In reading the lives of great men, I found that the first victory they won was over themselves … self-discipline with all of them came first. —Harry S. Truman
Myth: Self discipline is something that you either have or don’t have.
Fact: Self discipline is a tool that you use or don’t use.
Self discipline isn’t the result of your genetics. It isn’t something you’re born with or something you have. Self discipline is a tool and you either use it or you don’t.
Self discipline is most visible by its absence.
Think of it this way: self discipline is a skill, like knife skills in the kitchen. Did you ever see one of those TV chefs showing off his knife skills? He would chop an onion razor thin with a knife as sharp as a scalpel without even looking at his hands. Did he always have this skill? No, he simply practiced and developed it. He probably cut himself a few times as he developed his skill with the knife, but the more he used it, the better he became.
Another example: imagine you’re in Italy with your spouse and you want to find your way to the Colosseum. You don’t speak Italian, but you have a tool … an Italian dictionary! Though you sound ridiculous to the cab driver, you’re able to muddle through and communicate your desired destination. As with the knife, the more you use Italian, the better you become at it. The more you use it, the more you can make happen. The same is true for self discipline.
And the more you use it, the easier it will get. Just like with a language or with a knife in the kitchen, it gets easier and easier with repeated usage. The phrases come more naturally and the onions are chopped so thinly! Pretty soon, others think that skill is something you “have,” something innate, something that’s “inside you.” But you’ll know the truth.
If you can understand that self discipline is something you use and not something you have, then you can use it to accomplish almost any goal you set. You can use it whenever you want or leave it whenever you want.
Most people recognize this truth when it comes to learning a language or learning a new skill, but when it comes to self discipline, why do we want to believe it’s beyond our control? Why do we want to blame other people? Why do we want to say, brag even, that we don’t have it? Most people think it’s a simple character trait or a permanent part of their personality, but that’s a profound mistake.
Have you ever heard someone say, “She has such great potential, if only she had self discipline.” The fact is, everyone has access to self discipline, most people just haven’t chosen to use it. Just like everyone has access to an Italian dictionary or to a chef’s knife, everyone has access to use self discipline. We even teach it to dogs!
Instead, most people stress and worry if they “have what it takes,” They wonder if they have “it” in them, as if “it” was put there by experience, wisdom , parents, or genetics. But self discipline is never “put there,” it’s just a tool like an Italian dictionary or a chef’s knife.
You already have what it takes to succeed. Use it!