Category Archives: Personal Growth and Development

Developing Self-Discipline

“The first and the best victory is to conquer self.”
– Plato

 Self-discipline is a simple concept, very easy to define and explain but… difficult to practice.

It is reasonable for me to surmise that you know what self-discipline means but what I am hesitant to presume is you possessing this ability. I am not even sure if I have it too. However, if at this point of your (and my) life, we have achieved some measure of success, in both our personal and professional undertakings then perhaps it is not too much to assume that we have practiced or have been practicing  self-discipline to a certain extent. But if our needle of success has not moved a bit, if we have not accomplished anything significant that we can be proud of, then something is wrong with the way we are living our lives and managing our affairs. Could the culprit  be the lack of self-discipline?

One of the most probable reasons that there are people who realized their dreams and ambitions, got what they wanted, and became what they want to become is them practicing self-discipline. How successful or unsuccessful you are corresponds to the degree of self-discipline that you as a person have. I think I don’t even need to cite studies to prove the assertion I just made because even the simplest of minds would tell you that there is a direct correlation between success and self-discipline. As Lou Holtz said, “Without self-discipline, success is impossible, period.”

What comes to mind when self-discipline is mentioned? For me, there are three things – sacrifice, hard work, and focus. To some, those words make self-discipline synonymous with punishment and boredom. They conjure up images of long hours of work and study, of self-deprivation, of delaying self-gratification, and of strict adherence to certain standards.

In short, self-discipline is not fun. It’s not fun to sacrifice, to deny yourself of the pleasures of life. It’s not fun to work hard. You would rather go out with friends and party during your free time than pursue lifelong learning and self-improvement activities. It’s not fun to focus. It’s difficult with all the forms of distractions this modern world has to offer.

But to those who want their names written in the list of people who achieved great things and attained fulfillment, self-discipline is the key. The potent mix of sacrifice, hard work, and focus is the elixir you need to drink to bolster your chances of succeeding.

In the pursuit of whatever it is that you want to achieve, certain knowledge and skills are required.  You cannot  acquire and develop them overnight.  There are no shortcuts, no magic pills. The process will be long and hard and the question is – Are you willing to sacrifice time and effort  to possess them?

You want to be like the athletes, artists, leaders, personalities you idolize. You want to be like that somebody you know who has accomplished great things. You want to become as successful and accomplished as they are. But are you willing and able to walk the paths they walked to get there? Do you have the perseverance to spend months, if not years,  of dedicated study and training  to learn what you need to learn? Those people you look up to made it to the top by virtue of their sacrifices.

There will be times that you would feel like giving up because seemingly you are not making any progress. But you have to learn to hold on. The process of holding on is an important component of self-discipline. An online dictionary  defines self-discipline this way – “The ability you have to control and motivate yourself, stay on track, and do what is right.”

When you want to achieve something, you should also be willing to put in the hard yards. Don’t expect that your dreams and ambitions will be delivered to you in a silver platter.  We are naturally wired to prefer either lying on the couch or sleeping. That’s according to neuroscientists. But if you really want to become a winner, you must overcome that natural laziness. It  is going to be a mighty struggle and only a self-disciplined person will be able to jump over this hurdle.  “Self-discipline (as defined by another online dictionary) is “the ability to control one’s feelings and overcome one’s weaknesses; the ability to pursue what one thinks is right despite temptations to abandon it.”

In the pursuit of your dreams and ambitions you need to be able to focus too. Don’t ever lose sight of your goals, of the things you want to accomplish.

Focusing entails avoiding all kinds of distractions that could derail you from achieving what you want.  Distractions could be the people, vices, and activities who (or which)  instead of helping might actually hinder you from accomplishing your goals. You have to choose between  them and your dreams.

To stay focused you also need to lay down a definite plan of action for everything that you set to accomplish. Focusing is not only avoiding all kinds of distractions but ensuring that you have a map  that will serve as your guide as you navigate your way towards success.

The main objective of focusing is to become single-minded, of becoming driven by the pursuit of your personal and professional endeavors. It is putting together all your resources towards the fulfillment of your purpose and setting aside whatever it is that may hinder you from achieving them.

To sacrifice, work hard and focus are things that are easier said than done. It’s like doing what we don’t like to do and going where we don’t like to go.

