Remember the story about the hare and the tortoise? Okay, so the hare and the tortoise decided to have a race. “I’ll beat you, hands down,” boasted the hare, “you won’t even see my tail.” The tortoise nodded, “we’ll see.” So the race began and true to his words, the hare took off and soon disappeared from the tortoise’ view. Rather than becoming discouraged, the tortoise plodded on at his own pace. After about a mile, the hare spotted a nice bush of carrots by the road side. Noting the tortoise was nowhere in sight, he stepped aside for a lovely snack. After his snack, the hare thought to himself, “I’ll just catch a few winks.” Soon after, the tortoise came puffing up the road and saw the hare taking a nap in the shade of a Baobab. He was tempted to join him but understood the race was not yet won so he lumbered on. Not long afterwards, he crossed the finish line only to turn around to see the hare making a mad dash towards him having awakened from his nap. The more unlikely runner won the race
Typically, we end this parable with the idiom, “slow and steady wins the race.” Today, I thought differently of it – self-discipline wins the race which is another take on the word, “steady.” It wasn’t so much the slowness of the tortoise that won him the race but his diligence or discipline in doing what needed to be done consistently. Self-discipline is the ability to train one’s thoughts and actions to facilitate the achievement of set goals. Though he lacked both the physique and the technique to run fast, the tortoise applied discipline in using his minimal talents. What he lacked in speed, he made up for in consistency. And when tempted to slack off as he passed the hare sleeping in the shade, he chose not to deviate from his path.
This very instructive parable offers some key lessons on self-discipline:
- Keep your eyes trained on the goal. If you do this, regardless of how slow you are, you will get there. Keeping your eyes on the goal also motivates you and propels you forward.
- Avoid distractions. Do what you need to do to win and not what everyone is doing or getting away with.
- Don’t take arbitrary breaks. And when you do take breaks, make them constructive not destructive. A constructive break refuels or reenergizes you to stay on task while a destructive one takes you off course. Hint: drink water at a company luncheon and not alcohol even if it is free!
- Don’t celebrate until you cross the finish line. Premature celebration of having left his opponent in the dust cost the hare his victory.
- Keep it real. Don’t believe your own hype. The hare talked up himself so much that he slacked off. Let those who enjoy your products or services sing your praise.
- Don’t underestimate your opponent. You don’t know their secret ingredient but you know your own strength so focus on using your strength to the max.
- Go hard. Be disciplined. Go for gold.