Apply Discipline Strategically to Achieve Success

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The One Thing" by Gary Keller. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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How can you strategically apply discipline to achieve success? How much discipline do you need to succeed?

Many people believe that an extraordinarily disciplined life is the key to success. In actuality, all you need to do is apply discipline strategically. When you apply discipline to the right thing long enough, you form a habit. Ultimately, that leads to success.

Keep reading to learn how you can strategically apply discipline to achieve success.

The Myth of Discipline

People often think that only those with superhuman discipline achieve success. However, this is another myth. Almost everyone has sufficient discipline to achieve success—they just need to apply discipline more strategically.

Success isn’t a result of ongoing discipline. It happens when you apply discipline long enough for a new habit to stick and become automatic. When you exercise discipline, you’re training yourself to act in a certain way. When you do it long enough, the new behavior becomes routine and no longer requires discipline.

You become successful because you’ve strategically applied discipline to the right thing—establishing a powerful new habit.

Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps is an example of someone succeeding through strategically applied discipline. As a child with ADHD, he couldn’t focus in school and was prone to disruptive behavior. However, from age 14, he applied discipline to One Thing that became a powerful habit—swimming every day. Phelps swam six hours a day, seven days a week and ultimately became the most successful Olympian in history.

Besides bringing success, developing the right habit simplifies your life. Focusing discipline on the right thing—finding your sweet spot—actually means you can be less disciplined about other things. Phelps found his sweet spot in swimming and made it a habit that changed his life.

Apply Discipline Strategically to Form a Habit in 66 Days

The idea of disciplining ourselves and adopting better habits seems hard and unpleasant. But habits are hard only in the beginning. Forming a habit takes more energy than sustaining one.

How long it takes to form a habit depends on the nature of the habit. Self-help advocates often assert that it takes 21 days to make a change. However, researchers at the University College of London determined that it takes about 66 days—easier behaviors take fewer days to establish and difficult ones take more.

So don’t quit too soon. Decide on the right habit and apply discipline, giving yourself enough time for it to become second nature. Remember that success is sequential, and build new habits one at a time, building on the success of the previous habit with each new one.

Success can be yours once you understand the myth of the disciplined life and learn to apply discipline to the right thing.

Apply Discipline Strategically to Achieve Success

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Gary Keller's "The One Thing" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full The One Thing summary:

  • Why focusing daily on one thing, rather than many, is the key to success
  • How success is like dominos
  • The six common myths about success

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, science, and philosophy. A switch to audio books has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a creative nonfiction book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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