Discipline helps to take charge of your life | Sunday Observer

Discipline helps to take charge of your life

In October 1982, a 25-year-old woman finished the New York City Marathon. No big deal until you learn that Linda Down has cerebral palsy and was the first woman ever to complete the 26.2-mile race on crutches. Linda fell many times, but kept going until she crossed the finishing line. She was more familiar with the word ‘victory’ than ‘victim.’

Henry Longfellow, the American poet, once wrote: “Great is the art of beginning, but greater the art is of ending.” How nice it would be if we all had a genie who could help us finish what we begin. Unfortunately, we don’t. But, what we do have is a dynamic called discipline, which extracts a high price.

Following one of Ignacy Paderewski’s performances, a fan said to him, “I’d give my life to play like that. “ The brilliant pianist replied, “I did. “

Won’t Power

Accomplishment is often deceptive because we don’t see the pain and perseverance that produced it. So, we may credit the achiever with brains, brawn or lucky breaks, and let ourselves off the hook because we fall short in all three. Not that we could all be concert pianists just by exercising enough discipline. Rather, each of us has the makings of success in some endeavour, but we will achieve this only if we apply our will and work at it.

How can we acquire that talent? There is no simple, fast formula. According to Sybil Stamon, time-management consultant, there are a few basic elements you have to develop:

There is a famous Chinese saying; “Each person must decide on what he/she will not do, so that they are able to act with vigour in what they ought to do.”

Discipline means choices. Every time you say yes to a goal or objective, you say no to many more. Every prize has its price. The prize is the yes; the price is the no.

Igor Gorin, the noted American baritone, told of his early days studying voice. He loved to smoke a pipe, but one day, his professor said, “Igor, you will have to make up your mind whether you are going to be a great singer, or a great pipe-smoker. You cannot be both.” So, the pipe went.

Delayed gratification

M. Scott Peck, M.D. in his book, “The Road Less Travelled,” describes delayed gratification as a process of scheduling the pain and pleasure of life in such a way as to enhance the pleasure by meeting and experiencing the pain first and getting it over with.

This might involve daily routine, something as simple as decisions skipping a favourite late-night TV show and getting to bed early, to be wide awake for a meeting the next morning. Or, it might involve longer- term resolves. A young widow with three growing-up children decided to invest some saved money in the Open University education for herself.

She considered the realities of a tight budget and little free time, but these seemed small sacrifices in return for the doors that the degree would open. Six years later she became a well-paid audit executive.

Achieving a balance

Never confuse discipline with rigidity. Perfection is not the aim; rather, strive for the peace of mind that comes from being in charge of yourself. Before you browbeat yourself to carry out your intentions, or mercilessly malign yourself when you don’t, consider that you may need to change gears just to feel intact.

Most of us need interludes in our work to take a walk or eat a snack - whatever revives and refreshes.

Your breathers don’t need to be lengthy to shake out the cobwebs and give some relief. Such rewards act as incentives for finishing a task, as well as helping you to maintain momentum.

True discipline achieves a balance of producing, but not pushing; of diligence, not driving.


Disciplined people are happier people because they fulfil an inner potential. One of my junior staff members told me once about her six-year-old daughter who swam with a team and practised every morning for an hour, six days per week. She related a conversation her daughter had with a family friend:

“Do you like swimming?” the friend asked. “Yes, I love it.”

The friend asked, “Is it fun?” “Not at all.”

That six-year-old had learned what many adults never experience: the joy of discipline and self-development.

Unfortunately, the very word discipline puts us off because it sounds restrictive and punitive - like a traffic officer stalking us to make sure we toe the line.

True discipline isn’t on your back needling you with imperatives; it is at your side, nudging you with incentives. When you understand that discipline is self-caring, not self- castigating, you won’t cringe at its mention, but will cultivate it.

Habit-changing strategies

Many a person’s downfall comes in trying to change a bad habit by focusing on an undesirable behaviour instead of on a new behaviour to replace it.

Many people tell me they would like to eat better but don’t want to ‘give up’ fast food. Rather than thinking about what they can ‘t have, they should think about what they can eat. Fruit juice with sparkling mineral water is a delicious substitute for high-calorie soft drinks; sandwiches prepared with whole grains, fresh fish or meat and vegetables and dried fruits give fast foods good competition.

Maybe, it is not easy to change old habits. David D. Burns, M.D., in his book, The New Mood Therapy,writes: “Motivation does not come first, action does! You have to prime the pump. If you wait until you’re ‘in the mood,’ you may wait forever. “

When you don’t feel like doing something, you tend to put it off, but it’s often after we get involved in a task that we become highly motivated.

Discipline is habit-forming. A little lead to more, because the benefits prove increasingly desirable.

When you finally overcome inertia, you will feel better all around. When we are fully disciplined, physically and mentally, we are at our best.