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Discipline: A U.S. Marine’s take on what it is and why we need it.

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Whether you are a parent, teacher, mentor, or in any other leadership position, there is one thing that we all need: discipline! We need self-discipline and must demand discipline from those we lead (that includes our children).

The first image that pops in my head when I think of the word “discipline” is the iconic U.S. Marine Corps drill instructor. That’s partly because every drill instructor probably says the word a million times. In fact, one of the first things the senior drill instructor tells his or her recruits at Marine Corps Recruit Depot (aka “boot camp”) is, “Discipline and spirit are the hallmarks of a Marine. Each one of you can become a Marine if you develop discipline and spirit.” Although it would be the absolute worst time to ask, a recruit may be wondering, “Sir, what is discipline?” So that’s where I will begin.

My thoughts on discipline.

As a guy who grew up in the south, I have always heard, “spare the rod, spoil the child” or as Ms. Trunchbull said in Matilda, “My school is a model of discipline! Use the rod, beat the child, that’s my motto.” Both of these are a spin off of the biblical verse in Proverbs 13:24 that says, “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.”

I recognize that I probably just split my audience in two. One group’s pants just dropped as they ripped their belt from their waist and said, “that’s what I’m talking about!” The other is ready to just stop reading and give me a thumbs down. Either way, I am here to neither condemn nor endorse a particular disciplinary method. My goal is to simply provide my take on discipline. After you finish reading, I encourage you to research and develop disciplinary methods that will work for the people you are leading.

What is “discipline”:

My thoughts on discipline are a result of several things. First, my upbringing and life experiences as a U.S. Marine officer, parent, and mentor. Next, the books I’ve read like “Quiet Strength” by Tony Dungy , “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie, “It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership” by Colin Powell, and many others. Most recently, I discussed discipline in my home Bible study group with other U.S. Marines (who happen to be special operators and fathers themselves).

Discipline is both a noun and a verb that is defined in numerous sources as “the practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behavior, using punishment to correct disobedience.” In verb form, there is an even more direct definition that says, “punish or rebuke (someone) formally for an offense.”

Seems pretty clear that discipline is all about training by applying painful consequences!

Before we commit to that logic, let’s take a look at the root of the word.

The word “discipline” is from the Latin word “discipulus,” meaning “pupil, learner.” “Discipulus” is also the source of a familiar English word “disciple” which means “one who accepts and assists in spreading the doctrines of another.” As you continue to follow the word “discipulus,” you will find it also produced the Latin word, “disciplīna” which means “teaching, instruction, branch of study, orderly conduct based on moral training.” Here’s where it gets interesting, “disciplīna” produced the Middle English word “discipline” which we have already defined. The interesting part is now the word “chastisement” or “punishment” was introduced in 13th century religious practices. To me, that means the word lost its purity over time as various teaching methods were introduced.

My countercultural belief.

Aside from quotes like Ms. Trunchbull’s in the early 1990s, you will hear quotes like “pain retains” when discussing discipline today. Even so, I submit that if we truly want to achieve the ultimate goal, which is for our followers to develop self-discipline, we must return to the root of the word. With that in mind, my belief can be summarized by the quote below.

Discipline is training and preparing, not chastising and punishing.

“But it worked for me!”

I will give a personal example below; however, I encourage you to do your own research on the relationship between punishment and training. Here are a few scholarly articles to get you started: “The dark side of families: Current family violence research,” “The role of maternal discipline and involvement in peer rejection and neglect,” “Discipline and deviance: physical punishment of children and violence and other crime in adulthood,” and “Moderate spanking: Model or deterrent of children’s aggression in the family?” 

I believe the above authors would agree that punishment creates immediate conformity, but again, the goal should be self-discipline, which is a long-term objective. I define self-discipline as the continued application of lessons learned regardless of the circumstance or level of supervision.