There are times that we are confronted by the dilemma of choosing between two things… between reading a book and watching Netflix shows…. between going to a karaoke bar or to a gym… between eating healthy or keeping the diet that made you gain weight.

The choices we make determine the quality of our self-discipline. It’s hard to control our desires and habits. We usually struggle to make the best choices. And we get to realize that we made the wrong decisions only when we are already suffering from the consequences of what we chose to do.

We should bear in mind that self-discipline is correlated not only to success but to our overall well-being as well. Let’s borrow Merriam-Webster’s definition of well-being – “The state of being happy, healthy, or prosperous.” Now ask yourself – “How happy, healthy, and prosperous am I?” Only you know the answer.

If in the aspects of happiness, health, and wealth, your needle is not also moving, how much of that can be attributed to lack of self-discipline? How much of that can be attributed to your unwillingness to sacrifice, to work hard, and to focus?

Defining Success

“True success is not what we gather but what we become.”
– Apurvakumar Pandya

How do you view success? How do you measure it? These two are the usual questions whenever the topic is discussed.But I think the more important question that should be asked is – Do you consider yourself successful?

Before you answer those questions, let’s revisit the definition of the word. Let’s check  how online dictionaries define success.

Cambridge’s definition of the word is something broad  – “The achieving of the results wanted or hoped for.” Colin’s goes – “The achievement of something that you have been trying to do.” Oxford is more specific with its definition – “The attainment of fame, wealth or social status.” Merriam-Webster’s is almost the same as Oxford’s – “The attainment of wealth, favor or eminence.”.

Our favorite research assistant  – “Dr. Google” – says that success is  “the accomplishment of an aim or purpose” and “the attainment of popularity and profit.”

Let’s also check the synonyms: prosperity, affluence , wealth, riches, opulence, and triumph.

I hope that the foregoing definitions and synonyms are sufficient to help you come out with meaningful and definitive answers to the questions I asked at the beginning of this article. And by the way, do the ideas conveyed by those definitions and synonyms jibe with what you think success is?

The definitions and synonyms above actually show  the way people in our society quantify  success. They tell us about the measuring sticks being used by most people, including you probably, to determine whether or not a person is successful. Everything boils down to one or a combination of the following: wealth, fame and power.

So, when asked who are the most successful people in the world, people never fail to mention the names of the world’s richest men – Jess Bezos, Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and the others who are listed in Forbes’ top 10 world’s billionnaires . The next ones in our lists are the showbiz, sports, media, and political personalities. We also remember the names of quite a few people – some of them could be our own friends –  who excel in their respective fields of endeavors when we discuss about successful people.

Now, let me ask some questions.

Are those people we consider  successful happy also? Have the money, fame, power, and accomplishment they possess brought them happiness? They are the only ones, or their relatives (or their close friends and confidants), who could answer those questions. People outside of their inner circle could only make speculations and assumptions.

Many believe that rich people live under the constant pressure of  wanting to amass more wealth – famous people to ensure that their stars keep shining – politicians to perpetuate themselves to power – so much so  that they forget to live a life. Thus, they are perceived to be unhappy.

At least, they have the money.

“But can their money buy them happiness?” This question has been asked so many times that it could be considered meaningless already. But in the light of the present discussion it should be asked, not for the purpose of having it answered, but as a point to ponder on.

We presume that with all the luxuries the money of  the wealthy, famous and powerful could afford, it’s almost impossible that they are not happy. Unless it is true that of the needs which Maslow’s identified in the hierarchy of needs, only the basic ones (physiological and safety) could be covered by money. The psychological needs (esteem needs, belongingness and love needs) and self-fulfillment needs are definitely not available in the shelves of even the most expensive stores.

Here is the next question I would like to  ask – “Are they healthy?”

They are already rich, famous, and powerful. They are truly blessed if they are also in good shape. Of course they are – financially. What about physically, emotionally, and mentally? In their quest for riches, fame and power, did they not sacrifice their health, values, and relationships? While they sit on their thrones clutching their coffer, do they feel peace flowing within them? Again, they are the only ones, and the people around them, who could give a definite answer. They are the only ones who know whether or not they are suffering from any debilitating disease, mental anguish, and emotional stress?

