• Published
  • By Col. Stephen M. Mounts
  • 55th Medical Group commander
A wing commander I served with a few years ago asked his squadron commanders an interesting question. "If you could wish for one trait that would help you succeed in life, what would it be?" His answer was surprising to many of us, but it was also quite profound.

The answer he gave was "self-discipline." One might think that success certainly might require some discipline...but really, self-discipline? I mean, aren't we leaving out some of the classics such as integrity, virtue, charisma, communication skills, or even the ability to inspire? Isn't self-discipline a bit basic, or perhaps even a rather mundane concept of what enables success in life?

Well, the more I've seen successful people, units, and organizations, the more I believe his choice was quite sound. Dare I say that self-discipline is perhaps the most important character trait to facilitate one's success in life!

Now why would that be? For starters, self-discipline ensures that in the absence of supervision or external motivation, you stay the course and continue toward achieving whatever goal or standard is required of you. I offer a few thoughts related to our Air Force core values to drive the point home.

Integrity in the absence of self-discipline may be sporadically applied. Simply because you have integrity, does not mean you'll have the discipline to have integrity in all settings. Without the ability to hold yourself accountable to "do the right thing when no one is looking," how can you guarantee you'll put integrity first? Self-discipline.

Service before self, another familiar core value for Airmen! If one holds true to this core value, how can you be sure you'll put the mission first when it really counts? Will there always be a supervisor or leader there to follow-up on your actions or hold you accountable to the standard? What makes you finish the job when no one is looking, just because it is the right thing to do? Self-discipline.

Not to be forgotten, the old stand-by of Excellence in all we do! Excellence in all you do implies that you'll never cut corners, take the easy way out or compromise the quality of your work. How does that play out in your daily routine? Is there always a check and balance or a quality control to ensure you're performing "all things" in an excellent manner? Certainly not! The Air Force relies on you to police yourself and ensure you're holding the line on quality and ensuring excellence in the services you support or products you provide. So, what is it that will help ensure you're always meeting this standard? Self-discipline.

Of course there are times when we let our guard down and relax a bit, but it shouldn't be with the Air Force core values or any other part of what we do for our nation. I encourage you to work on your own level of self-discipline. It applies to virtually everything we do. Your health, personal hygiene, how often you iron your uniform, the decision to avoid drinking when you're planning to drive, etc.

If you don't believe me, perhaps it will help to reinforce the message with a story that a motivational speaker, Dan Clark, recently shared with us. He told a story about his experiences motivating NFL teams to improve their performance. When he asked the teams' premier athletes to jump over a 12-inch bar, they did. He then asked them why they only jumped just over 12 inches when they were clearly capable of jumping higher. In every case they replied "because that's all you asked me to do." These athletes certainly could have benefitted from stronger self-discipline, which would have motivated them to jump as high as they could and also help them perform better on the field.

In sum, self-discipline may not be flashy, but it is a foundational enabler of success. No one should have to ask you to do your should require it of yourself and strive to always hold yourself accountable to doing your absolute best. Best of luck on your journey to improve your self-discipline!