You’ve got a deadline looming, but you’ve hardly made a start on the assignment, task, or job. Sound familiar?
Are you prone to bouts of procrastination?
Do you often feel devoid of the drive and enthusiasm needed to do what’s necessary?
Don’t worry, you’re not alone; we’ve all been there, done that, and got the t-shirt. Nobody is immune to this debilitating condition, but everybody is capable of overcoming it.
The problem is that the world and its many gurus are preoccupied with advice based upon the theories of motivation, planning, energy levels, enjoyment, and so on and so forth.
They insist that these are key ingredients when it comes to getting things done.
They are mistaken.
There is one thing that trumps all others. One thing that, if not present, will wreck any chance you may have of enjoying a productive day.
This thing is discipline.
Discipline is the foundation for all work. If you lack it, you will struggle to achieve your desired outcome. You will miss your deadline, fall short in your duties, and fail in your quest.
If you have any doubts about this, they should be quashed by the time you finish reading this article. We’ll look at those qualities mentioned above (among others) and explain how they collapse under scrutiny; how they are nothing if they aren’t supported by discipline.
So let’s get started, shall we?
Discipline is more important than motivation. The primary focus of many teachers and gurus in the self help and personal development fields is motivation. A whole industry exists with the sole purpose to motivate people to achieve their goals, become better workers, and rise to the top.
And, yes, there is little doubt that being motivated to do something gives you a greater chance of following through. But it does not give you a 100% chance. It does not guarantee your successful completion of a task.
It’s certainly nice to feel motivated while you are doing something, and you will get more enjoyment from the work itself (a topic we’ll return to later), but you can also be highly motivated and still sit there twiddling your thumbs.
Just look at the people who go to see motivational speakers in order to attain their desired outcomes. They stand and clap and jump and shout; they do whatever their host tells them to do. Some of them will go away and dive head first into tackling the challenges they face. Others will go home, feel enthused for a few days, tell themselves that this is it, the beginning of their new life, and then neglect to act on anything at all.
And this is the key problem with motivation: it is all in the mind. Motivation is not equal to action. Motivation is not a physical process. Motivation is just a feeling, and a temporary one at that.
What those motivational speakers often neglect to tell their insatiable audience is that they put in 15 hour days packed full of disciplined work and effort to get where they are now. They don’t admit that their motivation is not ever-present, that it often wanes and disappears. Their attendees don’t want to hear this; they don’t want to be told that they won’t achieve anything if they aren’t prepared to dedicate some serious hours to action.
What’s more, it is somewhat difficult to find the motivation to complete mundane tasks, no matter how necessary and important they are. Whether it’s household chores, business tax returns, monotonous sales calls, or boring meetings, there are some thing that you’ll struggle to find motivation for.
Discipline is more important than planning. The successful completion of a task, especially one that involves a degree of complexity, is helped greatly by the formation of a plan prior to execution. Yet a plan is only a plan. A plan will tell you how to get from A to B, but it will not take the steps for you.
You might think that your to-do list is helping you to get things done, but it is only as effective as you are at ticking things off. How many items on your list remain undone? How many Post-it notes do you have scattered on your desk or stuck to your fridge that have been there for weeks or months or even years?
You know first hand what it is like to make a plan and not follow through on it. It happens more often than you’d probably like to admit. Big plans, small plans, it doesn’t matter; they’ve fallen by the wayside.
Don’t beat yourself up about it – everyone does it. Even the most successful among us have flaked on plans, but they have the discipline to act upon the plans that really matter to them.
And this is why planning is secondary to discipline: a plan, if not followed, changes nothing, but an action IS change itself. When you are disciplined in your pursuit of action, you become a force for change in your life, and often in the wider world.
Discipline is more important than enjoyment. When you enjoy doing something, when it is a passion of yours, it is no effort whatsoever. It is a pleasure. And this can lead to highly productive periods of work or recreation.
But what if you are required to do something which you do not enjoy? What then? Can you somehow make yourself enjoy it? Unlikely.
No, if you don’t enjoy a particular task, you will find all manner of excuses for not doing it. If you don’t enjoy it, you’ll delay it. If you don’t enjoy it, you will dread having to do it.
And, yeah, there are plenty of jobs that you’d rather not do, but they are important, if not essential. So they need to be done, right?
But how do you bring yourself to do all the things that you don’t like doing? The only solution is discipline. You just have to get stuck in and scrub that toilet, go for that run, and write that dissertation.
