Developing Self Discipline by Keeping Score

There’s this weird fad going around about not keeping score because someone’s feelings will get hurt if you keep score, if you have a winner you have a loser. I understand the well intentioned concept with regard to competitive sports, however since I don’t teach competitive sports I’m not really going to comment on it in that regard, I’m instead going to comment on how that pertains to life, because if this idea of not keeping score isn’t kept in the right context, it can be very counter-productive in life in general.

If we apply the not-keeping score to everything, it can be very detrimental to a child’s level of discipline later on. I teach Kung Fu, which although is a combative art, actually has more to do with self cultivation and self development than it has to do with combat. Kung Fu means literally, the skill we acquire after time and sacrifice. Which means, if we’re following a Kung Fu path, we’re always improving in all areas of life. We can’t improve without proper measurement of our progress though. This is still competitive, but it’s self-competitive. We teach our students that you don’t have to compete with others, but you do have to compete with yourself. In order to progress you have to be better today than you were yesterday. It doesn’t have to be much, even 1% is enough if it’s persistent and continual. There’s no way to know though, unless you measure.

One of my mentors, Grand Master Jeff Smith always says what gets measured gets done, and you can apply that to everything. Your health, your business, even your relationships. For example, if you’re putting in effort to spending time with your family, and you put in more quality time with them this week than you did last week, well then it’s likely you’re being a better family member. Without keeping score we don’t know if we’re actually getting better or not, all we have is our subjective feeling about something, which might make us feel better temporarily, but won’t help us if we want to improve at something long term. Keeping score can mean lots of things though. How many push-ups you were able to do today, how many pounds you lost last month, how many days or hours you went without being stuck to a screen, how far you ran, how many calories you ate, how many people you went out of your way to help. It doesn’t mean the same thing for everyone, but it’s important you keep score for yourself.

Keeping score is a very important part for kids in building self-discipline. In our leadership program we teach that if you want to develop good self-discipline you need to develop discipline first. Discipline comes from an outside source, from a teacher, or a parent. They are your first source of measurement. If you do something well they tell you, if you make a mistake they tell you. In becoming self disciplined, you’re not relying on an outside source anymore. We teach kids in our martial arts program that mom and dad won’t always be there to make the decisions for you, you’ll need to make them by yourself. This is where keeping score comes in handy. You need objective feedback to know whether you’re making good decisions or poor decisions. Keeping score will give you this objective feedback, but if we’re bringing our kids up to not keep score and just go with however we feel at the moment, they won’t be learning how to adjust course, adjust our behaviour, adjust our habits.

This pertains to adults too. Self-employed people often run into this same problem. Some of our best students are self-employed professionals because they enjoy the self discipline they gain from the program and find it translates will into what they need to manage themselves and their businesses successfully. The hardest part of being self-employed is that you don’t have a boss giving you immediate feedback. You require more self-discipline. Keeping score, like tracking your satisfied clients, your sales, your reviews, helps give you objective feedback on whether you’re doing well or not. Most entrepreneurs know that simply doing what you feel is your best isn’t enough to keep your business going. Your bill collectors and your family don’t care if you felt good about your activity for the day, they care that you got the results you need to keep the lights on and keep food on the table. Knowing this, the best business owners keep score, and track their growth, they don’t shy away from looking at their stats very carefully so they know where to improve. In contrast, less successful business owners shy away from looking at their own numbers and instead look for subjective feedback only, Like how they felt about their performance on that day. It’s important we feel good about our performance, but that’s only half of the picture. If we want our kids to be successful in the future, sure we need to pay attention to how they feel, but also, we must teach them to value objective feedback on how they’re doing and how they can improve. Balancing both is very important, but if we don’t measure our progress we probably won’t have any; and if we do measure, look at the measurement, realize we could do better, then we’ll get the nudge to do something about it.