The Power of Selective Discipline

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What’s done can’t be undone. – William Shakespeare

In his book, The One Thing, Gary Keller writes about a disciplined life in one of the chapters. In it, he expounds on the concept of selected discipline. In doing so, he points to Olympic champion Michael Phelps.

From age 14 through the Beijing Olympics, Phelps trained seven days a week, 365 days a year. By doing so he gained a 52-training day advantage over his competitors. He spent 6 hours a day in the water training-mastering the discipline of one habit that ultimately earned him Olympic gold.

The story of Phelps is quite inspiring.That he would channel so much time and energy into his life’s passion for swimming at such a young age is impressive. It also caused me think about how we as leaders develop our own patterns of discipline and personal growth. Here’s a thought that Keller expressed that is worth mentioning:

The payoff from developing the right habit is pretty obvious. It gives you the success you’re searching for. What sometimes gets overlooked, however, is an amazing windfall: It also simplifies your life. Your life gets clearer and less complicated because you know what you have to do well and what you don’t. The fact of the matter is that aiming discipline at the right habit gives you license to be less disciplined in other areas. When you do the right thing, it can liberate you from having to monitor everything.

In my early years of leadership, I was thoroughly indoctrinated with the concept and ideas of living a well- disciplined life. It’s a virtuous goal of every leader, right? But the notion of selective discipline was refreshing music to my ears and to my sometimes less than disciplined ways.

To obtain this noble virtue as a leader, like you perhaps, I wore myself out trying to measure up to what at times was just an improbable reality. It was frustrating. The fallout? Becoming the jack of all trades, the master of none. Keller adds, “You can become successful with less discipline than you think, for one simple reason: success is about doing the right thing, not about doing everything right.” How refreshing!

Selective discipline brings a measure of healthy simplicity to your life. Here are a few suggestions on how to make that happen.

Embrace your ‘one thing’

Selective discipline in your life begins when you identify what your ‘one thing’ is and direct your energies towards it. It’s as simple and complicated as that. But you will burn yourself out and have less energy for what truly matters so long as you don’t know what it is.

Embrace your selective discipline

Discovering your one thing is liberating. Knowing your purpose gives life meaning. But now comes the channeling of that discipline to take you to new levels of growth and potential. Sadly, you can know your one thing and still not live up to your potential if you don’t form the proper growth habits.

Embrace the sacrifice

The formula will look like this: SD(Selective discipline) +S(Sacrifice) = Success. Unless you are willing to sacrifice the good for the great you will always flounder. It’s time to focus, embrace your one thing, and channel your energies to become the person God created you to be.

The sacrifice won’t always be easy. Muhammad Ali put it this way, “I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion”. And this is the reward of embracing the sacrifice- knowing that your success would not have come about any other way.


© 2017 Doug Dickerson



About dougdickerson

I am Certified Leadership Trainer, author, columnist, and speaker. Husband to Alicia, father to Katelyn and Kara, and "Pop" to terrific grandsons Tyson and Gideon. I am an avid photographer, love the outdoors, and like to travel. I'm passionate about sharing my leadership insights and helping people reach their full potential.
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