Chapter 6: Self-Discipline

Talent without discipline is like an octopus on roller skates.
There’s plenty of movement, but you never know if it’s going
to be forward, backwards, or sideways.

– H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Talent exists in abundance in our world today; there are a lot of talented artists, musicians, athletes, businesspeople in our world. Sadly, the potential for most talent is unrealized.

Calvin Coolidge, the 30th President of the United States, says that unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.

The truth is, all of us have a talent or an innate skill that we can do better than most other people.

It could be mathematical ability, analytical skills.

It could be singing, composing songs and poems.

It could be running, sprinting, swimming and so on…

However, having talent is one thing; but having the self-discipline to follow through is another thing altogether.

If you read the stories of great leaders and great achievers in any generation, you’ll realize one thing: it’s always about self-discipline.

It’s always disciplined effort that takes you all the way to the end.

If you’ve run a marathon before, you’ll have a good understanding about what I mean. Marathon runners all tell me one thing: after about 30 km, it’s all mental. Your physical facilities are all shut down and it’s only your mind and self-discipline that keeps you going.

It doesn’t matter if you were able to run faster than your peers in a short 5 kilometres run; when it comes to a certain point in the marathon, it all boils down to your mental determination.

Life is like the same, we can all start off and get ahead from all our peers with purely our talent, but in the long run, it is the one with the self-discipline that will be able to push ahead from the competition.

Being able to focus all your energies on one single purpose for a prolonged period of time is your ticket to reaching your goals, be it personal or organizational.

But why is self-discipline so hard?

6.1 Three things that stop us from our goals and how we can overcome them

We need self-discipline to deal with three main things that will ultimately obstruct us from reaching our goals: Distraction, Discouragement or Bitterness.

6.1.1 Distraction

Distraction can come in many forms.

They can come in the form of addictions, friends or even successes.

You can be addicted to the TV, video games and so on; and these things take time away from you achieving your goal.

You might think that it’s really okay to spend 2-3 hours a day on either, but 2-3 hours a day means that you would have wasted over 700 hours in a year!

Those 700 hours could have been used to build a business; gain a skill and so on.

If you have are constantly addicted to something or that sort, you need to exercise your self-discipline to change your lifestyle.

If you multiply those 700 hours by 35 years, you’d realize that a simple change in habit can transform your life already!

Friends can be another source of distraction. While it may sound cruel, but there are some friends that you simply have to move away from if you want to see a change in your life.

These are the friends who may not have a passionate goal in their lives, and they spend their days aimlessly drinking, partying, or simply just hanging around.

While I’m not asking to start disliking them or shun them, but you must start having self-discipline with whom you give your time to.

When I start running University-YMCA and Leadership With You, I realized that my time became much more limited for recreation and fellowship. Many of the friends I used to hang out with for supper still asked me out, but I usually let them know I can’t make it.

It is not because I don’t like them; I like them and I wish to spend some time with them. But it is just that time has become so precious to me that I need to prioritize my activities.

As a result, many of these old friends slowly drifted away. I made many new friends in University-YMCA; great people with similar goals and values in their life.

The first category of friends is what I would call, Friends of Circumstance. The second category of friends is what I would call, Friends of Destiny.

You met the first group of friends as a result of a circumstance (i.e. I was in the same scholarship program as them), you met the second group of friends as a result of your purpose. They were the people you met in your journey to your life goals.

You got to have the discipline to spend more time with the Friends of Destiny, and less time with Friends of Circumstance.

Lastly, successes can also be the biggest distraction to your ultimate goals.

The saying goes, “Good is the enemy of Great.”

The fact that you can do something well doesn’t necessarily mean that it is your life calling.

I can do Mathematics extremely well; I usually score As in the subject. But the truth is, I hate doing it. I find it extremely pointless (that’s just me) to calculate numbers that have no application on my life at all.

But there are people who feel the same way; but decide that they will settle with it because it will make them a decent salary with a Mathematics degree of some sort.

Hence, these people spend their life trying to master something that they don’t really care about so that they can just… get by.

Anybody can do a several things well, but the question is, what do you REALLY want to do?

Don’t let your small successes distract you from your ultimate goals in life.

6.1.2 Discouragement

In our journey to our goals, there are many times when we will feel discouraged.

“What if I spend so much time on building my business, but it doesn’t make a profit?”

“What if everything I do is going to waste?”

“Should I just drop all these and go for the safer option?”

