The 5 Pillars of Personal Power: Part 1: Self-Discipline

Power is a means of gaining control and personal power is the capacity to control one’s own life. It seems to me that personal power should be our primary concern, for if we don’t take control over our lives, others will do it for us.

There are five components of personal power. They are:

1. Self-Efficacy: I believe in myself; I can do it.
2. Self-Reliance: I can depend on myself; I am dependable.
3. Self-Discipline: I can do what is best for me, even when I don’t feel like doing it.
4. Self-Motivation: I want to do what is best for me.
5. Resilience: I have grit or mental toughness. I bounce back from any adversity.

This issue deals with self-discipline, and I will cover each of the other pillars in the next four issues.


If we are to be the master of our destiny, we need self-discipline, self-control, self-management, self-mastery, or willpower . Although it’s known by many names, I’ll refer to it as self-discipline for now. We are born to rule or be ruled. If we do not rule ourselves, we will be ruled by our emotions, bad habits, or other people. All the other creatures we share the planet with act as they were programmed to be. Only man has the potential to act as he wills. Although we have that potential, many of us fail to live up to it. We can be heard to sigh, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

However, not everyone wants to improve. Some people say life is short, so they want to be free to do whatever they please, free to smoke pot, free to party every night, free to hang out until the wee hours of the morning, free to chase after sex. Did they say free? Since when is enslavement to bad habits freedom? How can you achieve freedom if you fail to follow your highest aspirations? Only if you conscientiously apply willpower (self-discipline) can you reach your dreams. So, he who lives without discipline dies without honor. When we gain honor it remains with us forever, but when we chase after passing fancies, they fade away, leaving us diminished, leaving us less than what we could have been.

All right, so we agree self-discipline is necessary, but how do we strengthen it? It’s like a muscle: use it or lose it. The more you use it, the stronger it becomes. Start with baby steps (for a hilarious example of self-improvement by taking baby steps, be sure to rent the video What About Bob with Bill Murray). During each day we make countless choices. We choose between doing the right thing or succumbing to temptation. We choose between the easy way and the better, but more difficult way. Be aware of your choices, and no matter how small the decision, do the right or better thing. Each time you do so, you strengthen your will.

You can also deliberately do what you’d rather not. For example, when I was about 12 years old, I discovered I didn’t like butter pecan ice-cream. So every time I had ice-cream, I purposely ordered that flavor, just to strengthen my will. You see, even silly, trifling actions, such as one’s choice of ice-cream can become an exercise in willpower. Practice doing the right, better, or hard thing every day and self-control will become habitual. Eventually, you’ll be using willpower without thinking about it. Today, baby steps, tomorrow, self-mastery!

Suppose I were to place a 15-foot long by 2-foot wide plank, 6 inches above the ground and offer you $500 to walk across it, would you do so? Sure, why not? You’d certainly have the willpower to do so. But what if the plank were at a construction site and ten stories high? Would you walk across it on a windless day for one million dollars? If not, what happened to your willpower? Well, it was overwhelmed by your imagination. You imagined that you may fall and get killed! If there is a conflict between imagination and willpower, imagination always wins. So, if you’re stuck, you’re going to have to change what you amagine. In this case, tell a construction worker that if he teaches you how to walk across the plank without fear, you’ll pay him $10,000. Do this and you both will have a lot of motivation and the will to succeed. So, if you do get stuck because of an overactive imagination, think things through and look for a solution.

Another hurdle for willpower to overcome is the extra effort that is needed when doing something unpleasant. This can be overcome by focusing on the long-term benefits instead of the short-term discomfort. For example, I love going to the airport. The reason for this is that I do not focus on driving during the rush hour, parking at Park-and-Fly, waiting in the check-in line, waiting for my flight, waiting to board, waiting to arrive, and waiting to get off. Instead, I focus on the pleasure and excitement that awaits me at my destination. Don’t you do the same when you are waiting in line at a concert, theatre, or amusement park ride? Instead of complaining, you’re probably cheerfully chatting with a friend as you look forward to the pleasure you will experience. Treat every unpleasant task the same way. Anticipate the pleasure and satisfaction that awaits completion of the task!

We know what is best for us. We know what we should do, but it’s not what we know, but what we do that counts. “What a person wills,” writes Robert Lindner, “and not what they know determines their worth or unworth, power or impotence, happiness or unhappiness.” Well, now that we know a little more, let’s DO a little more; let’s DO what’s right, what’s better, and what’s more difficult!

Delving Deeper

When British psychologist William Mcdougall said, “Will is character in action,” what did he mean? Simply that willpower is the source of our action, and, therefore, the source of our character. For when we will to do good, and do so, we have good character, but when we will to neglect our responsibilities, we have bad character.

When people complain or are dissatisfied with their lives, they often blame others for their unhappy state of affairs. If it isn’t the fault of others, then they claim it is due to ‘bad luck’ or how ‘unfair’ the world is. They seem to blame everything except themselves. Such an attitude is self-defeating, for complaints are wasted effort and divert attention from possible solutions. They don’t yet understand that life doesn’t happen TO us. It happens BECAUSE of us. They haven’t awakened to the fact that destiny or fate is not arbitrary and predetermined. Rather, we create our own destiny. After all, our present conditions were brought about by our past actions, and our present actions will create our future circumstances.

