What’s More Important: Discipline or Intentionality?

I am sure I am not the only who wakes up in the middle of the night thinking. In a groggy, 2 a.m. state of mind, it is a struggle to grasp coherent thoughts, and usually around the time I should be getting up, things begin to coalesce and become clear. Recently I found myself awake pondering which is more important: discipline or intentionality?

discipline intentional

Let me explain. Every once in a while, I get the feeling I’m off target or perhaps chasing things in life that might not be a priority in the grandest scheme. The question is what to do to correct these tangential pursuits. The word that came to me this morning was discipline.


dis·ci·pline (noun)

  • activity, exercise, or a regimen that develops or improves a skill; training
  • behavior in accord with rules of conduct; behavior and order maintained by training and control



The dictionary’s definition of discipline is fine, but what discipline boils down to is doing what I really don’t want to do, so I can do what I really want to do. Perhaps it is paying the price in the little things so I can get to the bigger things.

However, in the leadership realm, we focus on being intentional, which is also important. Being intentional is simply doing things on purpose or being deliberate, but is being intentional possible without being disciplined?

I believe we have to have both discipline and intentionality, or disciplined intentionality, if you will. Discipline to do those things we really don’t want to do combined with the intentionality to accomplish those things we really want to do.

Ponder getting up early in the morning for a workout. For me, the alarm goes off and I’m thinking it feels like I just went to sleep. “Five more minutes, and I will dress quickly,” I say to myself. Or, “Maybe I can just skip today.” But, I honestly know that if I skip, I will feel awful later. By the end of the workout I feel good about myself and everybody around me—plus, I get the added benefit of investing in myself and hopefully my family (when they go with me). I know I have to be intentional in getting out of bed, and that intentionality takes discipline.

Discipline can sometimes be considered a bad word and it makes many folks uncomfortable, but here are three areas where I try to bring disciplined intentionality to my life:

  1. Intentionally Disciplined Thinking: This is huge for a Pioneer/Creative personality type like me. I have to keep my mind active with regular mental challenges. I blog as an attempt at thinking, pondering, and debating bigger issues. One can’t really get far in life unless we use our head.
  2. Intentionally Disciplined Emotions: This is something I think about daily. I can either master my emotions, or I can be mastered by them. My feelings can actually prevent me from doing what I should do, or perhaps drive me me to do things I shouldn’t.
  3. Intentionally Disciplined Actions: My mind and my actions are important for sure, but they can only take me so far. Actions are what separate winners from losers. Actions always reflect my degree of discipline.

Which is more important—discipline or being intentional? Can we call them equal? I don’t know, but I sure wish I could get back those hours of sleep.