Discipline is remembering what you really want



“Discipline is remembering what you want.” – David Campbell, founder of Saks Fifth Avenue

I came across this quotation a week ago in some reading for my strategic marketing class. I loved it and immediately tweeted it, but for some reason I remembered it wrong. In my mind the line became “Discipline is remembering what you really want,” and I kinda like it better that way. When I have lapses in my self-discipline, it’s because I do what I want in the short term (e.g., sleep in) instead of what I really want for myself (e.g., wake up early, seize the day, etc.).

I consider myself a pretty disciplined person, but not as disciplined as I’d like to be. I have a habit of launching new initiatives of self-discipline on a somewhat regular basis–every couple months or so. From now on, I tell myself, you’re going to get up early, exercise, read non-stop, eat healthy, and so on. And it works for a few days, but then the naps creep in, along with the pizza and the new TV show that I just have to see because everyone’s talking about it. It’s hard to keep your eye on long-term goals when the idea of sleeping in or watching just one more episode of “Game of Thrones” is so, so appealing in the moment. I’m much better at wanting to be disciplined than actually being disciplined, but I suppose that’s pretty common. After all, that’s why so many gym memberships are sold in January every year.

We all want to be at least a little more disciplined, I think. We all have a gap between the people we are and the people we want or hope to be. In fact, the hope of helping students to narrow that gap is one of the primary reasons I teach. At its core, education is–or at least should be–about maximizing and realizing our potential, and self-discipline is a huge part of doing that. Identifying and sticking to long-term goals is how great achievements–and even small and medium achievements–are achieved. Students have to recognize what kinds of people they want to be, and they need the guidance and self-discipline to get there.

Every Thursday I mentor a student at a fairly new, small school in Harlem. The student really wants to improve his conduct and his academic performance, and so I told him about this quotation that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. At first, he understood “discipline” to be only about punishment for misbehavior. I can’t blame him for that misinterpretation. For many students, after all, that’s what the word discipline means in their lives. We had a good talk about the difference between that kind of discipline and self-discipline. If he really wants to improve his in-class conduct, I said, then he has to take it one class at a time. He might want to laugh loudly at his friend’s joke and risk getting a demerit, but what he really wants is to get the best possible marks this term, so he should keep his laughter to himself. Maybe this David Campbell line (with the added “really”) will help him during those moments when he wants to give in to impulse. I certainly hope so.

I’m also hoping that I can stick with my current self-discipline initiative. It’s pretty simple: wake up at 5 every morning (easier on weekdays than weekends), run down and up my stairs twice each morning (from the 21st floor–it helps ease my back pain), and add more fruit and vegetables to my diet. I’m also using Memrise.com to brush up on some basic Spanish (more on Memrise in a future post). They’re not overly ambitious goals, but goals don’t have to be ambitious to be abandoned. I really want to do these things, and discipline is about remembering that. It’s all about looking out for my future self, who is relying pretty heavily on the decisions my present self makes.

 

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