By Manny Cabrera III, Chief Instructor

This is the third article in which we’ve been looking at the ways discipline provides the foundation of success using the landmark business book “Good to Great” by Jim Collins.  In part one, we examined the importance of developing personal discipline in the way we act and the way we interact with others.  Essentially to become disciplined people we have to be willing to put the needs of others before our own ego needs.  In an intense five year study of CEO leadership, the companies that met the criteria for enduring greatness embodied this quality over those that were mediocre or great for only great for a shining moment because of the less great companies superstar genius leaders.  To become great these leaders knew that their success laid in helping others achieve their own dreams and success.  In Part Two, we also discussed how disciplined people have a unique habit of waiting to associate with people who share their values rather than whomever comes along.  This month we turn to developing disciplined thoughts.

All through the martial arts training of our students we emphasize the power of our thoughts.  We do certain things in class and say certain things to focus our minds to certain ways and be more positive.  However, despite the fact that we want our students to develop a positive mindset, to truly develop a black belt attitude and create a thought process of discipline we don’t want to become blindly optimistic.  We must have the discipline to confront the brutal reality of a situation and at the same time, maintain unwavering faith that we will prevail in the end.  This embodies the concept of indomitable spirit.

Tortured over twenty times during his eight year imprisonment, Admiral Jim Stockdale was the highest ranking U.S. military officer in the “Hanoi Hilton” prisoner-of-war camp during the Vietnam War.  He, despite the uncertainty of whether he would see his family again and no prisoner rights, continued to carry the responsibility of command to work for creating conditions that would increase the number of prisoners that would survive and at the same time wage a war against their captors who would use them as propaganda pieces.  They created elaborate codes by tapping on the walls so the prisoners could feel connected with one another.

In an interview with Stockdale, Good to Great author, Jim Collins commented that while reading Stockdale’s book (written with his wife about their ordeal) he began to become depressed and he knew the end of the story!  He asked Stockdale about the way he dealt with it.

‘“I never lost faith in the end of the story,” Stockdale responded.  “I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience in to the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade.”

‘ “Who didn’t make it out?” Collins asked.

‘”Oh, that’s easy, the optimists.”

‘”The optimists? I don’t understand.”

‘“The optimists.  Oh, they were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’  And Christmas would come and Christmas would go.  Then they’d say ‘we’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go.  And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again.  And they died of a broken heart… This is a very important lesson.  You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatver they might be.”

Sometimes life isn’t fair, at times to our advantage at times to our disadvantage.  There will be success and failures and setbacks, new accomplishments, disease, births, deaths and any other thing for which there may be no “reason” why or person to blame.  What this lesson from American hero Jim Stockdale teaches us that what separates the black belts from those who aren’t is not the presence or absence of difficulty, but how they deal with it.  We must maintain our faith that we will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties AND AT THE SAME TIME confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.

We don’t have to be POW prisoners to truly embody this form of discipline and indomitable spirit.  The will to endure is easier, in my opinion, to develop than the discipline to examine the reality for what it really is.  If the situation looks bleak it can be easy to fall into pessimism and depression, or equally as dangerous, put on rose-colored glasses and ignore the facts.  In the late 70’s the banking industry faced its toughest time since the Great Depression as the government began deregulation over a three year period.  For almost 200 years banking had been a protected industry, now it was another free market commodity like everything else.  Many banks, such as Bank of America, ignored the new reality they lived in, carrying on the same way they had with all the great perks that’s traditionally associated with the image of the great banking tycoons of old.  Wells Fargo, on the other hand, realized that it was a whole new world and there were banks popping up everywhere.  So they used the brutal facts as an opportunity to innovate; pioneering the strip down branch system and the usage of Automatic Teller Machines (ATM’s).  They eliminated extraneous costs that hindered their ability compete with smaller, hungrier, companies including the executive jets and chefs.  Because of their belief in their ability to succeed and the discipline to confront the brutal facts of reality, Wells Fargo is the largest bank group in the U.S. and the most profitable.  Bank of America, however, would continue to lose about 300 million dollars before they began to turn around, and they only did this by hiring many of the Wells Fargo executive time!

What difficulties in your life have you been forced to confront the brutal facts, yet at the same time, never lost sight of your belief in your ability to prevail?  During World War II the entire nation was united in this belief and exercised this and exercised this discipline.  In many ways, this contributes to our collective underdog mentality, despite being the dominant nation on the planet today.  So, get out there examine the brutal facts, keep the faith, and rise to the challenge!

About the author: Manny Cabrera III is an expert in self-protection, fitness, personal development, and is a life-long martial artist.  He serves as chief instructor at Sidekicks Family Martial Arts Centers and has written for multiple publications.  Mr. Cabrera resides in Brandon, FL with his wife Jessica, their twin sons, and an energetic Austrailian Cattle Dog.  Follow Mr. Cabrera on Twitter.

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