It doesn’t matter that you don’t like it, the act of doing it is enough for it to get done. You may feel aggrieved, bored, or tired, but if you focus on the task and keep doing it, eventually you will complete it.
One more thing about enjoyment is this: what we enjoy can change from one moment to the next. We might enjoy something to begin with, and then see our enthusiasm fade the longer we do it.
Imagine a never-ending ice cream sundae with all your favorite toppings; aside from being a one-way ticket to diabetes, it nicely demonstrates the fickle nature of enjoyment. The first few mouthfuls are like heaven on a plate, the next 10 are immensely satisfying, and the 10 after that are still pretty good. But then something happens; you enjoy each spoonful a little less than the last, until, eventually, you do not enjoy it at all.
So don’t rely on your enjoyment of a task to get it done.
Discipline is more important than your energy levels. It probably seems as though you get a lot more done when your batteries are charged and the vim and vigor of life flow through you. It is quite reasonable to assume that you work to your optimal performance level during those times when you have a lot of physical and mental energy.
But what happens when you’re not feeling quite so full of beans? Do you collapse into a heap, unable to move? Quite possibly, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Even if you are relatively tired, you have the capacity to keep working if you should choose to do so.
It is rare for anyone to deplete their energy levels entirely unless, perhaps, they’ve run a marathon or taken part in some other intense, out of the ordinary physical challenge. For the most part, we will have a reserve of energy ready and waiting should we wish to utilize it.
That’s where discipline comes in. In those moments where fatigue sets in, you can keep pushing, persevering with whatever task you are doing. It may not be easy, and you may not enjoy it, but it can be done until you reach the point of utter, genuine exhaustion.
There are many occupations that require people to keep going in the face of tiredness. Doctors and other workers in a hospital emergency room will regularly do 12-hour shifts during which their energy levels are zapped. Chefs will often be in the kitchen for much of the day and evening without stopping. Stockbrokers will put in serious hours to cover all the major financial markets across the world.
Do these people suffer from procrastination while they work? No chance. Their will to continue working does not depend on their energy levels, it depends on their discipline and their commitment.
Discipline is more important than habits/routines. Taking certain actions out of habit or because they form part of a routine can be a very effective means of getting things done. It can be especially good for tasks that you get little or no enjoyment out of, such as laundry, replying to customer service emails, or food shopping.
If you stick to particular times when these and other tasks are done, you take the element of choice out of the equation. No longer are you choosing to do these things, you are merely following a pattern of behavior.
But is this enough to guarantee that things get done? Not quite. Habits can be broken and routines deviated from. If you’re feeling tired or sad, or something else comes up that you’d rather do instead, little jobs and chores can remain unfinished.
In order to stick to your regular schedule, you must approach it with discipline. Only through the determined desire to see a task through to its end can you ensure that your routine is kept.
What Sets Discipline Apart?
You should be convinced by now that discipline is the foundation for all work, but why should this be the case?
Well, firstly discipline removes the action from the domain of the mind and places it firmly in the real world. Motivation, planning, enjoyment, energy, and habits are all based in the mind (or body), whereas discipline is something altogether different.
Discipline is not so much a thought, but an action itself. To be more specific, it is a system through which action is taken. Your mental state is not important because you are just persevering with action regardless.
Discipline is a path that takes a conscious, mind-based desire or choice and turns it into a physical, real-world end result through action.
Secondly, while all of the aforementioned aspects of work are temporary, discipline is permanent. It does not get used up, spent, or lost. If you wish to tap into it, it is always there.
This is important because it means that whatever else is happening to you and around you, if you can utilize your discipline, then a desired action can be achieved.
And thirdly, discipline can be a source of all the other things discussed here. When you get on with the task at hand, when you persist at it, you might actually find that your motivation, enjoyment, and energy levels rise. The sheer satisfaction of accomplishment is often enough to fill your mind with positive thoughts and feelings.
Discipline can also help to forge habits and create routines, and since planning is a task like any other, discipline is all that’s required to form a plan to later put into action.
Discipline is at the heart of most great achievements. Michelangelo could not have completed the painting of the Sistine Chapel without the discipline to keep going for all those years. Elite athletes do not reach their supreme level of fitness and skill without years of dedicated hard work and effort. Even our armed forces would fail to function without their trademark discipline – after all, when you’re on the battlefield, no amount of planning, motivation, enjoyment, energy, or routine will be enough without the discipline to follow through and do what needs to be done.
If you want to complete a task and succeed in your goals, the only bulletproof method is that of discipline.