Building a business or advancing a career takes discipline, doesn’t it?
Discipline to finish what I start. Discipline to start some things in the first place—the things I don’t love to do that are part of the package, like it or not. And sometimes the discipline to hold back when I really want to hold forth.
I don’t know about you, but I need more of this discipline. A lot more. The question is—how to get it?
Research hasn’t helped much.
Business publications offer variations on a theme. Eight Ways … or Five Proven Methods … or an unnumbered Guide to Self-Discipline.
They present the bromides you’d expect. Set goals. Get rid of temptations. Make a list. Use daily practice and repetition. Be a grown-up.
It turns out the very definition of discipline makes the whole thing seem unappealing. “The practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behavior, using punishment to correct disobedience.” Yuck.
Synonyms for discipline? Control, regulation, authority, strictness. No wonder we resist! Who wants to be controlled and regulated?
And yet, I so admire my husband Frank, who was a professional musician in his first career. When he sets out to do something, he does it. As he says, “The great players are the ones who practice every day, whether they feel like it or not.”
What do you do … whether you feel like it or not?
I came up with three answers to that question; they all involve writing.
- My newsletter goes out every Wednesday without fail, and has since September, 2014. Whether I’m inspired or not, whether I have a killer idea or not, whether I feel like it or not … I write every week.
- A few months ago, I committed to using LinkedIn as an actual marketing vehicle, instead of frittering away my social media time on Facebook. Since then, I’ve posted on LinkedIn every weekday, content that should be useful to the people who’ve connected with me. I add comments to some colleagues’ posts too, and those have led to some fascinating exchanges.
The idea is to grow our reach and give our posts more traction. It seems to be working; I’m getting more comments, more views, and yes, even a client or two.
- In another vein, I have a morning writing ritual recommended by Kelly Simmons’s Joyful Living Institute. Since January, I’ve begun every day by sitting down and writing about possibilities and plans and gratitude.
Before I check my email, before I scout the news, before I even think about doing any Facebook-frittering … I write. Every single day. I’ve amazed myself with, well, I guess I have to call it my discipline.
This list makes me think it’s just easier to be disciplined doing something we know we can do. People have been saying I’m a good writer since fourth grade—so it’s not a struggle to sit down and write. (Unless it’s copy for my website, but that’s another story.)
Maybe Frank got it backwards. It’s not “Great players practice every day whether they feel like it or not.” It’s “Musicians who practice every day do it because they know they’re great players.” What’s not to love about using your instrument if you’re confident you’ll produce beautiful sound?
Is discipline transferrable?
I’ve been thinking I’m building my discipline muscle by keeping those content commitments whether or not I’m in the mood. I will admit, though, it’s past time to use bring discipline to other things. Sales conversations, for instance. And exercise.
There is another way to look at all this, though, instead of badgering myself to be disciplined about picking up the phone. Or jumping on the elliptical machine. Or skipping dessert. (All articles about self-discipline bring up food sooner or later.)
In contrast to all those essays about lists and goals and just doing it, sales consultant Nora Simpson suggests “loving acceptance.” Yes, I know, it’s a little woo-woo.
Check this out, though.
Basing her coaching on neuroscience, Nora points out that the nervous system is a defensive system. Tell it to be better, smarter, or more disciplined, and it will always fight you.
If instead, we can accept our procrastination, our call-reluctance, our “bad habit,” whatever it is, we have a chance to change.
Because, she says, those self-sabotaging things we do are defending us from something. Maybe it’s something that happened years ago. But the defense is still with us—it was wired into our nervous system.
If we’re going to overcome the defense, Nora recommends, “Love and honor it for what it is first: A brilliant survival strategy created by a resourceful young person.”
So, I’ll guess that passing up opportunities, not getting around to it, holding myself back … they’re not just a lack of discipline.
Those are all defenses against getting it wrong. Making a mistake. Being ridiculed. It’s not about being lazy! It’s about, “Don’t laugh at me.”
Any of that sound familiar? It does seem that it might take something more than discipline to do whatever it is you find challenging.
The trick is going to be acting on this insight. And yes, I’m still hoping to translate my self-discipline about writing to those other activities that need my attention.
And what about you?
Where do you have the discipline … and where do you come up short in the Do It Department?
More importantly, what have you discovered about developing more self-discipline?
Can’t wait to hear from you—just post your comment below.