Developing Discipline (p1)

(Greek Boxer 300BCE)

The other day a co-worker asked me about discipline. I had put up a quote from Jocko Willink on the white board in our back room, “Discipline is the root of all good qualities.” I put it up because we have all been trying to limit our sugar intake and someone had opened up some kind of sugar bullshit and I saw my friends giving in to the desire to eat the sugar. I could feel the strong pull myself and so I pulled up the quote and wrote it down as a reminder, a command, an inspirational fire, to myself as much as anyone else. I managed the discipline not eat the sugar. I managed that discipline to a large degree by relying on that quote.

So at work the other day this co-worker comes up to me and asks me about the quote. She asks me, “if discipline is the root of all good qualities, how do we develop discipline if we feel like we don’t have it?”. This is a great question.

I don’t think there can be one answer to how we develop discipline. It is simple to say, “Just do it”. It is actually that simple, that is what it ultimately boils down to, but simple doesn’t mean easy and most of the time I know that I need some tools and tricks to use along the way. So I am going to make notes about some of the tools and tricks that I am finding most effective in generating discipline. This will be my first shot at a multi part series. I hope you find it useful.

Find a role model. This is an old tool and our Stoic friend Seneca writes to us from thousands of years ago about this: “Choose therefore a Cato, or if Cato seems too severe a model, choose some Laelius, a gentler spirit. Choose a master whose life, conversation, and soul-expressing face have satisfied you; picture her always to yourself as your protector or your pattern. For we must indeed have someone according to whom we may regulate our characters; you can never straighten that which is crooked unless you use a ruler.”

A very interesting thing about the Stoics is that it they did not consider it necessary for you to know your role model, or even for that role model to be a living person. Your role model could also be a character from fiction. In prison, after I discovered (through a friend) Aleksander Solzhenitsyn, his fictional character Ivan Denisovich became my hero and role model. In difficult circumstances I would imagine what Ivan Denisovich would do…and I would try to do that. The point is, pick someone you look up to in the realm of discipline. Think about this person, this hero or role model, and imagine how they would respond or what they would tell you to do in the particular situation in which you want to exercise discipline.

This morning when I woke up I didn’t want to work out. It was so cold outside, and so warm in bed. It seemed like it would be a great idea to take a hot bath and read. After all, I am still recovering from surgery, and my shoulder was sore. I have a physically demanding job and I work hard, don’t I deserve a bit of rest? Then I thought about ultra runner and Navy SEAL David Goggins, who I recently discovered through The Joe Rogan Experience #1080 and I knew immediately what he would say, “Get the fuck up and go work out!”. And that is exactly what I did.

This is not to say that I would want to fully model myself on David Goggins. But as a role model in the realm of discipline he shows me what is possible and that helps me to recognize how much more I am capable of. And while I think this applies on very deep levels of my life, I also try to apply it to seemingly small decisions like what foods to eat.

So find people who you look up to, people who inspire you. Think of those people in that moment in which you are attempting to exercise discipline. What would that person do in this situation? You know what the answer is, it is one of the reasons you look up to them, the trick is to then do the damn thing.

I am not claiming this is easy, but it is simple…you just do it.

One thought on “Developing Discipline (p1)

  1. This was a very good and important read for me… you know I lack self-discipline. I’ve probably gained all my weight back and then some. I also have yet to complete the food service certification for work because I simply don’t “feel” like doing it on my own time.


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