Someone asked me the other day about the role of discipline in living the 15 commitments. Their story about me was that I was a very disciplined person and that this is important to my ability to practice conscious leadership. I loved the question and have been wondering about it.
Let’s apply the 4 ways of leading to the question…
When a leader is in To Me—victim consciousness—discipline is something hard, effortful, that I’m always trying to do. Sometimes I am being disciplined and it feels good, and sometimes I’m not being disciplined and it feels bad; there might be guilt, shame, self criticism. Typical definitions of discipline come from this consciousness, and can include things like “delayed gratification”— the moment is hard but the future payoff will be good— or an emphasis on obeying rules or following a code of behavior, using punishment to correct disobedience.
Like all To Me experiences, sometimes this consciousness produces results we like and sometimes the results create drama or suffering. The core of this consciousness is that something is missing in me or my life and I need to discipline myself to fix what is wrong or lacking. This is the mindset that says “I’m going to discipline myself to eat healthfully so that I can lose weight,” or “We’ll discipline ourselves to not gossip about other team members.”
My observation would be that some people are naturally more disciplined in this way than others. I’m probably one of those people, and I would tell you that this capacity to delay gratification and to train myself to obey rules or a code of behavior has produced a variety of results in my life. For example, at the end of my first coaching session with my mentor Gay Hendricks, I asked him to give me a coaching tip. He said, “Meditate every day.” Gay, at that point in his life, had meditated twice a day without missing a day for several decades. I took the advice and meditated an hour a day for 7 years. I might have missed a handful of days in those seven years but not more than that. If I had a day filled with appointments I got up an hour early or stayed up an hour late. The fruit of this practice was positively transformational at every level of my being. This was a positive experience of To Me discipline.
A not so positive example occurred when I was in college. I was part of a spiritual community that valued celibacy (no sex or dating or masturbation) so I had one date in college and white-knuckled my way to almost no self pleasuring for four years. Though those disciplines bore some positive fruit, I believe the disciplines stunted my growth in consciousness significantly. I was pretty constantly swinging on the pendulum of guilt and shame or pride that my discipline made me better than others.
Many business leaders are expert at To Me discipline, whether it’s the discipline to wake up incredibly early, get in a hard workout, eat healthfully to keep the machine running smoothly, get their inbox to zero (GTD-ers can relate to this), drink in moderation at least during the week, and read all the latest blogs, books and musings. Like my meditation, much of this bears wonderful fruit in the life of the leader, but there’s also a way that many of life’s greatest gifts can be missed from this consciousness, and the long term cost of this kind of discipline can be great.
By Me leaders have a different relationship to discipline. First off, they don’t sense that anything is missing or lacking or wrong with their lives. Rather they are motivated by a vision, a picture of a preferable future, the desire to write another verse for an already beautiful poem. They see that life is filled with choices and that they are empowered to make choices to move them closer to this vision. When I talk to By Me leaders about choices they're making in life, they don’t talk about the choices being hard or effortful. They don’t white knuckle their way through life, struggling to not eat the cookie, or to go for a run, or do 10 minutes of mindfulness, or not gossip about their teammates. They are making choices that align with their deepest desires.
To be clear, By Me leaders experience exertion, but rarely efforting. When I watch world-class athletes, I see that in many cases they are exerting; they sweat, can have an elevated heart rate and may even collapse in exhaustion at the end of well run race or passionately fought match. But the great ones are not efforting. Rather they are flowing with what the situation is presenting. There is little resistance, and tremendous participation in creating the dance of the moment. Many of these athletes would not relate to the notion of discipline that includes white knuckling or delaying gratification. Every now moment for a By Me leader can be deeply gratifying even when exertion is occurring. They do not resist or struggle through this moment to get to a better moment in the future.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself to clarify whether you’re in To Me or By Me in relationship to discipline.