Why do people blame everything but themselves for their unhappiness? Because it is painful to admit that our lack of success is not due to any quirk of fate, but to our own lack of responsiveness to the opportunities that were presented to us. But once we admit this truth, great power is unleashed. For then we will realize that our lives are not controlled by the whims of fate, but by ourselves, by our own actions, and by our own willpower. It is exciting to realize that we can do anything we set our mind to. Yet, after coming close to reaching this point, some then cop out by claiming they don’t have any willpower, as if there was a willpower gene that they lack.

If we find ourselves stuck in that space where we believe we lack willpower, what can we do? Begin by understanding the true meaning of willpower. It’s just another way of saying self-discipline. When you tell yourself you lack self-discipline, it is easier to understand that you can do something about it. You can develop it. But wait a minute! Doesn’t it take self-discipline to develop self-discipline? And if I don’t have any, how can I use what I don’t have?

Well, it is incorrect to say you don’t have ANY. You couldn’t have read this far without some discipline, so your challenge is not how to acquire it, but how to get MORE of it. If your doctor told you that you need to lift weights, you would start with light weights, gradually working your way up to the heavy ones, thereby increasing your power. So it is with self-discipline. Anyone can start from where they are and go from there.

Perhaps no other skill is as important to develop as self-disciple or self-control. It is the key to self-mastery and the achievement of your dreams. Now, let’s look at some steps you can take to increase your willpower.

1. Acknowledge your own responsibility. Admit that if you sit around doing nothing, you will achieve nothing.

2. Allow yourself to feel the resistance. For example, if you are a student that needs to be studying, but doesn’t feel like it, say something like the following to yourself. “I don’t feel like studying. I feel like pursuing some pleasure instead. But rather than running away, I allow myself to feel the resistance and I admit I need to study. I also need to develop self-discipline. And doing what we don’t like to do develops self-discipline. So, I welcome this opportunity to kill two birds with one stone (study for my exam and develop self-discipline).”

3. Take a few deep breaths. Relax and let go of any tension. Pause and visualize the action as if it were already completed. Study the image of the completed project in your mind for a few moments. This step prepares both your conscious mind and subconscious for action.

4. Now act. After doing so, you will feel a sense of relief as you free yourself from the stress that comes from ignoring an important task. Second, you will enjoy the pleasure of accomplishment. Third, you will discover the task was easier to do than you first imagined.

5. Relish the relief and pleasure you experience after completing an important task. Remember it. Savor it. Focus on it. For it will become the source of motivation. At first, the lure of relief and pleasure will be weak and the memory of it dim, but as you repeatedly do what you don’t feel like doing, the motivation to act will grow stronger and stronger, until a firm habit is formed.

6. Those who haven’t yet developed the habit of self-discipline avoid tasks because they focus on the effort that needs to be made. In their minds, effort is synonymous with discomfort. Change what you focus on. When facing a new task, focus on the relief and pleasure you will be experiencing. Also focus on the memory of how your imagination tricks you, always blowing things out of proportion. Remember that the task will be easier to do than your now believe.

7. When you launch your personal Self-Discipline Development Program, you will do two things: complete tasks and develop self-discipline. Of the two, developing self-discipline is more important. For once you have mastered that you will be able to do anything. So, it is important to be successful. Therefore, when starting out, don’t decide to work on the most difficult task, but choose the easiest one first and work your way up. Pretend you are working out in a gym for the first time. If you begin by trying to lift 100 lb. weights, you will probably feel overwhelmed and quickly give up. But if you start with 10 lb. weights, your workouts will be easy to do and your successes will motivate you to move on to bigger challenges. Take baby steps and work your way up. Trying to bite off more than you can chew will lead to failure.

8. Be gentle but firm with yourself. Act firmly in that you stop running away. Face your task, accept it, and accomplish it. Finish what you start. Follow through on every project. Focus on one task at a time. Don’t scatter your attention. But be gentle in the sense that you don’t have to do all your tasks immediately as long as you start doing some. Don’t expect to go from zero to a hundred in one second. Work up to it. Start slowly, but gradually pick up the pace as you develop your skills.

9. Expect to be tempted to avoid your tasks. Your mind will come up with rationalizations and excuses for putting off till tomorrow what can be done today. Remain aware of your feelings and learn to think before you act. Use your reason (rational mind), not your emotions, to guide your actions. Do what is good FOR you instead of what FEELS good.

10. Once you learn how to quickly act on all the tasks, responsibilities, and challenges facing you, you will want to remain fit, always ready to act. Keep in shape by deliberately going out of your way to do things you don’t want to do, even if they are unimportant. The truth is, nothing is unimportant, for if doing something trivial helps maintain your self-discipline, it is no longer trivial. Remember that it is just like working out in a gym. After all, the workout I choose to do is unimportant; it is only the result (physical fitness) that is important. The same is true for your mental fitness. Look for opportunities during the day to ‘work out.’

11. Once you can keep your level of self-discipline, you will be ready to move on to the next level by stretching yourself. Now you deliberately seek out difficult and complex challenges that you only dared to dream about in the past. Now that you have mastered self-discipline, you are ready to make those dreams come true. At this point, you are no longer paralyzed by task-avoidance. Each task you do frees up more time to work on the next project. You have now started on the path of endless growth.

Life is not something that happens to you, but you are something that happens to life. Decide today to give up the blame game and take responsibility for your own life by mastering the art of self-discipline.




Links to all five parts: