What’s at the core of achieving the good life? It is not learning how to set goals. It is not learning how to better manage your time. It is not mastering the attributes of leadership.
Every day in a thousand different ways, we are trying to improve ourselves by learning how to do things. We spend a lifetime gathering knowledge—in classrooms, in textbooks, in experiences. And if knowledge is power, if knowledge is the forerunner to success, why do we fall short of our objectives? Why, in spite of all our knowledge and collected experiences, do we find ourselves aimlessly wandering? Settling in for a life of existence rather than a life of substance?
There might be many answers to this question. Your answer might be different from everyone else you know. Although there might be many answers to this question, the ultimate answer might be the absence of discipline in applying our knowledge. The key word is discipline, as in self-discipline.
It doesn’t really matter how smart you are if you don’t use your knowledge. It doesn’t really matter that you graduated magna cum laude if you’re stuck in a low-paying job. It doesn’t really matter that you attend every seminar that comes to town if you don’t apply what you’ve learned.
We spend our lives gathering: gathering knowledge, gathering skills, gathering experiences. But we must also apply the knowledge.
We spend our lives gathering: gathering knowledge, gathering skills, gathering experiences. But we must also apply the knowledge, skills and experiences we gather in the realms of life and business. We must learn to use what we’ve learned.
And once we’ve applied our knowledge, we must study the results of that process and refine our approach.
Finally, by trying and observing and refining and trying again, our knowledge will inevitably produce worthy, admirable results. And with the joy and results of our efforts, we continue to fuel our ambition with the positive reinforcement of continued progress. Pretty soon, we’ll find that we’re swept into a spiral of achievement, a vertical rise to success. And the ecstasy of that total experience makes for a life triumphant over tragedy, dullness and mediocrity.
But for this whole process to work for us, we must first master the art of consistent self-discipline. It takes consistent self-discipline to master the art of setting goals, time management, leadership, parenting and relationships. If we don’t make consistent self-discipline part of our daily lives, the results we seek will be sporadic and elusive. It takes a consistent effort to truly manage our valuable time. Without it, we’ll be consistently frustrated. Our time will be eaten up by others whose demands are stronger than our own.
It takes discipline to conquer the nagging voices in our minds: the fear of failure, the fear of success, the fear of poverty, the fear of a broken heart. It takes discipline to keep trying when that nagging voice within us brings up the possibility of failure.
It takes discipline to admit our errors and recognize our limitations. The voice of the human ego speaks to all of us. Sometimes, that voice tells us to magnify our value or accomplishments beyond our actual results. It leads us to exaggerate, to not be totally honest. It takes discipline to be totally honest, both with ourselves and with others.
Be certain of one thing: Every exaggeration of the truth, once detected by others, destroys our credibility. It makes all that we say and do suspect. As soon as a business colleague figures out that we tend to exaggerate, guess what… he or she will think we always exaggerate. And they’ll never quite hold us in the same regard again. Never.
The tendency to exaggerate, distort or even withhold the truth is an inherent part of all of us. It starts when we’re kids. Johnny says, “I didn’t do it. I didn’t do it!” Well maybe Johnny didn’t do it, but he probably had something to do with it. And then it continues when we’re adults: exaggerating the benefits of a product to make a sale, exaggerating our net worth to impress old friends, exaggerating how closer we are to closing a deal to impress the boss. Only an all-out, disciplined assault can overcome this tendency.
It takes discipline to change a habit, because once habits are formed, they act like a giant cable, a nearly unbreakable instinct.
It takes discipline to change a habit, because once habits are formed, they act like a giant cable, a nearly unbreakable instinct that only long-term, disciplined activity can change. We must unweave every strand of the cable of the habits, slowly and methodically, until the cable that once held us in bondage becomes nothing more than scattered strands of wire. It takes the consistent application of a new discipline, a more desirable discipline, to overcome one which is less desirable.
It takes discipline to plan. It takes discipline to execute our plan. It takes discipline to look with full objectivity at the results of our applied plan. And it takes discipline to change either our plan or our method of executing that plan if the results are poor. It takes discipline to be firm when the world throws opinions at our feet. And it takes discipline to ponder the value of someone else’s opinion when our pride and our arrogance lead us to believe that we are the only ones with the answers.
With this consistent discipline applied to every area of our lives, we can discover untold miracles and uncover unique possibilities and opportunities.
Related: 7 Ways to Develop Daily Discipline
Adapted from Leading an Inspired Life