Achieving anything worthwhile requires some measure of discipline, but most of us don’t innately possess the self-discipline necessary to achieve everything that we want out of life. So, how can we be more disciplined? Well, it begins with vision.

Disciplined actions, which are the outward, observable actions we sometimes mistake for discipline itself, result from a compelling vision. For example, an athlete who rises daily at five o’clock for a workout routine likely has a vision for a fit body, stronger muscles and an overall healthier future. Perhaps she has an even larger vision of herself winning a triathlon to discipline herself to get out of bed.

If you’re a paycheckaholic and want to break your addiction to your paycheck by starting your own business, you may be deceiving yourself as to why you can’t begin. If you think that you don’t have the discipline to start a business, I would challenge that you actually don’t have a compelling vision to start a business. Let me explain.

Developing a personal vision is key to having the discipline to see it become reality. The larger your vision, the greater your discipline will need to be. The more compelling your vision is to you, the easier you’ll find the discipline needed. Conversely, if your vision isn’t big enough or compelling enough to you, then you will probably lack the discipline to see it through.

Perhaps it would be helpful to define what discipline actually means. Not surprisingly, discipline comes from the root word disciple, which means follower or learner. But what do learning and following have to do with vision?

Internal versus external discipline

For some, discipline has a negative connotation synonymous with punishment. Discipline can be imposed upon you externally—as with boarding school or boot camp—to achieve a specific set of goals or rigid adherence to the rules. This outward conformity is often not accompanied by an inward change to embrace the external discipline. Think of the obstinate, unrepentant child after a spanking; external controls may or may not affect future behavior. The root of the issue is internal and cannot be externally controlled. This common meaning has found its way into the dictionary.

However, the original meaning is an inner discipline that follows and learns, and that begins within the individual. It is self-imposed compliance with rules and guidelines for the sake of growth, betterment, knowledge and wisdom. To contrast, self-discipline is, by nature, voluntary.

External discipline, or the threat of punishment, is ineffective because it violates our free will. The three-year-old child who didn’t get the cookie he wanted understands this principle. But when we intentionally and voluntarily exercise our free will toward achieving our vision, it creates lasting change within us from within us, and it has the power to create something meaningful and valuable in the world. The founder of a company that has just IPO’d understands this principle. Successful entrepreneurs possess the quality of self-discipline because they have developed a compelling vision large enough to require it.

Creating a vision worthy of self-discipline

Creating your vision means designing a mental picture of the future you want to become reality. It requires thinking about and planning your future with imagination and wisdom. Creating a compelling vision means searching the depths of your soul to find the essence of your personal value system and then envisioning your future centered upon it. This is no small task; it means answering the biggest questions in life. However, answering them honestly for yourself will yield rewards for generations to come when your vision is well defined, diligently pursued and ultimately achieved.

I’ve known since I was a teenager that my passion is in helping people and building a legacy for future generations. For me, this blog is only part of a much larger vision to see a world-class media company that publishes materials to help thousands of people who want to improve themselves in some way. This includes would-be entrepreneurs who just need a little nudge to break their paycheck addiction, start their own businesses and change the world—not only for themselves, but also for their progeny. Any resulting revenue streams are also part of a legacy that I can pass on to my own kids. My vision is to create and influence desired outcomes in my family 200 years from now, and that is compelling enough for me to venture outside my comfort zone and develop habits to achieve that end.

What’s your vision? Have you clearly written it down? To help you define your compelling vision, begin by thinking about your “why.”

  • Why are you here on earth?
  • What is your purpose in life? (It’s okay if you don’t know. You’re not alone. Keep reading.)
  • Why are you doing what you’re doing? Are you doing what you want to be doing, or are you just going through the motions, accepting whatever fate has brought into your life?
  • What do you value?
  • What motivates you?
  • What stirs your deepest positive emotional response?
  • What makes you laugh?
  • What brings you to tears?
  • Remember the excitement and anticipation of Christmas morning when you were a kid? How can you feel that way again?
  • What will get you out of bed in the morning?
  • What are you willing to die for?
  • What are you willing to live for?
  • What message must you share with the world?

Use your answers and your own soul searching to write your vision. Don’t overthink it; just write. Jot down your ideas over the course of several days and pull them together into a series of bullet points. Then, try to tie them together into a paragraph. Don’t worry if it’s not written very well. Consider that you’re on a journey, and your destination is far away; you can’t see it clearly yet. However, as you move closer toward it (thanks to your own self-discipline), it will become clearer and easier to define. Write as much detail as you can, but realize that what is most important is that it is compelling—emotionally engaging, stirring—to you. Author Joe Vitale says a good goal should scare you a little and excite you a lot. Adding some photos of what you want to experience, how you want to grow, and how you will contribute. It would probably help greatly to create a vision board.

It’s quite all right if you don’t have a fully developed vision yet. The purpose of this post is to encourage you to create a compelling vision for your future and thereby develop the discipline needed to see it become a reality. Please share your thoughts about this topic in the comments below; your insight may help others to define their own personal vision.