Saturday, April 23, 2011


Discipline and especially self-discipline is the hardest thing to learn.
Happiness is an emotional habit, ...
A little luck..
A bit of discipline..
And you can have it..have it...have it!
Tom Tom Club, Say I Am
Discipline - we all like to avoid it, and we all have bad memories of it.  We want to do what we want to do, like spoiled children.  We want our lollipop - but we don't want to pay for it - and we don't want it to go to our waistline after we eat it.

But life doesn't work that way, does it?  The decisions we make - or fail to make - in life, directly affect how we live.  And usually, it is our laziness and lack of discipline that get us into trouble.  We live for the lowest common denominator, sometimes, and make little effort to do more than the minimum amount of work necessary to get by.

And to some extent, that is a survival skill.  One reason many creatures sleep, some Scientists believe, is that being inactive for large periods of time is actually a survival skill.  Animals tend to get into trouble when they are too active for too long, and thus may not live as long.  Curiosity killed the cat, as it were.

But on the other hand, the creature, particularly the human creature, that does not work and put aside food for famine times, will surely starve to death later on.  And this is one reason, perhaps, our cultures have a work ethic - a desire to work beyond that of satisfying our immediate needs - but to create wealth in excess of those immediate needs - but necessary for our future survival.

And that is why discipline is so important.  Because the mind tends to gravitate toward satisfying immediate needs and not thinking about the future.  And this is particularly true in young, immature minds, in simple minds, and in minds numbed by drugs, alcohol, and mental illness.

The reason the drug addict or alcoholic lives in squalor has less to do with the money they spend on drugs or booze than with the lack of discipline to work beyond their immediate needs.  The drugs themselves often induce a stupor that fogs the brain in this regard.  As I noted before about Marijuana users, they do as little work as possible to "get by" - to be "functional" as on po-thead once told me.  Planning for the future or trying to "get ahead" is viewed by the po-thead as "selling out to the man" or being part of the "establishment".

But today, the welfare State is fading fast, and an entire generation is expected to retire on their savings.  And it is a huge fiasco that is unfolding - one that none of the major media are talking about or reporting on.  But in the next few years, as the Baby Boomers start to retire en masse it will be the nightmare we are all talking about.

And much of the problem can be traced to a lack of discipline.  Most of us over-consumed and under-saved, and continue to do so.  Rather than take responsibility for our actions, we buy into the victim-culture and blame others - the government or big business - for what are essentially woes caused by our own actions or inactions.

I found that as I got older, that I had an alarming lack of discipline.  But circumstances have forced me to discipline myself - to some extent.  Starting your own business is a sure way to learn discipline, as you learn, quickly, that running a business, as opposed to working for one, is not as easy as it seems.  Careful records have to be kept, and you make your money often in the margins - there is no room for waste or sloppiness in bookkeeping, and even the smallest expense must be scrutinized.

This was a hard lesson to learn for someone who didn't even balance their checkbook, and basically spent money until it ran out - and then borrowed more.

Today, I check the balances on, and reconcile, all of my bank accounts and credit card accounts, on a daily basis.  You heard that right - daily basis.  And I know my balances and expenses down to the penny.  And I even track my petty cash expenses.

Is this overkill?  Not really.  Not if you want to be truly free.  You see money isn't like the weather, where sometimes it rains and sometimes there is a drought.  Money represents your labor, your wealth, your consumption, but ultimately, your freedom - your freedom from dependence on others and subservience to others.  Once you have money, you no longer have to say "Yes, Sir!" and "No, Sir!" or put on a dorky uniform and show up for work at 8AM.

And that is very important - and worth monitoring as if it were your lifeline, because it is.

Discipline isn't easy.  And it is easy to lose it, too.  Staying healthy and losing weight require discipline.  No secret pill or formula or diet.  Just discipline.  You have to eat fewer calories than you burn off - end of story.  The hard part is not eating too much and having the discipline to say "I can do this" and not "Gee, I'll have another slice of pie and start dieting tomorrow".

And I know this firsthand, as I have gained and lost that discipline on numerous occasions.

Financial discipline is the same way.  Many folks think, "I'll buy a new car today and then think about saving for the future tomorrow."  Problem is, tomorrow is the future, and once those two concepts collapse into one another, the person with no discipline finds themselves broke and out of time.

Many Americans like to blame foreigners for their woes.  They claim they are "taking all our jobs" and are getting all sorts of free money.  The reality is, most recent immigrants, legal or illegal, are disciplined.  They come here to make money, and often to send it back home to people who are desperate, compared to us.  They work hard, do without, and amass wealth, not because of any secret government fund for immigrants, but because they have discipline.

Americans - the native-born type, anyway - have less discipline.  We watch the TeeVee and feel sorry for ourselves and think that "we deserve a break today" and also a new car, and we sign our lives away for these things - so we can have the immediate gratification that a small child craves.

We think that immediate gratification will make us happy.  But oddly enough, it rarely does.  And we think that being disciplined is bad or will make us unhappy - because no one likes to be spanked - even if they are spanking themselves.

But discipline - doing the hard thing - often is what makes you really happy.  Because when you discipline yourself and save money and cut your expenses, you accomplish something.  And accomplishments are the best antidote to depression.  Wallowing in a sea of lollipops and constantly getting what you want is a sure recipe for misery.  Ask Michael Jackson - did having everything make him happy?  Did it make Elvis happy?  In most cases, people who indulge themselves like lottery winners end up miserable.  People who apply themselves and are productive are happy.

This does not mean you have to be a workaholic, only that you have to have some discipline and take care of yourself and your own needs.  And as simple as that may sound, it is hard to do - as evidenced by the fact that so few people seem to be capable of it.