My personal example

Sometimes, immediate conformity is necessary. For example, my 3 year old was innocently wandering towards the street. I rushed over, physically stopped her, and sternly commanded, “do not go into the street!” After doing this three to four times, one would assume that discipline by physical means or punishment was achieved. To that, I’d agree. My daughter (the pupil) has learned that I am willing to use physical force to immediately stop her from walking into the street. Many leaders would stop there–assuming the child has received the appropriate instruction and has adequate discipline. The immediate question I would ask is, “what happens when Dad is not around?”

In this case, I needed instant conformity to stop my daughter from wandering into a dangerous situation to prevent a potentially fatal outcome. However, as the instructor who is looking to help the pupil develop discipline, my work does not stop there. I must help her accept my teachings by making it relevant to her. Then, and only then, has she achieved self-discipline. In this example, I showed her how fast the car is going and explained how dangerous it is to walk into the road. When we passed vehicle accidents, I showed her how people could get injured and how vehicles were ruined. Now, she corrects me if she doesn’t see me check both ways before crossing the road. Self-discipline has been achieved.

Effective discipline leads to self-discipline.

If discipline is training your followers to accept what you or your organization believe to be right, then (as I said before) self-discipline is the consistent application of these lessons regardless of the circumstance. For example, I wasn’t the best free throw shooter in high school. In fact, I shot around 65-70% accuracy. I remember the coach telling us, “free throws are FREE!” In other words, the free throw is the only uncontested shot in basketball.

Of course like many other teams, we ran for missed free throws. Though it helped me get in better shape, running had very little impact on my free throw shooting accuracy. What forced me to change was my realization that my poor free throw shooting could be the difference between a win and a loss. That realization encouraged me to practice. Many great free throw shooters will tell you that the secret to shooting more accurately is to do the same thing every time. That means from the way you wipe your sweat to the way you bend your legs to the way you breathe to the way you release the basketball. These factors (and more) contribute to your accuracy. My free throw shooting percentage significantly improved when I learned to consistently apply my coach’s shooting instructions. This is what developing discipline is all about–consistently applying instructions regardless of circumstances for your benefit and the benefit of the entire family or organization.

How to lead others to develop discipline.

I wouldn’t dare claim this is an all-encompassing list, but here are my thoughts on how you can lead others to develop discipline.

1. Set the example!

One of my favorite phrases is, “more is caught than taught.” In other words, people want to see their leaders practicing what they are teaching. Leaders must have self-discipline before they can discipline others.

2. It’s a team effort.

In case you haven’t realized it yet, you have an integral role in helping others develop self-discipline. I know Hollywood would have us believe that we can climb Mount Fuji shirtless to find ourselves and develop discipline, but that’s not reality. For example, U.S. Marine Corps drill instructors don’t allow recruits to just wander around for thirteen weeks until they find this mythical thing called “discipline.” The drill instructors lead the recruits on a physical, spiritual, mental, and emotional journey and allow them to graduate once they demonstrate self-discipline.

3. Repetition is key.

I elaborate on this in a previous blog post entitled “Establishing Winning Habits.” Therein, I said, “You are what you repeat.” Which means we have to teach our followers to practice applying the instructions we provide. That is the only way to influence habitual behavior.

4. Be consistent and persistent.

I have had the opportunity to peak behind the curtains at Marine Corps boot camp. From that experience, I can tell you that some recruits require longer than thirteen weeks to develop self-discipline. That means that some recruits graduate with a different company than they started with. However, as long as the recruit (pupil) refuses to give up, the team at the Marine Corps Recruit Depots will continue to lead that recruit. This same logic applies to any pupil. Everyone is different, so that means you may have to train them longer (or shorter) than you expected. Remain consistent and persistent in your teachings.

5. Reward and hold accountable.

There are numerous studies that conclude that living beings respond positively to being rewarded for doing well. But, we cannot ignore the other half of the equation–accountability. Celebrate successes and quickly correct deficiencies. That is the best way to ensure someone accepts your instructions.

