It used to be I said I was going to do something and I would do it. It was as factual, as simple and as expected as the rising of the sun and the passage of time. There were no obstacles strong enough to keep me from reaching my goals. There was a determination, borderline obsession and mania of always achieving, always believing and never letting up.
I loved operating in that state of mind. It was exhausting but it had results. I called it my unfailing self-discipline.
The flavor to what I applied this self-discipline varied but the intensity rarely changed. Whether it were the demands of electrical engineering degrees, the pursuit of financial security, the practice of yoga and the aspirations of a successful career, I pursued things with undeterred self-discipline.
Until a few years ago when I noticed the initial ebb, my first lack of self-discipline, in the seemingly constant supply of it. And it was not my last one either. Then the ebb and flow patterns commenced, and I realized that self-discipline can desert the best of us if we do not feed it properly.
At first, when self-discipline takes leave of us, however momentarily, we may not feel its absence. We are making reasonable progress toward our goals, living our life according to our plans and values — and all seems to be fine.
Then we gradually may notice that our eating choices have become less selective, our devotion to our values has become a bit too relaxed, and our performance has turned out to be slightly lower in quality. We may feel a lack of zest or necessity in the pursuit of what we used to live for and a lack of intensity in the contentment of those accomplishments. We know we used to do things better, more fully, more precisely, more completely. We used to be the best at our game but we have settled. We have relaxed.
We have traded our self-discipline for complacency and by doing so, we have compromised on one of our most invaluable traits in the pursuit of our goals.
Complacency is a foe, a fence, a false friend and an unwelcome guest into our personal space. We must measures never to extend an invite when it knocks on the door at our most vulnerable hour.
Complacency is when we begin to take things, people and achievements for granted. It is when we forget our own true abilities or the real worth of the amazing partners, spouses, friends, parents, siblings or dogs in our lives.
Complacency is when after we reach one milestone towards building a desirable skill or developing a long-dreamt-of talent, we stop. We exchange the hard labor for maintaining it with the celebration of having achieved it. We become satisfied with one achievement and forgetful about the next milestone. And the next one after that. And all the milestones we said we were going to achieve when we first set out.
Complacency is when we decide a mediocre job is good enough, a diet followed half-way is sufficient, a program abandoned mid-course is not so bad because after all, we started it and that alone should ‘count‘. We create the illusion of boundaries in our mind and live comfortably within those walls, rather than defining new targets. We settle. Far too often, we settle for much less than we can do because as human beings, we are conditioned to take the path of least resistance. When a certain level of comfort and security is achieved in our lives, it is too easy to forget our original end-goal. We lose the initial drive and the burning desire to continuously break boundaries and move up the ante.
We decide that we cannot possibly get into that yoga pose – it is reserved for the lucky few – that we cannot dance all that well, only the professionals do – that we cannot start a new career all over again – only the fearless risk-takers can find success in that route – and we cannot travel all that far and frequently or live in the fabulous lifestyle of our dreams, only the rich and famous live those lives. We fool ourselves out of golden opportunities and sweet realities that could be.
And evident as it is by the world around us, we are wrong about this. Simply, utterly and completely wrong.
Thomas Edison, one of the most prolific inventors of our time, was quoted to have believed: “If we did all the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves.”
And is this not often true? Do you think that you are always doing all the things you are capable of doing? That simply cannot be because we see every day that people with less opportunities, less abilities, less comfort and less luxury than us achieve far more. We envy them and may label them as lucky. (What does luck have to do with any of it? We are not at the Las Vegas craps tables! This is real life!) The fruits of their labor tend to hide the long hours of toil and sweat behind those beautiful achievements. They have worked long and hard for their end goals, they haven’t taken their eyes off the ball and they have never welcomed complacency into their lives.
The Return to Self-Discipline:
The irony of establishing self-discipline is that we need it the most when we think of it the least. The moment we reach our first goals is the moment of truth. The moment when intentions are set, habits are formed, and the next goal can be firmly set in our mind from the sheer excitement and adrenalin of having achieved the first. That is when self-discipline can serve us best.
I read CÃ©line Dion‘s biography years ago, a jewel among life stories of the rich and famous. Most of all, I was mesmerized by her unbreakable self-discipline. This super star that we see on the stages of the world has more self-discipline than anyone I have met or shall ever meet. The stardom and fame which she has achieved is in itself remarkably rare and can turn the life of most hardcore among us into a blissful and carefree existence. But not CÃ©line’s! When she was already world famous, rich beyond her wildest dreams, and at the top of her game, her long-time coach and husband, RenÃ© AngÃ©lil, constantly urged her to “Up the ante!“ and “Raise the bar!” on every performance. After singing a particular song beautifully for the 500th time, he found a way to improve it yet. He kept pushing CÃ©line like this even when she seemed at her very best in the eyes of her fans and all of the world. She would go silent for days or weeks at a time in order to rest her vocal chords for the small possibility to ever so slightly improve her singing that night. Even though in the eyes of rest of the world, she had already broken all the boundaries, she always looked only to RenÃ© for breaking the next one and finding a better version of herself. She never settled. She is improving herself to this day and feeding off that self-discipline which has served her so well.
No doubt we all have good intentions and put forth great effort at the onset of a new project, a new plan, a new path. It is somewhere along the way that we need to watch out for losing our momentum, our purpose, our intention and our lofty goals. The bouts of doubt set in and hold us back and keep us from focusing on pushing further and reaching higher. Sometimes the worst thing isn’t missing an opportunity as it is to not take full, true, complete advantage of the opportunity we have seized. It is the difference between settling and doing our best. The difference between complacency and self-discipline.
We stop living when we stop achieving. And we stop achieving when we lose our self-discipline. In this fabulous, unpredictable, exciting life of ours, the ebb and flow of self-discipline is only natural. A setback, a rough patch, a wrong turn, a bad choice and we fall and need to get back up. However, when we do get back on our feet, it is important to return to our self-discipline and pursue the original path to our goals. It’s imperative that we find it again and come home to it.
Who is to say what we can achieve, who we can become, what life we can lead and what dreams we can realize in our time on this earth? Let us ignore statistics, be ware of social conditions and peer pressures, rise above the norm and banish the thoughts of boundaries and limitations from our minds forever. Let us be completely ourselves and build a life entirely our own. All we need to succeed is the flow of that self-discipline.