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Discipline, Friend or Foe?

By Salem Samhoud, &samhoud consultancy

Discipline is highly regarded. Disciplined people have backbone, stick to agreements and are reliable. So ideal co-workers, that’s who people with discipline are.

However, discipline also has a negative connotation. By definition discipline is forced behavior. Discipline is about order and routine, and controlling urges that contradict these. These vary from going to bed too late, watching too much tv, spending too much time reading a book, doing sports for too long a stretch, drinking too much. In other words, activities that, if not kept within bounds, take place at the expense of other commitments or outcomes. For example at work. If the reigns are slackened a few times, you will inevitably start to feel guilty because this negatively affects, doesn’t meet, or only just meets, your commitments or performance. Guilt and punishment: discipline helps to guard you from going down a downward slope.

We Dutch have a culture of discipline, and traces of Calvinism can be found in each of us. We rise early, work hard, continue our studies, carry on. We meet our commitments and contribute to society. As a nation we have found a certain modus operandus for this. Once the work has been completed, we want to be left alone, and then we ourselves decide what we want to do with our time. This is widely accepted, because, after all, things are going well in our country.

But what happens with this discipline when one needs to step up a gear, or two gears?

For example because the global financial crisis forces us to take a step back? Or because the company you work for needs to tighten its belt? Or because the 7 on your review form is no longer sufficient and you will now need to score an 8 (preferably more)? I already begin to feel resistance with the reader: who says so? The government minister? My boss? My hockey coach? My personal trainer? My partner? The school’s governing board? The GP?

Indeed, it’s always said by someone else. The other person pushes you to get out of your comfort zone. For example by pointing at a dark cloud: your job is on the line, your relationship saps all the energy out of you, your health is at risk. Or rather by painting a beautiful prospect: we can become hockey champions, you can enjoy your old age in good health for many years, our company can achieve the highest customer satisfaction rating in the industry. rson says so, you will also do it – right?

Unfortunately, at those times the negative aspects of discipline come into play and you will begin to do things because someone else tells you to. But that’s not really what you want. It won’t work in the long run. It will only work if you deliberately impose discipline on yourself. The way to do that is by approaching it positively and by creating the will to realize an audacious goal. Then you will rise above yourself and discipline becomes a friend who helps you run a marathon, exceed expectations at work, and translate the effect of your efforts into performance and happiness.


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