Home > Character, Personal Development > The Overlooked, Underrated Secret of Discipline

The Overlooked, Underrated Secret of Discipline

It is my theory that over half of our nation’s collective effort goes toward figuring out tricks to circumvent hard work on the road to achievement. I developed this theory based solely on the covers of magazines at the supermarket checkout and an episode of Oprah I accidently Tivoed, so take it with a grain of salt.

But kidding aside, I am convinced that too much of our brain power is spent looking for tips, tricks, secrets, and hacks to accomplish a goal without actually working toward it. That’s the entire premise of The Secret: All you have to do is think about something and “the universe” will magically bring about that thing. It’s an odious crystallization of man’s worst instincts about productivity–and it sells. Why should I count calories and work out when I could just sit around and think of thin people?

But the open secret about The Secret is that it’s a bunch of (pardon my language) poo hickey.

The real secret is pretty boring, and makes for horrible headlines: disciplined action over time equals achievement.

My favorite examples of discipline leading to great achievement come from martial arts. Supposedly the Shaolin monks used to practice their stances and footwork in a certain courtyard at their temple on Mount Song. Generation after generation of monks toiled away in the bitter cold, trampling and trodding the ground until their technique was perfect. Now, over 1,500 years since the founding of the monastery, that courtyard is a pit twenty feet deep, worn away by the footsteps of the martial monks.

That’s the kind of discipline that can produce real results. I think many people would be so much more competent and at peace if they just accepted the fact that there usually aren’t shortcuts in life. Accomplishing goals (in the general sense) is a solved puzzle, and yet people keep searching for answers that don’t exist–some slight mental adjustment or secret thought pattern known only to the masters that can obviate the need for all that boring work.

But here’s a funny thing about the secrets of the Shaolin monks: For centuries, their most secret texts that only the innermost initiates of their sect could study were kept hidden from outsiders. When the communists came into power, they publicized these texts as a part of an effort to weaken cultural institutions other than the Communist Party. They have since been translated into English.

And here’s what that society of some of the greatest warriors the world has ever seen was guarding. In a nutshell: if you want to be able to punch hard, punch a brick wall every day. Start with a few light punches, add more every day, and gradually increase the intensity. Ten years later, nobody will be able to survive a punch from you. If you want to be able to kick hard, start kicking a tree. Find one as thick as your wrist, and kick it every day until you break it. Find a thicker one, and repeat. A decade later, you’ll be able to use your legs to clear forests.

Heavy on the hard work, light on the pop-mysticism. Not a whole lot of affirmations and positive thinking. So if you want to be great at something, take the counter-cultural approach: forget the shortcuts, get to work, and don’t stop or slack off.

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