Discipline for Men

With the new year upon us, prepare to be bombarded by folks claiming to have methods that will make your New Year's Resolutions stick. The problem is, the need for resolutions is evidence of one thing: a lack of discipline. Train to become more disciplined and never need a resolution again.

This is not an article on spicing up your sex life by having your girlfriend give you a good spanking. For those of you without discipline, however — you can consider this article a spanking.

Discipline is the most essential quality of the successful man. Discipline is your key to power, effectiveness and freedom. A disciplined man can accomplish anything within the scope of his talents and abilities. An undisciplined man accomplishes nothing.

First: Grow a set.

Seriously! As with most meaningful endeavors, the first step in any self-improvement effort is to make a decision. The decision to be a disciplined person is a necessary first step if any process or method to cultivate discipline is to be effective.

Once you’ve made the decision, the process of becoming a more disciplined person is simple; simple- not easy.

“Discipline is the action of developing the habits and characteristics that will move you toward your personal vision of success and happiness. Nothing is more important to living a life of constant self-perfection. Discipline keeps you going when motivation is low, adversity is high, and frustration is seemingly your only companion.” -From Think Like a Black Belt.

Once you’ve set the goal to become more disciplined, your next move is to identify or create a goal, and then develop a set of attainable steps that will get you there. Next create a timeline or schedule to act on those steps and go for it. Repeat this process again and again…and again. Sounds like a basic goal-setting program, yes? Exactly — that's what discipline is all about. It's about setting goals and doing what it takes to get there — again and again.

It really is that simple; so why is it often so difficult? It’s difficult because the best laid plans are subject to set-backs and failures. Discouragement, frustration and pain are waiting to derail you at every turn. Add to this circumstances and conditions outside your control and you can see how important discipline, courage and perseverance are to creating success — and it’s not always easy!

Who said it was supposed to be easy? A real man doesn’t give a damn about easy — but at the same time there’s no reason to overcomplicate the process. Be a man, step up and simply do what a real man is supposed to do; that is look at what you need to do and get the job done.

Some people want their hands held and need a pat on the head every time they do something. Enjoy the personal satisfaction in each small success, don’t look for praise and don’t play for the trophy. Part of the reason this process is so often over-complicated is because people are looking for external rewards. External rewards do not cultivate discipline, those are incentives. If your only motivation is an incentive you're not a free man, you're a donkey. A donkey can be tricked into pulling a cart by dangling a carrot at the end of a stick.

Don't be a donkey. You know the carrot isn't getting any closer. Learn to enjoy the task. Focus on the moment and approach each moment with a sense of purpose. The ultimate purpose being simply to do something to the best of your capability: excellence. Excellence breeds success.

Most people are more disciplined than they realize. I often ask my audience for a show of hands of people who consider themselves disciplined. Usually only about half the room raises their hands. What the hell is wrong with the rest of them? Most of the time they simply haven't taken the time to analyze how they've gotten where they are today. You have accomplished great things and you have developed habits that generate success. Once in a while sit down and take an inventory.

“I’ve got to say I have met people that genuinely have no self-discipline. Fortunately, they’re the exception, not the rule. Sometimes it’s just because they’ve never been taught how to develop discipline. That’s what a lot of people come to the martial arts for; to learn how to develop discipline. Most of the time it’s an easy fix; it’s just a matter of giving them something difficult to do, encouraging them to do it, and then pointing out to them that they did it and how!”

If you've got kids, do this early and often. If you're a leader or manager install this process as part of your management policy. If you're working on your own, take the time to analyze each venture and identify the steps that produced desireable outcomes and repeat them.

Discipline is developed by learning to be satisfied with one's effort, to be fully engaged in the process and to enjoy this process of personal development as much as any reward. Discipline is the key to success and is a self-perpetuating reward in itself.

“Unfortunately, there are some people who genuinely don’t want to do anything to improve. They don’t want to do the work. These are the walking dead; the complacent, lazy bums and leeches that are perfectly happy being consumers without contributing a damned thing to the world. These are the vampires, the human sponges; these people are a waste of food and they make me want to puke.

“That’s pretty harsh; sorry, that’s how I feel.”

Does that mean there is no hope for success for someone who is lazy or complacent? Does that mean that if you lack discipline you're doomed to fail, end of story?

Well, yes it does, unless you're willing to take that crucial first step and simply decide you're going to do what it takes to achieve your goals and create a life of excellence, and you're willing to do this again and again…and again. If you're not willing to take that step, I'm sorry, but there is no help for you. Discipline is not a school for mediocrity, it's a mindset of excellence. If you're not willing to embrace this process, then find something to do that is not demanding and learn to be satisfied — nothing wrong with that; but if you're not satisfied you have no one to blame but you.


“Even the most lazy, complacent human sponge can become a disciplined person. No matter how little discipline you have right now you can improve and eventually become a self-disciplined, successful and happy person. How?

