An acquaintance who overcame addiction to remake her life once told me, “Discipline is remembering what you really want.”
So much of what we accomplish comes back to having the discipline to achieve our goals. After years of giving in to dependency, my friend wanted to change her life in a way that aligned with her goals; with what she — when she was brutally honest with herself — really wanted from life.*
As a different person than I was in my 20s or 40s, I’m now focusing on what I really want to accomplish in the years ahead. Discipline is hard and involves pain, no matter where you are in your life journey: in school, beginning a career, as a senior manager, building and growing a business, caring for others, living out a gap year, sailing along effortlessly, or fighting addiction. However, it has been said, “We must all suffer from one of two pains: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret. The difference is discipline weighs ounces while regret weighs tons.”
To be effective, discipline requires daily care and attention. Deciding how to prioritize what you really want is an important first, and ongoing, step. Investor Warren Buffett is famous for, among other things, his 3-step approach to setting priorities. To boil his approach down to the basics:
- Step 1 — List your top 25 goals
- Step 2 — Circle the top 5
- Step 3 — Focus like a laser on the top 5 and avoid the other 20 at all costs
Eliminating the inessential, the things that are not what you really want, is so important in life. Most of the choices we make each day may feel like the products of well-considered decision-making, but they’re not. They’re habits. They don’t come from our core goals or from a place of discipline; instead, they come as our brains look for ways to save effort. Fortunately, as Charles Duhigg writes in The Power of Habit: Why we Do What We Do in Life and Business, habits are not destiny.
How do we focus on key goals that are clear and compelling to drive choices and actions over hours, days, months, and years? As my daily routine has changed dramatically over the last three months, I’ve seen the need to focus on what I do out of habit and what I do that comes from a disciplined approach to life and my goals. I am working to change those habits where a more disciplined approach is needed. This assessment is a necessary task that needs to take place on a regular basis. If we don’t make that commitment, we will have to face the consequences of our actions.
Discipline isn’t simply making a box and staying within those boundaries. In so many areas of exploration and growth, lines are made to be crossed. Instead, discipline is having your big picture goal — remembering what you really want — always front of mind and part of your daily practice.
Have a good week.
More to come…
*The line was so important to me that I used it to lead off my 60 Lessons from 60 Years post of a few years ago.
Installment #8 of The Gap Year Chronicles