119 years of Trust Your Option THE TRIBUNE
sunday reading
Sunday, April 25, 1999

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Self-discipline at work
By Taru Bahl

EVER wondered how some of us manage to pack in so much in the course of a day while the rest are left making excuses? We keep a ready-reckoner at hand detailing the exact reasons for our inabilities and poor performance levels. The list of deterrents could include things like the unbearable heat, mood swings, lack of infrastructure, inadequate resources, a non-supportive family or bad habits.

We first accept these inevitables and then suffer like martyrs, as though we have little choice. It never occurs to us that we can turn the wheel of fortune and rewrite what fate has decreed for us. When we see Ustaad Zakir Hussain on the tabla,Hari Prasad Chaurasia on the flute, or Dr Trehan performing a delicate heart surgery, we like to believe that they are gifted and special.

We resign ourselves to our fate thinking that we — the lesser mortals — are ordained to lead a nondescript existence. We forget that genius is 99 per cent perspiration and only 1 per cent inspiration. We fear that in trying to discipline ourselves we would have to overhaul our lifestyle, value system and personality attributes — and that they would make us less likeable in our peer group.

We would much rather do what the average person around us is doing, even if it means never actualising or knowing the true worth of our potential. We do not pause to think that there is nothing that self-discipline cannot transform. Concentration, will power, determination, perseverance and endurance cannot just improve the way we think, feel, act and behave but also the way we look at life. Who can then stop us from becoming another eminent cardiologist, or a world-renowned tabla maestro if we set our mind to it?

What keeps ‘A’, a keen mountaineer, from following his role model, the famous Chris Bonnington? He opts out of every high altitude expedition. He is convinced that his fitness, stamina level, sense of timing and survival instincts are grossly inadequate. ‘B’ is an entrepreneur but even after three decades in the business, he remains a small time manufacturer. He feels his limitations are not a result of opportunities lost or talents unrealised but because he was not lucky enough to be born in a Birla, Tata or Godrej family. ‘C’ envied the reputation and respect his boss commanded in trade circles. Seeing the boss’ frenetic pace of work he assumed that the latter worked eight days a week minus fun and frolic. He dismissed a similar lifestyle because he couldn’t see himself sacrificing his share of enjoyment. He was a late-riser, used to partying into the wee hours of the morning. If his career was not going anywhere, so be it.

All three instances are examples of how most of us accept certain myths. Myth number one is that successful people are plain lucky. Myth number two is that we can’t change the way we are, we can only fine-tune what we already have. Myth number three is that discipline means curtailing freedom and desires. Myth number four is that we cannot change our destiny.

It is myths like this that prove to be stumbling blocks as we stubbornly refuse to change ourselves. Like still water we stagnate, develop weeds and, finally, start stinking.

Have we ever asked ourselves as to why must we resign to being inarticulate communicators or anything else which places us a point lower on the self esteem-self reliance barometer.

Napoleon proudly claimed that the word "impossible" didn’t exist in his dictionary. If he did not know how to get somewhere, he would find out, no matter how many heads had to roll. This is why highly effective people carry their agenda with them. Their schedule is always their servant, never their master. They organise weekly and adapt daily. However, they aren’t capricious in changing their plans. They exercise discipline and concentration, without submitting to moods and circumstances. Which is precisely how they manage to pack in so much in the course of a day. It is not as if the gods are kinder to them or that they were born successful achievers. They perhaps saw opportunities where we didn’t and they kept pushing themselves till they reached where they wanted to. They honed existing skills, acquired new ones, shed old habits and learnt to better records.

People, who are disciplined, appear to be better managers of their time. This is because they know how to say ‘no’ to interruptions and distractions. They do not waste time procrastinating and postponing decisions. Self-disciplined people rarely succumb to substance abuse. Even when friends may be experimenting with drugs and alcohol they stand their ground and firmly deny themselves a ‘trip’.

They do not feel the need to follow the herd just because it is the done thing. Their self-esteem is not linked to extraneous factors of what and how the world perceives them to be. It is derived from what they are and how they wish to be. This is why they may not have a string of boy and girl friends just because their social network legitimises promiscuous lifestyles. They are certainly not prudish or spoilsports. Their clarity of thought stems from a clear understanding of what their inherent strengths and limitations are.

If they appear to be excellent time managers it is because they effectively schedule blocks of prime time for core tasks. They prioritise work; doing less demanding things when their fatigue levels are higher. They do more and better because they exercise the discipline of doing important and difficult work first, deferring routine jobs to other times. This gives them the power that comes with being products of their decisions, goals and plans and not to their whims and situational baggage.

How is it that two boys from the same class and background with similar dreams of turning into millionaires by the time they are 20, end up in two opposing directions? While one succeeds in fulfiling his desire, the other turns into a waster who lives off his elder sister’s earnings. Achievers are quick to point out that if one wants to turn dreams into reality one must learn to focus on the doughnut and not on the hole. According to them, goals are nothing but dreams with a deadline and an action plan.

When we confuse goals with dreams and wishes, we wait for miracles to take place. And people who have worked their way to the top will vouch that just the way there are no short-cuts, there are no free lunches either. Desires, dreams and wishes are all very well but if one wants to see them fulfiled they must be supported by the pillars of discipline, direction, dedication and deadline management. It is the supreme power of discipline which motivates us to bring about massive changes in ourselves and of undoing the wrongs inflicted on us.

There are time when situations and circumstances seem indomitable, when the only sensible recourse appears to walk away rather than be humiliated, led down and defeated. But as the 13th century Hindu philosopher Shankaracharya mentioned that the greatest warrior too when standing in the midst of the battlefield sweats with fear. While his body maybe fearful, his spirit is fearless. He is able to detach himself from the fear of the body and mind as he clings to the fearlessness of the spirit which keeps prodding him to go on.

Self-discipline then is not about how one feels, what one likes and how good one is. Rather, it is about the guts to take definitive action and get things moving in life. It includes plain old will power and the ability to set goals. The formula for success, be it for an Oscar- winning actor or an award-winning singer, is not just the pride in what he does and achieves but the guts and stamina to work tirelessly to accomplish these objectives.Back

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