4 Misconceptions About Self-Discipline

Self-discipline also isn't about self-denial of anything that is good. It's simply about engaging your heart and your mind in an intentional way to guide the way you live.
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Self-Discipline is one of those things that we all know we need but that no one likes to talk about or learn about. Sometimes we even shudder at hearing or seeing the word. Perhaps though it's because most people have a skewed sense of what self-discipline really is and what it isn't.

Generally people think, "Self-discipline is doing what you don't want to do when you don't want to do it." In other words we think of self-discipline as a form of punishment. But it's not.

There are four primary misconceptions that people have that cause them to think of self-discipline with such a negative connotation.

1. Misconception #1: Self-Discipline is selective.
We often think of it as a noun; in other words it's something that some people have and some people don't. This belief is self-defeating because it causes people to think that if they struggle with making good choices that they are the victim of somehow being passed over by the self-discipline fairy and they are out of luck.

But in spite the fact that every major dictionary defines the word as a noun, my experience tells me that it is closer to a verb. Self-Discipline is more of a vehicle than a destination. In fact of the 2,700 people we have coached, many of them say "I've always struggled with self-discipline" but what we find once we are working with them is that their struggle isn't as much from a lack of self-discipline as it is from a lack of vision. If you can clarify someone's vision (n.) you will see an automatic increase in their self-discipline (v.) - no matter whom they are.

2. Misconception #2: Self-Discipline is hard.
The only people who think of self-discipline this way are the ones who don't understand it. Self-discipline doesn't create a hard life. Being without it does! In Take the Stairs we introduced this concept as The Paradox Principle of Sacrifice, which states: easy short-term choices lead to difficult long-term consequence. Meanwhile difficult short-term choices lead to easy long-term consequences. The great paradox is what seems like the easy way -- eating whatever we want, saying whatever we feel like, buying whatever we want on credit -- are actually all the things that create a more difficult life.

Self-Discipline isn't as hard as we think when we know how to think about it the right way. Self-discipline is just different at first, and just like anything that is new it takes a while to adjust. But once the neural pathways are formed in your brain for certain types of choices, self-discipline becomes easy and automatic. You stop evaluating indulgences as potential options because you know they are just creditors that charge you interest and they begin to lose their power over you. The longer you are away from temptation the easier it is to stay that way.

3. Misconception #3: Self-Discipline is emotionless.
People who think of self-discipline as a matter of brute strength and iron will have it all wrong. Self-discipline is the beautiful art of understanding, interpreting, and then managing your own emotions. Self-discipline isn't about raw power; it's about grace, insight, nuance, and subtle strength.

Self-discipline also isn't about self-denial of anything that is good. It's simply about engaging your heart and your mind in an intentional way to guide the way you live. Keep in mind that self-discipline doesn't just apply to your ability to follow a strict diet or be a beast in the gym. It has to do with your intuitive understanding of how your own mind and heart work together. As you develop a more intimate clarity and control of your own emotions you will also exponentially increase your ability to influence others. Perhaps the place that self-discipline is most impactful is in our interpersonal communication.

4. Misconception #4: Self-Discipline is boring. When we first hear the word "self-discipline" we typically think of salads, weight rooms, being in trouble, and self -control. However, after spending nearly 10 years studying the most successful and disciplined people on the planet I can promise you that self-discipline equates much more to things like: rich, hot, sexy, influential, peaceful, joyous and spirit-filled.

So, what is self-discipline? Self-discipline is not "doing what you don't want to do when you don't want to do it." Self-discipline is the art, science, and skill of interpreting and managing one's own emotions to help them achieve their goals in life.

Rory Vaden, MBA is Cofounder of Southwestern Consulting, a Self-Discipline Strategist and Speaker, and New York Times bestselling author of Take the Stairs. Listen to his weekly podcast and get free daily insights at: