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The Importance of Discipline

Hot topics on hot topics! Discipline. One of the most important attributes to being successful in competitive industries yet I never hear anyone come up to me and tell me it’s one of their best skills. Nobody ever talks about boring old discipline. It’s arguably one of my top skills next to being patient. And that’s what I want to talk about a bit today. All the different ways that your life and career would become much better if you tried to have more discipline about your practices.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Learnings

First of all, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is one of my favourite movies. Go watch it now if you haven’t seen it. Back to the point:

Discipline allows you to do things that might seem small and arbitrary but that add up to great results over a longer period of time.

The way our brains our wired, it’s hard to play the long game. We like those quick endorphin hits. But I’ll tell you, some of the skills I use professionally on a daily basis, I didn’t learn through intense studying or cramming or schooling or anything like that. They’re skills I learned over the period of months by dedicating 15 minutes a day to them. Yup, that’s it. 15 minutes a day on some skills over the period of a few months are now daily valuable skills for me. And I’m not talking about trivial skills either. I mean things like Python programming, intermediate-ish mathematics, C++ (even though I’m pretty rudimentary at it, I can read it), HTML/CSS/basic JS (enough to run all my own websites and spin up apps for jobs), unix terminal commands (enough to run all my own servers decently), and more.

The key here is to commit to something small and watch it grow over the period of a few months. You may not see any benefit after a few days and a week. It might feel like “I could have blasted this all out in a day!” but you didn’t…so here we are. This smaller 15-minutes-a-day system ends up being a simple thing to manage, doesn’t take much will power (it’s only 15 minutes!), and can be fit into your schedule just about anywhere. With all of the online learning platforms available now, from Khan Academy, Codeacademy, Udemy, Learn Python 3 The Hard Way, and more, it’s not hard to find educational materials for the topic you want in relatively bite-sized chunks that will be well suited for 15-minute blocks. I promise you, when a little bit of patience is combined with discipline, you gain the super power of learning new skills to a high proficiency at a very quick pace.

On The Horseback of Discipline

All things are finite. Whether we’re talking about gas in your car or will power. With enough use, both will run out and will need to be replenished. One of the common problems I see with people trying to achieve goals is turning everything into a will-power-problem. There will be something like a big goal, then a nice first milestone will be set, and then the leap to it will be big enough that you’ll have to make some very real conscious action to get to it. While this may work for some goals, even hard ones, it usually doesn’t last for the long term. How many times have you tried to get really good at something and stopped caring after a few weeks? How many times have you tried to get healthy with exercise and found that you quit after a few months? It’s probably because you were leaning into your will power reserves and after a while, the will power gastank went empty.

There are many ways to offset this need for will power. In sports psychology, values-based goals are often talked about as being the best way to increase your performance at something, but there are others techniques you can use as well. In this case, discipline is a tool you can harness when you need to build a habit or get better at something over the long term.

A great discipline I try to instill in folks is the “calendar discipline”. Think about it, How many conference calls for work have you missed on because you didn’t have the will power to get on the call? Probably next to none. This is because for some aspects of our lies, we give in to the calendar. We are disciplined and stick to it. There’s no ifs, ands, or buts about it. You can use the same calendar discipline for anything! Want to go to the gym regularly? Mark the exact time in your calendar for all of your proposed gym sessions for the rest of the month. Then commit to the calendar discipline and treat it like another aspect of work you can’t argue with. When the calendar say “Gym”, you go to the gym. That’s it. You can do that with anything from learning a new skill to creating a new habit.

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Action steps

Ok so enough Crouching Tigers and Horsebacks…here’s my challenge to you:

  1. Pick one thing you want to get better at
  2. Find an online resource that is broken up into relatively small blocks (or that can be broken up into blocks easily
  3. Go to your calendar or scheduling tool and add a 15 minute block everyday at the same time to work on that skill for the next 4 weeks
  4. Lean into your calendar discipline to get it done every day. When the calendar says it’s time, no thinking, just make it happen. Drop whatever you’re doing, don’t wait another 10 minutes to wrap up, just switch over and do you 15 minutes then go back to your original task.

Once you’re done, take some time to self-reflect on where your skill was previously and where you’ve been able to get it in 4 weeks of 15-minutes a day workblocks. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Wrap up

Even if you don’t believe half of what I’m saying in this post, I bet you’ll be so thrilled by your results after a month that you’ll be sold on that technique and you’ll try to discipline-ify all your activities and goals. Enjoy!