The Most Important Discipline

Of the many “disciplines” I write about, there is one that I maintain is the most important of all. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was just one thing you had to do that would solve all the other puzzles? The answer is, yes, it would be. And, in a very real way, you get your wish.

Now, before I wrap this up in a bow, I have to point out that there are nine big pictures areas of mental discipline that I write about. I refer to these as The Nine Disciplines of Sustainable Growth, or sometimes just the Nine Disciplines. I’ll skip their definitions here because they are easily found on my website or in my book (Grow on Purpose: The Nine Disciplines of Sustainable Growth), but they are the Disciplines of Living, Learning, Planning, Practicing, Restoring, Attracting, Loving, Creating, and Centering.

Sometimes this whole big list of important subjects can seem to be intimidating. It doesn’t need to be a huge challenge to make sense of it all, but sometimes it helps to have a place to get started before digging into everything else.

So… Where to begin? What’s the most important thing on that list?

I’ll spare you the game of cat and mouse and skip the many reasons I could say that each of the Nine Disciplines is the most important. They’re all important in my view or I wouldn’t include them in the model at all. They all do something I think is vital to long term sustainable growth.

But the single most important of all Disciplines is the Discipline of Practicing. Why…? Because it provides a real starting point. It lets you dig into whatever you’re interested in or whatever your role is without feeling like you have to satisfy a bunch of other external requirements. If you just get started at doing what you’re passionate about in whatever way you’re able to, you’ll learn along the way and discover all the various puzzles you could encounter – AND, you’ll probably find solutions to those puzzles.

If a person got started in a profession with almost no preparatory training and sincerely intended to improve along the way, I believe he or she would probably discover all of the other disciplines along the way and figure out how to manage them. It might take longer than having these things spelled out early in the game. But puzzles would present themselves and a resourceful human being would seek out or develop solutions to those puzzles. It’s what we do.

But there is no substitute for getting started. You can make a lot of other mistakes and not scuttle your entire opportunity to succeed in a given role. But if you don’t get started and get busy with your craft, you’ll go nowhere. Time will pass and you’ll still be wondering how things might have worked out for you if only you would have… tried. Put in the effort. Given it a shot. Taken the risk. If only you had faced the task of beginning and then stayed with it.

I’ll give you one aspect of the Discipline of Practicing to add to this most basic and most important of all concepts. Here it is… Ready? Make consistent daily effort. Do something every day to chip away at your practice. If you believe it’s important, be all about it. If you want to be stronger, hit the weights, every day. Rest days are overrated. You can always vary your intensity and your routines. But until your practice is highly refined, you don’t need days off. You need practice.

Do you want to learn to play a musical instrument? Piano, maybe? Practice. Every single day. Open up the music book and put your fingers on the keys. Play a scale. Do it again. And, again. And, again. Until it’s easy. And, then practice more.

I’ve heard it said that amateurs practice until they can do it right. Professionals practice until they can’t do it wrong. I might take it a step further and say that virtuosos practice until they are beyond right or wrong, and whatever they’re doing is beautiful in its own way. How good do you want to be?

Do you want to make more sales? Talk to someone today. Do it again tomorrow. Take no days off. OK, maybe you feel like one day per week should be a family day. Fine. Give yourself ten minutes that day to review your product or service information to refresh your memory. Role play an interaction in your head. Touch that role every day.

Brain wiring is formed by frequency of repetition over time and emotional significance. If it matters to you, the brain wiring will be stronger. If you touch it daily, you’ll keep those perishable skills from falling away. Take days off and watch how hard it is to pick it back up again after a break. You’ll need a hammer and chisel to chip off the rust and then the rationalization and excuse making will kick in. It’s harder to start up again than it is to just keep doing the important thing every day. Don’t let society fool you into thinking you’re weak and that you’ll burn out. Just change your intensity or adjust your program here and there for variety’s sake, but touch this activity Every – Single – Day.

Just practice. Just train. Less talk. More action. Get after it.

Go.

On Fear vs Love: Choose your motivations wisely

In the martial arts world:

I generally see people moving in one of two directions. They’re either moving toward something they want – or away from something they want to avoid. You could say they’re either motivated by fear or desire, depending on which direction they’re moving. Another word for desire – a stronger word that puts the motivation on a higher emotional plane – is love.

I’m not talking about base level motivation; that natural or automatic driver of behavior. I’m saying we have the ability to choose our motivations and decide for ourselves which to pay attention to. Fear is the easy one. Desire is also pretty easy and automatic. But to choose a course of action out of love will require you to look more closely at what’s really driving your behavior.

