Why discipline and persuasion are overrated
NB: Before we begin: this is the latest article in a series on modern leadership mastery. The series overview and links to previous articles can be found here.
Two models for translating your dream into reality…
Model 1: Work hard, play hard. You work hard every single day. You motivate yourself to get out of bed and perform. You persuade the people around you to see the world from your perspective and motivate them to get their work done on time. You’re disciplined. You spend a lot of time planning your next move. Your effort is designed to hammer reality into submission until it mirrors your vision.
This option, which is the default approach for most leaders, will require huge amounts of work, but if you stick with it and refuse failure, you will almost assuredly succeed. That’s the good part.
The bad part is this: unless your work is truly aligned with who you are you’ll wrestle with a quiet but profound sense of disappointment after you have “succeeded.” Think of it as climbing a mountain and expecting to be psyched when you get to the top, only to realize you were climbing the wrong mountain the whole time.
I know the “Work hard play hard” path well. I’ve followed it many times. I no longer believe it creates a satisfying and engaging life. If this is the path you feel called to, I am probably not the guy for you. While I do believe hard work, persuasion, and discipline have their place, I think they act best as supplements to your approach, not the driving force.
Model 2: Surrender to the flow: You surrender to what’s true to you. You run the risk of believing that your wildest dreams are possible. You wake up and move through the world with a sense of passion and excitement, which, realistically, is tampered by fear from time to time. People collaborate with you because they believe in your vision. You’re open. You learn to trust yourself and the process, while accepting that sometimes the path forward will not be clear until you take the first few steps, and even then, you may not be able to see far ahead.
This option, which is a far more organic approach for leaders to take, will require huge amounts of courage and trust. In many ways, it’s harder and requires far more skill than the “Work hard play hard” model.
But the good part is this: if you do the hard work of figuring out what’s true to you, and search for people whose vision is aligned with yours, you will succeed beyond your wildest dreams. More importantly, you’ll build a life well worth living.
This is the approach I want to discuss. I’m going to give you tools to speed up your success with it and help you find the right people to surround yourself with. But first….
Why I am no longer an evangelist for discipline, persuasion, and motivation
The easiest way to explain it is this: if something doesn’t speak to you at your core, why bother? If you really need to spend a lot of time motivating yourself and persuading other people, you’re most likely on the wrong track.
Seriously. We die. This ends. This all ends. Everything with form will fade. Why bother doing things that don’t contribute to making you feel alive and vivacious? If you find the courage to follow your truth, you’ll notice that your path is marked by inexplicable synchronicities and serendipities.
At a rational level, when you work on something that is a reflection of who you truly are, work wont feel like work (well, at least not most of the time). When you surround yourself with people who are as excited about your work as you are, everyone will experience much less friction and much more momentum.
How to use the Surrender to the flow model:
Phase 1: figure out what is true to you. This is the hardest part, by far. I wrote a long article on finding your truth at the beginning of the series, but the gist is this:
- Create time in your life for reflection and exploration. Allow yourself to dream. Allow yourself to explore things that you haven’t explored for a while.
- Stay open to new ideas. You may be surprised to discover your authentic desires are very different than what they thought they were. If this is the case, that’s ok.
- When you feel overwhelmed with energy and excitement, you know you are on the right track. Begin taking small steps towards making your dream a reality (more on that in the next article).
- If you never quite find an idea that fills you with electricity, start experimenting. Revisit some of the stuff that excited you as a child. Do something random. Talk to a stranger. Read a sci-fi book. Whatever. Just add new experiences into your life and when you find something that excites you, pursue it.
Phase 2: get crystal clear on what you want and create a Painted Picture. Once you’ve figured out what you really want, your job is to create what Cameron Harold refers to as a painted picture (if you haven’t read Cam’s book and you’re a leader or entrepreneur, I highly recommend it).
Describe exactly what your dream for yourself is. Make it as vivid and as detailed as you can. Use whatever medium feels best to you. It can be a literal painting, a Photoshop project, a vision board, a written document, a clay sculpture, or anything really. The point is to clearly capture and express your vision.
As you work on your painted picture, continue refining it until it is as accurate a representation of your vision as possible.
And this is important: you are not a slave to your painted picture. You can change it as you go. You can refine and edit it. The goal is to continuously ensure that it is a real representation of your vision.
When you feel like you’ve gone off the tracks, or your patience is wearing thin, or you need a dose of motivation, return to your painted picture. If it lights you up once again, you’re on the right track. If it no longer resonates with you, perhaps it’s time for some soul searching. Sometimes dreams change and evolve. That’s normal.
Phase 3: find your people and let the world know. Once you’re crystal clear on what it is you want in life, start telling people. You’ll be amazed to find that sometimes all you have to do is state your desires and they will be met.
By declaring your desire you will begin finding the right people to add to your team or work with. You’ll notice that some of your friends and acquaintances start getting excited about your ideas, or will connect you with people who will be excited about your ideas.
As you continue doing this and adding people to your tribe, share your painted picture with them to see if they feel the same excitement about it that you do. If they do, you know you’ve found one of your people. This can take time, but is well worth it.
When you take the time to find the right people, you don’t need to invest much in motivating or persuading them because they are excited to be working with you. It’s far better to find 3 people who are truly engaged, than 30 people who will half-ass it.
Phase 4: trust yourself. The appeal of the “Work hard play hard model” is this: it allows you to feel like you can control the world around you. It hedges your chances of failure by relying heavily on discipline and hard work.
But here’s the problem: control is an illusion. A compelling illusion perhaps, but an illusion nonetheless. All you can really control are your actions, and to a lesser degree, your thoughts and feelings. But even then, the world is likely to interfere. Your bag gets lost at the airport, the crucial person misses his train, you lose a loved one, the waiter spills wine on your shirt. Whatever.
If you’re not in love with the project that you’re working on then these little tests from the world will eventually derail you. They will deflate your vigor and ambition. You’ll eventually find yourself on the floor without any fight left in you.
Only when you surrender to the projects that are a true reflection of you, will you be able to persevere. Only when you stop trying to force reality into something it’s not will you succeed. And it’s not that the Surrender approach doesn’t require hard work and resilience. It does. It’s just different.
The hard work here is trusting yourself. The hard work is believing that if you leap, the net will appear. The hard work is reminding yourself of why you set down this path in the first place, and going back to that feeling of energy and excitement and drive during your darker moments.
I make no claims of completely understanding the mechanics of how our world works, but if your experience is at all like mine, life will leave clues. As you stride down the path that is truly yours, you’ll run into synchronicities, serendipities, and unexpected alignments that you could have never dreamt of.
And that is my wish for you: that you create the space to truly connect with yourself and that you find the courage to breathe life into your dreams.
If you’ve been following along so far, you should have already connected to your truth. Now, your job is to create your painted picture. Describe exactly what it is you want in whatever medium comes naturally to you. Take your time with this. Spread it out over a few weeks. When you feel inspired, share it with people. This will be used to inspire yourself and to draw the right people in.