The ONE Thing You Must Master To Develop Successful Habits

Think of your favorite athlete. Now think about your favorite musician. How about your favorite businessman, entrepreneur, speaker, writer? Many successful people may have several things in common such as determination, persistence and a hard-work ethic. These traits are good to have but there is one quality that sets these successful people apart from the rest.  I discovered something that is arguably more important. The lazy answer is to say developing successful habits because habits sustain you over a long period of time. Simply stating that it is important to develop successful habits doesn't really mean anything to me. I'm the type of person that asks way too many annoying questions like...

  1. How did you develop these successful habits?
  2. When you say successful, what does that mean to you?
  3. By the way, what are these so-called "successful habits"?
  4. How can I apply successful habits to my career?
  5. Out of all your successful habits, which one was the most important?
Yes, I tend to try to dig deeper when I can. It's a good quality, believe me. But here's the truth. At the heart of any successful person, is self-discipline. Self-discipline is the single most important factor... Not habits. Think about it like this...
"Discipline is consciously uncomfortable for a time, but habits are unconsciously maintained for life." - Randall Sean Garcia
(Yes, I just quoted myself.) The truth is that successful habits start with self-discipline. We are not born with these successful habits, we must work at them first. For me, I wasn't naturally gifted with the ability to wake up at 5AM every morning to spend quality time in prayer and exercise for an hour per day. Nope, that took discipline. Believe me, at first it was unnatural, uncomfortable, exhausting, difficult, and the list goes on. I remember the first morning I tried doing these things, it actually didn't seem too bad. I woke up with energy and motivation. I told myself every time I tried this that "this was the day my life would change forever" and that "this was the day I created a successful habit." Soon I realized that the first day wasn't the problem and neither was the second day. It was the 5th day when my 11 month old daughter wouldn't let me sleep. The 12th day when I stayed up an hour later than normal working on a project for work. It was the 29th day, when I stared at the ceiling all night in restlessness. It was many different days with many different potential excuses... excuses that were probably a valid reason for me to sleep in. The habit didn't wake me up, I hadn't gotten that far yet. It was discipline. Let me distinguish a few differences between discipline and habit.

Discipline in leadership is less about punishing and rewarding others, but rather having self-control, inner calm and outer resolve. A high level of determination and willpower play a significant part in your ability to be self-disciplined. Discipline is about conquering yourself. Discipline is focused energy to accomplish what you need, rather than to have what you want.

Discipline requires conscious effort and intentional planning. It is the key to accomplishing any goal, the key to living a successful life and achieving any dream. Conquering each discipline requires conquering your natural state of mind and altering them to become comfortable. Once they are conquered, they become habits. Bam! See where I'm going? As a leader, it is important to create discipline for ourselves in each priority area of our life. For me, I continue to develop new disciplines in my life such as my morning disciplines I discussed. I intend to do these things so often and so consistently, that they become second nature to me.
Habits in leadership are a key factor in determining the success of the leader. Bad habits must be broken and good habits must be built. Whether it is a good habit or bad habit, it all stems from good discipline or lack of discipline. Habits do not require much conscious effort, they are engrained into our daily routines and done without fail. Successful habits result in conquering the self and maintaining discipline long enough for them to become naturally maintained.
As a leader, it is important to build these successful habits. Habits require much less energy to think about, they are done so naturally that they do not require any extra planning or time spent dwelling on the task. For me, I have developed some good habits over the course of time. These are things that I do well and consistently without thinking much about them. Discipline comes before habit. Habits are formed from good discipline or lack-of discipline. Let’s see if you can identify the differences.
Person A: Wakes up at 5AM and runs 3 miles to reach a certain goal of losing weight. It is difficult rolling out of bed, but once they are up it’s not so bad. Realizes that this sacrifice is necessary to achieve the goal. Person B: Naturally wakes up at 5AM to run 3 miles before work to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Does so each morning without much effort or thought.
Who is operating out of discipline and who is operating out of habit?
Person A is operating out of discipline and person B is operating out of habit. There is a HUGE difference between the two.  

So what is more important, discipline or habit?

It really depends on how you look at it. My short-answer is both, but slightly more towards discipline.

“Leadership and discipline go hand in hand. It is impossible to imagine an effective leader who lacks self-discipline, will power, self control and self mastery. The main characteristics is that leaders are completely in control. ” - Brian Tracy

I can't imagine the leader without discipline. I would rather be disciplined enough to say "no" to sleeping-in and "yes" to exercise. I would rather say "no" to fast food and "yes" to meal prepping. I would rather fight the battle and win, rather than never battle at all. Every time I conquer myself, I win. Who doesn't want to be a winner?

On the flip side, I have noticed that once I have been disciplined in one area for an extended amount of time, I am now unconsciously operating the way I trained myself and spend less energy fighting the battles of discipline. This will lead to a lifestyle habit that is now operating as just another way of life. The good news is that I don't have to dread waking up at 5AM anymore, I don't have to dread meal-prepping and I certainly don't have any problem exercising in the mornings. My new habits are now almost a natural part of life, but the battle shouldn't end there.

For me, I like to get back into the fight and conquer something else and repeat this process over and over again. The hardest thing that a human can do is conquer their own self.

Recently, I decided to stop drinking coffee just for the sake of discipline. Who in their right mind would do such a thing? It's an experiment that I am performing on myself because I have spent the past several years completely addicted to coffee. I plan to blog on this in the next few weeks as I am adding up the time and costs associated with me giving up such an addiction, so far I am thrilled with the results.

The point is, there should be several disciplines in your life that you look to develop into habits. Start small, get a few wins and then work your way up to big ones. It's well worth the effort you put in, especially if they soon become effortless. This is why I truly believe that the real wins are in discipline. For the most part, successful habits are not a natural product of life.

You have to start somewhere, build up your self-discipline and create these successful habits over time. Both are crucial to your success as a human, leader or entrepreneur... But it all starts with discipline!


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