Where Does Discipline Come From?

Discipline is the MOST IMPORTANT factor in the FIRE ideology.

It is not simply a matter of income or frugality. One without the other will not lead to the promise land. Plenty of times we have seen the high income earner go down in flames because they lack the ability to control their impulse spending or at least stick to a budget.

While all the best frugal tips still can’t make money appear, without improved income you are just good at being poor.

Discipline is the common thread that unites these halves and forges them into true wealth accumulation.

The discipline to sniff out the money in the first place. To earn it. To constantly try to improve both the quantity and variety of its sources. The discipline to live below your means. Discipline to invest wisely and constantly stay on top of the Merry-go-Round of income and expenditures.

But where does this discipline come from? Are we born with it?

My wife has never left her car keys in the same place twice EVER. This phenomenon is approaching a mathematical paradox. My keys are in the ignition, or my right hand pocket, or on the kitchen island next to my wallet. That’s all. One of 3 places since time began. Why are we so different?

dis·ci·pline noun

training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character.

I have been to boot camp, I actually enjoyed it. I suspect I knew this even as a child. Are we drawn to discipline because it was lacking in our childhood? Do we rebel against discipline because our household was too strict? Can you change throughout your life?

I suspect the answer is clearly yes, it’s the mechanism that’s fuzzier.

Personally I have practiced little exercises my entire life that I believed help me to build up my own personal discipline. I would deny myself things for no real reason other than to fight to urge to gratify every little whim and desire (give my candy away). I would also play little games involving purposely repeating some task even when it was a waste of time and energy (walk the long way around the fence). The task must be completed just because that was the intent of the exercise.

I worry sometimes that this might be borderline OCD, but it was not constant and always consciously for the end result of practicing discipline.

It seems that two methods of developing discipline occur with or without your participation.

You did not really have any control over the environment you were raised in, that ship has sailed. You can be subjected to someone else’s punishment/reward system like school discipline, or the boss’s rules at work.

It is the last and 3rd method that seems to be the one with any sort of realistic choice component, putting yourself through the paces of your own devised system for developing discipline.

Whether or not you do this consciously is not the point.

Our brains crave structure.

Human nature wants to have the parameters of acceptable behavior to be clearly defined.

We seek out the methodology that gets us what we want. Almost everybody who reads a blog like this has or at least understands the need for a mental discipline that will allow you to whip your financial house into order.

Short of sending our young off to the military starting at age 7(the norm in ancient Sparta), does anybody have some input on how to improve your personal stockpile of willpower, let’s hear it.

I did find this interesting article that says willpower is a finite resource and may have an effect on one’s ability to escape poverty. Read it here.

7 thoughts on “Where Does Discipline Come From?

  1. “I suspect the answer is clearly yes, it’s the mechanism that’s fuzzier.” – agreed!

    Sadly, I know of no way to stockpile willpower, but I hear we get a new reserve every day 🙂

    Truly understanding why I want to achieve something and drawing on that at times when my resolve is low really helps me though.

    Glad to know I’m not the only one that has played little games in search of discipline. To this day I still find myself counting steps when I’m on a walk.

      • Sometimes, yes. I think if we are all honest with ourselves, there is something(s) we are all compulsive about. And other things we could care less about. Our way of coping perhaps, with the crazy world around. Us just being human.

        Not letting these thoughts rule us though is key. They are just thoughts, and we can change them at any time.

        We all need mental ‘Pushups’, ‘Pull-ups’, ‘Yoga’, or ‘Tai-chi’, but if we think we need all of those PLUS many more things in order to be good, successful, or enough, then we probably have issues that no “devised system” or game can solve.

  2. Great post. I have also had my discipline tested and continue to test my discipline. However, I don’t think I am a naturally disciplined person. I find that I will always try to find the easy way to accomplish my goals, and sometimes the easy way is to be disciplined instead of constantly fighting the negative consequences of impulsive decisions. In my mind, saving for FIRE isn’t about personal discipline, it’s about making my life easy!

    • I think searching for the easy way just means you are efficient. Discipline is what we do to counteract laziness. I think both drives can exist simultaneously and when they work in cahoots great things can happen.

  3. For me, changing my habits is one of the few ways I’m consistent with self-discipline. In general, I tend to have great intentions and go strong for a while, then get frustrated by the restrictions, unless something is just automatic. I’m much better at slowly implementing routine, procedures, and rituals so that I’m not thinking about what I’m doing–your keys example is a good one. I had to train myself to put them on the key rack just inside the garage door so I wouldn’t go crazy looking for them every morning (like my husband does). Still terrible at budgeting, but we’ve learned to trick ourselves so we’ve saved and invested a lot. Our savings gets deposited first, and then we have what’s left over to spend. I’m still working on habits around food. We spend a ton, and I think with the proper habits and routines, that would change. I’m 38, but I believe one is able to develop more self-discipline/better habits at any point.

  4. I think that is a great expression “we’ve learned to trick ourselves”. There is so much mental gymnastics going on in that simple phrase. Humans are funny animals. I do agree that we can choose to change at any age, we simply have to find the right motivation.

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