New Year's is always an interesting time. "Out with the old, in with the New," many proclaim. It's the time where we take stock of where we have been, assess where we'd like to be, and make plans to change.
How many of you actually make New Year's Resolutions? How many of you are able to keep them, if only for a week, two weeks, a month? Are your New Year's Resolutions a springboard to permanent change?
While most of us truly believe we will keep those changes we promise ourselves -- and others -- we will implement, the reality is most of us are not that good at making change. And, why is that, do you suppose? Well, we frequently lack a critical element required for change: self-discipline.
I recently had the luck of finding a copy of New York Times Best-Selling Author and management guru, Brian Tracy's book, "No Excuses." Several years ago, I had the amazing fortune and honor of not only meeting Brian at a seminar, but I also shared the same speaking stage with him. I had just written my book, "It's Not Who You Know, It's How You Treat Them," and was sharing my presentation on the topic with the audience. Brian speaks very eloquently about how successful people become truly successful and one of the big "secrets" he talks about is self-discipline. Brian defines this vital trait very simply: "the ability to do what you should do, when you should do it, whether you feel like it or not."
While no one is likely going to argue with the importance of self-discipline, the reality is, many of us struggle with its actual practice. Brian's book takes a realistic, practical approach to implementing greater self-discipline in every aspect of your life, personal or professional.
What particularly intrigued me about the book, and where it dovetails with my own work is in Chapter 2 where he launches into a discussion of "Self-Discipline and Character." Self-discipline is truly one of the great "virtues" and it's one that we cover in our SocialSmarts curriculum extensively. Brian explains how the self-discipline principal is vital to one's success as a person when he writes...
The person you are today, your innermost character, is the sum total of all your choices and decisions in life up to this date. Each time you have acted rightly and chosen consistently with the very best that you know, you have strengthened your character and become a better person. The reverse is also true: Each time you have compromised, taken the easy way, or behaved in a manner inconsistent with what you knew to be right, you have weakened your character and softened your personality.
Again, I don't think anyone would argue with this. But, once again, it's easily said, and not so easily done. Tracy continues in the chapter with talking about the importance of training ourselves to develop and use our willpower to overcome the natural temptations to take short-cuts or compromise that life will inevitably bring us. And, he makes the very important connection of how critical it is to teach our children from the earliest, to be beings of character. We are so focused on developing and nurturing our children's self-esteem that we tend to support them regardless of their actions, committing to them unconditional love and pride. Yes, it's important to teach our kids that we love them no matter what, but we forget to help them realize the connection between doing good and doing right and feeling good and feeling right. That's where true self-esteem comes from: it's an inner strength that is developed by making good choices, particularly when times are tough.
And therein lies the power of self-discipline: you may not want to do your homework or complete a presentation to your boss, but you know you need to. And, when you fail to complete something you know you are supposed to do, or put it off over and over again, your self-discipline weakens, and that, in turn, weakens your character over time. And, like a muscle that is not getting any use, your character begins to atrophy and weaken. When that occurs, it takes twice as much effort to rebuild it to its original capability and strength.
While Nike's motto of "Just Do It" may seem like an oversimplification, in actuality, that's the attitude you need to cultivate. Once you "Do It," whatever your task in front of you is -- eating a healthy meal instead of junk, putting the running shoes on for a lap around the neighborhood, refusing to take the easy way out because you don't think anyone is looking, -- you will find you feel so empowered and so much better than you did when you were struggling with the decision. "Do or don't do, there is no try," Master Yoda says in "Star Wars." Realistically you may have to take your changes in small baby steps, but each time you complete a task on the to-do list or forego that extra dessert while you are on a diet, you know you've chosen and done right. Positive energy begets more positive energy, and your good habits build each time you "take another rep" of the right thing to do.
Brian, I'd like to send a personal thank you for sharing a message at such a timely time. Personally, I'm ready for a new phase of growth, and some of it seems lofty and too big accomplish. But, as you have reminded me, it's all about doing what you should, when you should, and you only need to do it for now, then for today until you make it your habit every day.
Happy New Year to you all, loyal followers! Make this year your very best and may you accomplish the goals you have set for yourself.
Want to learn more about how SocialSmarts can lead to greater personal and professional success? Book Corinne as a speaker for your office or group. She offers talks from 30-90 minutes and custom workshops for professionals, parents and other adults.