What Happens When Discipline Doesn’t Work?

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Brian Kight

Our focus is to learn simple skills, tools, and systems for a better life. With that in focus, remember that every situation you apply these learnings is full of infinitely complex dynamics. Most of which are beyond your control.

That’s why what sounds so obvious here can seem so uncertain out there. The leap from principle to practice can be as wide as a canyon. Crossing the chasm from concept to concrete, from solid understanding to successful execution, is likely where your biggest challenge and most significant opportunity exists.

One example of an obvious principle that confuses people as they apply it is how disciplined actions earn desirable outcomes, and undisciplined actions earn undesirable outcomes. This is an accurate and reliable expectation. You and I can confidently build our lives on it.

Disciplined actions earn intended outcomes, like listening intently with patience earns trust and credibility. Conversely, a lack of disciplined listening will lose trust and credibility.

Undisciplined actions earn unintended outcomes, like avoiding exercise and eating unhealthy earns weakness and weight gain. However, if you bring discipline to diet and exercise, you will get stronger and lose weight.

That said, discipline is not absolute. It will not always deliver precisely what you desire, just as lack of discipline will not always result in disappointment.

External dynamics exert their influence too. Your discipline can — and needs to — account for these dynamics. Even at your best, though, you can’t account for everything.

Disciplined actions can result in unintended disappointing outcomes, like how courageously telling the truth sometimes leads to getting criticized. Inversely, undisciplined actions can result in pleasantly successful outcomes, like how driving dangerously sometimes gets you to your destination faster.

To successfully cross the chasm from the theory of discipline to the reality of discipline, appreciate that you will not earn every outcome you aim for or experience. Fortune and misfortune play a role. They cannot be escaped or eliminated.

The stronger you are in discipline, the more you amplify the benefit of fortune and minimize the impact of misfortune. The weaker you are in discipline, the opposite happens. You reduce the advantage of fortune and expand the damage of misfortune.

Acknowledging this perspective is not a reason to discredit and distance yourself from the principles of discipline. Instead, it is a healthy recognition that life is not a predictably straight line despite our efforts. Uncertainty and complexity are reasons to strengthen our grasp on discipline, not excuses to weaken it.

Answer the call. Do the work.

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