Redefining Discipline

When I think of the word ‘discipline’ I immediately get transported back in time. Images of my ancient First Grade teacher, Mrs. Witts, come to mind. Mrs. Witts with piles of ash blonde hair heaped on the top of her head like old straw and horned rimmed glasses that were out-of-date even way back then. Now-a-days they could be considered retro-cool, but there wasn’t anything cool about Mrs. Witts. There wasn’t anything cool about her pursed lips and rayon dresses. There wasn’t anything cool… or warm, for that matter. I remember her looming over me, like the tall scraggly trees with faces you sometimes see in spooky cartoons. Her boney fingers splayed like branches, ready to grab me by the scruff and turn me around in my seat for cheerily chatting with my best friend Sally Kay who sat behind me. “Mrs. Witch,” is what we whispered to one another, giggling. Or, my personal favorite, ‘The Wicked Witts of the West.’ Mrs. Witch…er…Witts was all about “Don’t.” “Don’t squirm!… Don’t talk!” And I was sure she subconsciously lived by, “Don’t smile. Don’t laugh. Don’t care.”

She probably wasn’t as bad as I remember. Poor woman. She seemed so old. She was probably the same age as I am now. Yikes. She seemed so mean. She was probably just at her….wits end…..(we liked that one too).  At five years old, I didn’t have much compassion for Mrs. Witts. I really don’t remember anything we learned that year, except that’s where I got my first working definition for the word ‘discipline.’ According to our teacher, we, as five and six-year-olds, were supposed to have ‘discipline’ and be ‘disciplined’ and there was nothing about the way she used that word that made it feel like a good thing.

Now, truth be told, who knows what Mrs. Witts was really like and what she really said. She was probably a lovely person who just got frustrated with me one day and I stored that in my memory banks as “the truth about Mrs. Witts.” So, if by some strange circumstance, this post finds its way into the hands of a Witts-relative, I do sincerely apologize. The bummer is, I also stored my belief about discipline in the same file. I’m realizing, that in my five-year-old zeal to process the world, I made a mistake.

My relationship with writing is a love-hate one. When I do it consistently and regularly, I find that I love the process and appreciate the results. When I don’t do it consistently and regularly, it feels more like a root canal.

Exercise is the same way. When I do it consistently and regularly, I feel great and powerful. When I don’t do it consistently and regularly, I hurt. The same could be said for communication, for paying bills, for networking, for eating healthy, and the list goes on.

For many of us, we associate the word discipline with don’t. “Don’t say this,” “don’t eat that.” It sounds negative; it feels negative, so no wonder we don’t want it. But when I look at the results in my life, when I infuse discipline into my choices and my actions, I start to realize that maybe I need to change my association. Loving the process. Appreciating the results. Feeling great and powerful. Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? I’ll take more of that!

If we want to be our best most authentic and powerful selves—to own our brave—we must do the work consistently and regularly.

If it hurts every time, we’ll stop. We have to find a way to infuse discipline into our lives.

*  What is it that you want to do?
*  How do you want to show up in the world?
* What are the things that you can consistently and regularly do to propel you in the direction you want to go and support you in becoming the person you want to be?

If “discipline” becomes your foundation, it takes “don’t” out of the equation and becomes the springboard that sets you free.

©OnStage Leadership


Kimberly Davis
Kimberly Davis
An expert on authentic leadership, Kimberly Davis shares her inspirational message of personal power, responsibility, and impact with organizations across the country and teaches leadership programs world-wide; most notably, her program “OnStage Leadership” which runs in NYC and Dallas, TX. Additionally, Kimberly teaches for Southern Methodist University’s (SMU) Cox School of Business’s Executive Education Program's Transformational Leadership Program and their Latino Leadership Initiative. She is also privileged to teach for the Bush Institute’s WE Lead Program (empowering female leaders from the Middle East). Kimberly is a TEDx speaker and her book, Brave Leadership: Unleash Your Most Confident, Authentic, and Powerful Self to Get the Results You Need, is the 2019 winner of the Benjamin Franklin Silver Award for Business and Career; an Amazon Bestseller in Business Leadership, Business Motivation, and Self-Improvement, and Motivational Business Management; and was named as the number one book to read in Inc. Magazine’s “The 12 Most Impactful Books to Read in 2018,” with a cover-endorsement by best-selling author Daniel Pink.

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  1. Woohoo, look who joined Biz360! Sometimes I feel like I’m sitting around a virtual table with good friends.

    I have no memories of elementary school other than I used to hang out with the janitor a lot. I loved the quiet of his little cubicle. I felt safe there. And he would let me push the big broom down the hallway as he walked me back to the classroom.

