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We have been thinking a lot about discipline lately. We all know that we can’t succeed without it, and yet few people seem to possess it. We think the idea of discipline can be captured in this question: 

Can we make ourselves do something we don’t want to do so we can get a result that we do want? 

If we can answer YES, then we’re disciplined. Interestingly, we find that many people can answer YES in some areas of their lives but must say NO in others. 

So, what’s the key to consistently acting with discipline? We believe it’s being aware of our future priorities and acting with those priorities in mind in the present. That’s easier said than done, so we offer five steps that we believe build discipline. 

Step 1: Identify Your Goal
If we are going to succeed, we must be specific about our goal. We must be able to see it. Writing it down is helpful, and while we’re at it, adding a “by when” deadline works too. For example, I will lose 10 pounds by December 31, 2020. We’ll use this example for the rest of the post so we can see how the steps relate.

Step 2: List Your Reasons
In our experience, this is often a critical missing piece in setting goals and having the discipline to achieve them. Accomplishing a goal is made possible by the fuel of motivation. Questions such as “Why is this goal important to me?” and “What happens if I achieve it?” can be important in identifying our motivation. We encourage writing our motivations in the affirmative. Acquiring something tends to be a more productive motivation than the threat of losing something. If we struggle to find a positive framing, it’s okay to employ an avoidance motivation. We recommend a positive to negative ratio of no less than 2:1.


  • I want more energy.
  • I want to experience a long life enjoying my family and loved ones.
  • I don’t want to have a heart attack (as the men in my family before me have).
  • I want to demonstrate that I can lead myself.
  • I want to be a good example for my family.

Step 3: Identify Possible Obstacles
We’ve all experienced the pain of Murphy’s Law. As soon as we start swimming against the current, we will begin to feel resistance. It’s as if creation itself conspires to keep us from achieving our goals. That’s why we must anticipate these obstacles and build strategies to overcome them. Researchers call these strategies implementation intentions. And they work.

  • Obstacle: Mindlessly stopping for lunch at the fast-food restaurant closest to my next appointment.
  • Proactive Steps: Pack a lunch or plan to eat a healthy meal at a certain restaurant.
  • Obstacle: Difficulty working out on the road.
  • Proactive Steps: Make sure the hotel has a workout room before booking, pack my workout clothes and shoes, have an accountability partner check-in.
  • Obstacle: Drinking soda throughout the day.
  • Proactive Steps: Remove soda from the house and don’t carry cash to avoid the temptation of going to the vending machine at work.

Step 4: Experiment with New Habits
We are more likely to achieve our future goals if we develop contributing habits now. We can begin by clarifying the habits that will be most impactful in accomplishing our goal. Then we can experiment with them and tweak them based on our results.


  • Drink 80 ounces of water a day to stay hydrated.
  • Eat healthy snacks like raw almonds, celery, and carrots.
  • Chose grilled meat, preferably chicken or fish, rather than beef.
  • Exercise three times per week for at least 20 minutes.

Step 5: Stay Focused
At some point, we may find ourselves getting off-track, but we shouldn’t beat ourselves up. Sometimes it’s two steps forward and one step back. The trick is to shake it off and re-set. We may need to outline our motivations again or recalibrate our habits or even change our entire strategy.

  • A newly identified motivation is to fit into a favorite suit jacket.
  • An injured ankle is the latest obstacle to running. Is it possible to swim or just walk?
  • Weight-loss has plateaued. Maybe it’s time to alter the eating plan or exercise routine.
  • I can’t get traction on my own. So, I’ll explore personal training options.


Final Thought: Abraham Lincoln is credited with saying, “Discipline is choosing between what you want now and what you want most.” Let’s identify what we really want and start chasing it down!

Ethos Leadership Group, LLC

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David Ray - Ethos Leadership Group

Ethos Team:

David Ray

Chief Strategy Officer

In 2017, David joined Ethos as the Chief Strategy Officer after leading and advising in the non-profit sector. An organizational troubleshooter and natural synergist, David leverages his analytical and relational skills to help clients take their business and team to their desired next level. With a passion to see others live and lead well, David enjoys connecting leaders to evidence-based practices to boost leadership capacity, build human capital, and improve organizational performance. David particularly enjoys working with clients through strategic planning, executive coaching, and team development.

Fast Facts:

  1. Started his own property investment company at the age of 24
  2. Certified Human Behavior Consultant
  3. David enjoys spending time with his family, traveling to islands, and pretty much anything that has to do with personal development
Rebekah D. Mathis-Stump, J.D. - Ethos Leadership Group

Ethos Team:

Rebekah D. Mathis-Stump, J.D.

Chief Operating Officer

Becky joined Ethos in 2009 after leading the daily operations of five distinct work teams over a ten-year period. An analyst and solution-generator by nature, she works with clients to identify their needs and develops a plan of action to reach their desired results. Having worked in numerous disciplines in her career, Becky is a generalist who brings a broad range of knowledge and experience to our clients. Becky particularly enjoys working with clients on organizational audits, strategic planning, employee training, and governance.

Fast Facts:

  1. Lived in numerous states growing up, finally claiming West Virginia as home after marrying a native son, Jeff Stump
  2. Received life membership in The Order of the Barristers — a national honor society
  3. Becky enjoys reading, golfing, and cheering on the West Virginia University Mountaineers
Dr. James A. Johnson - Ethos Leadership Group

Ethos Team:

Dr. James A. Johnson

Chief Executive Officer

In 1988, James launched our enterprise with a vision for enhancing the image, credibility, and ethics of companies and nonprofit organizations through training and coaching. As Ethos’ founder, he is our chief transformation officer – encouraging us to dream bigger dreams and mentoring us to achieve them. James brings this same passion to our clients, skillfully blending inspiration with practical application in his work. James’ primary areas of expertise include leadership and communication.

Fast Facts:

  1. Great Plains Development Officer at Pheasants Forever.
  2. Received President’s Volunteer Service Award (presented by President George W. Bush)
  3. James enjoys spending time with his wife (Lesa), hunting, golfing, and riding motorcycles