By Bill Hellkamp
Hard work is, well, it’s HARD! And I don’t want to do it any more than you do. Discipline, too, has become a negative for many in our culture. “What about my free spirit, man? You can’t put me in that box.” Putting yourself on a schedule, getting things done on a daily basis and challenging yourself to attaining ever loftier goals can really seem like a drag. But what are the consequences of not disciplining ourselves? It is, of course, the pain of regret.
Have well defined goals – Getting yourself and your time focused in a particular direction is the first step in developing discipline. You must have a lens through which to view your activity and your accomplishments, and that is your goal. You can set any type of vision you want, a promotion, a certain level of income, an education level, etc. Whatever it is, make sure it is important enough to cause you to want to be disciplined enough to attain it.
Construct activities to accomplish the goals – When you have set your goals clearly in mind, start to list out the activities that will have to be done to achieve them. For example, a salesperson would need to determine how many calls, appointments and proposals they will need to have each week. If a person is studying for their CPA exam, she might set a certain number of hours to study each day and how many practice tests she will complete before each section of the exam. The culmination of these individual activities should result in the eventual achievement of the overall goal.
Monitor the activities with a daily, weekly and monthly check list – I’ve found that checklists are important for me to be able to track the activities I need to do to accomplish my goals. For my most important goal(s), I have a list of what I need to do each day, week and month. At the end of each day, I look over the list and assess how I’ve done and what I need to do better. At the end of the month, I can look over the list and make adjustments so that I can accomplish more the next month.
Identify potential obstacles – As most of you know, the road to success is not without its bumps and potholes. I recommend that you not get surprised by them, but anticipate them instead and make allowances for them. Perhaps I overestimated what I could really get done in a week. Or I might find that I need more cooperation from others to get a project done and they don’t share my same sense of urgency. Whatever it might be, if you have prepared for these obstacles in advance, you will be able to deal with them better when they come.
Work with a mentor or coach – We would all like to believe that we are reasonably introspective and honest about our own abilities and work ethic. But as a professional coach for a good part of my career, I would contend that we lie to ourselves almost all the time, especially when it concerns activities that cause us anxiety or trepidation. A coach or mentor can identify issues that might be holding you back and use encouragement and accountability to help you break through these barriers.
Reward activity – For many of us the value of discipline is in the rewards. A job well done, a contract closed, or a good grade on a test is the reward for our hard work and diligence. But on the road to achievement, there can be long stretches where these rewards don’t come, even though we are doing all the right activities. That is why we recommend that you reward yourself for the activity. If at the end of the day you have completed your task list, treat yourself to a bit of dessert. When the end of the month comes and you are satisfied with your accomplishments, go out to dinner and a movie. The point is natural rewards don’t always come at the same time that we’ve done the work. Motivate yourself by rewarding the activities along the way.
What path will you choose, the pain of discipline or the pain of regret? Both follow the path of daily habits but only one has a payoff that is of value. As the old oil filter commercial says, “You can pay me now, or you can pay me later.” But at some point you will pay.