    As I was reading your piece, Kimberly, I was reminded of Jim Collins’ flywheel concept: difficult to move, but once energy is applied, and applied, and applied, the wheel turns almost effortlessly. I must get down to the gym….

    • I love envisioning little Jeff pushing the broom down the hallway! Your gifts were showing up even way back then with finding the joy in the solitude, your rich curiosity and ability to connect deeply with others.
      I won’t ever be able to think of the flywheel without thinking of that remarkable podcast you did on it! I have kept replaying that one in my mind! So good!

  2. First of all welcome Kimberly, thank you for telling your story which reminded many of us of similar episodes.
    We will certainly have other opportunities to read you and pleasantly appreciate your other stories.
    Contrary to what many people think, discipline is not an imposition, a constraint, but for me it is freedom. Having self-discipline allows us to achieve goals (in education, work, sport, nutrition, financial matters) that make us free, free from vices, our limits and the limits imposed by others.
    Having discipline means doing what we think, without reacting based on how we feel, it means replacing “shoulds” with “I want”, it means being willing to make some small sacrifices in our present to build our future. Self-discipline allows us to know each other better, to be more aware, to commit ourselves and find courage in difficult moments. Self-discipline is the “Just do it”.
    Of course, as children or even later on, we remember who wanted to pass on the discipline as a person perhaps “severe”, perhaps not even so loved. Then with maturity many I think they remember that person with a completely different consideration, maybe even with affection.

  3. Discipline is a painful thing that propels us forward, whether it is exercise, studying or otherwise. We need to exercise in order to improve toward our goals. Hard work is hard for a reason, and if we ignore it, we sit there and suck our thumbs wondering why everyone else is getting ahead… A thoughtful and interesting article Kimberly, thank you. And I’m sure everyone has a Mrs. Witts somewhere in their history…

    • The “sit there and suck our thumbs” is an awesome visual, Aaron! It’s so perfect. I think I’ll remember that next time I stray from doing what I know needs to be done.

  4. I don’t remember ever having a teacher like that, Kimberly, though I know my sister did. For some reason, until recently I associated discipline with control, kind a military feel. But as I’ve shifted my mindset between leaving a job and becoming self-employed, I’ve associated discipline more with practice. Not routine, mind you, because that’s not my strong point!

    But practice to me is about having the discipline to consistently do what you have identified as being good for you, those things that bring you satisfaction, like exercise (hiking on the mountain almost every day), writing (no matter what time of day I sit down to that), and yes, business development (ick, right)?

    For me, it’s all about outcomes these days, not the things I do, but the results of the things I do. And discipline plays a large role in those outcomes. Thanks for the reminder – and for the great story. I can practically see Mrs. Witt standing over a very young Kimberly Davis!

    • Yes! Sarah, that’s so it for me too! It is a practice! Like yoga is a practice. And Biz Dev… You’ve found a way to make it perfectly Sarah-like with the way you interact with people. It’s connecting beyond the keyboard, friend!

    • When I was young I could not remove my self from discipline, fast enough. It hindered all the things I wanted to do. The words no you can’t, stopped all kinds of adventures. Now I am an older person I need discipline, to keep me functioning, to give me achievement goals, what a turnaround.

    • You’re absolutely right, Larry! I already have and it’s only day one! Clearly Dennis has created a very special place for people to gather and invited a remarkable group of people to connect. I’m grateful to be here!

  5. I like your thoughts on discipline Kimberly (I also had a flashback to 1st grade!). Exercise is a great example……”no pain no gain” sounds great but, as you say, if it hurts every time we won’t do it……gotta find something we enjoy – for me it’s walking, tennis, pickle ball…..whatever makes us move! Great questions at the conclusion – for me it all centers around relationship building, becoming a better husband, father, listener, friend, trainer….. Great article.

    • Thank you so much for your gracious comment, Mike. Those are wonderful questions to anchor yourself in. On a totally different note, I am so curious about pickle ball!

  6. This… This… Love that one of the world’s best peeps is now in the house. I love this Kimberly, so much! To echo Mark O’Brien’s story, I went to Catholic grade school, and at that time (seriously deep in those black and white days…) nuns ran that school. I did not have her for any of my classes, but Sister Rachel taught second and third grade. My dad had had her. In the time betwixt her visiting her wrath on succeeding generations, she had gotten shorter and meaner. When she roamed the halls in the mid 1960’s, she was all of 4 ft. 6 in. She grabbed me by the back of the neck as I was drinking from a water fountain (it’s a bubbler, people…) and caused me to cut my lips and gums on the metal spout that you drink from. I had apparently overstayed my time there, because I had actually been there long enough to take water into my mouth. As you so accurately tell, it maybe wasn’t as bad as I remember, and it did allow me to harvest some fairly peachy stories. Her attitude and demeanor didn’t inspire anything but fear in me, but I was sure to run my internal clock on succeeding drinking opportunities, that you I can guarantee.

