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How discipline can drive you toward success

Mark Sanborn, author of Up, Down, or Sideways.

The following is an excerpt of Chapter 11 from Mark Sanborn's new book, Up, Down, or Sideways: How to succeed when times are good, bad, or in between.

On my way to work each morning I see the same woman running the same route. I don't know who she is, but she's there every day, as dependable as the sunrise, putting in her miles.

I can only speculate on her motivation. Maybe she's just staying in shape (building physical reserves). Maybe she's an elite athlete, and this is part of her training regimen. This I do know: she is disciplined. And discipline isn't sexy. It is routine and consistent, like clockwork.

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When that same methodical, underappreciated discipline is applied to the mind-sets and methods we've talked about in this book, it will drive you toward success. But what does discipline look like? What are some of the things that distinguish this principle and bring value to your values?

Let's look at some ways to understand the art of discipline.

Discipline requires farsighted faith, not blind faith. Discipline is a present investment with the goal of future gains. With blind faith, you move forward with no idea whether your actions will produce the desired results. It's a form of ignorance, and it depends on factors you can't control, like luck. Farsighted faith rests on an understanding of your skill level and of relevant information. It allows you to manage and mitigate risks. It tells you that just because something isn't working now, that doesn't mean it won't work in the future if you stick to it. I'm pretty sure the woman I see running each morning doesn't feel the benefits during every morning run, but at the same time I'm quite certain she knows there are benefits accruing for her health in the future.

Discipline comes from motivation. Motivation is about far more than feeling good about what you're doing (remember, sometimes we don't feel like doing what needs to be done). It is about having motives for action, and those underlying motives must be compelling for us to stay disciplined. While others can inspire us and help us stay motivated, ultimately it is an inside job. You're the only one who can pull yourself out of bed in the morning and do what needs to be done. If you don't have motives behind your actions, then obviously you won't act.

Discipline includes scoring systems for making good decisions. Your actions begin with your decisions, so a core discipline should include processes for consistently making good decisions. Scoring systems like the one you should use to determine your definition of success can work in all sorts of other areas of life, including your decision making.

For instance, I have a system for choosing business opportunities: interesting people, interesting profits, interesting places, or interesting projects. If a project doesn't hit on at least two or three of those things, it probably isn't a great deal for me. In business, of course, profit is paramount, but you can balance it against other things you value. I've turned down projects that could have been profitable because I felt no passion for them or because I didn't share the same value system as the potential client.

Discipline travels the path of some resistance. Taking the path of least resistance sounds smart enough, but when you go that route you develop no muscle or moxie. Things work out easily, but the process doesn't make you better.

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The path of some resistance recognizes that challenges develop stamina and skill. If you've done much hiking, you know that some of the best views are found at the end of the most challenging trails.

When you take the path of some resistance, you end up telling someone what he or she needs to hear rather than what that person wants to hear. Or you might choose to do something that requires physical exertion over letting a machine do the work. And it almost always means going beyond yourself in service to others. The path of least resistance counts on "the system" to help those in need. The path of some resistance doesn't mean you can or should help everyone, but it acknowledges the tragedy of helping no one.

The path of some resistance also teaches you not to give up when you hit big resistance. Walt Disney faced several financial setbacks in the 1920s and was $4-million in debt in the early 1930s. But he pulled together just enough financing to cover the production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and that film's success in 1938 not only pulled the Walt Disney Company out of bankruptcy but also financed its new studios.

"You may not realize it when it happens," Disney once said, "but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you."

Discipline puts in the inevitable hard work of success. If it were easy, everyone would do it, right? Being disciplined requires stamina and a willingness to go beyond what most others are willing to do. The best speakers I know are those who are willing to spend more time researching their audiences and preparing their presentations. They labor longer behind the scenes, and the fruits of that labor become apparent when they take the stage.

George Bernard Shaw described it this way: "When I was a young man, I observed that nine out of ten things I did were failures. I didn't want to be a failure, so I did ten times more work."

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Taken from Chapter 11 of Up, Down, or Sideways by Mark Sanborn. Copyright © 2011 by Mark Sanborn. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.

Learn more about Up, Down, or Sideways at

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