Self-Discipline and Meaningful Life Change

  • Q: How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb?
  • A: Just one, but the light bulb must really want to change.

lightbulb, idea, startup mentalityA recent survey conducted by the authors of a new book tells us that, while most of the respondents wanted meaningful change in their lives, the reasons why they can’t achieve it may not be what you expect.

Brant Menswar and Jim Trick, co-authors of the new book, Rock ‘N’ Roll With It: Overcoming the Challenge of Change, surveyed 300 people and got some surprising results. What they found means we may be throwing resources at the wrong problems and then wondering why nothing changes.

Read the full survey report here. 

You might think that education, training, and availability of opportunity presented the biggest obstacles to people who really want to make a difference in their lives. That seems logical. After all, if you want to transform your life, you start with learning how to do it. Right?


Areas for Life Change

First let’s talk about what people want to change in their lives. Here’s how it breaks down in the survey:

Areas for Life Change, Careers, Physical Health, Relationships,

I think most of us can agree with one or more of those three categories. In fact, they’re very popular New Year’s resolutions. So, what gets in the way? Well, the survey gives us seven major obstacles and they break down like this:

top obstacles to change, self-discipline, money, fear

Surprised? I certainly was. Look at that number: 30% of the respondents lacked the self-discipline to make a major change in their lives. One third of the people knew what they wanted to do differently with their physical health, their career or their relationships but lacked the will, the drive or the gumption to get it done.

In retrospect, I realized how far we have come as country in the last 70 years.

The Discipline Drain

The United States used to be a country full of disciplined people. We believed in hard work, climbing the ladder, and getting things done. Because of the draft, most men had served in the armed forces where they learned both discipline and a trade or a skill. Because of WWI and WWII many women knew how to cope in adversity and raise a family without a man always in the house. When times were tough, they got tougher.

Back then, folks learned the difference between wants and needs. You found wants in the pages of the Sears Roebuck or Montgomery Ward catalogs. Needs kept pace with you on a daily basis.

And discipline came with knowing that needs came first, especially those of your family. Wants happened when things got better, you got a dependable paycheck, and you could take a deep breath financially.

I Want It All Now

Want vs Need, Apple logoI suspect that the difference between wants and needs has grown somewhat blurred. The new philosophy seems to be that if you want it, you need it, whatever “it” may be: The latest smartphone, a new tattoo, a hot car, a fancy apartment, gourmet meals out, a new video game, lots and lots of cable channels, If you can’t afford it, just put it on a credit card.

I grew up in the post-war years of growth and optimism. The country boomed with new industries and lots of jobs. Still, we had fewer expectations and less pressure to live up to someone else’s opinions. The phrase “keeping up with the Joneses” was brand new.

Different Times / Different Expectations

Here are some examples of different expectations with different times:

  • In the 1950s, many wedding receptions were held at home, in backyards, and in church or organization halls. They were home-grown affairs in which women of the family often contributed part or all of the meal. Sometimes they made the dresses, too. By contrast, I read recently that the average cost of a wedding in 2017 reached $25,764. That may include more than one wedding dress, a breakfast the next day and a barbecue after that. No one bakes.
  • If a teenager wanted a car, he or she worked to earn the money to buy it. And the car was typically a used vehicle that the kid worked on in his spare time. Oh, I’m sure that some families bought their sons snazzy red sports cars but they were more the exception than the rule where I lived. Driving past local high schools now, you see a lot of shiny, new high-end automobiles in the senior parking lot. No one worked for them.
  • Much of our current “must-have” gear didn’t exist. Mobile phones, tablets, laptops, fitness trackers, video game boxes, wi-fi equipment, and other devices that we use to communicate and monitor our lives hadn’t been invented yet. Our smaller wants included things like a transistor radio or a typewriter. We shared them with our siblings.
  • Tattoos belonged to sailors and hoodlums. No respectable person would have one unless he (and only a he) had been in the armed forces and got drunk with his buddies.Today they are everywhere, on everyone, and displayed as body art. “Tats” have crossed the lines of gender and class.

I know, I sound like an old geezer, but really. How can anyone be so undisciplined that they just can’t do what it takes to change their own lives? It boggles the mind.

Summoning the Discipline

The thing is, if you can’t tell the difference between want and need, if you can’t imagine working for what you want or sacrificing now to save for the future, then you also can’t summon the discipline to do those things.

opioid crisis, hiring, help wanted, job candidates, drug testWhich leaves you sitting around wishing for change without getting up and making change happen. Or turning to an alternate life. We know from the opioid crisis and the endless war on drugs that far too many people, especially the young, would rather drop out of their lives than change them for the better.

In a time of nearly full employment, many companies can’t find candidates who pass a drug test. The problem is so great that Bloomberg Business tells us the companies are choosing to do away with the drug test altogether.

The Wrong Solutions

The other part of this situation is that we can’t solve people’s problems from the outside. We can offer training. We can arrange support and rehabilitation. We can even give money. But that will not help the person who won’t do the work.

Draftees didn’t get to pick and choose who they would share a barracks with, what platoon to serve in, what drill sergeant to train under, or what base they would live on. They didn’t always have a bathroom and no one argued about who would get to use it when they did. The military’s job was to turn groups of reluctant, unprepared, out-of-shape and incompetent boys that included head cases, personality kids, screw ups, air heads and outright juvenile delinquents into soldiers, sailors and Marines.Which leaves us with the challenge of finding ways to help people who lack the discipline to help themselves. Can that even work? You probably have to be a Marine Drill Sergeant.

The simple fact is that we can’t solve another person’s self-discipline problems for them. We can’t find a job for the person who won’t look, keep a friend from eating that whole bag of chips, shove someone onto the elliptical machine, ask that interesting woman for a date, or force them to join a 401K instead of buying new skis and going out to eat.

We also can’t stop them from buying Oxycodone on the street, stealing Grandpa’s pain medication, or smoking weed before an interview.

Instilling Self-Discipline

If someone has devised a plan for instilling self-discipline in someone and helping them stick with it, I haven’t heard about it. Too bad. Package some of that and you’ll be a billionaire in no time.

That leaves us at a loss to help anyone but ourselves. And you have the self-discipline to do that. Don’t you?