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Self-discipline is a key skill that many people lack. It is the ability to control your impulses, delay gratification, and maintain a positive attitude in the face of adversity. Read more in detail here: self-discipline.
Have you been getting up early, writing in your notebook, meditating, exercising, drinking eight glasses of water a day, and diligently organizing your week for months and months but haven’t seen any meaningful change in your life?
What’s going on?
Haven’t we been taught since we were children that if we practice discipline, we would be successful?
The problem is that discipline is different from self-discipline, and you’ve only been practicing the latter.
Discipline vs. Self-Discipline: What’s the Difference?
Rich Diviney, a veteran Navy SEAL, offers a clever and important difference between discipline and self-discipline in his book The Attributes.
Rich believes that self-discipline is all about the self. It’s about controlling your emotions, rejecting temptations, and pushing yourself to do things that you may not want to do in terms of your daily habits and routines.
Discipline, on the other hand, “is concerned with achieving external objectives.” When you’re disciplined, you know what you need to do to accomplish an external goal and then do whatever it takes to accomplish it.
Personal progress is the goal of self-discipline; discipline’s goal is to go beyond the self.
This dichotomy explains why someone might be very self-disciplined yet accomplish relatively little outside as a consequence of their efforts. Sure, they never miss a day writing in their notebook and never lose their cool, but self-mastery doesn’t always equate to outer success. There are plenty of tightly regulated people who fall well short of their objectives, lack cultural impact, and are unable to lead.
This contrast also explains why certain guys, despite their lack of self-discipline, manage to make things happen in the world. They may drink, curse, sleep in, and never stick to a regular schedule, but when given a task with a defined goal, they will do whatever it takes to complete it.
The Difference Between Discipline and Self-Discipline: Case Studies
Self-discipline is sometimes thought to be a requirement for discipline, implying that you must acquire self-control in private problems before tackling public ones. However, there are other historical cases that contradict this tight pattern.
Take Winston Churchill, for example. He’s not the kind of self-disciplined person we’re used to seeing. He was a little of a spendthrift, a bit of a glutton, and a bit of a lush. He became enraged, kicking over wastebaskets and yelling at his employees. He had an odd daily routine, staying up late every night and napping in the day. He’d get out of bed in the morning, soak in the bath (the first of two he took each day), then change into a velvet dressing robe… to return to bed. While propped up on cushions and smoking a cigar, he’d read the day’s newspapers, answer to letters, and create notes.
Despite his lack of self-control, Churchill was a disciplined man. He knew what he had to do as a wartime leader: win the war, and he fought relentlessly for years to accomplish that goal.
Jake McNiece is one example of this. McNiece was a rogue, rule-breaking paratrooper who was often chastised for failing to keep his uniform and quarters clean, show up for exercises, and salute officials. He got into fights and drank excessively. His misbehavior landed him in the brig on many occasions. He didn’t have much self-control.
Despite this, McNiece was a renowned and competent commander throughout WWII. McNiece’s troops would accompany him to hell as section sergeants of the “Filthy Thirteen,” an elite demolition force, and his mission concentration was impregnable. Commanding commanders recognized that if they assigned him a task, he would do it. McNiece was held to a strict code of conduct.
The contrast between Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee, the Civil War’s two senior generals, exemplifies the distinction between discipline and self-discipline.
Lee was a self-disciplined individual. He was the second-best student in his class at West Point, which meant he was exceptional at studying, drilling, and polishing buttons. As an officer, he was known for his impeccable demeanor and calm demeanor.
Lee, on the other hand, lacked discipline. During the Civil War, he didn’t completely comprehend the changing nature of combat. He adhered to strategies from the eighteenth century, such as frontal attacks, that had lost their effectiveness in the nineteenth.
Grant, on the other hand, had a lack of self-control. He had a mediocre West Point career, was uninterested in exercises and regulations, and seemed untidy most of the time. In reality, commanders sometimes mistook Grant for an ordinary soldier rather than recognizing him as the General of the Army he was.
Grant, on the other hand, lacked self-discipline but had a lot of discipline. Grant rushed to war with haste and brutality, while other Union generals dallied with exercises and preparing military formations. He didn’t pause, and he followed Confederate soldiers mercilessly until they surrendered.
Grant’s discipline helped him defeat a self-disciplined Lee in the end, and it’s summed up perfectly in this comment from him:
Everyone has their own set of beliefs. One of my guiding principles has always been to never turn back or stop until the task at hand was completed.
Are You Self-Disciplined or Disciplined?
You may be disciplined without becoming self-disciplined.
You have the ability to be disciplined, but not self-disciplined.
You should ideally be able to do both.
Self-discipline may lead to improved health, mental clarity, and personal security, and controlling your inner-directed behaviors can help you avoid obstacles and diversions that might sabotage your goals.
Churchill would have had less stress in his life and may have been an even greater politician if he hadn’t piled up large debts and lived on the verge of financial collapse, forcing him to work so tirelessly at his second career as an author as a consequence.
McNiece’s antics hampered his military career, and he stopped drinking after the war when he recognized it was interfering with his ability to have a relationship with the lady he loved.
Grant’s lack of self-control resulted in humiliating personal and professional situations, as well as utter destitution, especially after he left office. While Grant fought a drinking problem for much of his life, he pledged not to ingest a drop of booze in the run-up to the Civil War and throughout its conflicts because he believed it would obstruct his capacity to win.
However, although self-discipline might help you achieve external objectives, it is not a must for success. All the early mornings, barbell lifts, and meditation sessions in the world won’t get you to your goals. If you want to achieve your goals, you’ll need to combine private actions with outward-directed attention and resolve — with discipline.
Discipline and self-discipline are two different qualities and abilities. Each must be worked on and trained if you want to make a meaningful difference in the world outside your mind, not just a lot of checkmarks in your own habits logbook.
Listen to our podcast with Rich Diviney for additional information on the characteristics that contribute to peak performance:
The “self discipline essay” is a great way to discuss the importance of self-discipline. It’s important to have self-discipline in order to succeed.
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