I brought out the questions on happiness and health in the discussion of success because I believe that there is a need to strike balance between the ephemeral and the ethereal when defining the concept. The prevailing  view of success is materialistic. We attach tangible proofs to it – money, big house, new car, degree, job title, a certain body type, etc. I am not saying that such act (of attaching those tangible proofs to success) is wrong. I just consider it as not encompassing.

Why?

What about simple people who did not attend school, don’t have cars, and live in simple houses in far-flung farming and fishing villages happily living a simple life and diligently performing their role in society? Can’t they not be considered successful in their own right?

When you don’t have a mansion – a car – fancy clothes – expensive jewelry – a university degree – huge amount in the bank, when you’re not famous and not powerful, when you’re  just an ordinary decent individual honestly earning a living and contended with what you have and what you’re capable of achieving and you’re happy and  healthy, would people not consider you successful?

If a person’s goal is to be happy and healthy and he/she achieves it, isn’t that success?

Correlating happiness and health to success is a kind of paradigm shift that will make capitalists unhappy. It is the materialistic view of success that keeps most of their present business ventures alive.

Well, we define success in different ways. Success is subjective and I think that nobody could claim that their way of looking at it is the right one.

The most valuable lesson I learned about success is this – define it for yourself. Don’t allow other people to define success for you. Don’t subscribe to the standards they set. You know your capabilities and limitations more than anyone else, factor them when setting your success parameters. But be not satisfied with your current skill set. You have to improve and as you see yourself becoming better set the bars of your success higher. And most importantly,  don’t forget that as you march towards the achievement of your simplest goals and the realization of your grandest ambitions, you should not sacrifice your happiness and health.

On Time Management

“Time is really the only capital that any human has,
and the only thing he can’t afford to lose.”
– Thomas Edison

In one of his speeches, Jim Rohn told his audience the story of a man who one day told him the following – “You know if I have some extra time, I can make some extra money.” He told the man to forget about it because there is no such thing as extra time.

Indeed, there is no extra time. Whatever are the things we intend to do in a day, we have a 24-hour window to accomplish them. Definitely, that man did not mean extra as in time over 24 hours but how he could squeeze in in his daily schedule activities that will allow him to have an additional income.

What the man told Jim Rohn is the usual excuse of people for being unable to do what they should do to improve themselves in areas of their lives where they need improvement. How many times have you heard people say  that they have no time to – exercise – read – learn a new skill –  or do any self-improvement activities? How many times have you heard somebody drop the following lines – “I am too busy earning a living and I could no longer find time to do other things? What about you? Have you ever dropped those excuses also?

Are 24 hours really not enough to finish everything we need to do in a day? That’s the question we’ve been trying hard to answer since time immemorial. People keep saying that they don’t have enough time to do this and to do that. But I think the real problem is not the lack of time. The failure to manage it is.

 The real issue is time management – how are we using our hours and minutes in a day. Oxford defines time management as the ability to use one’s time effectively or productively, especially at work. Take note of the italicized words. That’s how we are supposed to use our hours and minutes – effectively and productively.

 Jonathan Estrin opined,  “The way we spend our time defines who we are.” I agree 100% and let me add that the way we use our time will also determine whether or not we will be listed in the directory of winners and achievers.

Time management is a very important skill in the pursuit of success. According to Brian Tracy, many people think that time management is only a business tool, like a calculator or a cell phone, something that you use to increase productivity. He argued that it is not just a peripheral skill but the core skill on which everything else in life depends.  He added that time is your most precious resource, the most valuable thing you have. It is both perishable and irreplaceable. It cannot be saved.

The non-renewability of our time is also one of the things Seneca, a Roman philosopher, reminded us in his essay entitled “On Shortness of Life.” Being non-renewable, the philosopher suggested the need to treat it as a commodity, something valuable that we cannot afford to waste or throw away. Thus, we need to manage (the use of) it well.

Aside from giving us the best chance to achieve our goals and succeed, there are other benefits we can get from effective time management. According to Misra & McKean (2000),  “good time management skills have been identified as having a buffering effect on stress.” When you  fail to allocate time properly to your responsibilities and activities expect to  feel overwhelmed. You know what to expect when for example you realize that you only have an hour to finish the equivalent of a 2-hour workload – an increased level of stress

Time management also offers individuals the means to structure and control their activities (Claessens, et al., 2004). This leads to avoidance of cramming and a better quality of output. When people are hard pressed to finish an assigned task or a commitment to beat a deadline the result may not be as desired.

