Discipline is Not a Bad Word

We have a sign in the football locker room, “Discipline is not what we do to you, it is what we do for you”. As a high school football coach, an unexpected requirement of the job is to convince young men that discipline is not a bad word. Until that point in their life for most, discipline has become synonymous with punishment. When they hear the word discipline from a football coach they envision endless wind sprints or up/downs.

Even the dictionary definition paints that picture – the practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behavior, using punishment to correct disobedience.

Discipline is really a positive exercise around choice that not only prevents negative consequences (that bad stuff like ‘time out’ as a 3-year-old or those dreaded wind sprints) but more importantly makes good stuff better and prepares yourself or your team for the challenges ahead. It is a good thing that grows you. When discipline is imposed from the outside (a coach, parent, manager) it will eventually wane and dissipate when there is no desire to match from within.

There is the conscious part of discipline, it is the mindfulness and awareness to self-regulate. Managing our own thoughts, feelings and actions – is the cornerstone of a successful life. If you are an effective manager of yourself, your discipline comes from within. Most people can prioritize and even organize around their priorities, however many lack of discipline to choose and execute according to their priorities.

“Self-respect is the root of discipline; the sense of dignity grows with the ability to say no to oneself.” – Abraham Joshua Heschel

Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishments; discipline takes you from wishing for success to achieving it. You cannot just talk your way to success; you need to discipline yourself with action to make it happen.

“We must all suffer from one of two pains: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret. The difference is discipline weighs ounces while regret weighs tons.” – Jim Rohn

Making better mental choices (accountable choices) requires mental discipline. Mental discipline is essential to the process of winning, especially in times of uncertainty (change). Mental discipline is key to finishing what you start.

Aesop’s fable of the ant versus the grasshopper is centered on discipline. The ant is symbolic of discipline. Diligent in its approach to life – storing food for winter, working as part of a colony and supporting others. While the grasshopper is carefree and overly individualistic, lacking in discipline.

Note that being obedient is not the same as being disciplined. Obedience is following the rules, meeting deadlines and checking the boxes that you did what you were supposed to do (being competent). Discipline is more than following rules, it is about doing the right thing (there is no rule that says if you used the last of the toilet paper, put on a new roll), about living a code of accountability to exceed expectations and being “excellent”.

It was interesting to learn that the original Greek word used for discipline is also where we get the English word gymnasium. Training, practice, discipline – all are required for success in sports, work and in life.

Any individual can dole out the punishment form of discipline, especially from a ‘leadership’ position. However true leaders strive to provide understanding and to actively help deal with the larger issue that resulted in the mistake. Modeling a disciplined life is far more effective than correcting disobedience. Honoring your word each and every day is discipline mentoring in its simplest form.

Several years ago as opposed to making New Year’s resolutions, I started the practice of having ‘one word’ for the year to reflect upon and act on. This idea came from a book a friend of mine wrote called, One Word that Will Change Your Life. The key is that in our busy stressed-filled world with tons of distractions we lose interest in and forget our resolutions. But everyone can remember and focus on the simple power of One Word that represents the essence of what we hope to accomplish and who we want to be. The ‘one word’ is not randomly picked, but rather discovered through reflection, prayer and listening to your heart.

My one word for the past 3 years have been – Accountability, Outcomes and Synergy. My one word for 2017 is Discipline. Discipline to not eat the second piece of cake; to exercise no matter what the weather; to say I am sorry or to bite my tongue (so I will not have to say sorry later); to call my mom once a week; to not engage in negative office small talk; to manage my time effectively and so on.

The words ‘discipline’ and ‘disciple’ share the same root word, ‘discipulus’, which is Latin for ‘pupil’. The concept is that we surrender ourselves to something or someone, similar to an athlete surrendering his will to a coach or a student to her teacher. As disciples our surrender is to God and His wisdom. Every disciple of Christ must practice discipline as we “train ourselves to be godly” (1 Timothy 4:7). Proverbs of Solomon is written for us to gain discipline for wise conflict management “for gaining wisdom and instruction; for understanding words of insight; for receiving instruction in prudent behavior, doing what is right and just and fair” (Prov. 1:2-3). Solomon also said that we should love discipline “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but whoever hates correction is stupid.” (Prov. 12:1).

Also referencing back to Aesop and the Ant, “Go to the ant, O sluggard, Observe her ways and be wise, which, having no chief, officer or ruler, prepares her food in the summer and gathers her provision in the harvest.” (Prov. 6:6-8). The Chinese calendar says that 2017 is the year of the rooster, in my book it is the year of the ant.

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