On Discipline, Shortcuts & Building Something Worthwhile Over Time

I am seeking a sort of relentless commitment to the task at hand.

I’m aiming for discipline.

Discipline is remembering what you want.
—David Campbell

In the past few months I’ve intentionally scuttled many of my own side projects and shunned outside opportunities in an effort to—quite simply—do what I say I’m going to do, when I say I’m going to do it, and, as my dear friend Lee so eloquently put it, to do the same thing every day even when I don’t feel like it.

Many of this generation cling at all costs to the belief that there is another way, one which satisfies their love of a quick fix. There is not.
—John Kellogg, How I Became A Guide

Disciplining my body not to get Coca-Cola Classic at every meal is not all that different than disciplining my mind not to visit Twitter at every mental break. And the outcome of not denying those desires is not all that different either—giving in makes me gain weight. After all, calories are just a measure of energy. How much energy can I obtain from the things that I’m taking in? Do I have enough fuel for the task(s) at hand?

The toll of empty calories, be they physical or pixel, limits what I can do, and for how long I can do it. Everything consumed is burned up or added on. There is no third option.

[People] at the very top don’t work just harder or even much harder than everyone else. They work much, much harder.
—Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers

Gladwell was talking about musicians. The idea travels freely between areas of expertise…


Photo credit: Pumping Iron, by Charles Gaines and George Butler, 1974

The last three or four reps is what makes the muscle grow. This area of pain divides the champion from someone else who is not a champion. That’s what most people lack, having the guts to go on and just say they’ll go through the pain no matter what happens.
—Arnold Schwarzenegger, Pumping Iron

I’ve been in a season at work for the past few months where—because of my failures in discipline and leading myself—I’ve had less responsibility. More time to think. More time to do the kind of design task(s) that come relatively easily to me after ten years of designing. Maybe you’re in a season where less responsibility sounds pleasant. If so, we are in different seasons, and we are likely very different people.

I don’t like less. It hurts. It is painful not to be able to make certain calls. Painful not to be trusted with leadership. But even more painful to be bent in such an analytical way that I know precisely why things are as they are, and I wholeheartedly agree that it is a good and right and wise decision for me to be exactly where I am, doing exactly what I am (and am not) doing.

I like pain for a particular reason… [I like] the pain that is necessary to be a champion.
—Arnold Schwarzenegger

And so, it is here, in the “area of pain” as Arnold called it—that seemingly endless, unnavigable chasm between the bad fruit of your past actions and the future things you want with such vehement immediacy—where decisions are to be made, the only decisions I can actually control. The decisions of the daily. The decisions of discipline.

Plato said, “The first and the best victory is to conquer self.” Will I press through the pain? Do I want the thing bad enough to walk/climb/crawl the entirety of the chasm, with no guarantee I can make it, or that what I want is waiting on the other side? Can I escape the gravitational pull of entitlement and instant gratification that’s so engrained in my bones it often feels inescapable?

Because that’s the rub of discipline—there are no shortcuts. I can’t bend the calendar to skip the next however many weeks, months, years any more than I can wake up 30lbs lighter tomorrow. I can’t make anything happen, except to do what I say I’m going to do, when I say I’m going to do it, every time something hits my desk. I’ll do that tomorrow. And the next day. And the next. Until my actions produce different fruit than they have in the past.

One painful duty fulfilled makes the next plainer and easier.
—Helen Keller, The Story of My Life

I am tired of words. And I say that with the knowledge that they are integral to my daily life, not just for communicating but quite literally forming the foundation of my livelihood. But words are easy, and they come easy. And while sometimes they are true, words are just tools, means to ends. Sometimes they lie. Sometimes they cower in the gray in-between. And sometimes they die, full of intention and promise.

What you do speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say.
—Ralph Waldo Emerson

I’m aiming for discipline. And aim is at least both word and action.