In your journey, you will constantly face such inner voices that will put discouragement and fear into your heart.

Instead of finding faith, courage and passion to pursue your vision, you often find fear and discouragement in your journey.

You’ll find that it is harder than what you thought it would be.

You begin to believe that it’s easier to give up than to keep moving on.

But don’t.

Just keep pushing.

In the bestseller Good to Great, Jim Collins talks about the concept of the pinwheel with regards to persistence.

Here it goes:

Picture a huge, heavy flywheel – a massive metal disk mounted horizontally on an axle, about 30 feet in diameter, 2 feet thick, and weighing about 5,000 pounds. Now imagine your task is to get the flywheel rotating on the axle as fast and long as possible.

Pushing with great effort, you get the flywheel to inch forward, moving almost imperceptibly as first. You keep pushing and, after two or three hours of persistent effort, you get the flywheel to complete one entire turn.

You keep pushing, and the flywheel begins to move a bit faster, and with continued great effort, you move it around a second rotation. You keep pushing in a consistent direction. Three turns… four … five … six… the flywheel builds up speed… seven… eight… you keep pushing… nine…ten… it builds momentum… eleven… twelve… moving faster with each turn… twenty… thirty… fifty… a hundred.

Then at some point – breakthrough! The momentum of the thing kicks in your favour… the huge heavy disk flies forward, with almost unstoppable momentum.
– Good to Great, Jim Collins

Jim Collins was using this illustration to explain the value of continued persistence. At first, you wouldn’t be able to see much reward for your effort, but you just have to keep pushing until the point of breakthrough, that’s when there is momentum working in your favour!

When I was feeling discouraged about building Leadership With You, this paragraph from his book encourages me.

I just keep telling myself, “Yihan, just keep pushing; just push a little more,” whenever I feel like giving up.

I don’t proclaim I have great success yet with this website, I have goals for this site that I have yet to achieve, but I believe that if I keep pushing a little day by day, one day I’ll get there!

And so will you.

Whatever you’re facing now, just keep pushing!

6.1.3 Bitterness

Bitterness is one big distraction for you from your goals.

Bitterness is a BIG one. One thing about bitterness is that:

It is not about what you did, or did not do, but often occasions that can cause you to be bitter are not caused by you.

They are often offences by people around you; especially those close to you.

The truth is that, no matter how great a leader you are; how much you know; how many people you know, you will be offended at some point or another.

Where there is interaction with people, there are always opportunities for conflict and offences.

What’s important about this is not to find a way to avoid offences, but to find a way to handle them well. If you’re not careful and hold on to offences, they can turn into bitterness.

It is bitterness that often causes your life to take a drastic turn for the worse.

Instead of spending time pursuing your vision, you instead spend time trying to get back at the person who offended you.

Someone offends you by trying to copyright your material and he manages to get away from it somehow. You get mad, because you feel that you have not been done justice.

You spend months and more trying to find another way to get back at the person who copyrighted your material. You think about ways you can bring down his business. You bring a few more lawsuits against him to sue him.

Instead of moving on and finding newer ways you can add value to your clients, you were distracted by an offence and in the end, your other competitors catch up with you and send you out of business.

The secret to dealing with offences is simple: Let it go.

Just let it go. Forgive and forget.

Stephen Covey once said,” You cannot control what happens to you, but you can control how you react to it.”

He explains it beautifully in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People with an illustration:

You are having breakfast with your family. Your daughter knocks over a cup of coffee onto your business shirt.

You had no control over what just happened, but what happens next will be determined by how you react.

Scenario 1: You curse. You harshly scold your daughter for knocking the cup over. She breaks down in tears. After scolding her, you turn to your wife and you criticize her for placing the cup too close to the edge of the table. A short verbal battle follows.

You storm upstairs and change your shirt. Back downstairs, you find your daughter was too busy crying to finish breakfast and getting ready to go to school. She misses the bus.

You rush to the car and drive your daughter to school. Because you are late, you drive at 40 miles per hour in a 30mph speed limit zone. After a 15 minute delay and throwing the $60.00 traffic fine away, you arrive at school. Your daughter runs into the school without saying goodbye.

After arriving at the office 20 minutes late, you realize you forgot your briefcase. Your day has started terrible. As it continues, it seems to get worse and worse. You look forward to coming home.

But when you come home, you find a small wedge in your relationship with your wife and daughter.