Let’s go back to the question I asked earlier – Are 24 hours really not enough to finish everything we need to do in a day?

In her book “168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think,” Laura Vanderkam deplored the time-poverty  narratives that have been persisting for a long time. She said that we all have 24 hours in our day, and 7 days in our week giving us a total of 168 hours (7 x 24) each week to create the lives we want, and if I may add – to do the things we ought to do.

Let’s do some math and instead of using the  24-hour model let’s use Vanderkam’s 168-hour paradigm.  

On the average,  how many hours in a day do you spend for some specific daily activities? If you work for 8 hours and sleep for 7, how many more do you  have left for other things? You still have 9 hours. Right? Let’s say that you spend 2 of those for meals and snacks, what remains is 7 hours.

In one week you have an extra 49 hours (7 x 7). But if you work only for 5 days then add 16 to the 49. That’s 66 hours.  What do you want to do with those remaining hours in one week?

Yes, you are entitled to have leisure time or do Netflix binge-viewing. But are you going to spend all 66 hours for fun and recreation? If you do, then say goodbye to success and say hello to failure and poverty.

Okay, spend 2 hours a day for play or “me time.” I think that is still normal. That’s 14  hours. You still have 52. Should you decide to add 1 more hour to your daily leisurely activities (or to your sleeping time), you would end up still having 43 extra hours in a week.

Now, are you going to use all those 43 hours to aimlessly browse  the Internet? Don’t! Unless you are not really serious in the pursuit of  your goals.

What if you spend only 2 hours a day to check your emails and visit your social media accounts? That will eat 14 hours out of the 43 extra that you still have leaving you with  29 more.

What if you exercise or workout for 1 hour 5 times a week? You still have 24 hours extra. What if you read a book for 1 hour 5 times a week only (if doing it daily is too much)? Look. You still have 19 hours left. Go back to the math we did for leisure time. If 2 hours a day  is sufficient then you can put 7 back  to the 19 hours. That’s a total of 26 hours. How do you want to use it? Decide.  Would you like to spend some of those hours nurture your existing relationships? What about using a few hours to pursue some personal growth and development goals?

You can do the math for your particular situation and determine whether or not you really don’t have enough time to do what you need to do. Find out how many out of the 168 hours a week (or 24 hours a day) are you using productively and how many are you wasting doing things that don’t matter.

When you decide what to do with those remaining hours, you might want to consider what Brian Tracy said, “Perhaps the greatest single problem that people have today is time poverty. Working people have too much to do and too little for their personal lives.”

As you try to manage the hours and minutes in your day, you need to make a conscious effort to maintain a work-life balance. Allocate time for yourself. I don’t mean just taking a time-off from work and have fun. What I mean with  allocating time for yourself is dedicating your free time to activities that promote self-improvement and wellbeing.  Consider this – “The capacity to manage free time  is found to significantly increase an individual’s quality of life (Wang et al., 2011).” So think of how you spend your free time.

What I may consider as the best advise for time management came also from Laura Vanderkam – “Be intentional with the use of your time.”

Now, go back to the 168 hours paradigm. Consider it as a blank slate, how would you fill it? Again, the problem is not the lack of time. How you manage it is.

As Harvey MacKay said, “Time is free, but it’s priceless. You can’t own it, but you can use it. You can’t keep it, but you can spend it. Once you’ve lost it, you’ll never get it back.”

References:

Claessens, C., et al. (2005). A review of the time management literature. Personnel Review, 36(2), 255-276. DOI 10.1108/00483480710726136

Misra, R., McKean, M. (2000). College students’ academic stress and its relation to their anxiety, time management, and leisure satisfaction. American Journal of Health Studies, 16(1), 41-51.

Time Management. (n.d.). In lecixo.com. Retrieved from https://www.lexico.com/definition/ time_management

Wang et al. (2011). Free time management contributes to better quality of life: A study of undergraduate students in Taiwan. Journal of Happiness Studies, 12, 561-573. doi:10.1007/s1142-013-9256-4

Vanderkam, L. (2010).  168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think. London: Penguin Books Ltd.

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