I don’t know about you, but discipline has always been a dirty word to me.

Somehow when I hear the word it has a draining effect on my energy – probably something going back to my childhood. Now you are not talking to a person who has no discipline. I have an enormous capacity to exert willpower. The only thing is that at the end of it I am completely drained. I expend an inordinate quantity of energy trying to be disciplined.

Over the last 20 years, Steve Covey’s book about seven habits has been one of the most widely read book on self-discipline and self-development.

I found it exhausting. What he forgets to tell you is that his proposals take most people a lifetime to master.

I recently found a book that made the most sense of all. It was about focus. And more specifically it’s about focusing on only one thing. By focusing on one thing, everything else falls into place.

Too simple?

Not really. There is a surprising mechanism that kicks in that is magical – once you start on one thing, you miraculously begin to do other things as well.

The single most important reason why people procrastinate is because they feel overwhelmed. And the worst way to deal with overwhelm is to be faced with a whole series of actions to get perfect (like Covey proposes). The most realistic way is to start with one small, manageable action. The rest follows from there.

In my coaching practice I work with people who have, for whatever reason, become dysfunctional. Some have hit the skids due to financial problems and some have been broken by a divorce or illness. To get them re-functional is simply about getting them to start on one small action. ‘One thing leads to another’ is the cliché that applies here comfortably.

My take on the issue of discipline is take it slowly. If you are telling yourself that you ‘have to’ or ‘should be’ you know you are in the zone – you are moving too fast. Slow down and pick one small thing that will create some value and get it done. That is when the magic happens. Forget about the long list and take it chunk by chunk.

Also, I’m exceedingly disciplined in some areas and totally undisciplined in others.

This is another thing to consider. The negative affirmation ‘I’m so undisciplined’ is usually untrue. If you took a closer look you will find that you brush and floss your teeth twice a day, you’ve given up alcohol during the week and you make sure that you meet deadlines (or renegotiate if not urgent). You tend to always be on time and you never cancel an appointment.

Sweeping generalisation-statements smack of catastrophe thinking which creates unnecessarily intense feelings. And it is these feelings that substantially drain energy. Be cautious of your mind-talk language and stick with the facts. Saying “I’m an undisciplined person” or “I’m a procrastinator”, sends the wrong messages to the brain. Rather say “In some cases I’m undisciplined” and “I can procrastinate at times”, takes out the sting of catastrophe thinking and leaves your energy intact.

And here is the overriding cosmic truth:

Attaining a CA(SA) qualification cannot be accomplished by a person who lacks discipline!