Scenario 2: Coffee splashes over you. Your daughter is about to cry. You gently say: “It’s okay, honey, you just need to be more careful next time.”

Grabbing a towel you go upstairs and change your shirt.

You grab your briefcase, and you come back down in time to look through the window and see your child getting on the bus. She turns and waves.

You arrive 5 minutes early a cheerfully greet the staff.
– Adapted from the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R Covey

Life is pretty much like that; people do sometimes intentionally or unintentionally, do unfavorable things to you. It is not what they do to you that will determine your destiny; it is how you react to them.

Don’t hold on to the things that might offend you. The Bible says, don’t let bitterness take root in your heart.

Have the self-discipline to control your reaction to them.

And keep your eyes on the prize.

And nothing else.

6.2 Cultivating Self-Discipline

Self-Discipline is not something we can choose to gain overnight; it’s something we cultivate over time.

Like integrity, we need to learn to have self-discipline in the smallest things before we can expect great things to happen in our lives.

Some suggestions I have to cultivate self-discipline:

6.2.1 Create a daily To-Do List for yourself

Create a daily To-Do List and set out to achieve them. It doesn’t have to be a lot of things; you can always start with one or two major activities you intend to achieve for the day and then move on to 5 or 6.

I use Post-It Notes from for my daily To-Do List. At the beginning of the day, I’ll write out the things I want to do today, and I’ll cancel them out one by one during the day as I achieve them.

There are days, of course, that I fail to complete everything on the To-Do List; it is often because of bad estimate of the time required for an activity. But sometimes, it could be because of distractions during the day that caused me to deviate from my planned activities.

But no need to feel bad, just take a mental note and try again tomorrow!

The important thing is to keep doing it!

6.2.2 Practice waking up early everyday.

Successful people start their days early.

They wake up at as early as 5 am everyday and start their day off with prayer, reflection, and exercise. If you consider an average person who wakes up at 7am every day, a successful person has an extra 2 hours a day!

Once again, that equates over 700 hours in a year!

It is great to wake up early in the morning, when everyone else is still sound asleep and the sun has not risen yet.

The serenity of the morning gives you the time to mediate, reflect and consider your day ahead.

It might just be 2 hours, but it’s a very precious 2 hours because of the time spent reflecting.

Imagine if you wake up at 7am, the first thing you do is get your tooth brushed, get to the breakfast table, read the papers a little, and rush off to work.

Where is the time you spend on reflection? None.

Start cultivating this discipline of waking up early; you’ll find that your life will change tremendously in the long run.

6.2.3 Fast

Fasting is a great way to break your addictions to focus on what’s important in your life.

Fasting can be from any form of pleasure; from food, TV, movies, the internet and so on.

Fasting is very powerful because by fasting, you allow your spirit to triumph over your body.

When you fast, you give your body this message, “I am not subject to ______!(your form of pleasure)“. You give yourself the power to break out of it.

There was a time earlier this year when I got introduced to Texas Hold’em Poker. I was so intrigued by the game and its dynamics that I really got excited about it; to a point that I would think about it even in my sleep.

I just spent the next few weeks playing Poker over Facebook. I thought the game to be extremely engaging intellectually. And I still think it is.

However, I recognized that Poker was taking away my time from the other things I had to do; it took my focus from building Leadership With You, University-YMCA affairs as well as my time for prayer.

It was one night that I really felt frustrated that I just immediately declared a 21-day Fast from Poker for myself. I marked it down on my calendar and went off to sleep.

At that moment, I felt a complete sense of freedom even as I set that restriction on myself. I showed myself I could have power over my addictions.

Through the 21 days, I didn’t touch Poker a single bit. There were the temptations, when my own brother was playing it on his computer.

However, I finished the 21 days victoriously and showed myself that I could have conquered my own body and mind should I need to. It was a powerful exercise for me.

After that 21 days, I realized most of the excitement of playing Poker left me, and I still do play it now, but only when I’m bored. The power of this addiction was lost on me because I made a decision to fast.

Now do you have any source of pleasure that you recognize is taking too much of your time?

Declare a 21-Day Fast! And be true to yourself.

Don’t cheat yourself.

You’ll only end up cheating yourself out of a life of victory and success.

Having personal self-discipline is the first step you take toward organizational self-discipline.

As you’re able to conquer your own flesh, you’ll be able to teach your followers the means to do so as well; and you can build a team of excellence.

Move on to Chapter 7: Developing a Lifestyle of Learning

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