Self-Discipline is the Key to Success & Well-Being
Updated: Mar 19
Research has shown that self-discipline is a greater predictor of success than intelligence.
The skill of delaying gratification in order to achieve something longer-term - despite the time and effort it takes to build - is key. It requires committing to a goal and then sticking to it. Researcher Angela Duckworth calls this perseverance and passion for long-term goals: grit.
It sounds simple and it is simple but it means doing things we may not feel like doing. It’s about having a solid vision and not being distracted. Nike knows: Just Do It. But with human nature of wanting things to be fast and easy pressing against where they want to be, most people won’t break through. It takes patience and maturity to not allow the laziness and procrastination to win.
"You need to see the difference in not being willing to and not being able to." – Eckhart Tolle
Everyone can commit to doing something small each day to work towards a goal. Most just won’t.
It means laying a brick every single day towards what you want to achieve. And then tomorrow another. Depending on what you are trying to build, you will have many days of laying bricks where the growing structure may look nothing like where you want to end up. But it’s not about this day or tomorrow. It’s about a day in the future when you’re standing atop all you’ve built. It’s about holding a picture in your mind and being willing to do what it takes to make it real.
Life moves fast. Tracking and documenting any daily progress is a helpful tool. It gives you confidence and builds momentum in those days when the results may not yet be tangible.
With technological advances, society overall has shifted to expect instant gratification. Today, we are a click away from virtually anything we want. It lends itself not at all to the concept of working towards anything really. If that button doesn’t deliver something immediately, we just move on to another button that will.
Impact on New Generations
The impact of this on new generations that have never had to wait or develop patience or the ability to work and plan and save, will no doubt be dramatic. Dr. Robert Kornfield nails it: “Expecting everything to come quickly has major ramifications. Hard work becomes intolerable.” He discusses that the concept of starting at the bottom and working your way up as foreign and unacceptable to younger generations, often entitled by parents. How can an economy absorb larger and larger numbers of people unwilling to invest in themselves by doing the grunt work or getting their hands dirty?
Not everyone wins. Research also confirms that real self-esteem comes not from the participation-medal, everyone-wins bullshit that has plagued the millennials and newer. Being told how great you are does not in fact make anyone effective. Instead, self-esteem and confidence are derived from the pride in one’s own effort and capability. It comes only from actually trying and trying and failing and getting back up and gaining confidence and in the overcoming. It cannot be bought, only earned. And once you have it, it not only can't be taken, it feeds the next success and the next. It doesn’t come from being stroked and handed a credit card.
“Through discipline comes freedom.” - Aristotle
But it takes self-discipline. It takes patience. It in fact takes not one, but two 4-letter words: hard work.
The Benefits are Many
People focused only on obtaining the stuff at the end miss the true benefits. The ability to delay gratification is the key to physical health, to financial success and is linked to higher life satisfaction. Self-discipline in children contributes to learning and less risky behaviors.
This ability to control oneself is the main difference between people with and without massive consumer debt. People who can control their own behavior, work hard and view themselves as responsible, have even been shown to be less likely to develop dementia later on.
I personally appreciate that there is no immediate solution that will provide the same results as consistently exercising, for example. No surgery, no pill, no diet (yet). You want results? You have to put in the work. Period.
One of my personal goals was to workout 4 days a week, every week, on average. For some busier weeks, that meant twice, and then other weeks six times to make it up to stick to my commitment. I tracked the days I went to the gym and the workout. Looking back, it turns out I accomplished something else I never intended: I ran one hundred (100) 5Ks every year for the past decade. Without intending to.
The ability to play the long-game, avoid the distractions thrown at all of us each day and stay laser-focused on whatever you really want is the point. All the cumulative hours spent scrolling through images or binge-watching the achievements of others will do little to get you there yourself.
The real questions are: What do you want to achieve? How bad do you want it? And what are you willing to give up to get there? People willing to hunker down day after day in pursuit of a dream will get there because most are unwilling to do what it takes. If it were easy, everyone would do it.
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