Cultivating Discipline in Your Business


When I think about important elements for generating forward motion as a business owner, discipline is a "building block" concept that comes to the forefront of the mind. As a result, I'd like to provide advice on how to cultivate discipline in your business.

If you are like me, you have a lot going on in any given day. You're not only running your business, but also nurturing relationships, raising children, serving the community, engaging in your own self-care etc. It's hard to carve out time to get back to the basics; to get to the core of things so that you can create a strong foundation off of which to build. It is my hope that this post will support you in devoting time and energy to doing this.

Throughout the week I have a number of coaching conversations with individuals who desire to create a business around their passions. We spend a lot of time talking about goals and the actions required to reach them.

The individuals I speak to often tell me that they feel much better after we've had a coaching conversation. This makes sense. There is much to be gained by having a safe space to share one's deepest desires and dreams. Furthermore, there is great security in painting the picture of an "ideal" business and coming up with a plan to make it happen.

And yet, that's just the beginning of the journey.

When individuals become clients, I am able to witness their trajectory from planning to taking action. When individuals don't become clients, I often check in 2-3 months later to see how they are doing. The people I check in with generally break down into three categories.

There are those individuals who take their plan and run with it. They've capitalized on the insights captured during our session and take committed action. Now that their ideas have been formulated into a workable plan, they have guidance and direction. When I check in with these individuals (for ease of reference, I call them "Category Ones"), the fire in their belly is palpable. They are committed and I have no doubt that they will be successful in starting their business.

Some individuals reveal that they haven't progressed far into their plan (if at all). An array of reasons are given for this - e.g., life and other priorities have "gotten in the way", feelings of overwhelm have taken over to the point of paralysis, etc. These individuals often talk about feeling "behind" and "frustrated". Even though the desire is strong, they are unable to find the time and energy required to get their business off of the ground. (I will call these individuals "Category Twos").

A third category of individuals are those who realize they actually don't want to start a business. They realize this by taking a few steps into their plan and coming to the conclusion that entrepreneurship is not for them. What I notice most is the surety of their decision not to proceed. They typically sound confident and resolved about the path they are consciously choosing.

Because of the work that I do, I am constantly curious about the difference between Category Ones and Category Twos. On the surface, the main difference is that Category Ones have taken consistent action in creating their business while Category Twos have taken little to no action. In digging further, I've distilled an important element necessary for generating consistent action in business-building: discipline.

The Roman Myth of Disciplina

The word "discipline" has an interesting history, so I'd like to paint a story of the term.

In Roman times, discipline as an archetype was embodied in the deity Disciplina during the reign of Emperor Hadrian. Focusing more on preserving his territory than the conquest of new lands, Hadrian placed military troops along the borders of North Africa and Britain and would inspect them regularly. To avoid complacency amongst the troops, he instilled the importance of always being ready to fight; of not going soft. The soldiers were commanded to consistently train for battle and to follow a tight set of regulations. This created a military that was always ready for whatever came their way, and is what made them effective when they would experience incursions from other tribes. To tap into the energy of discipline, soldiers often worshiped the goddess Disciplina. Additionally, coins made during Hadrian's reign held the word Disciplina AVG; a sort of talisman so that soldiers would not forget their orders.

There's much to gain by understanding the origin of discipline. What does it mean to not go soft in business? What actions must be consistently taken to ensure forward motion and success?

Passion and Discipline Walking Together

There is inherent risk in building a business around one's passions. Being in love with what we do can easily cause us to reject actions that are difficult or undesirable (e.g., taking care of admin, consistent marketing, asking to be paid for what we do). It is much nicer, much more pleasant, to stay in the bliss of the passion while completely ignoring the disciplined habits that are required to keep a business functional.

And yet, passion and discipline must walk together if a business is to gain any momentum. Repeated behaviors must take place around operations, marketing and admin in order to achieve success.

Allow me to share an example of how this paradigm plays out in my business. As a coach, my main source of income is client fees. In order to create client fees, I need to consistently be creating clients. The single most effective way I create clients is by having a conversation so that individuals can experience what coaching with me feels like. As a result, it is critical that I develop a discipline of having coaching conversations. The more conversations I have, the more clients I create. The more clients I create, the more fees I collect.

This is a very simple concept on paper. In real life however, I face resistance. This resistance is overcome by discipline. I practice discipline by asking people to have a coaching conversation with me, even though it feels uncomfortable. I practice discipline by asking for referrals even though I worry about bothering my friends and current clients. I practice discipline by asking if potential clients want to work with me, even though I'm afraid they will say 'no'. I practice discipline by stating my coaching fee, even though I'm afraid the potential client will say it's too much money. I practice discipline and get vulnerable again and again and again until I create my next client.

Cultivating Discipline

In order to cultivate discipline, a little bit of discipline is required. In other words, there must be a commitment to follow through.

Moreover, cultivating discipline is easier if you accept that sometimes you will have to do it in a hostile environment. Business is unpredictable, rampant with ups and downs. Many of us get discouraged when the undesirable happens - e.g., it takes a long time to create clients, things take longer than initially planned, etc. And yet it's in the undesirable moments where discipline will come through for you the most.

In pinpointing an undesirable action you're required to take to keep your business moving forward, there will be a sliver of a moment when you decide to take action or to not take action. This moment is barely detectable as it tends to give way to thoughts, emotions and actions which come in rapid succession. (Have you ever planned to spend the day working on a project only to "wake up" at 5P realizing you spent the entire day doing something else? Think back to the moment you decided to veer left instead of right. How long was that moment? Do you even remember it happening?) Discipline requires perceiving that sliver of a moment and taking action in that moment. It requires putting in an effort that goes against habitual actions and patterns that are counterproductive for your business.

The discipline is in the action itself. Without the action, there is no discipline.

If you're having trouble getting started, try this exercise: Set a timer for 20 minutes and get to work. When you venture off into other things or get interrupted, get back to work the second you catch yourself. Once the 20 minutes are over, allow yourself a 5-minute break. Then, set the timer again for 20 minutes and get to work again.

Here's to a productive week and month ahead.