“Discipline is choosing between what you want now and what you want most.” – Abraham Lincoln

When people hear the word discipline, it can conjure up some less than savory memories from the past. Often the word is associated with orders and punishment. It is unfortunate that this is the image people have about discipline because discipline, especially self-discipline is actually very beneficial and can change the course of our lives in ways we may never have imagined. It can become one of the greatest blessings we can ever have.

We all have areas in our lives that we would like to see improve. We may have bad habits that are holding us back or causing problems. We may have insecurities or fears and, for some reason, believe that these cannot change. Maybe we are struggling with people and relationships or maybe we are having work issues or trouble finding a job. It all comes down to how we think and what we choose to do about it.

Thomas Huxley, who wrote four volumes containing a total of 1,000 success principles was once asked which one he felt was the most important one. He said:


“Do what you should do when you should do it whether you feel like it or not”.


He elaborated by saying that without this principle of self-discipline, not other success principles would work. Whatever you want to change or accomplish in life, it is self-discipline (daily habits repeated over time) that will take you where you want to go. And it really doesn’t matter what it is that you want to achieve; this is the formula. Thoms Edison said regarding discipline:


“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work”.


One of the reasons that discipline leaves a sour taste in our mouths is that most of the time discipline was imposed on us externally, but was often not an internal decision. We may have felt that we were not in control of our decisions, nor in control of the consequences. Discipline began in our homes as children, then was transferred to school discipline and finally, after years of being used to discipline, we come to expect discipline in our adult lives at work, for example. The problem is that we become so used to being “managed” and having our time and priorities managed that we have difficulty managing our own priorities. and time.


‘The place between your comfort zone and your dream is where life takes place”. – Helen Keller



In the past, our motivation to be “disciplined” may have been fear of consequences, fear of getting bad grades at school or even fear of losing out. As adults, we may fear losing our jobs or being somehow excluded, isolated if we do not “hold the line”.  Other people are determining our priorities for us.

Positive motivation can come from what we determine is important or gratifying to us. True self-discipline is born out of having vision, goals, and determination to achieve something or change things in our lives.

3 Levels of Motivation

According to authors Chris Brady and Orrin Woodward in their best selling book Launching a Leadership Revolution, there are three levels of motivation which we move through. The authors describe these motivations as hunger (p. 33).

1. Material Things

The first level of motivation refers to those things which “excite our senses” These material things serve as stimulators to our brain in order to build up our reason as to why we would decide to discipline our selves. they give us a goal to work toward, something that is visible and tangible. However, our focus should not be on the things themselves, but rather on how they can motivate us to change and grow.

Sometimes, the authors point out, this “material thing” can be about raising money for a worthwhile cause. It is really about having a goal to work toward rather than gaining material possession.

2. Recognition and Respect

Both recognition and respect are often lacking in society today and people crave them. We long to be appreciated and noticed. too often, however, we end up being noticed for what we have done wrong or for how we have fallen short in the view of others rather than noticed for who we are or what we have accomplished. So a source of motivation can be to be recognized by others: bosses, teachers, parents, the community, our peers.

The authors point out that the deeper level is that we seek and are motivated to earn respect. This respect can translate into proving to ourselves that we can “do it” or proving to others that they were wrong about us for criticizing or doubting us. Whatever the reason, a desire to be recognized and be respected by those we respect can be a strong motivator to change and grow.

3. Legacy or Purpose

The authors state that the third and most profound level of motivation is legacy or purpose. This is a higher level where we go beyond ourselves and our own desires to “sacrificing for a greater good” (p. 39)  and making a bigger impact in the world around us.


We do not determine our purpose, we detect it – Viktor Frankl


It is really about living lives that count for something. Deep inside us is a driving motivation to know that what we do and what we will do makes a difference.


