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Self-Discipline Is NOT for the Successful

I’m reading the book, “The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results” and got a totally unexpected lesson. It quotes Leo Babauta about disciplined living saying,

“It’s one of the most prevalent myths of our culture: self-discipline.”

I consider myself very self-disciplined. I train for marathons. Keep my weight under control. I do Yoga twice a week. You get the picture.

How can this book be telling me my self-discipline isn’t supporting my success?

The book gives Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian ever, as an example to make their point. This caught my attention since as a Jr. Olympic swimmer in my youth, he replaced my hero, Mark Spitz, as the most decorated Olympian with the eight medals he won at the 2008 Beijing Games.

Phelps was the classic ADHD kid. He couldn’t focus to save his life in elementary school. His coach, Bob Bowman, from age 11 said he spent a lot of time by the life guard stand for his disruptive behavior. Behavior issues have cropped up from time-to-time in his adult life as well.

Yet the same Bowman says Phelps’s ability to focus is his greatest strength. How can this be for someone as unfocused and ADHD as him?

Phelps became a person of selective discipline.

From the age of 14 to the Beijing Olympics, Phelps trained 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Spending six hours a day in the pool. He figured that the extra Sunday workouts got him a 52 week advantage over his competition.

The chapter goes on explaining that self-discipline is best applied when forming habits. Habits are only difficult at the beginning. For example, if I haven’t been exercising, getting into the habit of working out is most difficult when I am starting:

• I have to decide on a form of working out that works for me.
• I have to wake up earlier and / or go to bed earlier if I plan to make a morning workout.
• I have to dismiss or shorten my TV time in order to fit in an evening workout.
• I have to recruit the help of a spouse, friend, or family member if I need to have our kids watched.

However, after a period of time, and the book says the sweet spot is sixty-six days, it no longer requires the self-discipline it required at first. It becomes a habit that replaced the habits we had before so it becomes second nature.

My One Thing is now sales. I’ve always done sales but now my priority is to have my team replace me in delivering customer solutions. This requires me to reserve time for marketing and sales activities, commit time consistently to training my team on things I typically just do myself, and focus more effort on selling things my team without me is best suited to deliver.

It’s a real mindset change but once I get that habit in place (and that should be end of March if the 66 rule is right), my business will be in a much better place. More importantly, my stress level will be greatly reduced, because I’ll be focused on the things I do best and most enjoy doing.

I never thought I’d be giving this advice especially since my wife and three daughters read my blog but here it goes:

• Don’t be a disciplined person. Focus your discipline only selectively, building habits that support the one most important thing you want to accomplish.
• Build one habit at a time. This should support the One Thing that you’ve decided is the top priority for you.

Let me know what you think.

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