A man holding two dumbbells.

Discipline as the path to freedom

Discipline has a bad rep. It brings to mind the notion of being chastised, punished or forced to obey. Of being yelled at, grounded or sent to one’s room. But discipline lies at the core of the intentional life. It’s the route to achieving the freedom to be who you want to be and to live how you want to live.

The things we want in life don’t just happen. We have to make them happen. We have to put in the effort, the hours, the blood, the sweat, the tears. Consistently, repeatedly and unrelentingly. We have to choose the actions that bring us closer to our goal. And resist those that divert us from it.

That, to me, is what discipline is all about.

We gain the freedom to follow our chosen path in life by establishing the discipline that underpins our ability to achieve it.

The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle is often quoted as saying ‘through discipline comes freedom’, which makes my point for me perfectly. Sadly, I can’t find any evidence of him actually having said or written anything like this. But he was big on ethical virtue and excellence, so it sounds like the kind of thing he might have said. But probably didn’t.

Somebody who definitely did say something about this is former US Navy SEAL Jocko Willink, author of the book Discipline equals freedom. In Jocko’s view, there are no short cuts in life and there is no easy way to achieve your goals. There is only ‘hard work, late nights, early mornings, practice, rehearsal, repetition, study, sweat, blood, toil, frustration, and discipline. Discipline. There must be discipline.’

If you want to achieve financial freedom, for example, you need to develop financial discipline. If you want to get fitter, you need to follow a regular programme of physical exercise. If you want to have more time for your family, you need to be disciplined in managing your time and your other commitments.

To live a purposeful and intentional life, we need to create and maintain the discipline that will get us there. We need to be disciplined in when we get up and when we go to bed, how we manage our time, how we approach our work, how we interact with others, how we live our lives.

We need to embed this discipline into every single thing we do and every single choice we make. No ifs. No buts. No cheat days.

Because that’s the path to freedom.

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Image: Domagoj Ćosić on Unsplash





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