Every man should be embarrassed to die unless he accomplishes something great in this world. – General Douglas MacArthur


How To Develop Self-Discipline

Author and leadership speaker, John Maxwell gives 3 steps for developing self-discipline;

1. Start with Yourself

Often we like to wait for circumstances or other people to change before we decide to change. But, really, the only want that we can change anything is by first changing ourselves on the inside. Once this inward groundwork started, the effects will begin to have an impact on those around us. We certainly can not expect others to discipline themselves – that is their choice and their job.

2. Start Early

Everything worth doing is worth being done early. However, many of us may have gone off track for a long time. But it is really not too late. Every day is a new beginning and we can change tomorrow by beginning today. It has been said that the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, but that the next best time is today.

3. Start Small

Little steps and changes made consistently over time will yield amazing results. Don’t fixate too much on what things look like today, but rather imagine how they could be several years from now.  We tend to overestimate what can be accomplished in a year and underestimate what can be accomplished in 5 years by small things done on a regular, even daily basis.

John Maxwell gives 10 tips on how to organize your life:

1. Set Priorities

Your time and your priorities belong only to you. If you don’t set your priorities, if they are not clearly established, then it is certain that other people and obligations will set them for you and you will find yourself responding to what other people say is urgent, but which is not important to you.

2. Place the Priorities in Your Calendar

I am preaching to my self here.  Priorities need to have a place in our calendar, in our day planners and on the refrigerator calendar. Unless they are visible, they will get buried under all the mess of emergencies and busyness of life.

3. Allow a little Extra Time for the Unexpected

Life is full of unexpected things- some good, some not so good. After priorities have been set and given a place, we can allow for some of the ups and downs of life to come in. Life happens, but when we know where we stand on what ia important, we can meet the messiness of life with a smile and a wink.

4. Do Projects One at a Time

Focus on the job until it is done to avoid all those half-completed jobs that eventually never get done. Do them now and get them done. You will feel much better this way than having the “must-do'” list hanging on your shoulders. Yes, some of us can multi-task and are proud of it, but how much more satisfying is it to do it and then check it off your list?

5. Organize Your Workspace

Some people thrive in messiness, but the organization can not thrive too well or long in disorganization. A clear workspace makes for clear thinking and also less wasted time since you don’t have to spend extra time looking for what you need. Prepare what you need ahead of time and give each item its place.

6. Work According to Your Temperament

Are you a night owl or an early bird? Do you prefer working in total silence (and solitude) or do you prefer having a lot of activity or noise around you as you work? When are you most productive? Your temperament for productivity should be an important consideration for planning your work.

7. Use Your Drive Time for Light Work and Growth

It is amazing what you can fit into drive time. Rather than listen to the unproductive radio garble, you can use this time to build a better you. Some people can fit in a good personal development book or listen to educational audios such as language audios while they are driving. Imagine if you drive a lot, you could learn a whole new language during your drive time.

8. Develop a System that Works for You

What works for you? How do you learn and in what circumstances do you function best?  If you have a vision of what you want to do, you can find a way to fit it into your schedule in a way that works best for you.

9. Always Have a Plan for the Minutes Between Meetings or Appointments

The snippets of time spent waiting for appointments or between meetings are excellent opportunities to use for building a better you, for planning, for organizing what you need to organize or doing any number of little things that need doing.  Having a book with you for such times as this can be used to fill this time with educational or inspirational information. You could begin learning to read in a new language.

10. Focus on Results, not Activities

Sometimes we get too caught up with the little details of the present and take our eyes off the bigger picture – why are we doing what we are doing? We create habits to develop discipline and we maintain discipline in order to obtain results and that is where we need to focus. Like driving, it is good to look far away and know where we are going rather than up close and not see where we are headed.

The Takeaway

Discipline, truly motivated self-discipline, can be a transformational activity. In fact, it is really the only thing that people can do to transform their lives. We can “live quiet lives of desperation” (Henry David Thoreau) or we can thrive and come alive, grow and excel.

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Diana Lynne enjoys travel, self-improvement, pursuing a debt-free/financially free life. She also loves hanging out with family, friends and being with her dog Skye. Diana is a Quebec City girl. who loves living life.  You can connect with her through Livingandstuff.ca