We live in the ultimate quick-fix culture. Everyone wants to be thin, but few people eat healthy and exercise. Everyone wants financial stability, but many refuse to be bothered by a budget. Rather than trouble ourselves with discipline, we opt for diet fads or speculate in the stock market. When we don't see long-term improvements, we discard one fad in favor of another.
In life, there are two kinds of pain: the pain of self-discipline and the pain of regret. The pain of self-discipline involves sacrifice, sweat, and delayed gratification. Thankfully, the reward of improvement softens the pain of self-discipline and makes it worthwhile. The pain of regret begins as a missed opportunity and ends up as squandered talent and an unfulfilled life. Once the pain of regret sets in, there's nothing you can do other than wonder, "What if?"
The secret of your success is determined by your daily agenda. Leaders who make successful improvements share a common denominator: they form habits of daily action that those who fail to improve never develop. As my friend Andy Stanley says, "Your direction determines your destination." The steps you make each day, for good or ill, eventually chart the path of your life.
Consider the analogy of saving for retirement. Financial advisers counsel us to invest for retirement early in our careers and consistently throughout life. If we do, we can quit working at 65 with a sizeable nest egg. However, if we neglect funding our 401(k) each month, then we end up with nothing. We may still "hope" to win the lottery and secure our financial future, but we've lost the ability to control our fate.