We often think of disciplined people and teams as freaky phenomena of nature. They are a bizarre combination of will power, seriousness, and inflexibility. We admire them but don’t want to live the way they do. Like New Zealand’s All Black rugby team, we watch, stand up in awe but stand back unchanged.
Discipline, sometimes called self-discipline, is intentional behavior focused on motivating oneself intrinsically to get—and stay—on track. It is conscious behavior, repeated over time, resulting in a desired and sustained outcome. It requires willpower to activate. Discipline is always related to the achievement of goals and connected to a value beyond the goal. I call that value a Result.
A discipline is simply a habit that requires a little push to get started . Habits only require a cue, sometimes even very subtle cues, to start. But disciplines require a conscious decision to trigger them. Then, once initiated, they follow the same pattern and routines as habits. Disciplines yield rewards. Disciplines set us free. The disciplined person is free; the Disciplined Team is a force to be reckoned with.
Disciplines require a jump start to get them going. They function like activation energy in a chemical process. They are simply a small burst of energy (willpower) that gets us moving. Then, once moving, the momentum of habits take over. Such energy is required to move molecules into a state in which they can undergo a chemical change and our lives into a state in which we are stronger and more free.
Examples of activation energy are all around us. This morning it took activation energy to get out of bed. It took activation energy to start your car’s engine or to get it moving from a stop. It takes this form of energy to start the compressor on your refrigerator or to start a fan. In most arenas it takes more energy to start moving than to keep moving. This is a great way to think of a discipline.
Disciplines are needed after goalsetting occurs and before habits engage. Set a goal, decide how to accomplish the goal, plan the first step of the goal, initiate the discipline, move, engage the habit. Do this over and over and we achieve the goal.
Let’s use a health example. Set a fitness goal to be able to have more energy and more lean muscle mass, for example. Imagine that you decide to include running daily as part of the way to achieve the goal. Decide to run daily in the morning before work. Set out your running shoes and shorts each night before you go to bed and tell someone else you will be running. When you awake to your alarm, it takes a few moments of discipline to get up, put your shoes on, stretch, warm up and begin the run. After three or four strides, your habits kick in. This is the difference between habits and disciplines.
The run doesn’t require uninterrupted explosions of willpower and discipline throughout to complete. It only requires small bursts of willpower and discipline, especially in the beginning, to achieve the benefit. The rest of the time our habit structure takes over.
In times when a little push doesn’t work to get us started, we’ve learned that one (or all) of these three tools will act like extra rocket boosters to break free from the cold grip of psychological and physical gravity.
One: Use the buddy system. We learned it in first grade. Link up with someone. Get them to do the discipline with you. Then when you are sitting in the malaise of the moment just knowing that your friend or co-worker is waiting for you is exactly the thing you need to get the party started.
Two: Plan ahead. Decide when, where and how you are going to practice the discipline a few days in advance. Then, put it on your calendar. And, tell someone else you are going to do it.
We are sophisticated herd animals and we thrive on connections with others. We thrive on certainty and a degree of predictability. Combining the buddy system and planning ahead feed both of those appetites.
Three: Plan for the celebration. Make a commitment to do something (that doesn’t undermine the discipline) upon completion of the discipline. Something small. Something pure and enjoyable. It doesn’t need to be proportionate to the time and energy exerted in the discipline. A brief, joyful pause is sufficient. Finish the run and stand in the early morning light listening to a favorite song. Finish the discipline and pause to enjoy a dark cup of coffee or play with the dog or call your grandson. It won’t take long before the ritual of the discipline + habit + pause will fuse themselves together as one.
You already have disciplines. So does your team, your organization. Some of them are written down and enforced and others are silently expected. Disciplines in a person’s life, or in an organization’s teams, reveal true values and mission. More than habitats, they show what’s really important. Disciplines point to what really matters like nothing else I’ve ever seen.
What arenas in your life could benefit from a disciplined approach? Is it your health, relationships, finances, organizational skills? Is it your perspective or attitude? Is it procrastination? Whatever the theme, pick one simple discipline you would like to institute, envolve another person, plan ahead and set up a simple reward at the end.
Do this three times. Your neuropathways in your brain will set you up to crave the discipline. And, after practicing for a short while, you will be free.