At the start of this academic year, I was invited to give a presentation to the staff at one of our schools.  The theme I chose to talk around was that of discipline, and specifically the difference between discipline and motivation.

Whilst we may understandably associate the word ‘discipline’ in a school context with behaviour and its management – and a quick search for a definition of the word via Google would state (under definition #1) that discipline is “the practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behaviour, using punishment to correct disobedience”, it means many more things than that.  My focus was on the definition that sat right at the bottom of the Google entry: Discipline (verb) “to train oneself to do something in a controlled and habitual way.”

The reason why I chose to focus on this dimension of discipline is that there is a growing body of thought where discipline is emphasised as the vehicle for success above other factors – including motivation.  Those of us working in schools will know of children and young people who have excelled in their achievements not through desire and motivation, but through hard work and the application of regular habits that are conducive to achievement – such as routine and frequent revision.  These children and young people are consistent:

We have all worked with people who exhibit these qualities too.  Those individuals who will be successful whatever they seem to turn their hands to, not because they have boundless skillsets or they are lucky, but because they consistently apply themselves in a disciplined fashion to whatever it is they are doing.  I wanted to highlight this to the staff at the school I was presenting to.  Alongside their talents and their passions, which are both impressive and abundant, they exhibit a culture of discipline in their approach – and with that comes the consistency of performance, individually and corporately. 

Instinctively, we know that discipline works as a failsafe when motivation waxes and wanes.  It’s for this reason that the runner will lay out the running gear by the bed before going to sleep to make sure they get up for that jog in the morning, however they feel.  It’s the reason the dieter goes to a slimming club each week for a “weigh in” when there’s a perfectly accurate set of scales in their bathroom.  It’s the reason why the hopeful quitter has a chart on their wall with countdowns to treats and rewards, marking each day that they go cigarette-free.  Such routines sustain us when we would otherwise be flagging.

Finally, the above is perhaps best encapsulated by a quotation by Stephen R. Covey: “Only through discipline are we truly free.  The undisciplined are slaves to moods, appetites and passions.”

As always, thanks for reading.