6. Prioritize education and explain the “why.”

This is one of the most important factors to encourage others to accept your instructions. As a leader, telling your followers what to do is easy, but great leaders understand that educating followers by explaining the “why” is what allows the followers to consistently apply the teachings regardless of the circumstance. Help your followers understand why your instructions are relevant to the family or organization as a whole, and help your followers understand why your instructions are relevant to them individually.

    Summary.

    There are a few key points that I want you to take with you today. Self-discipline is the ultimate goal. That requires leaders to lead their followers on a journey towards developing self-discipline. Along this journey, it’s imperative that leaders research and develop disciplinary methods that will adequately contribute to the overall goal. In the end, discipline is what will ensure your family’s or organization’s success. It is up to you to instill that discipline.

    Thanks for reading! Have a great week!

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    Mission accomplished: A retrospective look at my time at Marine Corps Expeditionary Warfare School

    In December 2020, I was working out with my oldest brother when the congratulatory messages came rolling in; I had been selected to attend resident United States Marine Corps Expeditionary Warfare School.  Normally, junior officers celebrate this news because it means you were board-selected to continue your education at Marine Corps University which is accredited to award Master’s Degrees. Instead, I was annoyed (to say the least) because I could only think of all the late nights/early mornings I spent to complete the distant education variant of the school I was selected to attend. I was even more annoyed by the fact that I was leaving behind a great team of people just as we were starting to work together and make significant progress.

    After I finished what I can only describe as a private adult tantrum, I remembered one of my favorite verses that I learned as a child:

    And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.

    Romans 8:28 NLT
    Romans 8:28 (Courtesy: YouVersion Bible App)

    That is when I decided to take my own advice and shift my perspective on the opportunity I was about to pursue.

    *Author’s note on spiritual fitness*

    It is easy to talk about physical fitness because anyone can track and observe tangible results. Mental fitness is fun to talk about because I am enamored by the brain, so I nerd out on things like the cognitive process and neuroplasticity. However, though it is equally as important, I admittedly do not discuss spiritual fitness enough. Too often we associate spirituality with a religious affiliation. I teach that our spirituality is customized to each individual person. Our spirituality guides our moral compass and gives us a reason to live and “do” that exceeds personal gain. Many people call the latter our “purpose” or “higher calling.”

    Our spirituality allows us to realize that our situations are all temporary; however, we remain hopeful because we firmly believe each of those situations–whether bleak or lush–are interconnected and will work together to create a favorable outcome. This gives us the courage to search for the growth opportunities in each circumstance. Therefore, when approaching any circumstance, I challenge you to ask two questions: 1. “How can I accomplish my purpose while here? (Extrospection)” 2. “What can I personally and professionally learn from this? (Introspection)”*

    I shifted my perspective

    Once I shifted my perspective, I was able to develop personal and professional goals. I will share a few of them with you in hopes that I can help you establish and pursue your own goals. Use these as an example vice a threshold, because quite honestly, I did much better in some categories than others.

