By Byron Moore
Originally published in the News Star and the Shreveport Times on Sunday, June 18, 2017.
Q: How does a person develop discipline when they have never had it before? This applies to many areas of my life, but money is a big one. I’ve just never been disciplined enough to make much progress financially. To be honest I wish I could just wave a magic wand and have it done for me.
A: There are no short cuts or magic tricks that will make you instantly disciplined.
“Discipline” is not a word that makes us smile. It’s kind of like eating your vegetables. It is a necessary evil. At best, it’s a negative experience that helps you avoid even more negative experiences. Wow. What a party.
In truth, discipline is the door to freedom. In so many areas of life, we are trapped, held captive by our various appetites that demand to be sated but hold us back from becoming the person we really want to be…but for those pesky bad habits.
But there is a path that, if followed, will lead to the Promised Land. To be sure, it will cost you. And only you will decide if that cost is worth it. I certainly think it is, but I don’t get a vote. Yours is the only vote that counts. That’s why the first step to developing discipline is to…
Choose to change. Changing anything in your life is hard. So the development of discipline in any area is going to prove difficult. Not impossible. Not even ultimately unpleasant. In fact, you’re really going to like the results…but I think you already know that. That’s why you want to make this change. But you’ve got to make an all-out commitment at the beginning that you’re going to jump into the deep end. But don’t do it alone…
Connect with community. When you do something that is both new and difficult, the most normal reaction in the world is to say to yourself, “Tomorrow. I’ll do this tomorrow.”
All alone, our courage can seem to evaporate when the heat turns up. But in the presence of even one or two other like-minded individuals, courage is cultivated, nurtured and even multiplied.
Community helps you stick with your commitment.
Commit to a structure. Another secret to developing discipline is to not do-it-yourself. Most of us need a program, a structure, a mentor or coach to successfully develop discipline in a previous undisciplined area of life.
Most of us pay our mortgages, or we’d lose our house. If we save money, it is likely through payroll deduction (such as your 401K). We tend to succeed at structured forms of discipline that involve both carrots and sticks.
For someone wanting to establish more financial discipline, I suggest finding a financial planner or advisor who can put you on a structured program designed around your personal situation and objectives. You could try to do it with a friend, but that approach is notorious for starting with great intentions, only to fizzle after the new has worn off.
Carry on with consistency. Once you’re doing the right things, you’ve just got to keep on doing the right things. Your community of like-minded friends and your commitment to structure will help you carry on with consistency. But even with all of these, you may have a lapse and go backwards. A bad habit may rear its ugly head or you may stop doing those things that were helping you move forward.
Don’t mope around about it. Just get back to doing the things you know to do and don’t look back.
Quitting altogether is simply not an option.
Celebrate regularly. I am not suggesting you eat a piece of pie every time you lose five pounds. But there are significant ways you can really celebrate when you reach a financial milestone or accomplish an economic goal…that don’t create more financial problems for you.
Celebrate with your community. It could be as simple as two girlfriends meeting at a coffee shop and saying to one another, “Hey we did this!” Or a married couple going on a simple date (or elaborate, if that’s in the budget!) to mark 90 days of accomplished savings goals. Obviously, if overspending is one of your problems, don’t spend a lot on your celebrations. That is absolutely not the point.
The point is to regularly stop, take stock of what you’ve accomplished… and smile.
Making yourself into a more disciplined person is a heavy burden to bear all by yourself.
Try surrounding yourself with purposes, people and processes that can help carry you where you want to go…and before you know it, you’ll be that (more) disciplined person you’ve always wanted to be.