Art of Discipline

Image Courtesy: Ivan Tejero
To be disciplined is to put into practice the only kind of control that God ever puts into our hands — Self Control. (anon.)

Upon observing some of the accomplished souls that I have had good fortune to interact with, I have come to realise that the one trait that is most needed to become successful, individually and collectively, and to stay successful is Discipline.

What is Discipline?

Discipline is probably the most boring virtue/quality with no glamour attached to it unlike empathy or good oratory skills but holds immense weightage in the equation of success.
Webster defines discipline as control that is gained by requiring that rules or orders be obeyed and punishing bad behaviour.

For many, discipline connotes following a routine, a regimen and is most of the times forced by external rules and regulations devised to maintain order and ensure smooth operations. Administrative guidelines such as office timings, school rules and instructions for commuters in public-transport ensure that people follow a prescribed pattern and large systems operate smoothly owing to those predictable behaviour. These very explicit and external guidelines, with penalties on non-compliance, drive discipline.

Unfortunately, in absence of these external enforcers of discipline we have seen systems perform poorly — be it massive traffic jams when signals stop working on busy streets or high incidence of failures in college in the first year after students move from a high discipline environment of school to a more lax system of college.

Degree of rules and regulations also indicate how evolved the participants or members of a society, a group or an organisation are or are assumed to be by law-makers.

A highly regulated environment indicates that either stakes are very high or people’s intelligence or intentions are not trusted. Hence elaborate and specific rules are laid out to micro-manage the participants. We have seen this in prisons, schools, in certain highly regulated industries such as defence, pharma. Even in case of heinous crimes such as rapes, murder strict laws while necessary also indicate that in absence of such stern laws people are unable to exhibit intelligent, rational behaviour.

Effective self-governance or self-discipline is a good proxy of a more evolved and mature participants in ecosystem.

Context of Discipline

Mundane tasks and ordinary activities do not require us to think about the rules. It can be safely asserted that most of the times when we act disciplined, under day-to-day conditions, we are in an auto-pilot mode; following the rules of the game, doing what is prescribed without thinking too much about it.

We rarely give much thought to why and how should we follow those rules and are the rules adequate and appropriate?

Most of the rules are designed keeping in mind — the masses and normal circumstances. Majority of our life is also spent under these normal circumstances, average conditions, and we can follow the not-so-pinching rules by default without having to give much thought and having to put in much effort. Such average situations do not demand scrutiny and extra-constitutional efforts but an extra-ordinary pursuit does demand that we need a different than usual set of rules to direct our behaviour.

It is in the context of demanding circumstances, empowering aspirations and with the best of people that Discipline acquires a new meaning.

True Discipline

The real test happens when we operate in pressing conditions and we need to choose what we can and should do.

Such situations can appear in almost every realm be it in sports - when an athlete decides to aim for a medal or in business- when someone want to become a successful entrepreneur or spiritual pursuit of a monk. Each of these deserving pursuits demands rigour and unfaltering commitment from us and while there would be coaches, mentors, guides a large part of responsibility to make things happen rest on our own shoulders. This is where the true notion of discipline, of self-control, of self-restraint comes into picture.

To single-mindedly focus on one aspiration, putting in long hours when you don’t want to and consciously avoiding the alluring distractions is easier said than done.

It is only with a trained mind that we can keep our energies and intentions focused and channelize them towards our chosen endeavour rather than trivial affairs.

Mental discipline manifests into those long, boring and repetitive but most critical acts of coding, of making sales pitches, of meditation, of redesigning products, of training that are essential to achieve rare feats that are meant to be accomplished by only a select few; those who can create for themselves the most stringent of rules and yet exhibit highest order of compliance with least degree of external supervision. They use their intelligence to guide their mind and body into achieving the most difficult.

For such achievers, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that Discipline is a marvellous exhibition of the unrelenting control of intelligence on mind.

If we start perceiving discipline as an endeavour to exercise our intelligence to control our mind, then it can be the most exhilarating and fulfilling practise that will unlock new realms of human potential.

I am hopeful that in an age of impulse driven by You live Only Once philosophy, we will be able to see through the benefits of discipline and try to benefit as much as we can.