The magic of self-discipline

Mark Twain once said: “There are a thousand ex­cuses for fail­ure but never a good reason.” Why are some people more successful than others? Why do some people make more money, live happier lives, and accomplish much more in the same number of years than the great majority? What is the real “secret of success?”

Losers make excuses; winners make progress. Now, how can you tell if your favourite excuse is valid or not? Brain Tracy believes it is simple. Look around and ask, “Is there anyone else who has my same excuse who is successful anyway?” When you ask this question, if you are honest, you will have to admit that there are thousands and even millions of people who have had it far worse than you have who have gone on to do wonderful things with their lives. And what thou­sands and millions of others have done, you can do as well—if you try. “It has been said that if people put as much energy into achieving their goals as they spend making up excuses for failure, they would actually surprise themselves.”


Brian Tracy says that very few people start off with many advan­tages. “Personally,” he reveals, “I did not graduate from high school. I worked at labouring jobs for several years. I had limited education, lim­ited skills, and a limited future; and then I began asking that question: Why are some people more suc­cessful than others? This question changed my life.”

Over the years, Tracy has read thousands of books and articles on the subjects of success and achieve­ment. Subsequently he surmises thus: “It seems that the reasons for these accomplishments have been discussed and written about for more than 2,000 years, in every conceivable way.”

One quality that most philoso­phers, teachers, and experts agree on is the importance of self-disci­pline. Discipline is what you must have to resist the temptation of excuses.

“Perhaps the most important insight of all with regard to success is that to achieve greatly, you must become a different person. It is not the material things you accomplish or acquire that matter so much as it is the quality of the person you must become to accomplish well above the average.” The develop­ment of self-discipline ultimately makes everything possible for you. Elbert Hubbard believes that “Self-discipline is the ability to do what you should do, when you should do it, whether you feel like it or not.”

Kop Kopmeyer had written four bestselling books, each of which contained 250 success principles that he had derived from more than fifty years of research and study. When Brian Tracy encountered him, Tracy asked him the question that many people in this situa­tion would ask: “Of all the 1,000 success principles that you have discovered, which do you think is the most important?” He answered thus: “There are 999 other success principles that I have found in my reading and experience, but without self-discipline, none of them work. With self-discipline, they all work.”

Without doubt, self-discipline is the key to personal greatness. It is the magic quality that opens all doors for you and makes everything else possible. With self-discipline, the average person can rise as far and as fast as his talents and intel­ligence can take him. But without self-discipline, a person with every blessing of background, education, and opportunity will seldom rise above mediocrity.



Just as self-discipline is the key to success, the lack of self-disci­pline is the major cause of failure, frustration, underachievement, and unhappiness in life. It causes us to make excuses and sell ourselves short. The reason for this, Pat Goggins opines, is because a person of character is self-disciplined; and character implies the courage to stand for what is right.

Perhaps the two biggest enemies of success, happiness and personal fulfillment, according to Tracy are first the “Path of Least Resistance” and, second, the “Expediency Factor.”

The Path of Least Resistance is what causes people to take the easy way in almost every situation. They seek shortcuts to everything. They arrive at work at the last minute and leave at the first opportunity. They look for get rich-quick schemes and easy money. Over time, they devel­op the habit of always seeking an easier, faster way to get the things they want rather than doing what is hard but necessary to achieve real success.

The Expediency Factor, which is an extension of the law of least re­sistance, is even worse when leading people to failure and underachieve­ment. This principle says, “People invariably seek the fastest and easi­est way to get the things they want, right now, with little or no concern for the long-term consequences of their behaviours.” In other words, most people do what is expedient, what is fun and easy rather than what is necessary for success.

Every day, and every minute of every day, there is a battle going on inside of you between doing what is right, hard, and necessary (like the angel on one shoulder) or doing what is fun, easy, and of little or no value (like the devil on your other shoulder). Every minute of every day, you must fight and win this bat­tle with the Expediency Factor and resist the pull of the Path of Least Resistance if you truly desire to become everything you are capable of becoming.



Another definition of self-dis­cipline is self-mastery. Success is possible only when you can master your own emotions, appetites, and inclinations. People who lack the ability to master their appetites be­come weak and dissolute, as well as unreliable in other things as well.

Self-discipline can also be defined as self-control. Your ability to control yourself and your actions, control what you say and do, and ensure that your behaviours are consistent with your long-term goals and objectives is the mark of the superior person.

Discipline has been defined as self-denial. This requires that you deny yourself the easy pleasures, the temptations that lead so many people astray, and instead discipline yourself to do only those things that you know are right for the long term and appropriate for the moment.

Self-discipline requires delayed gratification, the ability to put off satisfaction in the short term in order to enjoy greater rewards in the long term.


Sociologist Dr Edward Banfield of Harvard University conducted a fifty year study into the reasons for upward socioeconomic mobility in America. He concluded that the most important single attribute of people who achieved great success in life was “long time perspective.” Banfield defined “time perspective” as “the amount of time an individ­ual takes into consideration when determining his present actions.”

In other words, the most success­ful people are long-term thinkers. They look into the future as far as they can to determine the kind of people they want to become and the goals they want to achieve. They then come back to the present and determine the things that they will have to do—or not do—to achieve their desired futures.

This practice of long-term thinking applies to work, career, marriage, relationships, money, and personal conduct—each of which will be covered in the weeks ahead. Successful people make sure that everything they do in the short term is consistent with where they want to end up in the long term. They practice self-discipline at all times.

Perhaps the most important word in long-term thinking is SACRI­FICE. Superior people have the ability to throughout their lives make sacrifices in the short term, both large and small, so as to assure greater results and rewards in the long term.

You see this willingness to sac­rifice in people who spend many hours and even years preparing, studying, and upgrading their skills to make themselves more valuable so that they can have a better life in the future, rather than spending most of their time socialising and having fun in the present.


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