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How Michael Phelps Used Selected Discipline To Be Successful

m+building habits

The past few weeks I have been discussing the six lies between you and success that hold us from living The ONE Thing. The first was that everything matters equally. The truth is that all things don’t matter equally and success is found in doing the most important task first. The second was multitasking. Effective multitasking is a lie and in order to put the principle of The ONE Thing to work, you can’t buy into the lie that doing two or more things is effective. Though multitasking can be done its just very difficult to achieve the best results you need to be successful.

So let’s touch on the third lie between you and success. The concept of a “disciplined life.” The idea that the most successful person is the one who leads a disciplined life. Well, it’s a lie.

The truth is that we don’t need more discipline than we already have. It’s the need to direct and manage it better. The idea of a more disciplined life to be successful is actually training yourself enough that a habit kicks in and takes over. So if you want to read more it’s disciplining yourself enough to set aside a specific time to read and once that action is done enough it becomes a habit that no longer requires any effort of discipline to complete.

The ONE Thing principle says; “success is actually a short race–a sprint fueled by discipline just long enough for a habit to kick in and take over.” So we just need enough discipline to build the habit.

The words “discipline” and “habit” ultimately cross paths. When you see successful people disciplining themselves to act in a specific way they are actually building a habit(s) into their lives. This may see them disciplined when they’re not. No one is.

So the fact is you don’t need to be a disciplined person to be successful. Success is about doing the right thing, not about doing everything right. The trick is to choose the right habit and bring enough discipline to establish it.

An Example Of Selected Discipline

Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps is a good example of selected discipline. Diagnosed with ADHD as a child, he was told that he will never be able to focus on anything. His coach, Bob Bowman, since age 11, reported that he spent lots of time on the side of the pool for bad behaviour. This type of behaviour has cropped up from time to time in his adult life as well.

Phelps holds the all-time records for Olympic gold medals (18, double the second highest record holders), Olympic gold medals in individual events (11), and Olympic medals in individual events for a male (13). So how does a person like this become the most decorated Olympian of all time, with a total of 22 medals?

Today, his mom reports, “Michael’s ability to focus amazes me.” His coach calls it “his strongest attribute.” How did this happen? How can a boy who was told that he would never be able to focus on anything achieve so much?

Phelps became a person of selected discipline.

From age 14 through the Beijing Olympics, Phelp trained seven days a week, 365 days a year. He figured by training on Sundays he got a 52-training-day advantage on the competition. He spent six hours in the water each day. He was able to channel all of his energy into one discipline that developed into one habit–swimming daily.

That type of payoff is pretty obvious and gets you the success you’re searching for. What happens is also a huge windfall which is overlooked and results in a more simplified life. You know what you have to do well and what you don’t. It allows you license to be less disciplined in other areas. When you do the right thing, it can liberate you from having to monitor everything.

I have learned this concept of discipline and habit in my own life. Areas in my life that were once discipline are now habits like waking up early morning, exercise, eating a Paleo diet and daily task management routines. All habits that were once a discipline at the beginning. But put up with the discipline long enough to turn into a habit and the journey feels different. The hard stuff becomes a habit, and the habit makes the hard stuff easy.

Researchers at the University College of London have determined that it takes an average of 66 days to acquire a new habit. The 66-days represented the sweet spot with easier behaviours taking fewer days and tougher ones longer.

Austrailian researchers Megan Oaten and Ken Cheng have that discovered a halo effect around better habit creation. One study found that students reported less stress; less impulsive spending; better dietary habits; decreased alcohol, tobacco and caffeine consumption; fewer hours watching TV; and even fewer dirty dishes. So those with the right habits seem to do better than others. They’re doing the most important thing regularly and, as a result, everything else is easier.

To sum up BIG IDEAS on doing The ONE Thing right:

1. Don’t be a disciplined person. Develop powerful habits and use selected discipline to develop them.

2. Build one habit at a time. Super-successful people aren’t super human at all; they have used selected discipline to develop a few significant habits. One at a time. Over time.

3. Give each habit enough time. Stick with the discipline long enough to develop habit forming results. Habits take an average 66 days to form.

They say you are what you repeatedly do, so then the achievement is a habit you forge into your life. Use the power of selected discipline to build right habits and extraordinary results will find you.

I love to hear from you and know your thoughts? Do you need help with building better habits? Let me know. I would be glad to help. 


Greg Johnston
The Mentor+ Project and Hitch+

A star wants to see himself rise to the top. A leader wants to see those around him rise to the top.” – Simon Sinek

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