Conscious choice and discipline

“Greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness, it turns out, is largely a matter of conscious choice, and discipline.”

That’s what Jim Collins says at the end of “Good to Great and the Social Sectors.”

“Creativity is natural. Discipline is not. The marriage of creativity and discipline is key to leadership success.” Collins said that at the Global Leadership Summit.

Understandably, he’s been getting under my skin a lot recently. Because discipline is not something I enjoy.

I like to believe it’s because I am creative and flexible and empathetic and introverted. I’m beginning to think that it’s because, at times, I’m just lazy.

To avoid arguments, I probably should back away from the word “lazy” and stick with “undisciplined.” That is a word that leaves room for improvement, that allows for learning and growing.

I’m amused that I am reading so much Collins (Good to Great, Great is a Choice) at the same time that I am studying Nehemiah at the same time I am learning Colossians at the same time I am reading Center Church at the same time I am starting to help write a course on church administration at the same time I’m part of a group looking at vision. You all see the pattern I only see in retrospect.

All of them are about clearly identifying a project, a passion, a vision, and then pursing with steady discipline. A thousand small steps. Two hundred days of oatmeal for lunch in a row.

I know that one of the things that has kept me from reading Collins in the past is concern with definitions of “great.” Modesty prevents us from pursuing “greatness”, right?

What that means, unfortunately, is that we too often pursue good enoughness with a half heart.

But Nehemiah is curing disciplining me.


8 thoughts on “Conscious choice and discipline

  1. joseph ruiz

    Jon, we are in the same canoe! I am dealing with being undisciplined. I have enrolled in Chris Brogan’s class because I need to write a great deal but I don’t consider myself a writer, until now. I am learning to write every day out of discipline when I would prefer to “wait for the mood” to strike. I am reading Duhigg’s Power of habit – fascinated by the connection between habits/discipline. Thanks for sharing this Nehemiah is a great teacher.


  2. Rob Hatch

    I was going to make an attempt at humor and say, ‘No, you’re lazy’. Then I kept re-reading your rationale for choosing undisciplined and well, I appreciate the distinction. I appreciate the awareness of an opportunity for growth vs. what could be a lasting label, self inflicted or not.

    The challenge for me is to find the steps from being undisciplined with the recognition and desire to BE more disciplined, to actually being disciplined.

    Collins is right of course, but how is always the hitch. More accurately, what would that look like in my life?

    To answer that question, one has to start with a vision or a goal and then start to name the steps in between and then start to identify how to fit the steps into their life.

    Lose 30 pounds is overwhelming until one decides that the first piece is to eat oatmeal at lunch.

    “Great” conjures big images, but discipline is rooted in doing the small stuff.

    Writing 300 words a day is disciplined. Creating “300 Words A Day” is great.


    1. Jon Swanson

      a couple things.
      .1 the first goal was 10 by a date that mattered. The first goal was to start writing for a year. The first goal is the first day.
      2. Collins says that it takes time to sort through to find the one thing and that it takes cycles of trying.
      3. we learn. and then we learn. and then we learn. and then we learn. That’s been the hardest part in my recent life. That I have to learn how to learn.

      And thank you for not calling me lazy.


  3. Chelsey

    Spiritual disciplines have been on my mind a lot lately. As an individual who values spontaneity and creativity, the idea of disciplining myself to spirituality has been an interesting one. Thanks for the reframe…that the goal is not to become rote, but to become great (in Spirit, in this case).


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