The Importance of Discipline

06 Dec, 2016

Jeremiah Chapman CSCS, SCCC, Pn-1

What is discipline? When most people hear the word they immediately envision punishment or some type of restraint and per one definition in Merriam-Webster they would be right. Webster defines discipline as control that is gained by requiring rules or orders to be obeyed and punishing bad behavior. This is not the intended meaning and in this case I prefer the Wikipedia definition which states: Discipline is when one uses reason to determine the best course of action regardless of one's desires. 

In the book, Extreme Ownership, written Navy SEALS Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, they discuss the dichotomy that discipline equals freedom. Jocko writes, “Discipline starts every day when the first alarm goes off in the morning. I say ‘first alarm clock’ because I have three, as I was taught by one of the most feared and respected instructors in SEAL training: one electric, one battery, one windup. That way, there is no excuse for not getting out of bed, especially with all that rest on that decisive moment. The moment the alarm goes off is the first test; it sets the tone for the rest of the day. The test is not a complex one: when the alarm goes off, do you get up out of bed, or do you lie there in comfort and fall back to sleep? If you have the discipline to get out of bed, you win—you pass the test. If you are mentally weak for that moment and you let that weakness keep you in bed, you fail. Though it seems small, that weakness translates to more significant decisions. But if you exercise discipline, that too translates to more substantial elements of your life.”

Discipline provides people with rules to live their lives efficiently and effectively. When you have discipline in your life you can make small sacrifices in the present for a better life in the future. Discipline creates habits, habits make routines, and routines become who you are daily. The great mental conditioning coach Brian Cain states, “Today + Today + Today = Your Life”. The habits and daily disciplines you create will eventually determine who you become.

Michael Beckwith writes in his book Spiritual Liberation that, “The gift of self-discipline is that it has the power to take you beyond the reasoning of temporary emotion to freedom. Think of how empowered you’ve felt on occasions when you haven’t given in to the ‘I don’t feel like it’ syndrome and honored your commitment to yourself. What does not feeling like it have to do with it? The combination of love for something with the willingness to do what it takes to practice it—discipline—results in freedom.”

Like a muscle, discipline can be trained. The more you work on your discipline the stronger it becomes. You see this in sports all the time, the more disciplined team ends up beating the undisciplined team with greater talent. Disciplined teams are able to see the big picture and use restraint during adversity. Teams who aren’t as disciplined lose their cool and end up costing themselves a shot. This discipline was developed through hours of training, holding one another accountable, and doing things that others aren’t willing to do.

Michael Phelps, who is the most decorated Olympian of all-time, discusses he and his coach Bob Bowman’s approach in the book No Limits. “Among the many authors Bob has read, he likes to cite the motivational speaker Earl Nightingale, who survived the attack on Pearl Harbor on the USS Arizona, then went on to a career in broadcasting. The way Bob tells it, Nightingale’s work revealed the one thing that’s common to all successful people: They make a habit of doing things that unsuccessful people don’t like to do. There are plenty of people with some amount of talent. Are you willing to go farther, work harder, be more committed and dedicated than anyone else? If others were inclined to take Sunday off, well, that just meant we might be one-seventh better. For five years, from 1998 to 2003, we did not believe in days off. I had one because of a snowstorm, two more due to the removal of wisdom teeth. Christmas? See you at the pool. Thanksgiving? Pool. Birthdays? Pool. Sponsor obligations? Work them out around practice time.”

In 5 years, he missed 3 days. 3 DAYS! That’s a total of 1,825 days during that time span and he only missed 3!! There is a reason he has a record 28 Olympic medals with 23 of them being gold, discipline.

Zig Ziglar told a story about him traveling one day and not getting in bed until 4 a.m. An hour and a half later (5:30), his alarm went off. He said, “Every fiber of my being was telling me to stay in bed.” But he had made a commitment, so he got up anyway. Admittedly, he had a horrible day and wasn’t productive at all. Yet, he says that decision changed his life. As he explains: “Had I bowed to my human, physical, emotional and mental desire to sleep in, I would have made that exception. A week later, I might have made an exception if I only got four hours of sleep. A week later, maybe I only got seven hours of sleep. The exception so many times becomes the rule. Had I slept in, I would’ve faced that danger. Watch those exceptions!”

Below is a great poem to help drive home the importance of routines and discipline.

I am your constant companion.

I am your greatest helper or heaviest burden.

I will push you onward or drag you down to failure.

I am completely at your command.

Half of the things you do you might as well turn over to me and I will do them - quickly and correctly.

I am easily managed - you must be firm with me.

Show me exactly how you want something done and after a few lessons, I will do it automatically.

I am the servant of great people, and alas, of all failures as well.

Those who are great, I have made great.

Those who are failures, I have made failures.

I am not a machine though I work with the precision of a machine plus the intelligence of a person.

You may run me for profit or run me for ruin - it makes no difference to me.

Take me, train me, be firm with me, and I will place the world at your feet.

Be easy with me and I will destroy you.

Who am I?

I am Habit.

What are some daily disciplines or rules you can implement that would provide more freedom in your life? As a student athlete, this could be the time you go to bed and get up every day, your meal plan, designated study time, film time, lifting schedule, massage or foam rolling, and stretching. Find the key area’s in your life that will benefit you the most and create a plan. Be disciplined, develop habits and watch them go to work for you!