One of the most common challenges raised by business owners and other people pursuing a venture is the “I can’t focus or do things consistently” challenge. This is another variation on the classic problem of not being able to get to the gym often enough.
The common solution? Discipline. This word is often linked with the ability to focus or to do things consistently to reach a goal. It’s not a bad definition. It just doesn’t tell us what discipline is for or the many ways discipline goes wrong. In addition, we carry childhood baggage associating discipline with a form of punishment. It’s why going to the gym, writing on a blog regularly, or doing your marketing can feel like a form of punishment.
Discipline has a higher and far more powerful meaning. Consider the discipline of medicine or the discipline of masonry. In this case, we are referring to the accumulated knowledge and skills obtained over generations of inquisitive scientists or stone craftsmen.
Seen in this light, we can find some clues as to how and why people focus. On the radio, I was listening to an interview with internationally renowned chocolatier Bernard Callebaut. It turns out that he is continuously evolving his recipe, trying different cocoa beans, different formulations, adding or removing ingredients. He does so because it is his craft. He does so to create better chocolates and (I would assume) to elevate his skill. Focusing is a by-product of the desire to do better.
Although the disciplines of chocolate-making, medicine, and masonry are all very different in its output, the learning process is much the same: develop understanding, practice well, learn from others past and present, experiment and test, take on progressively more difficult challenges. Discipline is, at its core then, a continuous process for figuring out what is helpful and what isn’t.
How the boundaries of “helpful” is defined makes a big difference. Let’s say that you had difficulty getting to the gym. The reasons you give might be, “I don’t have time.” or “I can’t get up in the morning.” However, the underlying cause could be a lack of a good reason for exercising in the first place. Perhaps you don’t know how to exercise. It could be that you haven’t had a lot of practice doing things without being told to do.
The problem is most people (including me) don’t understand how they develop good habits or disciplines. We’re use to someone telling us what to do. So when someone comes to me and says, “I can’t focus”, what I really hear is “I don’t know what the discipline of discipline-making is.”
Medicine didn’t sprout from one person’s head in a moment of inspiration. It took a long time to figure out how disease is transmitted or that vitamin deficiency is a different form of illness. Likewise, it takes time to figure out how we work and what keeps us focused or not. Maybe you need to sleep earlier, or you need a partner to train with, or you need a compelling reason, but that is up to you to figure out.
Try this exploratory question. What if you viewed the work of “making yourself” as a craft? What if you are in the process of shaping and molding your own thoughts and feelings? Then, like Mr. Callebaut, you would be patient, be focused, and be endlessly curious in the pursuit of a better self.
Better Life… Better Business