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On Discipline

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I think the word discipline gets a bad wrap!  Depending on how you were raised, the first picture that comes to mind might be someone telling you to “go get a switch.”   Today, it’s probably more along the lines of ‘you’re grounded from your switch’.   If that’s your gut reaction to the word discipline, then who could blame you for not wanting to instill more of it in your life.  

Our word discipline comes from the Latin discipulus, which is the word for pupil.   To instill discipline is to teach one, or ones-self how to learn.   In today’s times of home learning and quarantine, discipline has never been more important.  This concept goes back centuries.   A 2+ thousand year old proverb reminds us “he who hates discipline, despises himself”.  We all know we need more discipline in our lives, our studies, our diets, etc…   But how often do we choose the easy way out, or the comfortable path?

One of my favorite periods of time to study in history is World War 1.   I simply love old war stories, war movies, and I used to love hearing my grandfather tell his world war 2 stories (not to mention our band trip to Normany France for the 75th D Day anniversary).   But World War 1 brought forth 2 significant historical points:   

First, WW1 was the height of trench warfare.   To protect themselves, troops dug enormous trenches in the ground to avoid enemy fire.  It was largely effective at protection, but no so much for attacking, as getting out of the trench was almost always fatal due to machine gun fire.  

The second advancement in World War 1 was the tank.   These large lumbering metal beasts were immune to machine gun fmire, and therefore provided huge advantages.   That is, until the tank got stuck in a TRENCH!   The solution to this problem was simplistic brilliance.   Tanks began to roll across the battlefield with large bundles of logs called ‘fascines’ on their back.  Once the fascine was dropped into a trench, it created a bridge that helped the Tank and its accompanying troops advance.   The bridge helped them get from where they were, to where they needed to be.

Tank with a Fascine to cross trenches

This story offers a beautiful illustration of the concept of Discipline.  Once again taking from my friend Dr Tim Elmore, Discipline is like a bridge.  It helps us to get from where we are currently, to a place we want or need to be.   By building Discipline Bridges, we develop new habits, skills, and grow faster than we do leaving things up to chance or someone else’s plan.

Image credit: Growing Leaders: www.growingleaders.com

Ask yourself, what is something that you don’t like to do, but know you should do?   

For me, it’s exercise.   In training for my 2nd Ironman 70.3, I have committed myself to becoming a better swimmer.   This, however, requires me to get up at 5:00am, swim from 5:30am-6:15am, and then go back home to help get my family ready for school.   It makes for rather long days.   How was I able to keep to this habit?   Setting an alarm was not enough.   I had to play a game with myself.   I would count to 3, and agree with myself that whenever I hit three, I would get out of bed.   I didn’t matter how slowly I counted, but I refused to let myself down.  Once my feet were on the ground, I was ready.   The more I did this, the more disciplined my habits became.  

(A note on Habits – I would strongly recommend 2 books: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg and Atomic Habits by James Clear.   Both are great reads on building better habits.)


In the psychology of Discipline and Habits, we generally go through four phases:

  1. I don’t know what I don’t know (unconscious unconsciousness)
  2. I know what I don’t know (conscious unconsciousness)
  3. I Know what I know (conscious consciousness)
  4. I don’t know what I know (unconscious consciousness)

With high school students a good discussion is learning to drive.   When you’re very young, you don’t even consider that one day you might drive (you don’t know what you don’t know).   When you start to consider driving, but aren’t ready yet, you move to step 2.  You want to drive, but you don’t know yet how.   A young driver is definitely in step 3.   Consciously thinking about every move, adjusting the mirrors, watching every car, slowing down early.  This is why passengers aren’t allowed.   No distractions.  Finally, the rest of us are step 4 drivers.  I can drive, eat a meal, voice text, change the music, and talk to my wife, all at once.   It’s not SAFE, necessarily, but I can because I don’t have to THINK about the driving process.  If you’ve ever driven with your knees…you get it.   

The key point here is the time it takes to go through these steps.   Skip a step or speed through a step, and your bridge with be very unstable or perhaps even false.   Over time, false bridges collapse and we go back to our old habits.   This is why fad diets don’t work.   They aren’t bridges built on strong foundations.

Here’s your challenge for today: What is an area you lack discipline?

Perhaps it is your current sleep schedule.   Perhaps it is the amount of time you spend on work/school as opposed to leisure time.  Perhaps it is your diet.  Whatever it is, go from step 1 to step 2 by identifying something you’d like to change.   And then start the slow process of building a discipline bridge to get you from where you are (I.e. not on a good sleep schedule) to where you want/need to be (getting proper rest).   I can’t tell you exactly how to get there, but I can tell you this.   It will take patience, time, and DISCIPLINE.

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