Are you training (in martial arts) to avoid getting beaten in some scenario (neighborhood/community/competition, etc.)? That’s training driven by fear, which is a perfectly fine motivator, but it won’t take you as far as you can possibly go. Why not? Because eventually you’re going to figure out that your self-defense needs have been met or that you’re done with competition or that you’ve moved to a better neighborhood and the active threat is gone. Then what? Training loses its appeal and you’re done. Then you stagnate. Then you atrophy. Then you slide backwards into old age and decline. Eventually, you wish you would have kept training, but you know how hard that road is and you probably won’t pick it back up again…

Are you training because you want to be stronger? That’s desire. That might work for a good long time. The desire to be stronger can work as a vacuum to pull you forward into your training for a good long time. Until you age beyond the time when your body is willing to add muscle tissue and in fact starts to lose muscle mass no matter how hard you train or how much protein you consume. Eventually, age gets us all and we go into some level of lesser overall strength. Your original desire won’t carry you through your training forever.

Now, to elevate this to the level of being motivated by love, you need to look at WHY you want to be stronger. Maybe it was that you value health and longevity and that high value can be channeled into loving yourself. Maybe you value health and longevity (and you do need to survive in order to have both of those) IN ORDER TO be present for and with your family for as long as possible. Ah… That’s love. Maybe you have such affection and compassion for other people that you want to be able to step in to defend others should the need arise. That’s love. Maintaining your training and your skillsets can do those things for you – for a lifetime. And it is very hard to do this functionally out of any other motivation other than love of something or someone. It might be love of yourself and that’s highly functional and valid. It might also be love of something or someone outside of you.

In the business world:

Now, to apply this idea to other pursuits, like career or business activities outside of the training hall, we need to, again, give thought to our motivations.

Are you pursuing career or business growth simply to avoid having to live under a bridge someday? That’s fear. And, it may come as a surprise, but a very high percentage of successful people are driven by this very specific fear. That fear does drive them to become materially and financially successful, but at what cost? What relationships do they lose sight of along the way? What higher values do they forget about to avoid living under that bridge? Only they can know…

What about pursuing financial growth and gains in order to be able to buy nice things; the house, the car, maybe horses (horses are expensive in more ways than one.) That’s desire. And that might take you pretty far… Until you realize that having all the pretty things hasn’t bought you a LIFE. This is a fairly common starting point. But it’s not a motivation that leads to a fulfilled life or a real sense of enjoyment.

To take it a step further into being motivated by love, consider having a look at WHY you wanted to be able to afford the nice things in the first place. Was it because you just like nice things? OK, maybe you could focus that appreciation into a sense of gratitude for excellent design and become a patron of the arts. That’s love. Was it because you think nice things will attract a certain kind of mate? Maybe you could focus on having clarity about the kind of person you would prefer to be spending your life with – and what kind of person you need to be in order to attract your perfect mate. That’s love. And once you do that, you’ll still be able to fulfill on your intention of strong financial growth while also recognizing that the money isn’t the most important thing to you. You may see that your love is actually not the money and that the money is just a tool that can be used to support someone or something else that you actually do love.

Give thought to what’s driving your behavior. Fear is effective in the short term and it can get you started. Desire will take you pretty far as well, but will eventually fade. Love, on the other hand, turns out to be more powerful and longer lasting. It’s much more constructive and truly sustainable in the long run. This is worth as much meditation and focus as it takes to find a loving motivation for whatever you’re doing, and it’s a strong personal choice to decide to stop running away from things in life and discover for yourself who and what you love and choose those sources to inspire your decisions.

I consider this a step in the direction of sustainable growth and working with all the tools available to us as human beings.

The wisdom of telling time

What time is it now? Seems like a simple question, you might say as you glance at your watch, cell phone, or the clock on the wall. We all learned to tell time in kindergarten. How hard can it be?

The answer might surprise you. Telling time can be the hardest thing you do all day. When you watch your to-do list spin out of control, surf the Internet during the afternoon post-lunch coma, yawn through a long meeting, or look in despair at that pile of dishes in the kitchen sink, or at the pile of snow outside your front door, what you are really struggling with is telling what time it is.

Allow me to explain. Continue reading

The curse of the home office

Home office is the work reality for many CPA consultants and tax preparers. It beckons with the promise of an easy commute, and the comfort of working in your pajamas. It provides the flexibility of working when you want to. It can also save thousands of dollars that would otherwise be spent on rent. What’s not to love? Well, as tax preparer Joyce Linzy has learned the hard way, a home office can also be a liability. Continue reading