We admire the genius of Steve Jobs, the athleticism of Lebron James, and the business acumen of Jeff Bezos. But do you know the common denominator among the most successful people?
All of them are disciplined.
And that’s a good reason to rejoice as self-discipline is a learned skill, not an inherited trait. We may not have extraordinary gifts. But if we develop our capacity for doing what needs to be done, we can get a taste of the successes of the world’s greatest.
Here’s why discipline is a must-learn skill for every entrepreneur.
1. It Lets You Build Success One Habit At A Time
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” – Aristotle
Magnus Carlsen wasn’t born a world chess champion. His meteoric rise was a product of intense daily training, preparation, and exercise.
The young Michael Jordan was eclipsed by his brother Larry, and his first attempt at entering the university team was rejected. But he trained as early as 6 AM every day and was always the last to leave the court. He may not have exceptional talent, but his exceptional commitment to his training routine made him the Michael Jordan we know.
Success is all about building the right habits. But this is easier said than done.
You see, a new behavior can take anywhere from 2 to 8 months to develop into a habit. Forget about the 21-day myth. It’s too short to instill a life-changing routine.
A lot of things can happen during a habit’s long incubation period. Distractions can tempt you off the right path. Motivation may run out. Or a workplace crisis may throw a monkey wrench into your plans.
Discipline and willpower can help you power through the difficult period.
You may not have the drive to write a post for your business’ blog or call your leads one by one. But not to worry. If you are disciplined enough, you can shrug away the distraction or negative emotional state, and do what you have to do.
And the best part:
“It gets easier.”
Whatever habit you’re trying to build, the new behavior gets easier as long as you do it every day. And the easier it gets, the less willpower you will need.
2. Discipline Is Contagious
Capt. Casey Whitson used to hate discipline. She did everything she could to fight people’s attempts at instilling discipline in her. But when push came to shove and her life goals were in danger, Whitson had a change of heart.
She took up the banner of self-discipline and lived the words of Coach K:
“Discipline is doing what you are supposed to do in the best possible manner at the time you’re supposed to do it.”
The new skill she learned positively affected not only her life but those around her – inspiring her daughter and the cadets under her wing to be sharp, professional, and disciplined themselves.
Entrepreneurs and business leaders like you may not have cadets to train. But you have employees to lead. And wouldn’t you want your crew to give their best effort and stay on schedule in every project?
Fortunately, discipline is contagious. And you can steer things in the right direction by setting a good example. Come to work and leave on time. Set deadlines for your tasks. Adhere to your company’s policies. When deep work is called for, shut out distractions and grind.
3. Self-Discipline, Unlike Motivation, Doesn’t Rely On Your Emotional State
Motivation refers to one’s general desire or willingness to do something. If you rely on motivation to get things done, you have to want to do a task first before you do it.
Discipline, on the other hand, doing what you need to do in the best possible manner at the time you’re supposed to do it.
Did you notice the striking contrast between the two?
The former relies on positive emotions to work, while the latter takes emotions out of the equation. You see, emotions are fickle. Relying on desire and willingness means you may do your tasks on some days but miss them on other days.
Make no mistake:
Motivation can be a catalyst for personal and professional improvement. But if you want consistent and lasting progress, you need to turn to discipline.
How To Build Self-Discipline And Preserve Willpower
We’ve seen how discipline can build up not just yourself but your organization, too. But I have some news for you.
The bad one:
You can’t just flick your fingers and wake up disciplined.
The good news:
Discipline is like a muscle. You can train it.
Strengthening one’s discipline and willpower takes time, but it’s doable. And this section will introduce you to a few tips and techniques to strengthen and preserve those mental fortitude muscles.
Mindfulness meditation can help you build the mental fortitude needed to power through tasks and build good habits.
To be specific, meditation has been shown to increase gray matter in areas of the brain which are associated with decision-making and regulating emotions. Both of which are necessary for self-discipline. You want to make a firm decision to do something and follow up that commitment with action, while not letting emotions get in your way.
So if you’re interested in boosting willpower and discipline, start meditating even for as little as 15 minutes a day. If you want to meditate using your smartphone, check out Headspace or the free Calm app. Or, you can follow this beginner-friendly guide from health psychologist Kelly McGonigal.
Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind
“There is research that shows people still have the same self-control as in decades past,” said Kathleen Vohs of the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota. “But we are bombarded more and more with temptations. Our psychological system is not set up to deal with all the potential immediate gratification.”
Maybe you’re wondering: Will the great men and women of the past achieve the same level of discipline and success today?
We’ll never know.
What we do know, however, is that we need to find a way to deal with the distractions and potential for instant gratification. Otherwise, developing self-discipline can end up feeling like climbing Mt. Everest.
So here’s an idea:
First, just go about your business as you would for a week – but with one exception. Take note of your biggest time-wasters and distractions. After identifying these time- and productivity-suckers, take steps to eliminate them from plain sight.
Are text messages and notifications sidetracking you? Turn them off! If you’re using an Android phone, go to Settings > Sound and Notifications > App Notifications and block the distracting apps.
Do you often find yourself watching cat videos on YouTube or stalking newsfeeds on Facebook? Block the websites. Here’s a quick guide you can read later.
And if emails are getting in your way, dedicate a small chunk of time to clean your inbox so you can keep your eyes off of it for the rest of the day.
Oh! While you’re at it, consider grabbing a cup of coffee. The health benefits are nice, plus it can help you maintain sharper focus.
Use Technology, But Be Selective
We were talking about the countless distractions brought about by ever-advancing technology just a while ago.
But make no mistake:
Technology can help you in your quest for self-improvement.
Sure, many people are slaves to their smartphones, social media updates, and emails. But when used out of a genuine need rather than FOMO or curiosity, tech can prove valuable in developing discipline and good habits.
Take waking up early, for example.
I’ve always been impressed and envious of early-risers like Richard Branson, Michelle Obama, and Jack Dorsey. These high-performing professionals are up hours before the sun rises, allowing them to start their day right and get more done.
And here I was struggling to get up at 9:30 AM.
I’m nowhere near as strong-willed as a Navy SEAL. But I’m disciplined enough to build good habits – from working out 3 times a week to writing for the first hour of the working day. Rising up early, however, seemed impossible.
Maybe my willpower is at its weakest during mornings? Whatever the case, I needed help.
My search led me to Alarmy. The alarm app has an annoying alarm, and the only way to switch it off is to either take a preset picture, shake the phone, or solve a math problem. I chose to take a picture of our bathroom so I can take a shower right after turning off the alarm.
Since the discovery, I have woken up at 5:30 AM every morning! The first week or two was grueling, but the habit has only gotten easier.
You see, technology is like a hammer. You can use it for good like building a house. Or bad like whacking someone’s fingers. When using tech to build self-discipline, be selective and have a concrete plan on how to put an app, tool, or gizmo to good use.
Be Comfortable With Emotional Discomfort
People want to feel good when they get down to work, like fish in a water. Nobody wants to feel getting ground down while improving them.
Unfortunately, feeling good about doing good isn’t possible all the time. If anything, building self-discipline and good habits feel uncomfortable. After all, you’re engaging in something that’s not a part of day-to-day routine yet.
Days will come when you will want to hit the snooze button, spend your working hours on social media, or engage in marathon TV viewing, a popular pastime for 70% of the US population. And when what you want conflicts with what you do, you will feel uncomfortable and torn.
Instead of trying to feel good about a business task before carrying it out, embrace the negative emotions and treat it as a trigger to get down to work anyway.
Set Deadlines For Your Tasks
“Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion,” states the Parkinson’s Law.
In other words:
If you don’t set a deadline for a project or task, it will take over your time.
Deadlines push us whether we like it or not. Remember the university days? We all found ways to work around the tight schedule and get papers and projects done on time. The deadline kept us focused, and we didn’t mind losing sleep as long as we make the grade.
Procrastinating and succumbing to distractions become easier without deadlines. On the other hand, you need to know a few best practices and avoid some pitfalls.
First on the list is the planning fallacy. People are often optimistic when allotting time to complete a future task, leading to underestimation.
Meeting deadlines are already hard as it is. Don’t make it harder by setting unrealistic deadlines. Look at past tasks and think through every step involved. Doing so can help you establish a more realistic estimate for the time and attention a project needs.