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Archive for February, 2010

Discipline

February 1st, 2010

I was at a party recently and bumped into Daniel Garcia, a long-time friend of mine. He was demonstrating something quite impressive to a group of fans and they asked him “How do get to be that good”. In his usual modest way he said, “You just do it. You just do it over and over”.

And it’s true. In the ten plus years that I’ve known Daniel I have never seen him without a deck of cards in his hand or in his back pocket. Daniel is amazingly disciplined in his approach to magic. Of course he loves what he does and that probably makes it easier. But I knew Daniel when his hands got burned.

If you ever get the chance to talk to Daniel, ask him about this. You can still see the scars on his hands. The scabs were so thick he couldn’t bend his fingers and when the skin finally grew back it was so tight and stretched over his fingers that his doctors told him he would not be able to manipulate cards again.

But Daniel practiced anyway. He practiced because he loves magic. But he practiced past that. He practiced when it was boring and he practiced even when it was painful. He practiced when every coin palm stretched the skin on his fingers to the point of pain. He practiced when holding a deck of cards caused him to wince. He practiced when he wanted to, and he practiced when he DIDN’T want to. He practiced with discipline.

You just do it. You just do it over and over.

I work out because I’ve discovered this is what disciplined people do. I’ve also discovered that disciplined people have other character traits that rise from their discipline. They tend to be wealthier, healthier, and have more manageable lives.

This is not just a guess on my part. Thomas Stanly (author of “The Millionaire Next Door“) found a similar correlation that he describes in another of his books, “The Millionaire Mind“. Stanley writes “The majority of millionaires exercise regularly…those with net worths of $10 million or more had the highest incidence of regular exercise.” He goes on to speculate why this might be true but admits that whatever the reason for this correlation, he had met “very few self-made millionaires who are lethargic or even noticeably overweight”.

So there is a correlation between fitness and wealth, but I don’t think that fitness causes wealth or that being wealthy makes you more likely to work out. Instead, I believe that both of these traits are the result of discipline. Disciplined people love cheesecake just as much as everyone else, but they control their behavior in the face of temptation. Disciplined people love the comfort of a warm bed just as much as everyone else, but they choose to leave the comfort and travel to the gym or the track. Disciplined people have things they want to buy and own just like everyone else, but they limit their spending to less than they earn and they invest a pre-determined amount. Disciplined people can be sidetracked and unfocused just like anyone else, but they work to stay on-task while they practice, train, study, and learn.

These disciplined actions pay dividends over the long term. They pay dividends of fitness and health. They pay dividends of financial security. They pay dividends of expertise and skill and talent.

These disciplined actions permeate other areas of a person’s life. As you become more disciplined in one area, it is much easier, and sometimes almost automatic, that you become more disciplined in other areas of your life. When Daniel Garcia and I were recently able to break away from the crowds that seem to gather and follow him, we were able to talk in private for a few minutes. We spoke about how disciplined he has to be in other areas of his life as well.

“Man, I love talking about magic. I could sit here at this party all night long talking magic with these guys. But I have a phone call with a guy in England that’s scheduled for 8:30 tomorrow morning and I have to be awake and ready to go”. And his life is filled with these scheduled calls, lectures, talks and appearances with greater and greater frequency.

He confided in me that “I seriously sometimes need to set a timer when I get on MySpace or Facebook because I just love talking to all my peeps. Those sites let me connect with a lot of people really quickly, but I can get sucked into that real fast, too.” The more disciplined you are, the more talent you develop, the more fans you generate, the more in-demand you become, and the more disciplined you need to be. Your success is only limited by your capacity to be disciplined.

The good news is that discipline is not something you are born with. By nature we all tend to seek the path of least resistance. This is normal and usually a good thing. But we are also forward-looking beings and by imagining the future we are able to shape it as we want. Discipline is simply a matter of looking forward and thinking about tomorrow and next week and next year.

When I worked as a teacher I systematically saved 20% of my income, which was very difficult to do on a teacher’s salary. Today, the money that I saved during my 8 years as a teacher is less than 10% of my net worth but the discipline that I developed in the process of saving that money is what enabled me to accumulate the other 90% of what I own. Said another way, the discipline to save and invest was far more valuable than the money earned through the saving and investing.

In fact, I’ve come to understand that the discipline just might be the most important character trait I strive to develop since it allows for all the others to shine. A loyal spouse is a disciplined person. A prolific writer is a disciplined writer. A healthy person is a disciplined eater and mover.

And a disciplined person is not one who suffers or deprives themselves. Just the opposite is true. A disciplined person knows that the path to wealth is not an overnight journey, but a long, steady progression of steps. The path to excellence is not a week of late night jam sessions, but rather a steady progression of regular practice. The path to fitness is not losing 30 pounds in two weeks, but rather a healthy, steady progression. Slow and steady is how we gain weight and it is how we lose it. Debt creeps up on us and it takes time to beat it back down. Lethargy steals a night from us as we stare at the television, but the next day we can decide to rehearse instead.

Discipline is like a muscle or a skill. It must be practiced and exercised in order for it to develop and get stronger. The more you work toward your goals, the easier they all become. Work, not just for the goal itself, not just for the immediate benefit that will come from your success, but for who you will become in the process of attaining that goal.

You will become a person of discipline and it will reflect in all areas of your life.

Getting Things Done, productivity