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Okay, So How Do You Develop Discipline?

I never knew the answer until….

If anyone should know the answer to “how to develop discipline” it should be me! Heck, I graduated from the Naval Academy, went on to serve as a Naval Fight Officer and even did a tour at the ROTC Unit at San Diego State University training college students to be military officers. But that was not all, I then had careers in two fields that just naturally ooze discipline: technical chemical sales and karate!

So after all that you would think I had the answer? I thought I knew the answer – just learn to work hard, delay gratification then just repeat, right?

So for years I thought this was the answer to the elusive secret to self-discipline until I had a recent “aha” moment. The huge light bulb went off, no it actually exploded, in my head during a leadership development seminar I attend earlier this year.

Before I reveal the magic answer, think of some highly disciplined people then some very undisciplined ones you know. Why do some people seem so disciplined, making hard things and hard work look so easy while most of the rest of us struggle? How do they do it? What do they do differently? How are they different from the rest of us? Were they just born hard workers? Were they raised differently?

Then look at people or children that sorely lack discipline. What don’t they have that disciplined children and adult do have? What is different? Were they born unable to stick with things? As a child did they learn to give up with the slightest difficulty or discomfort?

Okay, I have gotten you to think of this intriguing question long enough. I will share the absolutely brilliant simple concept I learned at the seminar:

“Disciplined people just have powerful habits!”

That is all there is to it. Brilliant. The difference is just - disciplined people have many more powerful habits than people that seem to lack discipline!

So what is a habit? It is something you do almost automatically without even thinking. A simple example might be brushing your teeth. Do you remember as a child, or maybe even with your child now, being told hundreds to times “Remember to brush your teeth!”? Now after years of brushing your teeth daily, if I took your toothbrush away and said “You don’t have to brush your teeth today!” what would you do – probably go crazy if you don’t brush your teeth!

So then how do you form a habit? This one is pretty simple – repetition, and lots of it.

Okay but how do you stick with something hard to do or that you do not like doing long enough for it to become a habit? You could try to force yourself to acquire a new habit like losing weight or getting fit but you know how well that usually goes? Why? Because it take will-power and most of us do not have enough will-power to make it long enough to form a habit. They only way you can will-power your way to a new habit is if want it bad enough which rarely happens. An example might be a father that survives a heart attack that wants to live to give away his daughter at her wedding.

So there must be a better and easier way. The answer might be found by looking at the dojo, the military, or a farm……..

On the farm - My daughter had two sisters on her college volleyball team that were the hardest working athletes I had ever seen. So I wanted to know why. I found they grew up on a dairy farm in Michigan. There it is. They developed this work ethic habit by repeating it every day. They were up at 5:00am every morning before school in the cold, dark and smelly helping on the farm. To them college and volleyball practice was easy!

In the military – How many times have you seen a young snotty nosed 18 year old go off to Marine Corps Bootcamp only to emerge unrecognizable by his own parents? Perfect haircut, standing tall in uniform and saying “Yes, Sir!” He was completely immersed in a whole slew of new habits during bootcamp then will have those new habits reinforced every day for the rest of his initial tour of duty.

At the dojo – Parents have seen subtle and not so subtle shifts in their children’s habits. A shy child that held back now does not hesitate to do hard or scary things. A child that says “Try My Best” and even reminds his parents to “Never Do Easy”. A child who use to always say “I can’t” now replaces it by always bringing a “blackbelt attitude and effort” to the classroom and sport field. A child that used to argue and negotiate with you is now one that can sense when you are serious and just say “Yes, ma’am!”

So from these examples, the answer to how to develop discipline may be to being placed in an environment and around others that force you to repeat a habit!

This dojo is filled with many powerful habits. We want to surround your child with powerful words and actions so they cannot help but repeat them until they are habits. The culture, structure and procedures at Ohana Karate intentionally build these habits every single time you and your child enter the dojo.

There are two powerful habits that I want to highlight then one powerful new habit I challenge you to start at home:

  1. Two powerful habits at the dojo: To always “Try My Best” and “Never Give Up”!

  • Try My Best – “Belt Stripe Testing”: the obvious repetition of the habit comes with every single time you and your child bow. I want you to count in one visit to the dojo how many times your child says the words “try my best”. Now multiple that by 100 (50 if your child is a Little Dragon) and you will get a pretty close number of times your child repeats those words over the course of a year. But just saying the words is not enough. Even better they repeat “Try My Best” by doing it. We intentionally throw our students into belt stripe testing when they are not or are only partially ready. You probably noticed this first when you joined the program and we had your child belt stripe test with only a class or two. Later we structure the curriculum to give too much material and/or not enough time to learn it completely. Why? Because we want to teach and repeat the habit of never hesitating to try their best even if they are not ready. (Remember my “perfectionist” article?) Once this is a habit they will carry it on to the rest of their life. Most children and adult at held back and paralyze by the “fear of making a mistake” and “fear of failure”. Karate is about “living your life on the edge and without fear!”

  • Never Give Up – “The start of class workout”: Our goal is to push them every class to the point where they physically and/or mentally want to give up. We see this all the time during the high intensity work-out at the start of each class. As they huff and puff and get red faced, some would try to slow down or coast. Others would ask “Can I get a drink of water?” or “Can I go to the bathroom?”. We know these are just disguises for “I want stop or quit.” After a few responses of “No, keep going, you only have one more minute to go!” and encouragement to keep going hard, it was delightful to see that same student that would always try to let up or step off the floor no longer even thinking about it! Lather, Rinse, Repeat!

  1. The one powerful habit I challenge you to start at home:This one actually have three powerful benefits:

  • It forms a powerful habit of the highly successful – and .Have you ever met a person that was always late?How about always on time?It is just a habit!Successful people develop the habit of living their lives with precision and high standards.They also know that the “small things matter”!

  • It starts the day off with a much better routine, state and attitude – Do you know a family where the day starts off with the mother having to nag repeatedly “Julie, get up you are going to miss the bus!”Then once up, “Julie, hurry up and get dressed”.Then later “Julie, come on, eat your breakfast!”What a way to start the day?Only an hour in, Mom and daughter at exhausted and in a bad mood.How is that daughter’s morning likely to be like at school?Here is a powerful habit that all highly successful people know – the most important part of your day is your !The highly successful put in place intentional powerful rituals, habits and procedures to start their day off strong and only get stronger.

  • It gives and teaches children responsibility and ownership – When a human child is born a mother has to do for them!But we forget that as they get older they will have to learn to do everything for themselves ….. and the sooner they learn it the better young adults they will become.Here is a good rule to follow – “If a child and do something you should make they do it.”As soon as your child is old enough to set an alarm clock and get up they should!

So there it is. Can you list your child’s powerful habits? What habits need to be on that list? Do they have any “bad” habits or ones that will hinder their success in life? Pick one new habit at a time then every day help them develop and reinforce that habit. Be consistent and patient. Put in place clear rules/procedures then consequences if not done. Raise your standard. But most of all, lock it in by “Catching them doing something right” - recognizing and praising even their smallest effort.

‘Till next time!

Yours for Rock Solid (and powerful habit forming disciplined) Kids,


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