“Discipline equals freedom” – Jocko Willink
“ For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline. “ – 2 Timothy 1:7 NASB (self-control, ESV; self-discipline, NIV)
Discipline is the means by which you and I take control of our lives. You run your life, or your life will run you, and if that happens, you will always be behind, always be playing catch up, always coming up short, and never living up to your potential given your station in life. Most financially successful people were not given an inheritance or a trust fund that they can tap into that puts them further down the road. Most top athletes cannot ride to the top on talent alone. Most successful people, in whatever field, where not given positions of success, ease, and prestige whenever they showed up. They got there by discipline.
More than anything, discipline is a mindset; a mindset that desires certain outcomes, but also the mental fortitude to see the outcome fulfilled or completed. Disciplined actions are the product of this mindset, this disciplined mindset. Americans need to be taught discipline. Christians need to be taught discipline as the Scripture commends and commands it. Here’s how to grow in discipline.
Determine Your ‘Why?’
Why do you want to become disciplined? What is lacking in your life that you would like to see fulfilled?. Where are some places you need to grow as a person?
You must determine this ‘why’ before you take any actions. The ‘why’ should be the thing that consumes your mind to eventually motivate your actions. Through thinking, writing down, and meditating on your ‘why’ you will develop, in seed form, the proper mindset for discipline. You must find the motivation from within yourself, then, if needed or wanted, supplement your pathway of discipline with ideas, personalities, books, and talks on the subject. You must be the driver when it comes to discipline.
I’ve been working out consistently since July of this year, putting in 3-4 days/week of training. Before that, I wasn’t really working out at all, or if I was, it was once/week. What was my ‘why’? Well, in this case it was layers of motivations and whys; the more reasons to do something, the less cause for excuse making. What were my whys?
- I want to be strong for my family now and in the future
- I am the protector of my wife, kids, and people around me
- I want to play rigorously and keep up with my kids as they get older
- I intend on playing and doing fun activities with my grandchildren
- I want to be able to do hard, manual labor in my 80s
- All my brothers are in good shape and I want to be able to keep up with them
- Strong, healthy people are more useful to society
After my wife became pregnant with our son, something snapped in my head and I wanted to become more financially savvy and stable. As the leader of our home I wanted to purse financial security now and in the future. In 2020, we were able to pay off a lot of debt and build up a decent emergency fund. We also recently purchased our first home. My wife and I could have been doing these things the whole time, but my son, and future children, was my why. I want to leave an inheritance to my children and their children, bless others, and live free.
Your why can be powerful, and I suggest you write down your ‘why(s)’ and review it often.
Habits > Goals
After you determine your why, focus on your habits that either aid or hinder you. Habits are not neutral; they are either good habits or bad habits. To take stock of your habits write down everything you do for a week and evaluate if they are good or bad habits. One of the habits I’m trying to get under control is my social media consumption. I have found myself going down the YouTube or Instagram rabbit hole early in the morning as I wait for my coffee to brew. Sometimes it harmless, but other times the better part of an hour goes by. I should develop a new habit on not looking at my phone until after the first hour of being awake.
I set goals for myself and my wife and I set goals for our family every year. Goal setting is good, but they aren’t helpful if you don’t have an actionable plan to achieve them. What I suggest is a stair step approach to your goals. Start with your mindset, determine your why, evaluate your current habits, form new habits that become a system of how you live your life, then you will reach your goals. Set goals, yes, but develop a new system based on your habits.
James Clear has some good insight here that has helped me:
“You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems. Your goal is your desired outcome. Your system is the collection of daily habits that will get you there. This year, spend less time focusing on outcomes and more time focusing on the habits that precede the results.” – James Clear
A new action becomes a habit after a little over 2 months. Between now and 2 months, there is a lot of consistency, intentionality, accompanied by tricks and hacks to help you along the way.
