I had a heated discussion with a friend of mine a couple of years ago about the nature of self-discipline. We were agreeing that discipline seemed to be a hallmark of success.

He was adamant that you either had discipline or you didn’t. Some people, he believed, were naturally disciplined and therefore more successful. I was equally as adamant that people can learn to be disciplined.

Let me explain why I still think I am right


People think that they are either disciplined or not. We say to ourselves, “I need to be more disciplined”. Actually it isn’t discipline we need but new habits. We only need enough discipline to form a new habit.

The truth is you are already disciplined, but maybe not in some areas that you want to be. You might be ‘disciplined’ about brushing your teeth twice a day but not flossing. You might be ‘disciplined’ to go to bed by 10:30 pm but not get up at 6:30 am. The irony was my friend who wanted more discipline was consistently working for 12-16 hours straight on a project. He was very disciplined in that area but wanted to be disciplined in another way as well.

When you see someone who looks “disciplined” what you are really seeing is someone who has trained a handful of habits into their lives. Stay with any behaviour long enough and it becomes a habit.

I think this way of thinking about this is also way more appealing. When we think of living a ‘disciplined’ life it seems austere, joyless and lacking in spontaneity. No wonder many of us internally resist being disciplined whilst feeling guilty at not being more disciplined.

Here is the good news: You don’t need to be a super disciplined person to be a good leader or be a successful person. What you do need is to choose the right habits and bring just enough discipline to establish it. That’s it!

Have you noticed that the habits you have are not that hard to sustain. Beginning a new habit however requires much more effort to establish. Studies have asked the question: How long does it take to establish a new habit? They were looking for the moment when a habit becomes automatic. The average time it takes is 66 days.

There are some simple habits that take a shorter amount of time, but this represents the sweet spot of how long we need to exert energy towards developing a new habit.

Here are some action points:

  1. Don’t be a disciplined person – be a person of powerful habits. Select the few that will make the difference.
  2. Build one habit at a time – Success is sequential not simultaneous. Focus your energies on mastering one new habit and make sure it is embedded. If you want to increase your habit of learning – focus on reading for half and hour a day for 2 months.
  3. Stick with the habit long enough – Habits take about 66 days to form. We are what we do repeatedly. Harness the power of selective discipline.

The friend I told you about had one thought that I thought was valid. Sometimes we need support and help to build new habits. I agree. Sometimes a friend, partner or a coach. If you want to build some new habits that will propel your career or leadership forward, send me an email to enquire about being coached Craig@transformgroup.com.au and I’d love to hear what you think. Leave a comment.

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