What common characteristic defines entrepreneurs? Hint: it’s not having a lot of starting capital. It’s not necessarily knowing the right people or “being in the right place at the right time.” It’s not even having a business degree or knowing how to market your brand, although all of these are helpful.
Ray Zinn, former CEO of Micrel, argues that there’s something even more important and essential to becoming a successful entrepreneur. As Zinn holds the title of “Silicon Valley’s Longest Serving CEO,” you can be sure he knows a thing or two about success. His latest book, Tough Things First, teaches how to build a business and find success. It all starts with developing that essential attribute found among all the best entrepreneurs: discipline.
Serial entrepreneur, David K. Williams (a friend of Zinn’s), adds his own thoughts on this idea of discipline as the catalyst for success. An entrepreneur with strong self-discipline, he says, “knows that almost nothing is insurmountable.”
He continues, “If something seems to be impossible to others, a great entrepreneur will see a worthy vision and objective before them, will seek to understand the barriers, and will understand that with determination and practice, there is very little a person or team can’t achieve.” They see barriers, but then they work through them to reach their peak of success.
The question is, do you have that discipline?
What is Discipline?
Zinn describes discipline as the attribute that turns drive and desire into action. It is what takes the dream you have for your life, and makes it into an actuality. It is “the essence of the entrepreneurial spirit.”
Discipline then is your ability to focus on achieving a goal, even when distractions or other impulses might hinder you. Rather than let outside forces or contradicting internal emotions dictate your actions, you are the decider of your fate. You choose what it is you want and then you choose to go after it.
Deep Patel, author of the best-selling book A Paperboy’s Fable: The 11 Principles of Success, notes that people who exercise self-discipline are happier with the course their lives are taking, because they are choosing it for themselves. He says, “People with a higher degree of self-control spend less time debating whether or not to indulge in behaviors that are detrimental to their health [or progress], and are able to make positive decisions more easily.”
Think of discipline as your willpower to do something you want to reach a goal you have. Wouldn’t achieving your goals then, big and small, make you feel more satisfied? That is what discipline can do for you.
Why Does It Matter?
As an entrepreneur, you will face choices every single day that will either move your business forward or take it a step backward. Even small choices, like whether or not to avoid a negative customer review, can have more of an impact than you think.
This is why discipline is especially important for you as you create your online business. If you don’t have the discipline to push aside everything else and focus on your business’s success, you may not see it through. When difficult situations arise, those with discipline keep walking on. Those without it, turn the other way and lose out on the dream they once had.
How to Develop Self-Discipline
Regardless of your background, your financial situation or your education, if you don’t develop self-discipline you will lose out on your dream. But the power to succeed lies within you. Zinn points out that most possess self-discipline naturally and don’t even realize it. However, the more you ignore it or don’t practice it, the more it fades away into the shadows.
Since discipline is such a vital element to your success, how can you develop it so that it becomes a part of your everyday life? Making it a daily habit will ensure that you reach your goals and live a life that you crave. Start by following the steps listed below:
Keep the End in Mind
When you have a vision of what you want, the next step is plotting a course to get there. But that can’t ever happen if you don’t have a clear end goal in mind.
For Zinn, one of the most defining moments in his life was when a high school track coach told Zinn that he couldn’t run hurdles because he was too short. But that didn’t stop Zinn for a second. He practiced hurdling after school, studying how many extra strides he needed to take to beat the competition.
He was dead-set on his goal: get good enough at running hurdles to make it on the track team. With that vision always in focus, Zinn had a reason, his “why,” that motivated him to follow through with his plan. If what he did every day didn’t get him closer to that goal, he could reroute himself and get back on track.
And guess what? Zinn made the track team. He not only made it, but beat all the other students, and he did it “from the furthest lane.” With more disadvantages than any of the competition, Zinn still managed to achieve his goal and excel at it.
Your goals are within reach too. Ask yourself, what do you want out of creating a business? What is your why? Hold on to that underlying reason when you feel your willpower leaving you. Remember, “almost nothing is insurmountable.” It wasn’t for Zinn, and it’s not for you.
Know What You’re Up Against
Developing discipline is no easy feat, especially the discipline needed to start a business. Acknowledge where you fall short and where your self-discipline struggles the most. But also understand what lies before you and what will be required of you in running a new company.
What will help is setting reasonable expectations for your success. In Zinn’s case, he knew he couldn’t run like everyone else because his legs were shorter. So he set a different goal to run more steps in a shorter amount of time. To know how to beat his competition, Zinn needed to know where he fell short. He needed to know his weaknesses to start turning them into strengths.
In your case, evaluate where you can improve. Set similar measurable goals and then keep yourself accountable to them. Let’s say you want to generate more traffic to your website. Set smaller goals to measure your progress, such as by setting a numerical goal for traffic generated in one month. If you’re not increasing towards your goal by mid-month, change your strategy. What’s working for you and what’s not?
Discipline is the driving force that will carry you through to your plan’s completion. But be realistic when creating your plan and “understand the barriers” so that they don’t hold you up for too long.
Find Another Way
When your hurdles are too high to jump over, find out what else you can do now. Too often we get caught up in trying to solve a problem that we fail to see opportunities to go around it. Those opportunities are sometimes better than the path we were so keen to follow originally.
For instance, if your business is not finding the capital it needs, start where you can and work your way up. Find other avenues to raise funds, new ways to market or whatever your business may be in need of.
Discipline means you stick with something until you make it work. To make that a habit in your life, don’t give up if something doesn’t go your way at first. The right path may be just around the corner.
If you’ve failed at having discipline in the past, don’t worry. We’ve all been there. It doesn’t mean that you’re allowed to give up in the future. Trust the power you have to make things work and to live the life you choose.
One study showed that believing in your power to have self-discipline is a huge factor in how much discipline you actually have. Those in the study who believed they didn’t have the willpower to accomplish certain goals, weren’t able to accomplish them.
Several factors influence how able you are to exercise discipline. Your body’s health is one of those factors (so don’t forget to take care of yourself!). Stress is another factor; unhealthy stress can weaken your ability to think clearly on your goals and have the discipline to reach them.
But perhaps the most important factor is that element of faith in yourself to follow through with what you want. Remove any “subconscious obstacles” you are putting on yourself that limit your discipline. Believe you can do this, and then do it.