You can’t be 50% disciplined: A story of how to change your life

When General Norman Schwarzkopf led the US Army’s invasion of Iraq in 2003, you would imagine that he would be talking about tanks, planes, tactics, and battle plans. 

Instead, he said, ‘Shined shoes save lives.’ 

Is it not weird? A guy whose job is to defeat Saddam Hussein’s army is worrying about shined shoes, in the middle of a war? Why would he do that?

The reason is that when soldiers stop paying attention to their shoes, their mind knows that the bar for discipline has been lowered. And when you lower discipline in one area, you start lowering it everywhere else. 

You can’t be 50% disciplined. Because discipline is a mindset, and the same mindset drives all your actions. 

So attention to the shoes builds the mindset of no compromise on discipline. And that mindset changes everything. 

Consider the recent war between Ukraine and Russia. Despite Russia’s phenomenally higher firepower, they lost a lot of tanks, especially at the war’s onset. The tanks would often jam because the maintenance was neglected or they would run out of fuel. You may have the greatest technology, but if the wheel has jammed, you are dead meat. 

The smallest actions, like greasing the wheels of a tank, have huge consequences. And when people start taking it easy on greasing, they stop caring about other things as well. 

Let me give you another example from the area of crime control – the so-called “Broken Windows theory.” It states that in communities with abandoned buildings, broken windows, and graffiti, serious crime also goes up. The tolerance of small crimes suggests that nobody cares – potentially leading to more serious crimes. 

So when Rudy Giuliani and Bill Bratton (New York’s Police Commissioner) wanted to bring down crime in New York City, they clamped down on small crimes. Again, we see the same thing – small actions change the collective mindset, which changes everything.

I want to share a personal experience from my training in the IPS, where we were attached to an elite para regiment of the Indian Army in Nagaland. I noticed something curious there. 

Unlike other army units where soldiers would carry an AK-47 with a sling, in this battalion, the AK-47s had no slings. Soldiers had to hold their guns in their hands vertically upright, even during long duty hours. 

This practice ensured alertness; a moment’s lapse in focus and the gun would fall. And in the event of an attack, increased alertness would lead to a faster response, potentially life-saving. 

But it went beyond just practicality; seeing everyone holding their AK-47s upright signified a special team with a warrior mindset. And that mindset is what changed their performance.

In Charles Duhigg’s book ‘Power of Habits,’ he talks about Paul O’Neill taking over Alcoa, which was struggling. But rather than setting big goals or targets, O’Neill focused on reducing controllable accidents to zero. 

This approach initially confused people, as the company needed a significant transformation. However, by focusing on small things like accident prevention, they began to care about everything else, leading to a change in the company’s culture. 

This transformation made Alcoa very successful. 

In our own lives, when we seek massive change, let us ask, “What small things can we start doing differently?” 

If one routinely indulges in late-night Netflix binges and endless scrolling, it creates a mindset of slacking off and poor self-discipline. This mindset then flows into the rest of our lives. 

But what if we sleep on time, wake up a bit early, build a morning routine, or cut down on our smartphone addictions? You then begin to train your mind to override cravings and align with your long-term goals – you start building self-discipline. You start changing your mindset. 

And once the mindset changes, everything else changes. 

Raise the bar in one area, and gradually, let it flow to everything else. 

Where do you want to start? Hit reply and let me know. 


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