Here is one tricks and hacks I use to help me wake up early. I wake up about 5 am most days. I set several alarms on my phone but I also use a battery powered analog clock, the style with the 2 bells and little hammer in between. When the analog clock goes off, it is loud, abrupt, and annoying. I hate hearing it go off. We live in a two story house and since our bedroom us upstairs I put the alarm clock downstairs. Its so loud I can heard it in my bedroom. I set an alarm for 5 am on my phone and for about 5:05 am on the analog clock. When my phone alarm goes off, I have to get up quickly, go down stairs, and turn the alarm off. Its hard to go back to bed at this point. I’m up, I’m downstairs, I’ve accomplished a task, and I have also left my sweatpants, slippers, and sweater down stairs from the night before. I simply have to throw them on. There’s no reason to go back up stairs at this point.
To make myself practice financial discipline, I regularly schedule $0 days, about three days a week, where I commit to not spending any money. Need gas? Too bad. Need something from the store for dinner? Go with out or innovate. Need that tool or material for the house? Not today you don’t. Impulse by from an online store? No sir.
These tricks and practices have become habits and second nature by this point, where now, it hurts me to spend any money and I can wake up most days without having to set my dreaded analog alarm clock.
Start From Where You Are
Accept the fact the road of discipline toward your ‘why’ and your goals does not end tomorrow, but that shouldn’t intimidate you not to start today. Start from where you are at.
Let’s take my waking up at 5 am example. That has been a series of decisions and intentional actions over the course of a few years. But when I started, its not like I usually woke up at 7 am, then decide to wake up at 5 am they next day. I had to train my mind and body. If you wake up at 7, but want to get up earlier, this week set your alarm for 6:45 am, next week for 6:30 am, next next week for 6:15 am, and so on until you find the time you want to wake up at. You also need to develop the habit of going to bed earlier.
If you want to start getting back in shape, don’t jump in headlong and start ass-to-grass squatting 300lbs on the first day or week; if you do that, you will hurt yourself and need ample time to recover or you will be ridiculously sore, become unmotivated, and not darken the doors of the gym for another six months.
Consistency in the same direction is better than small bursts of intensity.
Discipline is Multi-Lingual
Just as a person who has the developed the skill of multilingualism can move from one language to the next, so discipline can ‘speak’ in the language of fitness, finances, waking up early, etc. I’ve found that discipline in one area of life can translate easily into another area of life. If I’ve disciplined myself to say ‘no’ to sleeping in and comfort, in order to work out in the mornings, its easier to say ‘no’ to an impulse buy online or a soda and some gas station snacks everyday. So discipline can translate from one area of my personal life to another, but it can also aid you as you interact with the external world.
Discipline is not easy; in fact it sucks some days. But if you put yourself through hard things on purpose, discipline yourself, and make yourself uncomfortable now, other things you encounter outside of your control aren’t so hard. In other words, discipline allows you to create the ability to have mastery over hard situations, rather than the hard situation have mastery over you.
Let’s say you’ve been financially disciplined, living below your means, delaying gratification, sticking to your budget, living on one paycheck (if you have two income household), and something hard occurs, like a lay-off. You should be able to weather that hard time because you’ve already been living hard! I’ve been in situations where I had to work an unexpected extra 3-4 hours after quitting time. Now that’s a tough thing to do if you’ve let your mind and body go soft. But if you’ve been disciplining your mind and body, acclimating yourself to strain, and pushed the threshold discipline, you can handle more work, even if it was thrown on you unexpectedly. If I ’embrace the suck’ of my hard kettlebell snatch workouts, then I can more easily ’embrace the suck’ of other situations. Discipline can speak in every area of your life.
Discipline equals freedom, as Jocko says, because it is the means by which you and I gain control of our lives. The biggest barrier between you and your goals and dreams is you. If you become a disciplined person, your chances of success sky rocket, but if you do not become disciplined, you will be where you are, 10 years from now, wondering why your life hasn’t changed.
Want change? Be like Nike, and ‘Just Do It.’