Discipline: It’s something we all want, but seems to be getting harder and harder to develop.

I’ve noticed recently that there is an increasing number of months allocated to creating more constructive habits.

We’ve got things like Stoptober, Dry-January, and No Nut November. All of which gather people together and promote the discipline to abstain from various destructive activities like drinking, drugs, porn, etc.

At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: ‘I have to go to work—as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for—the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?”

– Marcus Aurelius

I think these are great, and they suggests that we have a strong desire to change negative habits. However, I’m sure you already know that habit change is much easier said than done.

How many times have you made a plan, committed to a goal, or promised yourself change, only to stop after a few days, give in to your impulses, and return to your old self?

It happens a lot.

Discipline is simply your ability to overcome your short term desire, and short term desire is the death of habit change. So, to change habits we need to develop discipline.

In this entry you’ll find:

  1. Why discipline is so important

  2. Why it’s becoming more difficult for you to develop it

  3. How you can develop it

Stoicism & Discipline:

The Stoics were advocates of self mastery. They promote self examination, self control, personal responsibility, and objectivity.

Stoicism teaches us that without discipline we are destined to float through life as a passenger. Pulled along by default, by the whim of the world around us and our base desires.

However, with discipline we are able to plot our own course. You become the captain standing at the helm of your ship. You develop the ability to choose your direction and leverage what is within your control to get there.

“He is a sorry pilot who lets the waves wring his rudder from his grasp, who leaves the sails to fly loose, and abandons the ship to the storm: but he who boldly grasps the helm and clings to it until the sea closes over him, deserves praise even though he be shipwrecked.”


Grasp the helm.

Why build Self Discipline?:

Whenever we have a goal, whether it’s losing that extra weight, building our dream business, or becoming an incredible musician, we need to put in the work.

To put in the work we need to be able to overcome our impulses. That’s discipline; the ability to act despite the temptation not to.

This doesn’t mean that you won’t feel the desire to slack off, it just means that you’ve developed the ability to resist that feeling. The more you act in spite of your impulses, the better you are able to do so. Discipline develops much like a muscle.

Given that achievement, habit building, and goal reaching require us to show up and work; discipline is one of the most important life skills required to be successful, whatever success means to you.

Discipline vs Motivation:

Motivation is a great fuel to get stuff done, but it’s inconsistent. It comes and goes, so if you rely solely on motivation to get things done it’s easy to fall back into old habits or procrastinate.

Discipline is different, it’s consistent. Discipline takes up the slack when motivation doesn’t show up. It keeps us moving towards our target even when our body or our mind want to stay warm, cuddled up on the sofa, eating Doritos and watching Netflix.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m an advocate of having lazy days every now and then to recharge, but I think it’s important for it to be a choice, not a crutch.

When we rely on motivation, our performance comes and goes, and we risk falling back into old habits. When we build discipline, our performance remains steady.

As Jocko Willink says – “Discipline Equals Freedom”

Why is it getting more difficult to build self discipline?

Discipline isn’t easy, it’s an uphill hike, and the hill doesn’t have a summit. I think discipline is getting harder to cultivate, and the simple answer for why that’s the case is that life is getting easier.

An easier life creates two conditions that makes discipline difficult to cultivate:

1. Temptation: 

We are surrounded by more and more sources of temptation and distractions that make it increasingly difficult to overcome our impulses.

Things like TV, social media, video games, YouTube, etc are all competing for our attention, and many of them are designed specifically to draw us in and keep us hooked.

This increasing noise makes it more difficult for us to overcome our desire not to work. Even so, this is not an excuse, it is our responsibility to learn how to manage it.

2. Lack of resistance: 

An easier life also gives us less opportunity to practice discipline. Discipline will atrophy like a muscle if not used, and in our world today it’s easier to get by without having to use it.

    1. Amazon offers next day delivery.

    2. Netflix lets us watch what we want, when we want to.

    3. Facebook and Instagram give us little dopamine hits whenever we need them.

    4. Food can be delivered in 30 minutes.

    5. The list goes on….

Instant gratification is slowly removing opportunities for us to practice discipline. We are becoming impatient, expectant, and our attention span is reducing.

Unfortunately for us, the world is removing sources of resistance, the same resistance that is needed for discipline to grow.

In reality we don’t need to do that much to survive. But, the body craves comfort, it craves satisfaction and instant gratification. As we’ve said, (and this is repeated intentionally) discipline is the ability to overcome these feelings.

Regarding too much comfort, to quote Admiral Akbar – “It’s a trap.”

I believe that excessive comfort is hindering you. Your body will crave it, and it will draw you in. A reasonable level of comfort is fine, however, too much will shrink your comfort zone, and dissolve your discipline. Too much comfort softens us, like a muscle that isn’t used, we weaken.

Resistance is uncomfortable, but resistance is the catalyst for growth. It gives us the feeling of development, fulfilment, and achievement. It shows us the boundaries of our ability and allows us to surpass them.

The psychological impact of knowing you can do something is profound, and you can only find this boundary by pushing yourself through resistance.

No one finds their limits sat on the sofa.

So, in a world that’s removing sources of resistance, what can we do? We make our own.

Some examples:

  1. Regular exercise

  2. Events (10km, 5km, mud runs, charity runs etc)

  3. Martial Arts (I recommend BJJ)

  4. Learn a new hobby

  5. Build something (Car, house, project etc)

  6. Wake up early

  7. Continue your education (degree, accreditation, PhD etc)

  8. Start a passion project/ side business

How do we build Discipline?

I’ve said before that discipline is like the gym. We need resistance to grow, and that growth will depend on the resistance we apply.

If we’re new to the gym we don’t go balls to the walls and try to deadlift 300kg. We start small, with light weights.

The same is true for discipline. Start small, make your bed, do the laundry, tidy your room, write a page, read a page, don’t eat that chocolate bar, walk at lunch, put down your phone, don’t open that incognito tab, go to bed earlier, wake up earlier etc.

Any time we feel the little voice within calling us to resist an action, or validate a decision not to do something, this is an opportunity to develop resilience. That is the resistance you need to grow.

Once we’re aware of it, we can notice it.

When we notice it, we can catch it.

When we catch it, we can use it as a tool for growth.

Final Thoughts:

We’ll always have the pull of desire trying to drag us away from the things we want. However, we can develop the ability to more easily say no to that pull. This is discipline, and it’s our responsibility.

The stoic philosopher, Marcus Aurelius was an Emperor of Rome and still had the same struggle with discipline as you and I. He wrote:

“At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: ‘I have to go to work—as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for—the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?

‘—But it’s nicer here…’

So you were born to feel ‘nice’? Instead of doings things and experiencing them? Don’t you see the plants, the birds, the ants and spiders and bees going about their individual tasks, putting the world in order, as best they can? And you’re not willing to do your job as a human being? Why aren’t you running to do what your nature demands?

‘—But we have to sleep sometime…’

Agreed. But nature set a limit on that—as it did on eating and drinking. And you’re over the limit. You’ve had more than enough of that. But not of working. There you’re still below your quota. You don’t love yourself enough. Or you’d love your nature too, and what it demands of you. People who love what they do wear themselves down doing it, they even forget to wash or eat.

Do you have less respect for your own nature than the engraver does for engraving, the dancer for dance, the miser for money or the social climber for status? When they’re really possessed by what they do, they’d rather stop eating and sleeping than give up practising their arts.”

Amor Fati – Feel free to share this with anyone you think can benefit from it.

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