To bring our lives closer to what we imagine they can become, let’s consider the origins of the word “discipline.” Discipline is derived from the word disciple, or “follower.” In our modern society, which places such a high value on individualism, this word has taken on some very negative connotations. When you think of a disciple, what image comes to mind? Do you think of a follower of another person’s vision or principles? Does the word evoke images of people blindly following the decrees of megalomaniacal leaders all the way to their own demise, such as the more than nine hundred people who followed the orders of Jim Jones and drank cyanide in Guyana, or those who followed David Koresh in Waco, Texas?
How about the word discipline itself? Does this word dredge up negative memories of teachers, parents or coaches who were constantly “disciplining” you when you were growing up? You may have been conditioned to think of discipline as something imposed on you from the outside. Like anything else that obstructs your freedom, you might perceive discipline as something you want to rebel against.
When you were a child, you may have had a teacher who didn’t care about you or have your best interests at heart. Your acts of rebellion may have actually been acts of conformity — to your higher vision for what you knew was possible for your life. Your survive-and-thrive instincts may have told you to disrupt a damaging power relationship in order to pursue your own agenda.
Alternatively, you may have been a “rebel without a cause.” You may have intuitively realized that you needed to destroy a power relationship that wasn’t working without considering what you wanted to replace it with, like a revolutionary who hasn’t yet learned how to govern.
To reconstruct your relationship with discipline, ask yourself this question: What if the teacher, head honcho, or boss-man were your higher self? Would you still want to rebel against discipline if the person imposing it were none other than the you that you know you can be?
Why is it important to understand your early encounters with discipline? Because you have rightfully taken issue with the form it has taken in your life. Yet when you blindly rebel against it, you deny yourself the considerable benefits of its function. Your rite of passage to moving forward in your own growth just may be to stop equating rebellion with progress. It may be to realize that your rebellious instinct when others try to control you and your willingness not to rebel against your higher values are both acts of aligning your life vision with your everyday actions.
Here’s the secret ingredient for becoming a fully formed human being: Replace the discipline others used to get you to do what they wanted you to do with your own discipline to get yourself to do what you want you to do. To achieve self-discipline, you do have to get with the program — your program! You have to walk the path that you yourself have laid.
Take this leap of the imagination. Feel the presence of two powerful forces within you. You are the visionary and also the “actionary.” The visionary develops a vision for what you want to accomplish in your life and how you will act toward others. The actionary takes these lofty ideals — this higher “code of ethics” — and transforms them into daily actions. While the visionary chooses how you want to live, the actionary lives by what you choose.
You are both the director writing your life scripts and the actor reading from them. You are the one making the decisions and the one acting them out. You are the one who makes commitments and the one called upon to deliver. In every single moment of your life in which you become the actionary and make your vision happen — especially the moments that test your resolve because you would rather be doing something else — you exercise discipline.
Let’s also consider the origins of the word “leadership.” “To lead” comes from “to guide” or “to travel.” You are the only one fit to guide your journey, to be the visionary or leader of yourself. You are the captain of your ship as it sets out to sea. Yet you are also the passenger on the dock searching for the right ship to board. Here’s the key question I urge you to answer: Will you choose yourself as your captain or will you board another ship?
No one else fully shares your vision for what you want to achieve in your life. Everyone else has another agenda. They, like you, have their own values that guide their lives. Some care about you immensely and truly desire for your happiness. Nonetheless, they have their own agenda. They have a unique vision for how they — and you — should go about this thing called life. Without discipline you are unable to follow your leader within, the designer of your own agenda. Instead, you give up on it and follow the agendas of others. You board another ship.
Make a commitment this week to come up with a few new strategies to align your everyday actions with your deepest values and life vision.