This Single Habit Took My Discipline to the Next Level
It’s way easier than waking up at 4 am.
Discipline has been the victim of some horrible branding over the years.
I mean, one motivational guru I used to follow online built his entire brand on the discipline that he has to wake up at 4 am, every single day. You’ve probably heard of him.
But here’s the elephant in the room: why would anyone in their right ever want to wake up at 4 am every day? There has to be an easier way to become disciplined.
I don’t know about you, but I actually want to enjoy my life a little bit. I mean, we’ve only got 100 or so years on this planet (if we’re lucky), and I don’t really want to spend all of them being a slave to my own work ethic. Discipline does equal freedom, but only if you are in control of your own mind.
Discipline is about self-control, not controlling yourself.
That’s the conundrum of discipline. We all want more freedom, we all need more discipline, and there’s no practical road map that shows people how to actually build discipline in a way that is realistic for their life.
In the last 6 months, there’s been one habit that has helped me take greater control over my mind than I ever have before, and it’s pretty simple:
I stopped ending the day with easy activities.
Discipline equals Nietzsche
One of my favorite philosophers is Friedrich Nietzsche. You probably know him as the “God is dead” guy, but he had a lot more to offer the world than just cynical atheism.
The most underrated of Nietzsche’s core philosophies for building a strong orientation in the world is that of “mental mastery” (this is ironic seeing that Nietzsche eventually went mad, but it also further validates the importance of the concept). There’s no better book that explains the pursuit of mental mastery than Thus Spoke Zarathustra. This is a tough read, but a must if you’re fascinated by the intersection of philosophy and personal development.
Perhaps no philosopher is better to share the importance of mental mastery than the one who spent his entire life struggling to control his own personal demons.
At the minimum, mental mastery is what keeps us from going mad. On the flip side, mental mastery is what creates the most incredible “talents” that we see in the world today. The best writers, athletes, musicians, and business people are all masters of their own minds.
“Speak not of gifts, or innate talents! One can name all kinds of great men who were not very gifted. But they acquired greatness, became “geniuses”…” — Friedrich Nietzsche
I’ve been on my own quest for mental mastery this year. I’m trying to balance a freelance writing career, personal writing online, and attempting to be one of the best Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu competitors in the world. If I can’t control my mind, I’m bound for failure, financial strain, and intense anxiety.
That’s why I’ve focused extra hard on my discipline this year.
Discipline is self-induced mind control
Discipline is, by definition, a form of mind control.
By developing discipline, you’re creating habits that will allow you to overcome your primitive urges for short-term gratification. That short-term gratification could manifest itself as a toxic relationship with someone who hurts you, eating a whole sleeve of Oreos (what? Only me?), or just laying on the couch and watching Netflix all day. We all have our vices, and discipline is what allows us to take our lives back from these vices.
When applied properly, discipline makes us free from ourselves.
I’ve always been a hard worker, but I’ve also always been someone who slacks off on things that are uncomfortable and don’t come naturally to me. Recently, I’ve been working hard to make a change.
Martial arts training, for example, is easy for me. It takes no effort for me to show up, train hard, practice my techniques, and then do it all again, day after day. Training is fun for me. Recovery, however, is not easy at all.
This has been a problem on and off for years now, but after battling debilitating back spasms for about 3 weeks in August as I geared up for the biggest tournament of the year so far, I realized that it was time to make an actual change. For the past month, I’ve been working with a massage therapist who is sponsoring me, doing deep tissue work several times per week (it’s as painful as it sounds), and using a foam roller just about every chance I get.
But the funny thing is, the discipline to make these changes in my life didn’t just come from the injury, it came from a disciplined approach to my time.
How I learned to control my time
Nearly every night for the past 3 months, I’ve written around 1500 words, then either read a book, stretched, or meditated.
If I have no energy and no creative juices, I sit on a foam roller, pull out my phone, and start editing old work.
I do something every single day. Some days, the amount of work I do is laughably small, but no matter what, the last activity I do everyday is difficult.
What I do doesn’t matter as much as the fact that I am doing something difficult before I go to bed. I’m doing something that my internal lazy self knows I need to do but doesn’t want to put the effort into doing. For me, being lazy before bed is training my mind to value leisure time above all else. The end of the day is my reward, and I’m choosing to end the day by rewarding myself with positive habits — even if the day has been undisciplined up to that point.
This approach to discipline is calculated, but not absolutist. I’m still not free from Netflix binges, eating the occasional Oreo cookie (or 12), or staring at Instagram till my mind starts to rot. The difference is that while I’m still enjoying “leisure time”, I am in control of the time before I go to bed.
I’ve been developing mental mastery, which is the basis of all forms of discipline. By learning to control my mind, I’m no longer a slave to my obsessions, my anxieties, or my fears. Discipline has made me free, and I never had to wake up at 4 am once.
To begin to develop discipline and mental toughness, you don’t have to follow my routine.
You also don’t have to get up at 4 am like Jocko Willink or go on some wild quest for self-mastery like Nietzsche wrote about.
All you have to do is control a portion of your time, every single day.
I choose to write, stretch, and meditate before bed because late at night is usually the only time that I have absolutely no other responsibilities. Also, I’ll be honest with you, I have no interest in getting up at 4 am.
I’m using the system I’ve chosen because I know that I won’t slack off. But, if writing before bed to build discipline sounds lame to you, don’t do it. If getting up at 4 am sounds better, by all means, go ahead.
What you do have to do to develop discipline is learn to control a portion of your time, each and every day. Small habits are what help build big goals. Create habits that you’ll actually want to stick with. By controlling your time, you learn to control your mind.
If you can’t control your mind, your mind will control you.
Originally published in Mind Cafe on September 14, 2021.
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5 Quotes About Discipline to Get You Out the Door Today
“The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day.” ― David Foster Wallace
“True freedom is impossible without a mind made free by discipline.” ― Mortimer J. Adler
“Self-respect is the root of discipline: The sense of dignity grows
with the ability to say no to oneself.” ― Abraham Joshua Heschel
“Why is discipline important? Discipline teaches us to operate by principle rather than desire. Saying no to our impulses (even the ones that are not inherently sinful) puts us in control of our appetites rather than vice versa. It deposes our lust and permits truth, virtue, and integrity to rule our minds instead.” ― John MacArthur Jr.
“This is the other secret that real artists know and wannabe writers don’t. When we sit down each day and do our work, power concentrates around us. The Muse takes note of our dedication. She approves. We have earned favor in her sight. When we sit down and work, we become like a magnetized rod that attracts iron filings. Ideas come. Insights accrete.” ― Steven Pressfield
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Wishing you the best,