By | Patrick Leddin, Ph.D. | Professor, Vanderbilt University, Global Consultant,Writer
The authors of the bestselling book, The 4 Disciplines of Execution, contend that top performers find true freedom in disciplined action.
When I first heard this premise, I thought…What the heck are they talking about; discipline suggests the very opposite of freedom?
I then realized how profound the statement is.
Let me explain…
Many years ago, I had a very disciplined regimen. I was in the army and, like it or not, I was exercising at 6:30am every morning. This went on for years. As a result, I was in pretty good physical shape.
One day a buddy asked if I wanted to run a 26.2-mile marathon. Having truly no idea how far that was, I promptly agreed. We trained some, running a few extra miles here and there.
When the race weekend came, we loaded up his car, drove 9 hours to the event, crashed in a hotel, and woke up early the next day to run the race.
We did pretty well. Our time was just under 3 hours and 30 minutes.
We talked and joked for most of the race. Dare I say, it was fun.
More importantly, the nine hour drive back didn’t kill us. That Monday, we were back running at 6:30am.
Our discipline (and youth) gave of us tremendous freedom of action.
Fast forward a few years…
I was no longer in the army. No one cared, including me, if I got up to exercise every morning.
Then, one day I had a crazy idea…I’m going to run another marathon.
(I’ve later learned that this Crazy Idea Syndrome hits many of us, particularly as we approach midlife. Perhaps you have announced that you are going to run a marathon, learn a language, travel around the world, read all the classics, or a similar endeavor.)
I signed up for the Walt Disney World Marathon, thinking…How tough can it be, it’s the self-proclaimed Happiest Place on Earth?
I built an amazing preparation schedule. I told my family, friends, and coworkers that I was running the race.
In very little time, my discipline started to fade:
• Early morning flight – skip my workout
• Sick kid – skip my workout
• Big work assignment – skip my workout
• And so on…
Eventually, the day of the race arrived.
I must tell you that there’s something amazing that happens when you are standing among 7,000+ disciplined people. You start to think…I got this!
If you haven’t been to Walt Disney World before, you should know that they do nothing halfway. Even though it was very early in the morning, the head mouse was wide-awake, the music was blaring, and an announcer was providing words of encouragement.
Before long, the fireworks started and we were off.
The world-class runners took off at a quick pace, but back where I was we were comfortably jogging.
As I approached the first mile marker, I heard music playing and caught a glimpse of a familiar Disney character. A few minutes later, I was high-fiving the well-known animated star.
Mile two had a similar pace and another loveable Disney character waiting to provide an encouraging high-five.
But, then it happened. My lack of discipline started to catch-up and my freedom of action dissolved.
Frankly, when I hit miles 10, 12, 14, 16…., I didn’t care who they shoved in a costume. I just wanted them to get the heck out of my way. No more high-fives for me.
I couldn’t speed up or slow down.
I skipped the water stations.
Talking (even smiling) was out of the question.
I eventually finished, but it wasn’t pretty. I was far slower then my first run and could barely walk for a week.
In the end, my lack of discipline gobbled up my freedom of action.
What about you?
- Can you think of a time where you enjoyed tremendous freedom because you followed a disciplined regimen? If so, was it worth the sacrifice?
- Are you currently following a disciplined approach or are you inconsistent at best?
- What should you start doing today to be more disciplined in your actions?
- What freedom would you achieve if you stuck to your plan?
I wish you all the best as you go after your Crazy Ideas!
Patrick Leddin is a Professor, Vanderbilt University, University of Kentucky Nashville, Tennessee, a Global Consultant and a prolific Writer.
I partner with individuals and organizations to help them achieve extraordinary results. In doing so, I draw from one of three, often overlapping, roles that I fulfill in my career viz. Educator, Consultant & Writer.
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