    Just a few of the personal and professional goals I set last summer

    1. Improve cardiovascular endurance
      • How did I do? I decreased my run time by forty-nine seconds.
    2. Make better dietary choices to improve physical appearance
      • How did I do? I cut several food items to include dairy milk. As a result, I lost nine pounds and reduced my body fat percentage by approximately 2-3%
    3. Help train others to prepare them for their upcoming promotion board.
      • How did I do? I offered to train anyone who was willing to train first thing in the morning. One person accepted the challenge, and we began training in September 2021. She was able to achieve a 300/300 Combat Fitness Test score and a 295/300 Physical Fitness Test score. Additionally, she had noticeable changes in her physique and established a workout regimen that she plans to continue.
    4. Become more studious and a more avid reader
      • How did I do? In conjunction with my school studies, I read and studied several additional books on diverse topics and a plethora of scholarly articles. These books ranged from The Mentor Leader by Tony Dungy to We Were One: Shoulder to Shoulder with the Marines Who Took Fallujah by Patrick K. O’Donnell to The Brain’s Way of Healing: Remarkable Discoveries and Recoveries from the Frontiers of Neuroplasticity by Norman Doidge
    5. Become a more clear and succinct writer and write a scholarly article to publish
      • How did I do? I am sure my Faculty Advisor (he reviewed all of my papers) may argue that the “succinct” portion of that goal is subjective, but I believe I did well :D. More importantly, I was awarded the Marine Corps University Foundation Academic Year 2021-2022 “Mutter Marines Command and Control Writing Award” for my argumentative research paper entitled, “Adapt or Perish: A call to revise the Marine Corps Command, Control, Communications, and Computer (C4) Architecture.” At the time of this post, none of my articles have been published, but I am still working with a few editors for future publication.
    6. Collaborate with organizations and media outlets to inspire our future generation to pursue their dreams
      • How did I do? I was featured in several articles, podcasts, and elementary school visits. Check out this link to see a couple of the articles!
    7. Dedicate time to spend with family
      • How did I do? I made it a point to attend every extracurricular activity and practice that I could attend for my children. My children’s extracurricular activities included music lessons, football (in season), basketball (in season), and baseball (in season). Additionally, I did my best to always study and build my personal brand when my family was sleep (either early in the morning or late at night). I knew that I had to take advantage of this opportunity while in school, because work requirements sometimes hamper my ability to give my wife and children the time they deserve.

    My hope for you

    I hope you are able to use my experience and examples to prepare for your next challenge! All the obstacles you have encountered (to include what you are working to overcome right now) will work together for your benefit. Be encouraged and inspired to keep progressing, keep setting and pursuing your goals, and go win. I believe in you!

    Thanks for your support! Please like, share, comment, and check out https://parent-child-connect.com/blog for more!

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    Captain O’s Pull-up Program

    How to increase your pull-ups and upper-body strength in 30 days!

    **Disclaimers: 1. I am not a trainer. I am just sharing what worked for me. 2. Always consult your physician before beginning any exercise program.**

    We Marines love our pull-ups! Every year we do a Physical Fitness Test (PFT), and one of the three events is the dead hang pull-up. The number of required pull-ups for the maximum score is based upon your age. At my age, you have to do 23 correct repetitions (reps) to get a perfect score on this portion of the PFT. I usually can comfortably do anywhere between 30-40 reps.

    This is the program I used to go from 7 pull-ups to 30-40 pull-ups! (Not in 30 days, but over time). You should expect to increase somewhere between 3-8 pull-ups in the next 30 days. Everyone’s body is different.

    This guy could only do 7 pull-ups! 👇🏾

    (I took this picture and made this “magazine cover” as a freshman in college… I do not know why. Don’t judge me! 😫😂)

    I designed this 4-week pull-up program for a Marine that was getting between 12-16 reps with the goal of getting him to 23! Although I absolutely love the gym, he had very few weights and mostly resistance bands. CHALLENGE ACCEPTED! So, I designed this moderate-advanced workout with those factors in mind.

    You do not have to be a Marine to do pull-ups (or complete my program). In fact, pull-ups are an excellent upper body exercise if done right! Remember, physical toughness is one of our Pillars of Fortitude. Enough talking…

    Welcome to my gym! Get Ready to BRING IT! 💪🏾

    I will introduce to you the first four weeks of this workout plan. Here are some general rules to remember throughout:

    *Do not use negative words in my gym… ESPECIALLY the word “can’t!” You can, and you will! You are mentally, spiritually, and physically strong.

    *Work your core every other day. Strong core muscles are critical to doing a proper pull-up! I personally like doing 3 rounds of 3 sets of 15-20 reps of my favorite core exercises.

    *As required, do 10 second weighted negative pull-ups to reach rep count. I get it! Your muscles are super tired. You just need to go shower, lie on the couch, and binge watch your favorite show. Not today! Finish every set! If you feel like you have maxed out on the amount of reps you can do, start doing “negatives.” Meaning, start off at the top of the pull-up, and slowly lower yourself down. Click here for more tips on negative pull-ups.

