Leaders want to leave their mark on the world. We have goals, aspirations, dreams and an ambition to conquer the world. Or, at least our corner of it. I am not talking about a barbarian style takeover or iron fist rule. We want to know if we have what it takes to not only provide for our future but to live the life we have dreamed of.
If we are going to pursue a life that will leave the mark we hope for, there are aspects to life we need. One of the characteristics we have available to us is Discipline. I know, this can be an unpopular word… in practice. But in theory, well, leaders espouse the benefits of discipline. It is easy to talk about how discipline will make you more productive, and how your life will be changed for the better, and that’s true.
My working definition for Discipline is: Making the right choice(s) when the path of least resistance calls.
Of course, then life happens and discipline can go the way of the Dodo. Why? Because the path of least resistance calls out to us. We have relationships to manage, work to get done, kids to shuttle, a home to maintain, and we have to eat and sleep at some point. Day after day there is much to do. I am not saying any of these things should be ignored. Rather, I am saying life is about choices.
Discipline is about choices too. My working definition for Discipline is: Making the right choice(s) when the path of least resistance calls. The path of least resistance is the enemy of discipline. Distractions and excuses are two key weapons used against us.
Distractions bring confusion into our life. Anyone or anything that draws your attention away from what you really want in life is a distraction. Excuses are the rationalizations we give to justify why we have not accomplished what we want. It is a way of coping with our failure to perform.
Discipline will give you a sense of command and regulation over your time and energy. There are many benefits to maintaining a disciplined life. A quick internet search of ‘The benefits of discipline’ will give you many articles to distract you from actually building discipline into your life. I could have put in a hyperlink, but then the enemy of distraction would have taken you on an hour-long journey down the path of least resistance.
It’s easier to read about than it is to practice discipline. Action towards discipline is something we need if we are going to experience the life we truly want. And what most of us want is freedom. Freedom to do what we want, when we want. Discipline can move us towards freedom.
Discipline will give you a sense of command and regulation over your time and energy.
In Jocko Willink and Leif Babin’s book Extreme Ownership they proclaim that Discipline equals Freedom. I know, that sounds disconnected from reality but here is what they say: “… discipline – strict order, regimen, and control – might appear to be the opposite of freedom – the power to act, speak, or think without any restrictions. But, in fact, discipline is the pathway to freedom.”
If we work hard enough, long enough, smart enough, etc then we will have the freedom to do what we want, when we want. That sounds good on the surface. I don’t think that’s what you really want.
Remember I said most leaders want to leave their mark. A life of freedom to do what we want, when we want is not going to satisfy. We need a new definition of freedom.
I like one way the Greeks defined it: Eleutheria. This translates to freedom in the English language but the definition is much richer than an Americanized view of freedom. Eleutheria in the Greek means to ‘live as you should, not as you please.’
What would it mean for us as leaders to live as we should rather than as we please? We move from self-focus to communal focus, from using people to empowering people, from looking to be served to serving.
Living as we should, would mean looking for ways to benefit our family, place of work, the non-profits, and the city we live in… in ways that will extend beyond our life. To leave a legacy that inspires. To show up, be engaged in life and in community. Benefiting your tribe, investing in the next generation. These are all ways to leave the mark leaders truly desire.
This is happening for some, but is it happening for you? Leaving the mark on the world that you hope for requires discipline. Discipline requires action. Action done consistently over time will make the change you want. Jocko and Leif were right, Discipline equals Freedom. Freedom requires us to live as we should, not as we please.