What is Discipline?


Discipline.  I’m repeating the word, letting it roll around on my tongue…

Besides being the title of a great art-rock album from the 80s by a band I like (and from which I am borrowing the image for today’s blog post), discipline can mean many things, to many people, in various contexts.

We think we need it, whatever it is.  Many of us go around telling ourselves, “If only I were more disciplined, I’d…”

Our minds tell us that if we had this thing called discipline, we would master those skills, we would lose those extra pounds, we would meditate more, we would write the Great American Novel.  We believe that people who are highly productive HAVE this THING, this discipline thing, they’ve GOT it, and “I don’t have it.”  Or, “I don’t have enough of it,” at any rate.

I have been accused at times of being a very disciplined person.  At other times, there are those who have told me in one way or another, that I lack discipline.  Surely, they can’t all be right.  If discipline is a THING you can HAVE, then I can’t both have it and not have it.  I suppose I could sometimes have it, and sometimes not.

I have come to believe that so-called discipline, far from being a thing you can have or not have, is not usually what it appears to be when we perceive it in others.

I have come to believe that so-called discipline is much better understood as clarity.

Because I am clear of the consequences of my actions, so I am willing to do things that are not the path of least resistance.

Because I am clear about what it buys me, I am willing under certain circumstances to do things that are inconvenient, dull, repetitive, even rather uncomfortable.

That’s about it.  I don’t “have” or “not-have” anything.  I behave in a way others perceive as “disciplined” when I am clear about what I am doing and why.  When I am not clear about what I am doing, and why it’s worth doing, I waffle and waver and half-ass what I’m doing, like most of us do a fair bit of the time.

So much for discipline.

Still, I recommend you get the CD, if you like art-rock.


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Filed under Leadership, Success, and the Workplace

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