The Discipline of Execution:
The Five Keys to Building Discipline and Executing for Success
I’ve learned many important lessons on success over the years. The clear majority of them were learned the hard way, through experience. I left home at 19 without a job, car, or even a high school diploma, to escape the father who had sexually abused me since I was 12 and the mother who blamed me for it. With zero social skills, no GED, and no experience or qualifications, my job options were pretty limited. I started my career working as a waitress in a pizza restaurant. I was waiting tables and picking up the half eaten leftover pizza crusts off the floor for $2.13 an hour plus any tips the lunch buffet customers chose to leave. There’s nothing wrong with that – it was good work, and I was glad to get it. But, it didn’t take long to realize I didn’t want to stay there the rest of my life. I set my goals high – and started working to achieve them.
One of the most critical elements of my success, both personally and professionally, over the years was the ability to execute. Actually, it was the discipline to execute.
I excelled. I earned my MBA with a cumulative 4.0 GPA. I had a very successful career with responsibilities for compliance with state/federal regulations, thousands of organizational policies, and millions of dollars in Medicare appeals. I had more certifications and initials after my name than I knew what to do with. I ran a marathon. I won four state mountain biking championships in two years, all of this while working two jobs, going to school, and still finding time to make brownies for my step-son’s football booster meetings. Today, I’ve written nine books, and I’m a full time motivational speaker. I don’t share all that to impress you. I share it, so you will know where I came from and how far I had to travel to get here.
Setting a goal is always the easiest part of achieving it. Discipline is, quite frankly, a lot of work. It’s not any fun. It’s difficult, and sometimes, even painful. However, discipline shapes our character and makes us who we are. We are successful because of who we are, not because of what we want to be. Harry Truman said, “In reading the lives of great men, I found that the first victory they won was over themselves. Self-discipline with all of them came first.” Discipline means leading yourself well. It doesn’t matter how “SMART” your goal is if you don’t have the discipline to execute it.
As any championship winning athlete will tell you, discipline often means doing the work when you don’t feel like doing it. Sir Edmund Hillary said, “It is not the mountains we conquer, but ourselves.”
Here are my five keys to building discipline and executing for success:
START SMALL AND GROW FROM THERE
The best way to start becoming more disciplined is to start with a small task and accomplish it. When you set a goal or task for yourself and successfully reach it, you are building a successful track record which will help you create momentum for something bigger. When you set and keep commitments to yourself, you are also building your personal integrity account. Anytime you make a commitment to yourself and don’t keep it, you are destroying your personal credibility with yourself and making it less likely that you will keep future commitments. You want to build credibility by setting small, easy to achieve goals to start with. Then, build up over time. You may not be able to commit with integrity to losing 10 pounds this month because you have tried before and failed. But maybe, you can commit with integrity to eating a salad today instead of a burger and fries.
JUST DO IT
Don’t wait or put off doing something because the longer you wait, the more difficult it will become to actually do it. If you need to have a difficult conversation with an employee – do it now. If you’ve been putting off a chore around the house, take care of it, rather than waiting. Do it now. Discipline is a “mind muscle.” Just like your physical muscles, the more you exercise it, the stronger it becomes. Mark Twain suggested, “Do something every day that you don’t want to do. This is the golden rule for acquiring the habit of doing your duty without pain.”
CREATE A DEADLINE
We probably all have a little bit of a tendency to procrastinate on doing something we aren’t excited about. It’s easy to push it to the bottom of your to-do list when you don’t want to do it, and there’s no definite deadline for getting it done. If that’s the case, give yourself a definite deadline and make it public. Make sure it’s reasonable, of course. Research has shown we are much more likely to accomplish goals when they are reasonable, measurable, and dated.
One thing I have learned about discipline is if there is something I don’t want to do, it’s very easy to find excuses not to do it. So, I deliberately minimize or eliminate distractions to make it easier for myself. I turn off notifications on my phone at times because I need to focus on writing a chapter in my next book or a blog. It’s all too easy to see an email pop up, and it leads to checking LinkedIn messages, Facebook notifications, Twitter hits, etc. Before I know it, 20 minutes have disappeared from my life, and all I’ve really done is avoided doing what needed to be done. Something I find helpful is to keep a notepad by my computer. If I get an idea or remember I need to do something, I write it down as a “do next,” so I won’t forget. Most importantly, I don’t have to interrupt what I’m working on and avoid being distracted.
GAIN STRENGTH FROM ANOTHER AREA
If you want more discipline in one area of your life, it can help to create more discipline in other areas of your life. Much like starting small creates momentum, so does achieving other goals. This is why I set a physical goal each year, such as running a marathon. I’m intentionally creating more discipline in my physical life, and that will help me be more disciplined in other areas of life. Success in one area can create momentum in other areas.
There are no secrets on the road to success. Whether you want to develop your influence as a leader, build your business, develop your professional career, earn your degree, or finally reach that New Year’s resolution, the principles for success often come down to hard work and discipline. You must be intentional to identify your dreams, goals, and action plans. You must be disciplined in execution to achieve them. As Thomas Edison so accurately remarked, “Vision without execution is hallucination.,”
Bio: Ria Story’s background includes more than ten years in administrative healthcare, including several years in management and later, Director of Compliance and Regulatory Affairs for a large healthcare organization. Now a motivational speaker, coach, and author of 9 books, she co-founded Top Story Leadership, which offers motivational speaking, leadership development, training, coaching, and consulting.
Learn more about Ria Story at Top Story Leadership