“Discipline:” A Definition

We all put things off. Typically, if something isn’t contributing directly to our immediate survival or pleasure, it’s easy to put it off. Folks will tell you that not putting it off is a sign of discipline. But what is discipline?

In my book, discipline is nothing more than remembering why you wanted to do a thing in the first place.

If you picked up a book, clearly you’d wanted to read it. But then other things came up, and so you made a decision on where to spend your time. That’s fine, except when you made that decision, you may not have been exercising discipline. You might not have remembered why you picked up the book in the first place.

This comes up all the time: the gym, your diet, a movie, whatever. Obviously, life requires us to prioritize all the time, and it requires us to let some things go – you can’t have it all! But too often, we make the decision in the heat of the moment, without really thinking and remembering. We’ll tackle the thing that seems most proximate.

Businesspeople will often use a Cover metaphor about rocks and pebbles as a way of approaching this problem. You have a bowl, and it represents all the time you possess. Around it are rocks and pebbles. The big rocks represent the things that will have true impact on your life. You can put a rock int he bowl, but that’s going to take up a lot of space – meaning, it’ll tae a lot of time, and all the pebbles will still be lying there, un-done. You could grab handful of pebbles, too, and while they’ll all fit in the time you have, none of the really “big things” in life are going to get done.

For me, when I decide to do something, I add it to a list. I prioritize that list. Sometimes, I skip big items. Like, I have to pay the bills, right? But I make sure they’re at the top of the list.

I also limit the list. I have friends who do not do this, and so they have these giant lists of “things I mean to do someday,” which effectively means they’ll never do any of them. When my list gets too long, things have to come off. I have to make a decision, which gives me an opportunity to remember why I wanted them there in the first place. Items that will lead to my personal definition of success always stay; everything else has to justify its place in my life and on the list.

How do you manage discipline?

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