How Discipline Gives You More Freedom

Discipline shows you what could be possible. It is the commitment to your own potential and calls forth what already is to further embody itself.

– Lindsey Simcik, Almost 30 Podcast

Ashtanga vinyasa yoga is a precise system of yoga that combines individual asana (poses) into a series of energetic movements that sync the body with the breath. This style of yoga is strict. The typical instruction takes place under the guidance of a Sharath-approved teacher and involves contorting the body into challenging asanas that require impressive strength, flexibility and concentration.

I stumbled upon the following demonstration with awe. The students were timely, synchronized and relentless in their practice. Even as beads of sweat collected on their brow and their hands shook under the strain of their weight, they pressed on.

One of the words that came to mind was discipline. I began to ponder the many great practices rooted in discipline. Traditional martial arts like Karate, Judo, Taekwondo and Kung Fu use teaching styles and philosophies that promote self-discipline. Meditation practices like Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism require devotion to meditation practices and discipline to sit silently without succumbing to distractions.

This curiously led me to realize my own aversion to discipline. Why does the word discipline feel so constricting? Why does it conjure up images of an authoritarian parent or a trip to the principal’s office?

The same week I decided to implement a new routine. I sought to wake up earlier, engage in 20-30 minutes of Ashtanga yoga and meditate for 20-30 minutes. This practice required discipline, and during the work-from-home flexibility allowed by the pandemic, I was struggling to be a disciplinary figure to my Self. 

In a kismet fashion, the same week I stumbled upon an episode of the Almost 30 Podcast titled “Why Being Disciplined Has Given Me More Freedom” by Lindsey Simcik. As Oprah commonly says, I had an Aha! moment. Discipline isn’t a limiting practise, it’s the structure we need to be limitless.  

What is Discipline?

In my investigation into the nature of discipline, I discovered a diversified set of definitions about its very meaning. The Oxford definition regarded punishment as inherently part of discipline, deeming it: “The practice of training people to obey rules and orders and punishing them if they do not.”

Other definitions regarded discipline as an action used by outside authorities to control: “To bring to a state of order and obedience by training and control.”

My personal favourite definition of discipline is offered by the Merriam Webster Dictionary and states that discipline is,

Training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character.

In this sense of the definition, discipline is a tool that we use on ourselves. Discipline allows us to train and develop skills and fortitude by engaging in consistent practice.

Does true discipline involve punishment? Perhaps the idea of punishment is what caused me to wince at the word. Our inner child doesn’t want to be in trouble and certainly doesn’t want to be disciplined

In childhood, lack of discipline leads to prescribed punishment. In adulthood, lack of discipline leads to unfulfilled potential. What’s more punishing than that?

Without discipline, we’re unable to develop our skills and become the people we’re meant to be. Think about your favourite entrepreneurs, athletes and change-makers. These powerful figures are able to turn a floodlight into a laser, by focusing on their gifts and using discipline to fulfill their destiny.

how to be more disciplined
Being disciplined is a form of self-respect.

5 Benefits of Healthy Discipline

Healthy discipline is the commitment to a regular practice that allows you to develop a particular skill.

Healthy discipline can look like scheduled training, deep work sessions or accountability programs. Unhealthy discipline is self-punishment and may involve negative self-talk or physical punishment (ex. restrictive eating or physical self-harm).

Berating yourself does not lead to increased productivity, in fact, believing in your capabilities and capacity to perform well is more motivating. 

The benefits of healthy disciplinary practices can be life-changing. If you engage in regular practices that strengthen your skills you will most likely experience.

1. Improve Consistency

One of the criteria of being disciplined is being consistent. Are you really considered disciplined if you adjust your behaviour one time? 

A famous Egyptian singer, musicologist and composer, Mustafa Said once said,

The term I despise most is motivation. Motivation is an unreliable tease and isn’t worth your time. Motivation is fleeting, DISCIPLINE is reliable. Cultivate DISCIPLINE and FORCE yourself to do things to better yourself. It isn’t about keeping yourself motivated, it’s about how to train yourself to work without it.

Mustafa Said

Discipline is reliable because it doesn’t rely on transient emotions to be enforced. It’s actually most often used during times when fleeting feelings like motivation have abandoned you. A trained musician would know a thing or two about cultivating discipline.

Consistency is both a requirement and a byproduct of discipline. One of the benefits of discipline is entering a structured routine that is built to facilitate your growth in a certain area. You no longer have to worry about maintaining a habit or keeping up a streak, your training will become your new normal.

