Be happy and achieve greatness by not being disciplined

I was having a chat with a good friend of mine last night about all the pursuits I have recently committed back into my life and the conversation suddenly got snagged in my mind, on one word. Discipline.

As some of you may be aware, I wake up at 4am four mornings a week to jump out of bed, cook/eat two eggs on toast, drink a protein shake, jump in the car and drive thirty minutes to Greenbrae (which is a suburb on the North Bay of San Francisco).

At 530am, two rowing eights and a four will push off the dock and for the next one and a half hours we intensely focus on repetitive and tiring drills to improve our technique, power, strength and stamina.

After rowing, I do at least a twenty minute ergo (rowing machine) and ten to twenty minutes of weights. I then jump back in the car, sit in peak hour traffic listening to my beats and then return my Zipcar by 830am before heading upstairs for a second breakfast, second protein shake and a shower. By 930am I’m ready to start the day with a stupid amount of energy and I’m often quite proud of my 1500 calorie burn before breakfast.

Even during my day, I carefully choose what I eat keeping mental notes of my protein, carb and calorie intake. I often go to bed when everyone else wants to party and I’ve stopped drinking alcohol with the occasional naughty night here and there so I can maintain somewhat of a social life.

At times I even surprise myself how committed I am to my rowing. Sure I’m a long way off being at the level I need to be to be at peak performance but I figure that by just showing up, doing my routine and remaining committed to my regime, I’ll continue making progress. I find it quite amusing really because I’m not known for patience.

I wasn’t even this committed to rowing at high school when all I had to think about was rowing, school work, sleep and playing computer games. I mean I did it ten times a week but often required great determination. You could say that in school I was disciplined at rowing.

So what changed and why don’t I think of it as ‘discipline’ now?

Well it came flooding into my head when my friend said to me, “You’re very disciplined.” Before I absent-mindedly said thanks and agreed with her, I thought about the word discipline and whether it was the right way to describe my commitment.

In most cases, the word discipline holds a lot of negative connotations for people. From punishment, authority and obedience they all remind me of being in an institution, whether education, government or beyond. It almost suggests that it’s a forced and unwanted experience but is somehow necessary to tolerate through gritted teeth in order to reach the outcome.

Despite that most of my friends here think I’m pure bonkers for waking up so early and keeping to a strict diet, I’ve actually found it thoroughly enjoyable and easy. Yes – easy. Believe it or not, I find this lifestyle now easier than what I used to do which was pretty much zero exercise and McDonalds for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I’d even go so far to say that I couldn’t happily live any other way now. That’s a big call for a guy who loved his daily Big Macs!

The difference between the past and today isn’t discipline but rather that I’m genuinely motivated by my new lifestyle and have great enthusiasm for rowing and the outcomes it provides.

When I think about the other times in my life that I have achieved things with an unstoppable tenacity, it has always been built around the fact I’ve genuinely wanted the outcome and haven’t felt the need to ‘discipline’ and force myself. Because I wanted it, I just saw it as easy as breathing.

So just perhaps the key to achieving results isn’t about forcing yourself to take action despite great restraint but rather to genuinely believe in the benefits of the task with your whole mind, body and soul and be congruent with the view that you always find the time to do the things you want in life and struggle to find time for the things you don’t want.

This time I genuinely want it rather than think I want it. At this point, I think it’s more appropriate to label my ‘discipline’ as focus – the centre of my interest.

Are you genuinely focussed or are your just being disciplined? Perhaps you need to review it.

4 thoughts on “Be happy and achieve greatness by not being disciplined

  1. Mm, I think there are different flavors of discipline and that it means different things to different people. Yes, the dictionary definition of plain vanilla discipline encompassed negative connotations, relating it to punishment and obedience and so on. But, on the other hand, the dictionary definition of self-discipline – “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” – illustrates a rather admirable quality in my opinion. This is more along the lines of what I was referring to. There’s discipline from an external authority – parents, teachers, the government – and there’s discipline from yourself, which is less like punishment and more like motivation.

    I think of discipline (or maybe, self-discipline) as an internal strength and spirit that guides people to make decisions to the purpose of bettering themselves, whether it’s rowing 4x a week at 5AM, practicing piano an hr a day, or getting through your calculus homework. In my experience with the last two, sometimes there’s a little bit of friction, a small hill that you’ve gotta transcend before you cruise in the zone, but that doesn’t mean you don’t love it at the end of the day. Basically, I think that discipline of some shade is necessary to become the person you want to be, to unwaveringly pursue what you love, and to “become great.” And aren’t you doing all of that?

    Sorry, had to find a way to argue with you (:


  2. Thanks for replying Lilian πŸ™‚

    Discipline stems from the socially viewed sense that you don’t want to do the work or your find it ‘hard’, ‘boring’ etc but you do it anyway and in time you’ll somehow appreciate the outcome. Most would describe it as an enviable trait that someone has involving great lengths of compromise, pain and courage in order to achieve the results.

    Yes it’s a synonym for training, self-control, obey, control, systemised etc but these words are all emotionally related to as negative and ‘difficult’ by the population. To describe and promote discipline in the masses due to the social interpretation of the word typically renders feelings of inadequacy and guilt.

    Whilst I’m all about being particular and could cite exact Oxford English definitions, I prefer to maintain a level of pragmatism as the world predominately speaks in colloquial terms. πŸ™‚

    As my blog is about enabling and encouragement, I’m always about trying to adapt one’s thinking by using other tools and words from the vocabulary to help people re-position their thinking in order to feel empowered and enthused.

    What I’m referring to specifically is that when you are truly engaged with the work you WANT to do rather than feel you NEED to do, it changes in your mind from a position of ‘discipline’ to a state of ‘focus.’

    As an example, toning up today is hard and boring because despite knowing some benefits it doesn’t hold visibly meaningful reward. However if it were your wedding soon and you wanted to get fit, suddenly going to the gym isn’t hard because the task holds meaning with a valuable outcome thus moving from being an act of discipline to an act of focus.

    Emotionally, you don’t actually see it as boring, hard or as work anymore simply because it’s about being congruent with the purpose and outcome.

    Most people are ‘disciplined’ in life because they fear loss or have been told to be because it’s the ‘secret to success’. But then they burn out and whenever you talk to them, there’s something crap or bad about their life.

    In my opinion, it’s either change the action or change how you view the action.

    The underlying message of my blog was about understanding the importance of how your mind interprets the tasks in your life and whether you see them as disciplined chores or focussed ambitions. πŸ™‚

    Sometimes just using a different word can really help change a perspective on an attitude. πŸ™‚


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