A Few Thoughts on Self-Discipline and Efficiency
O. S. Marden
1. The Needle and the Polar Star
Pure grit is that element of character which enables a man to clutch his aim with an iron grip, and keep the needle of his purpose pointing to the polar star of his hope.
Through sunshine and storm, through hurricane and tempest, through sleet and rain, with a leaky ship, with a mutinous crew, it persists; in fact, nothing but death can stop it or subdue it, and it dies still struggling.
How long and how hard can you stick to one thing? Your success in life will depend largely on this. (85)
2. Doing the Hardest Thing First
“Do the hardest thing first” is the motto hanging above the desk of a very successful business man. This man has told me that that single short sentence has wrought a revolution in his life.
“One day I suddenly realized”, he said, “that I had fallen into the habit of putting off unpleasant duties and evading disagreeable or difficult tasks, until the ghosts of them blocked my path at every turn. I put up that motto where I could not help seeing it, and set myself to bring each day’s work in line with it. The first day I began on the duties I had kept pushing aside, the long-deferred, long-overdue tasks that had been put out of sight in favour of the easy, pleasant things. When at length I had cleared my path, I made it a rule to begin each morning at the biggest, toughest job in the whole day’s work before me. I gave my freshest efforts to the kind of work I had previously put off the longest, and before a great while I found that what used to loom up before me like a mountain of difficulty, when handled with energy and determination, was really very simple and comparatively easy. It is to the forming of this habit to do the hardest thing first, more than to anything else, that I owe what is called my success.”
A great many people fail in life for no other reason than that they shrink from doing the hard, disagreeable things. They pick out the things they like, the easy things first, and leave the disagreeable, difficult tasks until the last. In the meantime they are tortured with anticipation of the drudgery to come later. (202-203)
3. Giving Up Postponement
[The principle of] doing the hardest thing first does not mean that it is always possible or advisable to pick out the difficult things in our work and do them out of their order. It simply means that one should not skip the hard things – put them off – when it is time to do them. Every hour we postpone only makes it more difficult to get up courage to tackle them.
The man who goes through life picking the flowers and avoiding the thorns in his occupation, always doing the easy thing first and delaying or putting off altogether, if possible, the hard things, weakens his character so that he does not develop the strength that will enable him to do the hard things when they are actually forced upon him.
Only recently a prominent public man was criticized throughout the newspaper world as one not having enough character to keep his promises. He had not the stamina to make good when to do so proved difficult. He hadn’t the timber, the character fiber to stand up and do the thing he knew to be right, and that he had promised to do. The world is full of these jelly-fish people who have not lime enough in their backbone to stand erect, to do the right thing. They are always stepping into the spotlight in the good-intention stage, and then, when the reckoning time comes, taking the line of least resistance, doing the thing which will cost the least effort or money, regardless of later consequences. They think they can be as unscrupulous about breaking promises as they were about making them. But sooner or later fate makes us play fair or get out of the game. (204-205)
4. On Having Character
I know a man who has formed the unfortunate habit of picturing to himself the agreeable and the disagreeable side of things, and of following whenever it is possible the agreeable side, regardless of whether it is the right or the wrong course to pursue. The result is the man has no character or stamina.
He is pleasant and agreeable, but lacks vigour, and has never accomplished anything worthwhile. His life has been a busy but an unprofitable one. Everything he has done has been characterless. I knew him as a boy at school, and what he was then he is now. He always skipped the hard problems at school, and he has been skipping them ever since. As a consequence, he has practically no standing in his community. No one would think of looking to him for aid in an emergency.
Why is it that so many people who are ambitious to get on in the world and to make the most possible of themselves should shrink from the discipline, the training which is absolutely necessary to enable them to get the most out of their lives? Just because things are distasteful to them, or require much effort or constant application, they shrink from them.
One would think that a youth who starts out with a vigorous resolution to make the most out of the material given him and to reach the highest possible round in life’s ladder, would firmly resolve never to forego any experience, to omit any discipline or training or opportunity which could help him along or advance his interests. Instead, however, on every hand we see young men playing with the spoon, pitting off taking their medicine, because it is disagreeable. They know it will help them, but they dread taking it.
Now, the only way to grow, to become strong and vigorous, the only way to get that training and discipline which will give character, firm fiber and stalwart resisting timber, is to take your medicine without hesitation. A disagreeable draught will not be nearly so nauseous if taken quickly. (205-207)
“Eternal Wisdom in Daily Life” was published as an independent item in the associated websites on 13 February 2022.
The excerpts that make the article are reproduced from the book “Making Life a Masterpiece”, by Orison Swett Marden, Elibron Classics, 2005, Thomas Y. Crowell Co. Publishers, New York, 1916, 329 pages. The numbers of pages are indicated between parentheses at the end of each fragment. “Eternal Wisdom in Daily Life” is also part of the August 2020 edition of “The Aquarian Theosophist”.
Click to see other texts by O. S. Marden.
Helena Blavatsky (photo) wrote these revealing words: “Deserve, then desire”.