I’ve been thinking about self-discipline a lot lately. Maybe it’s because I’m carrying around an extra 20 — OK, 25 — pounds and wondering how I allowed myself to get to this point. Obviously, I haven’t been as disciplined with my eating and workout regimen as I need to be.
But self-discipline is the key to achieving success in whatever we endeavor. It was Teddy Roosevelt who said, “With self-discipline most anything is possible.” I believe that. Ultimately, there is only one thing you can control completely — what you do or don’t do.
Success in the workplace certainly takes self-discipline. I’m a big believer that it’s the little things done consistently that add up to success. Sure, every once in a while someone will catch “lightning in a bottle.” But the odds of that happening are pretty slim. Instead, you must put in many, many small efforts that often go unseen and unappreciated before you achieve your goal.
In his book Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell talks about the number of hours it takes to master any task. Any guess at the number Gladwell came up with from his research? How does 10,000 hours strike you? That’s eight hours a day, five days a week for nearly five years to become proficient at something. According to Gladwell, it doesn’t matter if it’s playing an instrument, programming computers, or planting crops — it takes 10,000 hours before you truly master it.
One of the points Gladwell makes in the book is that there is no such thing as an “overnight success.” Success takes hard work. There is no way around that fact, so you might as well get used to it.
Think about your own job now for a minute. Do you exhibit the self-discipline in your work required to be truly successful at what you do? We all know the little things that must be done every day to be successful. They’re routine tasks. They’re redundant tasks. But they must be done and done well to achieve success.
Consider the sales profession for a minute. I can tell you from experience who the most successful salesperson is likely to be. Is it the person with the most dynamic personality? No, but a great personality doesn’t hurt. Is it the person who is the most persuasive? No, again. But persuasiveness certainly isn’t a bad trait for a salesperson. The most successful salesperson in almost every organization is the one who makes the most sales calls.
In the end, sales is a numbers game. The more sales calls you make, the more prospective customers you speak with. The more prospects you speak with, the more opportunities you have to pitch your product. The more opportunities you have to pitch your product, the more chances you have to close a sale. So who makes the most successful salesperson? The one who does the most basic element of the sales process — knocking on the most doors or making the most dials. It ain’t fancy, but it sure is effective!
Our founder, M. Lee Smith, used to say, “The lifeblood of our business is …” What’s the lifeblood of your business? What is the one thing that must happen if you are to be successful? Now ask yourself, “What are the little tasks necessary to achieve success?” I’m sure you know what they are. The question is, “Do you have the self-discipline to do them?”
Like the salesperson who has to pick up the phone one more time to call one more prospect, you need to discipline yourself to do the little things every day and do them well to achieve the success you strive for. Don’t get distracted or bored with those tasks. Take pride in them, do them well, and the results will be there. There is no other way.
Think about the most successful people you know. 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.” Do you find this to be true of the successful people you know? I certainly do.
I’m going to leave you with this quote from Henry Ward Beecher: “Hold yourself responsible for a higher standard than anybody else expects of you. Never excuse yourself. Never pity yourself. Be a hard master to yourself — and be lenient to everybody else.” Do this and you’ll achieve success beyond your wildest imagination!