Self-Discipline, the Key to Self Mastery
A summary of ideas and insights I had while reading No Excuses! by Brian Tracy
I once had a conversation with a mentor of mine who told me something that I’d never heard before. He said “Willpower doesn’t exist. Your ability to do something just comes down to your ability to immerse yourself in discomfort, and enact self discipline. Discipline means doing things because it needs to be done — regardless of how you feel about it.”
From that day on, my perspective on what it takes to achieve success completely shifted, which is what led me to pick up a book written all about it.
In this article, you’ll find short snippets of what I found to be the most valuable lessons from the book No Excuses! The Power of Self Discipline, and how the practice applies to different aspects of life.
At the core of why people fail to get anywhere or achieve their sense of success are three habits:
- Using a million reasons or inconvenient circumstances to justify your lack of action — excuses = stagnancy
- Prioritizing short-term desires over long-term value adds — in reality your short term actions should be consistent with your long term goals
- Cutting corners and taking the shortcut there — without failure and hardship, you get nowhere meaningful
As the Law of Concentration states, whatever you dwell upon grows and increases in your life.
This emphasizes the importance of learning from the people who have excelled at what you do and have the values you admire.
“Once these values are programmed intro your subconcious, they create a propensity within you to behave consistently with those values. ” — pg 62
Another reason that learning from others successful in your field is that it allows you to recognize what seeds are worth planting, which ones led to their blooming crop.
This ties back to the Law of Cause and Effect, which says that “whatsoever a person soweth, that also they should reap”. After all, the reason for a lack of results may not always be a lack of effort, but simply the result of working on the wrong things.
The crucial precursors to success
Who you are, what you want
Though there may be superficial things that people share in their definitions of success, the word has no meaning unless specific to the individual.
That’s why, before all else, you need to know what you’re striving for, who you want to be, and who you are.
Of course, these things will naturally evolve. Even so, when there is uncertainty, one’s personal values should be their North Star to mediate decisions. When you are absolutely clear about who you are and what you believe, you also draw a picture of what you think is right and wrong.
The result of this is that you become firm rather than irresolute and let your values guide you rather than taking the path of least resistance.
Though it may not always be clear, people tend to behave on the outside consistently with the way they see themselves on the inside.
It is for this reason that having an adequate self-esteem (ie. seeing yourself as a valuable, important person) is key to gaining others’ trust and acting kindly (all enabling factors to being a leaders, discussed below).
Self-esteem can be a fuzzy thing to define, but I liked the way Tracy put it;
Your self-esteem is largely determined by how consistent your self image, which shapes your personal behavior, is with your self ideal, or your version of the very best person you can possibly be.
Whenever you art consistently with who you consider an excellent person to be your self image improves and your self-esteem increases.
I found this extremely valuable as it shone light on something I’d never though about and motivated to relook at / work on the way I see myself.
The vitality of taking responsibility and having courage
Your happiness, health, success, and achievement amount to your willingness and ability to take personal responsibility.
Without doing so, you mindlessly fall into the trap of continually complaining, criticizing, making excuses, and most of all, blaming others for your situation.
The attempt to foist responsibility for things in your life that make you unhappy onto other people, institutions and situations, completely distort cause-and-effect, undermine your character, weaken resolve, and diminish your humanity.
In fact, many of the negative emotions we face can be traced back to this behaviour itself; only after realizing that you and only you are responsible for everything you are, become, and how you respond to what happens to you can you prevent leaving yourself completely vulnerable to the world around you and its issues.
Bottom line is, accepting responsibility is one of the hardest disciplines but without it, no success is possible.
That’s why courage is a necessary element. Oftentimes, our fears get the best of us and prevent us from taking action, so “the ability to confront, deal with, and act in spite of fear” is one of the keys to happiness and success.
Courage is important here not only to take the first step toward a goal, but to persist when you don’t see immediate results (which is unrealistic anyway). The way to develop it lies in self-discipline itself; repeatedly doing the thing you fear will eventually cause it to disappear.
This is the punch you need to throw at worry and fear: purposeful action in the direction of your goals.
Each time you reach a setback or problem, you don’t step back into safety and security and give up, you remind yourself that this is the “testing time” for your persistence and strength. Keep going. Expect these things to happen and take it in your stride.
Goal setting and achievement
As mentioned earlier, the book emphasizes how knowing what you want is the first step anyone should take — almost like your own CEO, you should have a clear, personal vision.
You don’t necessary need to know how to get there at first and this is an important thing to remember as most people let their uncertainty about how stop them from setting ambitious goals at all.
Ambiguity will always remain, but a personal vision can be the hammer you use to break through it.
You must also be willing to take action with no guarantee of success. That’s what winners do. When things go wrong, they look for the valuable lesson that will useful for their future, whereas failures will feel sorry for themselves.
The 7-step method to acheiving your goals
- Decide exactly what you want. Be specific!
- Write it down
- Set a deadline for your goal*
- Make a list of everything you can think of that you could possibly do to achieve that goal — it can be skills you’ll need to acquire, people to meet, obstacles you’ll have to overcome, or tasks.
- Prioritize and sequence these action items. This is now your master plan.
- Take action on your plan immediately
- Have the discipline to do something everyday that moves you in the direction of your major goal — develop momentum.
** a useful tip on what to do if you don’t achieve your deadline is to simply set another one. i’ve often fallen into the trap of simply missing a personal deadline and then rushing afterward, but this is ineffective. by “resetting”, you regain control on your goals.
3 tips on time management
- Follow the Pareto principle (the 80/20 rule). 80% of what you accomplish will come from 20% of what you do, so identify the top 20% of your tasks and focus on doing them quickly and well.
The very worst use of time is to do very well what need not be done at all.
- Before you begin each day, make a list of everything you have to do that day, preferably the night before. Then, apply the ABCDE method to your list:
A= Must Do — serious consequences for non-completion
B= Should Do — mild consequences for non-completion
C = Nice to Do — no consequences for non-completion
D = Delegate — everything you can to free up more time for those things that only you can do
E = Eliminate — discontinue all tasks/activities that are no longer essential to achieving your goals
Organize all tasks from your list with this system (using A-1, A-2, etc. if needed) and start working on A-1 first thing in the morning.
- Discipline yourself to never start a B-task without completing all A-tasks.
Other insightful notes / action items
What got you here won’t take you any further — that’s why continual learning and skills upgrade is necessary.
When leading others, many of the same principles apply.
Nowhere is it more important to have a clear vision or accept responsibility for results. This is the true definition of a leader.
In the face of crisis, the leader constantly asks questions and gathers information to assess the problem and minimize its damage. Most importantly, the leader always keeps their cool and appear to be in control, no matter the circumstances.
Although seemingly obvious, this idea that demonstrating but complete control of yourself will enable others to develop confidence in you as a leader was new to me.
When you’re in a leadership person, you set the standard for the rest. Faltering and revealing your fears will simply cause chaos for those under you and undermine your ability to own the situation.
Did you learn anything useful from this article? Have you read the book? Let me know in the comments!