“One punch, one kick, and one step at a time.

“Substitute a punch or a kick for any other activity you can think of. It might be learning your first chord on a guitar, your first dance step, or doing your first 5 minutes on a treadmill. It might be learning your first phrase of Spanish or taking the first section of a real estate broker’s program. It might be enrolling in one adult ed class at your community college or asking your boss to spend a few extra minutes with you to find out what you can do to position yourself for a promotion.

“Just pick something and do it. That’s it. No psychological bullshit; just do it.”

Discipline is an internal characteristic and developing discipline is an internal process. Look outside and you'll be looking forever. Certainly other people's encouragement, help and guidance are useful tools, but you must internalize the process to be successful; otherwise when those external stimuli are gone, so goes your motivation. Motivation is not in and of itself discipline; discipline is what takes over even when motivation wanes.

The choice is yours. Failure is the result of fear, doubt and complacency. Discipline is the antidote to all three components of failure.

Which will you choose?

Jim Bouchard: Speaker, coach & author of Dynamic Components of Personal POWER!. Jim’s next book: Think Like a Black Belt is scheduled for release in January, 2010. Check out his website, http://www.jimbouchard.org/.


  • Reply December 30, 2010


    Although I agree that self-discipline is important to a certain degree, take this article with a huge grain of salt.

    I find testosterone-driven “coaches”, like the author, annoying, not because their heavy-handed patronizing messages border on offensive, but because they help create an unhappy society. The simple solutions they promote in order to make a buck don’t fit the reality of a complex life.

    Alain de Botton says this better than I can:
    “…for most of us, our bright promise will always fall short of being actualised; it will never earn us bountiful sums of money or beget exemplary objects or organisations…extraordinary resilience, intelligence and good fortune are needed to redraw the map of our reality, while on either side of the summits of greatness are arrayed the endless foothills populated by the tortured celibates of achievement…our dealings with reality undermined by a range of minor yet critical psychological flaws (a little too much optimism, an unprocessed rebelliousness, a fatal impatience or sentimentality)…(there is) unthinking cruelty discreetly coiled within the magnanimous bourgeois assurance that everyone can discover happiness through work and love. It isn’t that these two entities are invariably incapable of delivering fulfilment, only that they almost never do so. And when an exception is misrepresented as a rule, our individual misfortunes, instead of seeming to us quasi-inevitable aspects of life, will weigh down on us like particular curses. In denying the natural place reserved for longing and error in the human lot, the bourgeois ideology denies us the possibility of collective consolation for our fractious marriages and our unexploited ambitions, and condemns us instead to solitary feelings of shame and persecution for having stubbornly failed to become who we are.”
    Resolve instead this year to not let neanderthals make you think you’re a failure.
    For any interested, this author advocates the opposite: no goals!

  • Reply December 30, 2010

    Jim Bouchard

    I don’t usually respond to anonymous criticism- I welcome debate with people who want to sincerely discuss any topic I write or speak on. I also greatly respect and admire those willing to disagree or offer alternative views.

    Having said that, my response to the above comment is simply- what specifically do you find so “offensive” about the promotion of self-discipline and what solutions do you offer to someone who is struggling with the problem that “…for most of us, our bright promise will always fall short of being actualised.”

    Frankly, and with all due respect to Alain de Botton, who, by the way, is not giving away his books and since I’ve seen him listed with several high-end speaking bureaus I’m quite sure he is not speaking for free either. I have no quarrel with Mr. de Botton who is certainly entitled to making as much money as he’d like from his ideas- I’m only questioning my anonymous friend’s assumption that I am promoting my “simple solutions” to simply “make a buck.”

    Speaking of “simple solutions,” I’m wondering first why Mr. Anon chose de Botton’s work as a contrasting argument. I have a very hard time finding disagreement with de Botton’s Zen inspired simplistic views on life. While we certainly disagree on some points, I am much the admirer of thinkers who cut through the overly complex trappings of contemporary society and teach a return to the simple values and mindset characteristics upon which one can create a life of success and happiness.

    I’m sure the commenter is not familiar with me or my life, nor has he read my books. Had he done any diligence, he would know of my life experiences and why I am so dedicated to the promotion of discipline, focus, self-motivation and other core values and characteristics.

    Before I learned to cultivate and apply discipline in my life, I was much of the mindset of Leon Babauta, the writer Mr. Anon links to at ZenHabits.net. In fact, I still agree with much of what I read in that particular article.

    We do need to approach life with an open mind and heart and be receptive to the changes and adventures that we might find in our wanderings. However, like many people who co-opt the themes found in Zen and other Asian traditions, Mr. Anon seems to hold that aimless wandering through life without ambitions, goals or purpose is the best way to achieve satisfaction.

    This is not at all what the Zen masters were teaching. The fact is that discipline, focus and attention are the hallmarks of Zen and other such practices. This is why we as martial artists lean so heavily on those traditions.

