Discipline Secrets from an Athlete

4:30 a.m. and the alarm goes off. Actually, it is a light that emulates the sun to wake you up without the blaring and annoying sound of a typical alarm clock. A tall glass of water and the restroom is next. Sliding on my socks and tennis shoes, I prepare for the Shaolin workout. It is a series of 28 movements that focus on strength, flexibility, and functional mobility. This wakes the senses and relieves the aches and pains of a lifetime of athletic and vice abuse on my body. Twenty minutes of meditation connects the mind, body, and spirit.

I then pull out my journal and write down what I am thankful for that day, usually based on the events of the previous day. Copy a passage of the Tao and write a self-interpretation of the prose as a means to reflect on life. That is followed up with reading and documenting my interpretation of five prose from Hagakure, the Secret Code of Samurai. Next, I drink a cup of homemade French press coffee and smoke a tobacco only, no additive or carcinogen cigarette, in silence, on my back porch as the sun begins to rise.

Now it is time for a workout of the muscles: Push ups, body squats, crunches, dips, burpees, jump squats, plank, and pull ups. I then make the kids their school lunch and gently wake them from a deep sleep to get their day started. This is my morning routine, every day… every day.

I have other things I ensure get done like advancement of my business, writing each day, doing something out of my comfort zone, and finishing the night with a meditation and conversation with ONE. But my morning routine seems to be of most interest when I share how I get so much done. The common response after I blurt out the above in a single breath, “I wish I could be that disciplined.”

The funny thing is, you are disciplined. I am sure you brush your teeth, you eat food, and engage in some guilty pleasure every day. That is discipline. The issue is not your ability to be disciplined. The issue is your inability to wait; to wait for the reward of it all.

When you engage in all the things you do on a regular basis like watching your favorite show, driving to work to be there on time, or eating dinner every night, you don’t have to wait and that is how you have become accustomed to living. Everyone wants it right now. Everyone wants to see the thing happen immediately.

One of the greatest things trained and instilled from sport, in my life, was this ability to wait for a reward that was never guaranteed. Athletes have to train during the off season, practice all week long, and hope to get in the game on Friday or Saturday night. If you got in the game you had to wait for your turn to get the ball or wait for an opportunity to arise where you could use all that training and preparation. But that chance may never come throughout the entire course of the game. Even if that chance does come and you win the moment, you may still lose the game.

Imagine putting in so much work, day in and day out, only for it to be a fleeting moment in time that may never allow you to seize it, even if only for a second. It builds fortitude and resilience. It builds confidence and strength. It can also break you into a million pieces, left sobbing like a baby on the floor as you heart bleeds out and the adrenaline dissipates.

That is the difference. You are disciplined but only for the activities that give you an immediate reward you can guarantee. It is easy, comfortable, and familiar that way. The other end of discipline is hard, uncomfortable, and never resembles anything you may slightly be familiar with in your history. It is engaging in the activity that will only potentially pay off, if ever, way later down the path of your journey, and is never guaranteed.

It sounds scary. What you can take solace in is the fact that you know what discipline is and you know how to be disciplined. You are disciplined every day of your life in behaviors you have on auto-pilot. The fact that they are on auto-pilot is because you have been doing them for so long. You weren’t born with the discipline of brushing your teeth. Your parents harped on you every day as a child until you complied. Then over time, you did it yourself, sometimes with poorer quality until you recognized the benefit. Now you brush your teeth every day and tell your kids to do the same.

Try doing that with the thing you desire. It takes a while but eventually, those good habits, that discipline that produces outcomes that are not guaranteed, they go on auto-pilot as well; just like my morning routine. But it takes time. It takes a lot of time.

One way to ensure that time flies by is by choosing the things you know work for you or testing things out to see if they work for you. Don’t say you will read and meditate and write every morning because you heard it was good for the brain. Maybe you need to sing, run, and learn every morning. I tried upwards of eight different styles of meditation before I created a style, combing my favorite aspects of my experiments, that worked for me. I swim, hit the punching back, and my basic body weight exercises because I could no longer lifts weights like a college football player. I read the Samurai code because the principles fascinate me, not because it was mentioned in a motivational YouTube clip. Choose what works best for you and it will be easier and last longer. That, however, requires trying different things, tossing out the stuff that doesn’t work, and keeping what feels right, creating your own regimen of excellence.

Eventually, you will start to see changes and you will, at minimum, feel better and more prepared. That is the reward you must enjoy. The process of doing what others aren’t willing to do is the win. You see I said, “aren’t willing,” because they all can but you are the one who will act. Being willing to wait for a potential opportunity, enjoying the small daily wins as your reward, picking the right activities that make you feel rewarded in the act of doing them, and recognizing how it is changing your life instead of focusing on the unrealistic vision of what you expect in the immediate future is the foundation to discipline.