Discipline is one of the most important secrets to achieving your goals. When I was younger, I denied to myself that this was one of the secrets of becoming a millionaire, or achieving anything else of note for that matter.
I think the reason that I avoided naming this secret was because I dislike the word ‘discipline.’ There’s something Dickensian about it, but there isn’t a better single word which adequately covers this concept. ‘Focused Will’ is close, but that’s two words. Single words work better for concepts like these, so we’re stuck with ‘discipline’.
In my discussions with successful people, this is the word they use most frequently when trying to explain their success. I became really excited when I finally accepted this when I was younger. A lot of things fell into place. This was the key concept which differentiated the rich from the poor; the successful from the failures.
Without it, you’re one of the 80%+ – the failures in life. Remember, this is not my judgement on others – I have no right to judge. These people are failures by their own admission and definitions. If you were to ask them if they feel they have succeeded in life, or failed, they would readily confess to having failed, although they would, of course, blame factors outside of themselves for this failure.
With discipline, you have a good chance of rising above the crowd and retiring early as a wealthy man or woman.
Everything I write is aimed at preventing you from reaching retirement with nothing. If you reach retirement as a pauper dependent upon charity, having lived a life of quiet desperation, frustrated, never having achieved anything much of note, not really having had a good time (apart from the odd high point), never having dreamed, never beaten a real challenge, then your life is a failure by any standards, but certainly by your own. Of course, if you are happy in your powerlessness and poverty, then none of this matters.
Are you a disciplined person, in general?
There are hundreds of indicators of a disciplined mind, not one of which is essential, but put together, they start to add up to a pattern. Can you get up in the morning? Are your shoes clean, your hair and teeth brushed? Are your car and house tidy? Are your personal papers (gas bills, bank statements, etc.) filed in some sort of reasonable order? Do you turn out a good job of work, even when nobody is looking? I could think of five hundred more indicators, but you get the idea. It’s up to you to look at your life and make an honest assessment of your level of discipline or lack of it. Again, I am not judging you. Live how you want to live, including in a pigsty, unwashed half the time – it’s your life. But if you want a life of power and wealth, then I can guarantee you will not get it without some discipline.
Discipline is vital.
When I meet consultation clients face to face, I tell them I’m just a regular guy, and that’s the truth. Yes, I have an education and a certain amount of common-sense. But I also have discipline. Often, the people sitting opposite me do not have discipline, or at least they haven’t made it central to their lives because, heck, it takes discipline to be disciplined! I can see the lack of discipline in the way they dress, the way they sit, and the way they talk.
What is Discipline?
Well, I guess one definition is being strict with yourself.
You know why discipline is important for a child or teenager, don’t you? It’s to keep them in line. It’s to stop them getting out of hand – getting away with too much. Also, you discipline your children out of love, and not because you enjoy the power-trip (I hope!). Often, you hate to discipline your kids because it spoils their immediate gratification and enjoyment, doesn’t it? But you do this because the long-term benefits and rewards vastly outweigh the immediate greedy, thoughtless and short-term gratification of their desires.
Correct? I think so.
So another definition might be ‘gratification postponement.’ Not eating the whole bowl of jello right now. Eating some and saving the rest for the next few days. Not because it’s ‘naughty’ to eat all the jello. Not because it’s ‘wicked or sinful’ to eat all the jello. It’s because if you eat all the jello now, your enjoyment will be, say, ten units (8 for the one bowl, plus 16 for the rest of the jello, minus 6 for the sick feeling, minus 8 for the realization that you have no will-power!).
If you have one bowl now, one tomorrow, and one the next day, you get 8+8+8 = 24 units of pleasure, plus 6 units for feeling smug about your strength of will. That’s 30 units of pleasure compared with 10 units.
I’m not fooling around with this jello analogy. This is exactly the way it works.
Disciplined people save money. They don’t spend every single penny they have in their pockets on goodies to consume right now, as fast as possible. They don’t then rush out and borrow more money to buy more goodies to consume because they can’t wait until next pay day. Such people are eating all the sweets in one sitting, then borrowing sweets from their friends so they can eat those too! What would you say to a child who did that?
Why, what a spoiled and greedy child that would be, don’t you think?
One of the keys to a successful life (however you define it) is the ability known as ‘gratification postponement.’
The name speaks for itself and many people learn this ability and its advantages quite early on in life. At its most fundamental, it is the ability not to eat all the candy today, so that you will have some left over for tomorrow. As you grow up, it manifests itself in several ways. For example:
1. As a child: Your ability to delay playtime until you have completed all of your homework.
2. As a teenager: The ability to postpone the advantages of cash in your pocket right now from some mundane job. Instead you do further study so that you might enjoy a higher salary later on. Every hour of study you do gears up through your life to an effective rate of $1,000 for each study hour – but paid later, not right now.
3. As an adult: The ability not to spend every penny of the money you earn on goodies, but instead to save a percentage so that it might grow and you can enjoy more goodies later on.
Before I proceed, let me tell you there is nothing ascetic in what I am describing. The point is not to deny yourself forever and always postpone pleasure, possibly even until you die. That is ridiculous. No, the point is to enjoy today with all of its richness and pleasure, but to master the trick of gratification postponement for a percentage of life’s pleasures. And this has only one, entirely selfish aim – to enjoy more of life’s pleasures tomorrow. I want to be very clear on that point.
Many religions preach that you should deny yourself pleasure because it distracts you from your true task which is to sacrifice yourself for others and for God. Your reward, they say, will come when you die. Sorry, but that’s just too long to wait, and too late to collect it.
For example, I consider the savings habit to be an absolute give-away sign of success or potential success. To save takes discipline – the discipline not to spend every penny you earn, but instead to put a little by. Most people do not save. They cannot manage the trick of postponing the gratification that the immediate use of their money would bring, consequently, they are always broke and struggling for cash.
Disciplined people don’t save money out of altruism or because they are being good little boys or girls. They do it from a position of ‘enlightened self-interest’ or selfishness, by another name. It’s important that you realize this. You’re doing it for you, nobody else. They know that if they take some pleasure now (spend some money), then postpone the rest of the pleasure for a later day, they will get far more pleasure in total than if they spent all the money in one go. Everyone knows this. It’s something we all learn at about age eight. It’s part of the curriculum taught at the ‘University of the Obvious!’ Disciplined people apply this knowledge – it takes will-power not to spend the lot right now – undisciplined people just can’t keep their hands out of the cookie-jar, and that’s the plain truth.
Modest saving – just 10% of your wealth – means you can retire with a quarter of a million in the bank. Nice.
Not saving means you retire penniless and with about five hundred dollar’s worth of useless junk. What a difference!
All successful people score highly on their ability to delay gratification, and research backs this up as illustrated in Daniel Goleman’s remarkable book, Emotional Intelligence, if you’re interested in further reading.
It’s time to become your own drill sergeant.