    “Go with the flow” in a Zen sense presupposes dedicated training, introspection and discipline. They realized that in order to wander the world without specific aim and in order to be receptive to the abundance the universe has to offer us on any particular journey, one must be prepared to recognize, acknowledge and embrace any opportunity we may find along the way.

    Without training and discipline, one could I suppose live a reasonably happy life- provided, as I point out in my article, that one is TRULY satisfied at any particular time and is not simply making an excuse to mask laziness, complacency or a willingness to live off the good will of others.

    I certainly hope Mr. Babauta and Mr. Anon are not one in the same. If so, the shameless self-promotional link, which I would normally respect would seem ingenuous given that Mr. Babauta features several eBooks and books on his website and again they are not being distributed as an act of charity.

    Assuming that they are not the same person and Mr. Anon was simply looking for support for his arguments, again I wonder why he picked that particular source to validate his dissent.

    Babauta quotes one of my favorite thinkers at the end of his article:

    “A good traveller has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.” Lao Tzu

    I agree entirely! Of course, the traveler must also have the energy, drive and spirit for the journey. Again this does not imply aimless wandering- read Lao Tzu in context and you’ll understand that he’s saying one enjoys a much richer experience if one is ready to embrace the journey more than the destination.

    In Think Like a Black Belt I put it this way:

    “Perfection is not a destination; it’s a never-ending process…Enjoy!”

    The plain fact is that the sort of aimless, purposeless life Mr. Anon seems to advocated does nothing but create a society of dependents. It is this type of mindset that has created a society of entitlement- not only in the obvious sense but also in a subtle movement that encourages people to depend solely on visualizations, positive thought, self-actualization practices and “secrets.”

    When I started this journey I was a drug addict and two-time college drop out. I thought that all I had to do was “be myself” and the abundance of the world would somehow open up to me- and if it didn’t it was no doubt because “the man” was keeping me down or some force I could not overcome was bent on controlling my life.

    de Botton as quoted by Mr. Anon:

    “In denying the natural place reserved for longing and error in the human lot, the bourgeois ideology denies us the possibility of collective consolation for our fractious marriages and our unexploited ambitions, and condemns us instead to solitary feelings of shame and persecution for having stubbornly failed to become who we are.”

    a) That “bourgeois ideology” seems to be serving de Botton fairly well- as I pointed out earlier, he seems to be earning a satisfactory lifestyle by trading on his ideas (fairly by all accounts).

    b) I’m wondering why such a seemingly successful person feels “shame and persecution for having stubbornly failed to become who we are.” It seems from his continual use of the pronoun “we” that he considers himself kindred with his readers.

    The solution is simple- not always easy.

    Discipline opened my life to the actualization of my potential, to the rich sense of purpose I find in my work and the development of my talents and abilities and has certainly helped me become who I am!

    By the way- when I first walked into a dojo some 25 years ago, I had no plans to stay past the introductory program. I certainly had no idea I’d ever become an author or speaker.

    It’s amazing what happens when you learn to become a “good traveler!”

    Best thoughts to Mr. Anon, Mr. Babauta and Mr. de Botton!

  • Reply January 1, 2011


    If there is “unthinking cruelty discreetly coiled” in the idea of work and love being the formula for happiness, then are sloth and antagonism to be preferred as ways to happiness?

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  • Reply April 20, 2011


    Mr. Bouchard, your civil response to criticism is very admirable. The internet would be a richer place if more comments were as thoughtful as yours. Thanks for the article. I did enjoy it. But, I must say, it was your thoughtfulness and character found in your comment that swayed me to check out your site. (Not that that was your intention.)

    • Reply November 5, 2016

      Malik Rumi

      Well, it’s 6 years later, but I have to agree. The response was more impactful than the original article.

  • Reply April 21, 2011

    Jim Bouchard

    @XY:ZT- I certainly hope not!

    @ORY- Thanks for the kind words! I’m glad to have you visit my site and more importantly, I hope you’ll participate in our full-contact discussions on the blog, Facebook and LinkedIn…and that invitation is offered in the fully-disclosed spirit of unabashed self-promotion! I’ve learned that we can’t keep this dialog going if nobody knows about it!!! 🙂

    Best thoughts to all!

  • Reply August 12, 2017


    I much appreciate what you say; it can’t be said often enough. I disagree however that discipline will make you ‘happy’ — at least not in any Disneyesque way. Acquiring it often brings misery and pain and often demands sheer bloodymindedness to get over even for a day, for an hour. What it brings is more like a savage teeth-baring satisfaction that makes you scream HOO-YAH and a string of obscenities.

    Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

    Also, can I suggest respectfully that you not apologize after you write what you fear may be too harsh? ‘I’m sorry’ after it weakens the punch.

    Thanks for your mentoring.

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