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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. It’s asking us to get out of our comfort zones. And the problem is we are not comfortable to be uncomfortable.

There are times that we are confronted by the dilemma of choosing between two things… between reading a book and binge-watching movies or our favorite TV shows…. between going to a karaoke bar or to a gym… between eating healthy or keeping the diet that made you gain weight. Very likely that we would be ending up picking the choices after the “or.” That’s how we are wired – to take the easier route.

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?

The Tree and Its Fruits

“Water the fruit trees and don’t water the thorns.”
– Rumi

“No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit.”

That one was from St. Luke and it’s only one of the many quotes where tree and fruits are used figuratively to bring not only beauty to an idea that a writer or a speaker wishes to convey but also emphasis and clarity.

Obviously, the “tree” in that bible verse refers to you and me. And what about the fruits? Well, they are our thoughts, words, and actions and their outcomes. Could there be other fruits? I believe there’s none. The things we think, say, and do and their eventual consequences or results are the fruits of the tree that we are. There’s nothing else that would come from us through which we can be judged or valued as a person.

We think (consciously or subconsciously) first before we say or do something. I refer to it as the “think-say-do” process. After processing in our minds an idea or a situation (or any other kind of stimulus) then we decide what actions to take or words to say thereafter. That’s our response. You may call it decision.

“Each tree is recognized by its own fruits.” Thus, you should be careful of what you think and the decision you make afterward. They are manifestations of the kind of person that you are… and they do have consequences or results. I don’t know if there can be an argument against that assertion.

You have a first hand knowledge of how you think and decide. You are aware of the kind of fruits you produce. What about their outcomes? The fruits you bear results to the reputation you built for yourself in the community where you belong and among your colleagues, peers, friends and loved ones. Imagine reputation as the basket where your fruits – the decisions you made in the past – are stored. What people say (and think) about you is your reputation. Your reputation is the consequence of your speech and actions.

There are times that even if you say and do good, even when we try our best to make the right decisions all the time,  some people will treat you negatively. Don’t mind them. Their reactions are boomerangs that would harm them not you.

Whatever you have accomplished at this stage in your life are also consequences of your past decisions.  Your resume is also a basket of the fruits you produced. If people would scrutinize your resume, what would they see? What they see are your fruits.  Success is one big and ripe apple in the apple tree. It is the end goal of all our personal and professional pursuits.

But there’s a fruit sweeter than success – happiness. That’s what  simple people with simple dreams who don’t have a curriculum vitae to show try to grow in their tree. You would even hear people with grand dreams say that they aim for success because they want to be happy. Their success is the source of their happiness while for the simple folks I mentioned earlier, it’s the simplicity of their life and desires that makes them happy.

Reputation, success, and happiness – the products of the decisions you made – are the fruits of  the tree you become.

The kind of fruits you would bear depends on the kind of tree you grow into. If you are a good tree then definitely good fruits will spring out of your branches and twigs.

You should  know that you have control of the process of becoming who you are. Yes, no one else is in control of it.  We call that process self-improvement. The tree that would sprout from that transformation is your “best self.”

Only when you become your “best self” that you will start bearing the good fruits.

The journey into becoming your “best self” begins with one simple step –  the rejection of any excuse to not become the tree you wish to be and bear the fruit that you desire.

Education comes next. We nourish the tree called “self” through education. And it’s going to be long and tedious. It’s actually lifelong. Remember what Aristotle said, “The roots of education is bitter, but the fruit is sweet.”  But with education, I don’t mean just formal schooling. Schools are not the only place where learning can be had. Learning comes in many shapes and forms.

Learning makes your better than you were yesterday.

Sometimes we feel discouraged when all the efforts we are putting into self-improvement is seemingly not bearing fruits. We need to be patient.  Rousseau tell us that patience is bitter, but the fruit is sweet. To that Moliere added, “The trees that are slow to grow bear the best fruit.”

There’s one more fruit that your tree would eventually bear –  wisdom. You know it’s there when you come to a realization that the growing of the tree is more exciting than harvesting its fruits. What you will become – your best self – is beyond your reputation, more glittery than success, and more overwhelming than happiness.

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