7 Myths About Discipline You Need to Stop Believing
You don’t need to become a stoic to succeed at business, just an effective routine you stick to and adjust as needed.
8 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Self-discipline is doing what you need to do, regardless of whether you want to do it. Having self-discipline is often seen as the key ingredient to creating a goal-driven life.
We’re told that only through strict discipline can we maintain our effort and make the strides necessary to be successful. Without self-discipline, we’re sure to end up acting imprudently and impulsively. Living a disciplined life is the key to keeping ourselves in check.
But what if discipline isn’t as important as we’ve been led to believe? What if self-discipline is really a shortsighted concept that, while helpful in some situations, can actually keep us from reaching our full potential? Certainly, nothing can replace hard work and persistence, but does grit really come from self-discipline? Or is self-discipline just one element of a larger concept — and the real issue is our ability to tap into what motivates us?
If you want to truly understand what it means to use restraint and self-control to create your best life, you’ll need to shatter these 7 myths about discipline. Only then will you be able to harness your inner drive and understand what propels you to achieve.
Myth 1: If you lack discipline, you’ll end up lazy and directionless.
Self-discipline may be helpful at times, when you need a boost to overcome inertia, but relying solely on it can be a crutch. That’s because self-discipline doesn’t necessarily help you achieve your best results. If you constantly force yourself to do tasks you hate, you may succeed in doing the task, but how likely are you to do it to the best of your ability?
Instead of forcing yourself to do something, try focusing on what you hope to gain out of the task you’re dreading. If you have an end goal you’re motivated to achieve, focusing on that goal will fuel your desire to do what’s necessary to obtain it.
Zeroing in on your desire will have greater influence over your actions, even helping you center your attention when doing tasks you dislike. You’ll find this is a more positive way to stimulate action than using a strict regimen to power through a task you hate.
Self-discipline can be a helpful supplementary tool, especially when you feel barriers and obstacles getting in the way of your goals, or find your motivation ebb away. But toughing it out through sheer self-discipline is a short-term fix. To reach a long-term goal, you need to understand the purpose and be connected to your “why.” This is the key to achieving your ambition.
Myth 2: Self-discipline is the only way to attain success.
Many people believe the only way to attain success is through loads of self-discipline. They believe that self-discipline is the key ingredient to staying focused and chipping away at your goals. But when you break it down, self-discipline will get you nowhere without clearly defined goals. In fact, you may totally lack self-discipline and still become successful, but no one becomes successful without a plan and the motivation to follow that plan.
Consider this: you can be the most self-disciplined person, but without an objective and the motivation to accomplish it, you won’t achieve success. Motivation is the internal flame that inspires and propels you to keep charging ahead. It’s what causes you to act, directs those actions in a coordinated way and sustains those actions over time.
Some may argue that self-discipline is a component of motivation, and for some, that may be true. But more important than having a rigid concept of keeping yourself in check is knowing what exactly you are trying to accomplish. You may have the self-discipline to get up every day at 5 a.m., but fail to work diligently because you’re not clear on what you’re aiming for. If you have a clear objective and the persistence to get up and charge ahead, you will become successful.
Myth 3: Self-discipline is hard.
Self-discipline may seem difficult at times. After all, it takes effort to push yourself to do things you may not feel like doing. But it’s much harder to live a life without self-discipline. Without discipline, we’d be tempted to make easy short-term choices, even though the outcome may lead to negative long-term consequences.
For example, if you cave to temptation and eat junk food too frequently, that may seem like an easy choice in the moment, but in the long term you’ll deal with consequences, such as being overweight, having high cholesterol and being at risk for developing type 2 diabetes and heart problems. Those are the problematic results of living without self-discipline.
In the long run, which is harder: learning to eat a well-balanced diet, or allowing yourself to eat poorly all the time and then facing the mental and physical discomfort of having caused yourself health problems? Self-discipline means accepting discomfort in the short term. When you see the big picture, the choices become easier.
Myth 4: Willpower is the same thing as self-discipline.
Discipline involves forming healthy habits that support the actions you want to take to improve yourself. After a while, these habits become a way of life — they become automatic behavior, which is easier to maintain. But willpower involves being conscious of your behavior and aware of the choices you’re making. Willpower can take a great deal of continual energy and determination.
Perhaps you’ve been on a diet and gone to a party where you’re confronted with platters of delectable desserts. It takes willpower to avoid loading up a plate of fattening foods and scarfing the whole thing down. Self-discipline is accepting that you can’t eat those things, so you station yourself by the fruit and veggie tray, or just avoid the food altogether. With enough practice, willpower can become self-discipline.
Myth 5: Having self-discipline means always maintaining control.
There’s a myth that the more discipline we have in life, the more control we have. This stems from our need to create stability and security in our life. We want to feel that we are in full command of the world around us, and through sheer force of will, we can marshal our domination over our environment.
But the truth is, we really only have control over ourselves. Having self-discipline means learning to control ourselves and our actions, but no amount of discipline will ever give us complete control over our surroundings.
However, having self-discipline will help you maintain self-control, which is an important part of being able to self-regulate your behavior, your emotions and how you react to others. You can strengthen and improve your self-control over time. If used wisely, self-control can help you avoid impulsive and negative behavior. Conversely, excessive self-discipline can drive us to binges by being too stringent, unrelenting and allowing for “no fun.”
Myth 6: Self-discipline means being devoid of emotion.
Being human, by our very nature, means to have emotion. No matter how much discipline you instill in yourself, you will always feel and you’ll always experience emotions. As part of being self-disciplined, you must also seek to be emotionally self-aware by recognizing and accepting how you feel.
This means checking in with yourself, and being cognizant of how you’re feeling. But there will be times when you must have the self-control to calmly work through a situation and continue to engage and listen without allowing your emotions to overwhelm you.
During difficult, stressful or emotion-filled situations, you will need to take time to allow yourself to feel and connect to your emotions. Through self-discipline and self-control, you can keep yourself from projecting those emotions onto others. This is especially important when you’re dealing with negative emotions, such as fear, anger and anxiety.
Myth 7: Self-discipline means never getting to do what you want.
It’s a common misconception that people who are self-disciplined live a constricted, narrow existence in which they never really get to cut loose or do the things they want. It may be easy to look at someone who has self-discipline and see all the things they aren’t doing. But what others fail to see is everything they are doing, and the freedom their self-discipline has given them to live the life they truly want.
Instead of constantly reacting to things, being swayed by temptation or feeling anxious about trying to make good choices, having self-discipline means that you have set up the habits that support your core values — and this helps you continually make decisions that support your goals.
This leaves you free to live more fully in the moment, unburdened by the anxiety or stress of constantly grappling with temptation. Living with self-discipline means you’re better at setting boundaries, not allowing yourself to get sucked into negative situations or toxic relationships. Self-discipline helps you set your life up in a way that brings about more positive situations, supportive friendships and connections.