    *Pause reps are done at the “top” of the motion unless otherwise indicated. Squeeze the targeted muscle group.

    *Always engage core during pullups.

    *Slow and smooth reps. Think “jazz” not “heavy metal.”

    *I use the term “pull-up” very loosely. I want you to do CHEST ups! None of that “chin barely going above the bar” stuff.

    *Warm up, cool down, remain hydrated, fuel your body with the proper nutrition, and have fun!

    *Record your max reps before starting the program and after finishing the program.

    *I recommend adding at least 3 cardio sessions for at least 30 mins a day. Also, I recommend adding a recovery day between each of the below workout days.

    Let’s Get to Work!

    Shoulder Day (Day 1):

    1. Endurance set:

    –2 sets of Max reps–2 min ammo can/military press (90 sec break in between sets). For reference, a military ammo can is normally 30-50 lbs. You can use a sandbag, gallon of water, whatever you’d like.

    2. Front raises (3 second pause reps with resistance bands or dumbbells).

    — 4 sets of 10-12 reps (60-80 sec breaks between sets)

    3. Upright row (3 second pause reps with resistance bands or dumbbells).

    — 4 sets of 10-12 reps (60-80 sec breaks between sets)

    4. Close grip (6 inches or less between hands) underhand pullups (bar to upper chest). (2 second pause rep at the top)

    — 4 sets of 8-10 reps (90-120 sec breaks between sets)

    5. Lat Raises (2 sec pause with resistance bands)

    –4 sets of 10-12 reps (60-80 sec breaks between sets)

    Arm Day (Day 2):

    1. Endurance set:

    –2 sets of Max reps 2 min close grip pushups (90 sec break between sets)

    2. Bicep curl:

    –5 sets of 8-10 reps (3 sec pause rep with resistance bands or dumbbells).

    3. Underhand pullups (12 inches between hands–bar to upper chest). (2 sec pause rep at the bottom)

    –5 sets of 8-10 reps (90-120 sec breaks between sets)

    4. Superset!

    4a. Deep Weighted chair dips (1 sec pause rep at top)

    –5 sets of 10-12 reps

    4b. Tennis ball grip squeezes (5 sec rep pauses–closed fist). I use “Captains of Crush Grippers).

    –5 sets of 10-12 reps

    (60-80 sec breaks between sets)

    5. Tricep kick back (3 sec pause rep with resistance band or dumbbells).

    –4 sets of 8-10 reps

    *Bonus burnout!! 🔥🔥 60 sec (or max time) underhand flexed arm hang.

    Back Day (Day 3):

    1. Endurance set:

    –Round 1: 6 reps of 15 sec overhand Pull-up negatives

    (60 second break)

    –Round 2: 5 reps of 10 sec overhand Pull-up negatives

    (80 sec break)

    –Round 3: 4 reps of 5 sec overhand Pull-up negatives

    (90 sec break)

    2. Superset!

    2a. Overhand bent over row (3 sec pause with resistance bands or dumbbells).

    –5 sets of 10-12 reps

    2b. Underhand bent over row (3 sec pause with resistance bands or dumbbells).

    –5 sets of 10-12 reps

    (60-80 sec breaks between sets)

    3. Weighted wide grip overhand pullups (I use the plate carrier… With plates of course) *HEAVY, evenly distributed weight can be added.

    *Try squeezing sandbag or other heavy weight between feet

    — 6 sets of 6-8 reps (90-120 sec breaks between sets)

    4. W Superman holds (3 sec pause reps)

    –5 sets of 10-12 reps

    (60-80 sec breaks between sets)

    *Bonus Burnout!!: 🔥🔥 Still got more in your tank??!

    –3 sets of Max reps overhand pullups.

    (90-120 sec breaks between sets)

    That’s it! Like, comment, share, let me know what you think. Stay motivated! 💪🏾

    Download the full workout FOR FREE!