First Person

DISCIPLINE

Small Changes for Massive Progress

by Benny Greb

The Mindset

When you hear the word discipline, the hairs on the back of your neck probably begin to stand up. Discipline has gotten a bad reputation, mainly because the word has been widely misused, often by people in a position of authority, like teachers, parents, and bosses. Maybe at some point someone has said that you don’t have enough discipline—or that you lack it entirely.

If any of this sounds familiar, let me tell you that you are not alone. I went through my whole school career hearing teachers telling me how undisciplined I was, and that I should change, or else my future would not look very bright…as lazy as I was.

It wasn’t until many years later that I realized they were wrong. They didn’t see that every day when I came home, I sat down at the drums and played for many hours. This was my number-one priority—even though I didn’t know it at the time. Of course, they didn’t know it either, and they judged my performance in school without taking into account my willingness to put work into something that is necessary to move forward in life.

Many of us have been led to feel that discipline means the opposite of freedom, because people usually use the word when they want us to do something. And if we don’t do that thing, or don’t do it enough, then they tell us that we lack discipline, when the truth of the matter isn’t that we lacked discipline—we simply didn’t want to do that particular thing in the first place.

The true meaning of discipline is setting your mind on something that you really want and then taking the necessary steps to achieve it. From there, it follows that discipline is not the opposite of freedom—discipline is freedom. And it’s the most powerful tool to get what you want. If you look at your goal as a destination, then discipline is your road map to make sure that, eventually, you will arrive there.

And discipline is a totally different game when used for something that you value highly. I think it was Nietzsche who once said, “When you have a strong enough ‘why,’ the ‘how’ becomes easy.” Here are a couple of thoughts on the “how.”

Frequency

One defining factor in terms of discipline is how often you engage in the activities necessary for you to arrive at your desired destination. The more often you go at it, the mountains you have to climb become smaller, and you move forward faster.

Also, as you move forward, you gain momentum. It’s easier to stay in motion and move forward when you do something every day, or at least regularly. Studies have shown that anything we do consistently over ten days tends to become a pattern. Anything we do regularly over a period of nine months becomes so much a part of us that it becomes a habit, almost like an addiction—we would have to fight hard to get rid of it. So why not make a habit of constantly learning and getting better at what you love?

Small Changes, Huge Difference

Even the smallest changes can have a huge impact down the road, and even more so if you work at them with a high enough frequency. If you’ve ever used a bow and arrow or played golf, you know that a change of even one millimeter in the angle of your stance can cause you to miss the target. That millimeter at the start adds up to more and more, until eventually the ball or arrow lands ten or even twenty meters off target, in the woods somewhere.

It’s the same with our day-to-day lives and in our practice routines. The average American watches more than five hours of TV per day. What if you resolve to watch thirty fewer minutes a day and get up thirty minutes earlier? This will give you one more hour a day to work on your musicianship. That adds up to seven hours a week, thirty hours a month, and 365 hours a year!

What if you watch one whole hour less of TV and get up an hour earlier?

Five years from now, what would make a bigger difference to you—having watched more TV, or massively improving your drumming?

I can guess your answer.

The Challenge

First, investigate where your definition of discipline comes from, and, if necessary, change your attitude about it. Then take an honest look at your average week and identify activities that don’t really serve you with regard to the things you really want. Finally, resolve to reduce those activities—or get rid of them entirely—and immediately substitute them with higher- value tasks, with high frequency.

Treat this exercise as if your whole way of drumming depends on it—because it does.