Four Tools of Discipline

by Ron Potter

Shane Parrish (my favorite blogger) wrote an article titled “The Four Tools of Discipline”.  The four he lists are:

  1. Delaying Gratification
  2. Accepting Responsibility
  3. Dedication to Reality
  4. Balancing

Dealing with Difficulties

Shane sets up the article with a few quotes from other well-known people.

Scott Peck from “The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth”.  This has been one of my favorite books through the years.

Peck points out that most of us want to avoid problems.  They’re painful, frustrating, sad, and lonely.  All things that we would prefer to avoid.  But he also points out that the whole process of facing, dealing with, and solving problems is what gives meaning to our lives.

Benjamin Franklin said, “Those things that hurt, instruct.”  He said that fearing the pain involved we attempt to avoid them.  We procrastinate, ignore, forget, and pretend they don’t exist.  We attempt to get out of the pain rather than suffer through it.

Avoiding problems avoids the opportunity for growth!  Shane lists the four disciplines needed to face and deal with the problems.

Delaying Gratification

We’ve all seen this play out in our lives.  I’ve been desiring a new watch.  Do I need one?  Not really.  Do I need one right now?  Definitely not!  What would delayed gratification tell me to do?  Wait?  The price will likely come down.  I have a watch that meets my needs right now?  Will I put off the purchase of the new watch?  Probably not.  Why?  Because I want it and I want it right now.

You can see the difference in children who have learned to delay their gratification.  If they haven’t, they want something now and will raise all kinds of calamity so that the parents will stop trying to delay their gratification and just give them what they want in order to shut them up.  The child has learned that if they just throw a new and louder tantrum, they’ll eventually get what they want.  They never learn delayed gratification.  Unfortunately, that leads to difficulties as young adults and even into their adult lives.

Accepting Responsibility

Shane says that accepting responsibility is emotionally uncomfortable.  He’s right.  It’s easier to say

  • traffic delayed me
  • someone else did the wrong thing, it wasn’t my fault
  • no one told me about the bigger picture or what was at stake
  • It wasn’t my fault.  It wasn’t my fault.  It wasn’t my fault.

The list goes on and on.  Shane closes that section with the following statement

Whenever we seek to avoid responsibility for our own behavior, we do so by attempting to give that responsibility to some other individual, organization, or entity.

Dedication to Reality

My blog last week was titled “Reality is Constructed by Our Brain”.  In that blog, I quoted Brian Resnick who said “Intellectual humility: the importance of knowing you might be wrong.  Knowing that you might be wrong should drive you to be curious about how others see their “reality”.  If it doesn’t create that curiosity, it causes us to dig in our heels about what we believe to be true and our own version of what reality is.

Scott Peck says “Truth or reality is avoided when it is painful.  We can revise our maps only when we have the discipline to overcome that pain.”

Shane says “The only way we can ensure our map is correct and accurate is to expose it to the criticism of others.”

If we believe our view of the world is the one and only correct view, we remain closed to the view of others.


Shane says that “Balancing is the discipline that gives us flexibility.  Extraordinary flexibility is required for successful living in all spheres of activity.”

A few blogs back I talked about Simone Biles and the balance she exhibits in her gymnastic routines.  There are only a handful of people in the world who can come close to the physical balance she exhibits.  But many of us can work at and accomplish that kind of balance in our mental thinking.

Delaying gratification.
Accepting responsibility.
Dedication to reality.

Let’s close with the last one, “Balancing”.  Think about balancing the other three.  If the first three get too far out of balance with each other, problems arise.

Too much-delayed gratification without a dedication to reality will lead to frustration.  Eventually, the question will arise, delayed gratification to what end?  If there is nothing at the end of the tunnel, the delayed gratification is for nothing, it only leads to frustration.

As I was about to write the next statement about “Accepting Responsibility”, I found myself looking over at a picture of my father.  He had lost a leg during WWII.  I never heard him talk about how the Germans were responsible.  I never heard him talk about how the generals and leadership were responsible.  While he may not have accepted responsibility, he did accept reality.  He came home from the war, married, started a business, and had four children.

The picture I found myself looking at was dad (with his cane) and all four kids out on a frozen pond with a hatched while he taught us to cut a hole in the ice for ice fishing.  Looking at that picture reminded me why he has been one of the most influential in my life.

Balance.  Balance.  Balance.

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