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Self-Discipline: Source of Achievement or Self-Delusion?

Today we have a special guest post from blog reader Bruce Hall:

Bruce HallSelf-Discipline: Source of Achievement or Self-Delusion?

"No horse gets anywhere until he is harnessed. No stream or gas drives anything until it is confined. No Niagara is ever turned into light and power until it is tunneled. No life ever grows great until it is focused, dedicated, disciplined."

-Harry Emerson Fosdick

It's 5 a.m. and cold as a meat locker. Outside, the gloom of winter darkness presses against my sliding glass door. A few feet away, here in the house, the dining room table is filled with stacks of reference books. A freshly prepared steaming hot cup of coffee waits on the table, which I must drink quickly, or risking losing the advantage. To my left, a small black desk lamp casts a strong beam of light, which cuts diagonally across the keyboard of an elderly, painfully slow laptop. This is the destination of my writing pilgrimage every morning.

I quickly turn up the thermostat and slide into my chair, muttering something about resolve. I take a sip of coffee, unload a sigh, and begin to plunk keys. If a few coherent sentences take root each day, I might have a blog by the end of the week. Inevitably, however, questions arise. What if I can't? What if my goal is clearly untenable, and all I end up with is a bowl of alphabet soup? What if the whole thing is mere hubris? Whew! Well, those questions are traveling in dangerous territory, aren't they? Besides, I'll know more after editing, rewriting, and egocentricity kick in.

Writing is not a rare experience for me; however, my decision to blog once a week has bent some edges of confidence. That level of commitment raised the issue of strong belief. Would I be up to the task? Am I self-disciplined enough? Sure, why not, I reasoned. Self-discipline is in my nature, along with an ability to mobilize resources for achieving an ultimate purpose, regardless of time. However, since I also value goal setting, I impose a schedule each day. I consider topics, mood, and language. I dream about similes for emphasis and creating powerful metaphors. I began to drink more coffee. How can I not succeed?

On the other hand, even the best of intentions are easily submerged under comfy layers of heavy blankets, safe and secure in my bed from worldly responsibility. In the beginning, I found I did not want to get up. I was not interested in self-discipline, self-awareness, self-discovery, or any other possibilities. I began to imagine a wide variety of procrastination techniques. I even confess entertaining notions of mental telepathy or automatic writing; not resources I really want to draw upon!

Successful people share one thing in common: an ability to mobilize themselves and their talent to achieve goals. Accomplishment is not a passive entity. One must work at it. History reveals self-disciplined individuals with an impulse to connect their imagination actively in fields like science, philosophy, psychology, religion, art, and technology have led to extraordinary accomplishments.

So now I practice what I coach others. Every day, very early, I arise from bed, shuffle down the hall, feed my hungry, barking dogs, make coffee and worry about grammatical troublemakers.

Do you have an image of achievement to call your own? That's a powerful vision to carry around. Do you possess the strength, persistence, and perseverance to develop the skills and experience to make it real? That's equally potent.

The drive for accomplishment often requires overcoming deficiencies in knowledge, physical or emotional complications, dogma, criticism, and persecution. More than idle curiosity, more than love for wisdom, more than truth for its own sake, self-discipline is the force behind the power of purpose.

As described in The Neuropsychology of Self-Discipline, "It is your ability to systemically and progressively work toward the goal until you have reached it. It includes acquiring knowledge and skills. It is your ability to become positively obsessed, single-minded and efficient; to strive without giving up, to work consistently, day after day, until your purpose is fulfilled."

Admittedly, self-discipline is not easy. It takes time to master. It requires retraining the way you think and organize your life. Sometimes, when thoughts are distanced and convenient alternatives like fear, anxiety, and procrastination emerge, it's far easier to wander, call it quits, and walk away.

On the other hand, self-discipline can help you ask questions, seek answers, set goals, and achieve them. Most important in doing so, you will also discover how quite wonderful it is to know what you want in life, how to plan achieving it, and actively move forward in that direction.

Bruce Hall is a Personal and Small Business Coach in Port Angeles, WA. You can visit his website at

July 13, 2010
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