#3 The Catch 22 Effect:

Finally, accessing this approach to successful living is often a paradox. It seems to require some discipline to become disciplined!

In most ways, it’s a trait (or skill or mindset) like charisma or humor. One can understand the features and benefits, and yet the thing itself can’t be taught.

What to do instead

The good news is that, while it’s nearly impossible to teach, discipline CAN be learned. With some critical thinking and a little reverse engineering, you can be more precise about your life and business objectives, and test drive alternative ways to reach them.

Part One: Ramp up your tactics

It’s a common challenge to have too many options on your daily or weekly list. They can easily morph into competing priorities and fragment your willpower in a New York minute (which lasts about 12 seconds, tops). Follow these steps to drill down to the true priorities.

#1 Hit the Pause Button, and jot down 1 or 2 top-of-mind areas that you feel would benefit from discipline. Some typical areas are marketing and follow-up, time-management, or tending to the back office. Of course, personal care is one of the top areas, too!

#2 Go right to the heart of the matter. What problem would be solved (if you had discipline)? What is NOT happening, exactly?  List the known and your speculative barriers to those questions. But don’t stop there.

#3 Dive down a couple of layers and be honest. In my experience, what stops people is NOT a lack of discipline. More often, it’s an anxiety about something – asking for what you need, saying no, negotiating for better terms, dealing with a learning curve, being lax about guarding your focus time, etc.

#4 You can also use the Kaizen method to be your training wheels for a while. Watch the linked video to see how small steps that lead to small benchmarks can unravel your resistance. Practicing on small results is also an ideal way to BACK INTO learning discipline skills. Wax On, Wax Off, grasshopper.

Part Two: Create a new context

The real job description of discipline is to help you do one thing: Follow-Through. In 21st Century USA, that can seem like unobtanium.

Instead, reframe your process from “all or nothing” to making gradual, consistent progress. Rather than demanding perfection, give yourself the psychological work-around of engaging with reaching goals as evolving learning experiences.

ALL THINGS that you currently know how to do are learned, adaptive behaviors. You might have felt frustrated with the process from time to time, but with much less friction or resistance. With that mental block out of the way, mistakes and shortcomings will just be part of the learning curve itself, instead of downtime.

The bottom line

Get out of the rut of trying to be disciplined. Take a functional approach, tweak your mindset, and see if you can move the needle.  Implement small corrections, so you’re in a tangible phase of improvement. It will be a game-changer for your peace of mind and your success.

Stop waiting for motivation to strike. The reality is that attitude follows behavior. And in closing, I give you my favorite Estonian Proverb: The work will teach you how.

#professionalexcellence #discipline #performance

Kathleen Day is a professional organizer specializing in soft skills training for organizing and professional development. She works with entrepreneurs and executives in service-based industries. You can learn more about how it works at and her LinkedIn profile Kathleen Day.

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Source: Smart Hustle