Academy for Social-Emotional Learning in Schools

Developing a Sense of Duty: True Commitment Runs Deep

  • June 15, 2018
  •    BY Tara Laughlin, Ed.D. (Contributor)

by Tara E. Laughlin, Ed.D., Director of Readiness Curriculum,

Duty.  It’s a word which can be applied in many contexts:

  • Moral duty
  • Legal duty
  • Civic duty
  • Active duty

…or even

  • Job duties

No matter how you shake it, duty is all about a sense of commitment.  This commitment is the force that drives a person to push forward, even when things get tough, pursuing desirable outcomes like a safe community, success on the job, or a healthy relationship.

Not everyone is born with a strong sense of duty, and that’s okay.  Fortunately, it can be developed over time through intentional practice of an important underlying skill: self-discipline.


Self-discipline is the ability to get yourself to take action regardless of the circumstances.  Author Steve Pavlina offers five pillars of self-discipline:

To improve your self-discipline, and thereby, your sense of duty, follow these five pillars:

Pillar 01 – Acceptance: Identify and accept where your self-discipline could be strengthened, and determine what you can do to improve it.

  • For example, someone may identify that their self-discipline is weak when it comes to making healthy food choices. To improve this, they might decide that they need to start weekly meal planning, choosing recipes with fresh, natural ingredients, and cooking all meals at home.


Pillar 02 – Willpower: Willpower is a short, powerful burst of energy directed toward a particular goal. It does, however, eventually run out.  Therefore, you need to create an environment for yourself in which, once your willpower does run out, you are more likely to keep pushing forward.

  • If a person’s self-discipline challenge is making poor food choices, they might change their environment by throwing away all of their junk food. This way, when their willpower runs out, they are surrounded by healthy foods, and staying healthy, while not guaranteed, will be easier.


Pillar 03 – Hard Work: Pillar 01, Acceptance, has you accept that there is some area of your life where your self-discipline is lacking.  Overcoming this will inevitably be hard.  That’s where Pillar 03, Hard Work, comes in.  You need to stop avoiding the hard work, and dig in. 

  • A person whose self-discipline challenge is making poor food choices is avoiding the hard work of consistently choosing healthy foods.


Pillar 04 – Persistence: Persistence is maintaining action toward a goal regardless of the circumstances.  Remaining persistent means you need to keep plugging along because ultimately, it’s your action toward the goal, not your intentions or motivation, which will help you accomplish it.

  • After the first round of healthy food has all been eaten, our friend who makes poor food choices needs to create the next week’s meal plan, return to the grocery store, and make healthy choices all over again.


Pillar 05 – Industry: While the first four pillars focus on addressing an area where your self-discipline is lacking, industry is putting in the necessary time on life’s little tasks. While you’re laser-focused on improving your self-discipline, the rest of life will keep happening around you.  You’re still responsible for keeping up with the little things, such as cleaning your house, answering emails, texting people back, and getting work done.


The example shown throughout reflects a person seeking to improve their self-discipline when it comes to diet, committing to a healthier lifestyle.  Commitment can take many forms, however.  Do you want to commit to becoming more productive at work?  To getting organized?  To raising your kids right?  How about to improving your community?  Your country?  Regardless of the goal, the more closely you can align yourself with these five pillars of self-discipline, the stronger your sense of duty will become.  It’s time to take the plunge.  Are you committed?

(For more information on strategies to improve social and emotional skills, visit to learn about our SEL curriculum.)




    • June 15, 2018
  •    BY Tara Laughlin, Ed.D. (Contributor)
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