Discipline is Destiny

6 min read
The Discipline is Destiny bookPhoto by Ryan Holiday

In the ancient world, virtue was comprised of four key components.

  • Courage.
  • Temperance.
  • Justice.
  • Wisdom.

“Temperance” or “Self-Discipline” is one of the components the book talks about. It describes how self-discipline is important in different parts of your life. Self-discipline is your behavior with yourself, with others, with time, with your body, and how you approach challenges and problems.

Self-discipline is the ability

  • to work hard
  • to say no
  • to practice good habits and set boundaries
  • to train and to prepare
  • to ignore temptations and provocations
  • to keep your emotions in check
  • to endure painful difficulties.

"Self-discipline has never been about punishment or deprivation. It is about becoming the best, the best that you are capable of becoming. Freedom requires discipline. Discipline gives us freedom. Freedom and greatness.""

Do the work

It's not only about thinking about your goal. It's not only about talking you are going to do. It's not only about showing up.

It is said that no profile of the writer Joyce Carol Oates can begin without mentioning how many books she's published. But this has been true since at least the seventies, and she has not stopped publishing.

Her first book, With Shuddering Fall, was released in 1964. By the 1980s, she was up to nineteen books. By the '90s, twenty-seven. In the first decade of the 2000s, she released ten more books. In the following decade, eleven more. In that time, she also published nearly a dozen more novels under pseudonyms, forty-five short story collections, twelve poetry collections, eleven novellas, nine plays, six young adult novels, and four children's books.

Even into her eighties, she is still working. How many words must that be in total? Fifteen million? Twenty million?

But that's what the greats do, they don't just show up, they do more than practice, they do the work.

Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing & Focus

The main question is “What's the main thing?”. It feels like you're free because you're choosing, but if the answer is always yes, that's not much of a choice. Everything we say yes to means saying no to something else. But every no can also be a yes, a yes to what really matters.

True mental discipline comes at a cost. That means not just saying no to things but saying yes to the critical task in front of you so emphatically, so completely, that you don't even notice that the things you've said no to even exist.

Do hard things first

“The one thing all fools have in common is that they're always getting ready to live. They tell themselves they just need to get some things in place first, that they're just not feeling it yet, that they'll get to it after” — Seneca

You could be good now but instead, you choose tomorrow. You choose procrastination. Rather than doing the main thing, you choose to prepare to do the main thing. We should not assume there will be a later. We should focus our discipline on now and not tomorrow, next Monday, or next year. It's about doing the main thing now.

Battling Against pleasure and money

“Always remember,” Churchill once reassured his wife, “that I have taken more out of alcohol than alcohol has taken out of me.” This is a critical test. Don't just think about what a certain pleasure will give, think about what it will take out of you. ”

Abstinence and restraint are not the same things. One is about avoidance, the other is about responsibility.

Money can also be a “dangerous” tool. It isn't good or bad. It is a tool. If money provides freedom or leverage, then great. If it becomes an addiction or a disorder—or worse, a distraction—not so great.

Get better Every Day

There's a famous Japanese word for “Continual Improvement”: Kaizen! Always finding something to work on, to make a little progress on. Never being satisfied, always looking to grow. If you could have a drug, the process of getting better should be it.

“It's the journey of a lifetime. In fact, that's the way to think about all of this: How much progress could you make if you made just a little each day over the course of an entire life? What might this journey look like, where might it lead, if each bit of progress you made presented both the opportunity and the obligation to make a little more progress, and you seized those opportunities, you lived up to those obligations, each and every time?”

Our unwillingness to be satisfied with our performance, to be done with our progress, is what keeps us from plateauing. It drives us forward.

Respect Time

“Take a minute to think about how you spent the last year, the last month, the last week, the last day. Think about how much of it was wasted, how much of it was half-assed, how much of it was spent in reaction to things out of your control. And even if you have decent results to show for this time, still, you could have done better. We all could have.”

We should be aware of the value and importance of time. And the best way to prove this is how we manage and spend it. Every action you do, every day, week, month, year, do you feel you give time its importance?

Do your best

“Why didn't you do your best? It was a question that would take many shapes, and challenge and inspire the young man in many ways for the rest of his life.

Question yourself

  • Why are you holding back?
  • Why are you half-assing this?
  • Why are you so afraid to try?
  • Why don't you think this matters?
  • What could you be capable of if you really committed?

Do your very best. Always. Think and work hard.

Ryan Holiday is a master of storytelling. The book talks about many different ways of looking at self-discipline synthesized by interesting stories from people who mastered self-discipline in the past: how to manage your body, your inner domain, and your soul.

I like how the book is structured: quick chapters, and interesting and small stories exemplifying different types of self-discipline. Some of them are more relatable to me, and others I carefully read to see if I could practically use them in my life.

I appreciate how much time and effort he puts into his research and book reading as he can illustrate dozens of different stories from many historical characters. He mentioned at the end of the book what's the actual “cost” of writing a book:

“Creating the book is a work of excruciating manual labor, sitting in a chair, grinding out each consecutive sentence—a process not measured in hours or days, but months and years. It's a marathon of endurance, cognitive and physical.”

I absolutely love this finishing part of the book: “But the purpose of writing this book, and the hours you spent reading it, was not mere entertainment. That's not what philosophy is about. We are here trying to actually get better. Trying to answer the call, to make that Herculean choice ourselves. Today. Tomorrow. At every moment”. It's not mere entertainment, it needs to be used for us to get better.


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