    I love your take on habits, discipline and routines, and how as much as we might resent their control and wonder what freedom from them might allow us to do, their very existence lends to so much more production, creativity and health. Thank you for such a great reminder, a kind of mini-syllabus for charting success. It is so good to have you here, or anywhere, we’re all blessed by your presence.

    • Tom Dietzler, I could read your writing all day long! You have this gift of making me laugh and cry all at the same time. It’s a gift Mark shares. Perhaps it’s the reward for suffering through those teachers?!

    • Thanks Kimberly, I’m just a conduit sometimes, and my challenge is to be able to write fast enough to capture what my mind’s eye is seeing. Sometimes it writes itself, and my fingers keep clacking as it comes. Those teachers were the first ones to see the mischief in my eyes that I swear still gets in me in trouble today. So glad to have you here, it’s a great bunch of people that are supportive, encouraging and talented. The key to my getting in was they couldn’t see my eyes.

  7. Kimberly – First, welcome to the BC360 family of authors. You will hopefully create new friendship, engage in respectful discussion, and be encouraged in writing.

    Second, I enjoyed your article and have learned that discipline administered with positive goals and positive encouragement always works better than berating. Well done.

  8. Interesting perspective on discipline, Kimberly. Thank you for sharing this story and your insight on the topic. Also, welcome to the Biz Catalyst family! I think we’ve all probably experienced a teacher impression like that of Mrs. Witt before.

    I agree that if we look at discipline as something that we can do vs. something that we can’t, it makes a difference in how we approach inserting it into our lives. When I started exercising regularly, it was because I wanted to be stronger – physically, mentally, and emotionally. However, if I looked at it as a disruption of my time, it never would have worked. Discipline, in this instance, was a lifestyle change. It doesn’t happen overnight, but with consistency, it does.

    • Excellent example here, Laura, “if I looked at it as a disruption of my time…” I think you have the key here. Discipline is about sticking to the routines or practices that work for you, with a clear understanding that they do, indeed, work for you.

    • Thanks, Sarah. I used to think of it oppositely, and I could never stick to it. So, I had to change my mindset to define a path to a successful life change. I did the same thing when I needed to lose weight. If I thought about what I couldn’t eat, it made me want it more. But making healthy choices, and tracking them (at the onset), helped me understand the benefits of what I was doing. It’s discipline, yes, but it’s also a pathway to a goal. And when you can see and feel positive results of your efforts, it feels more natural.

      It’s like burpees, honestly. It is one of my least favorite exercises at Bootcamp. But I do them, and I understand that I have limitations within the discipline of them. However, they’ve made me stronger, and with each exercise that causes me to curse like a sailor, at the end of the day, I’m grateful for the endurance and strength I’ve been able to build – both mentally and physically.

    • I’m in the throes of a similar life-ritual with working out and eating better. It reminds me of that old saying that goes something like..”How would you treat a race horse? Would you allow your prize race horse to eat junk and sit about all day? Or do you value your race horse enough to ensure it eats only the most nutritious foods and train it for peak performance?” We’re the race horses in this story, Laura!

  9. Hello Kimberly! Your imagery of Mrs. Witts was so vivid – so well described. I had a similar figurehead in school too. Your message of consistency, discipline and regularly working on a craft or just how you want to show up etc. for success has so much proven validity.

    I often wonder if people are able to really get to what it actually is they want to do with their energy today – where they want to channel their time; when there is so many distractions.

    To align to their authentic selves I feel everyone deserves that. So well said!

    A warm welcome to BizCatalyst360 as well!

    • Oh my goodness, Maureen, I know! I really have to set clear boundaries with myself so I can make choices about my time. Thank you for your lovely welcome and for joining the conversation!

  10. Kimberly, when I was in fifth grade, my teacher was Miss Reardon. She was the quintessential old battle axe. And when I say old, I mean she’d been my father’s fifth-grade teacher. 😲 I have no idea what kind of impression he’d made on her (I didn’t dare ask), but she called me Ned the whole year. Yikes!

    Welcome to the group. It already feels like you’ve been here forever.

    • LOL! How perfect is that, Ned…er…Mark?! I’ve clearly been here in spirit. Thank you for summoning me!