2. Increase Motivation

Although we just investigated the unreliability of motivation, the truth is: being motivated feels good. Motivation feels a lot like passion and excitement about achieving your dreams. Motivation will not always be there but being disciplined can actually increase the frequency and intensity of your motivation.

Discipline is a steady path to your goals and as you watch tangible improvements unfold in your art, skills or work, you begin to fan the flames of motivation and get excited about the probability of reaching your goals. 

how to be more disciplined
Being disciplined is a tool that can be used on the pathway to your highest potential.

3. Enhance Creativity

The word discipline doesn’t feel very creative. It sounds boring and restrictive, but the opposite is true. I recently started setting a timer and giving myself “creative writing time”. For a certain period of time I have to sit at my desk and write without interruption.

Scheduling creative time is like leaving a child in a playroom. Suddenly, they’re free to explore, use their imagination and have fun without being interrupted. 

One of the greatest barriers to your creativity is your smartphone. Your smartphone is always readily available and eager to solve your boredom. The thing is, boredom is where the magic happens. 

The first many minutes of your scheduled time may feel boring and even painful to handle. But if you can withstand the initial discomfort, there are beautiful things waiting to be born on the other side. 

4. Faster Results

Athletes are an excellent model of discipline because they clearly demonstrate the relationship between work ethic and results. Michael Jordan’s resume includes six NBA championships, winning the Finals MVP award in all of them, five NBA MVPs and the highest average points per game of all time. 

Jordan is known for his unquenchable drive and focus which has led to his success. He was denied from the varsity basketball team in sophomore year and rather than admitting defeat he became more disciplined. He engaged in challenging team sessions and continued to practice nonstop on his own time.

Being disciplined will produce faster results because not everyone else will do what it takes to consistently better themselves in a particular area. You can imagine your competition sleeping in or skipping practice while you wake up early and work toward your goals to strengthen your will to be disciplined

5. Personal Transformation

A person who exhibits admirable discipline also tends to command respect. This is because as humans we understand that being disciplined is not the easy road. It’s easier to succumb to temporary desires than to stay loyal to long-term goals.

Never give up what you want most for what you want today.

Neal A. Maxwell

When you choose to stay disciplined and work toward what you want most, you are actually changing the neural hard-wiring in your brain and priming yourself to become the person you want to be. 

Every decision you make that reinforces discipline will grow your ability to regulate your emotions, impulses and actions. You can literally change the person who you are into the person you want to be through daily training in the form of discipline. 

how to be more disciplined
Discipline is a lot like meditation, it requires observation, concentration and committment.

5 Methods to Improve Self-Discipline

As a child, I grew up in a house that had little to no rules. My parents were not strict and I was largely left to my own devices. This means I was rarely told no, I didn’t learn traditional boundaries and I didn’t receive traditional punishment, like being grounded or having my phone taken away.

To children who grew up under the reign of authoritarian parental figures this may found rather idealistic. No rules? What a dream! In reality, having a lack of rules in your home in childhood can lead to difficulty imposing rules for yourself in adulthood.

In adulthood, we have the responsibility to parent ourselves. Nowadays, I have a “parent” voice that directs me not to stay up too late, not to eat that food I know will upset my stomach or to walk away from habits that sabotage my self development. 

Creating healthy rules for ourselves is known as self-discipline. We can use proven methods to improve self-disipline and become more orderly in our pursuit of our goals. The following methods can easily be applied to help you become a disciplined, creative and motivated individual.

1. Identify Disciplined Role Models

A few years ago I read David Goggin’s book, “Can’t Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds” and I was taken by his story but most struck by his resilience, grit and discipline. 

Few people compare to David Goggin’s when it comes to discipline. Goggin’s is an American ultramarathon runner, ultra-distance cyclist, triathlete, motivational speaker, retired United States Navy SEAL and former United States Air Force Tactical Air Control Party member who served in the Iraq War. He even won the Guinness World Record for most pull ups in 24 hours in 2013.

Goggin’s history of accomplishments give you a glimpse of his discipline, however, in his 2018 memoir he gives the reader a deeper look at the strong mindset it takes for him to maintain discipline. He preaches a “no excuses” attitude and lives his teachings every day.

The first step to creating discipline in your own life is thinking about people who you regard as disciplined. This could be someone you know or look up to, an athlete, an artist or a historical figure. 

When I don’t feel like doing something or I’m shying away from doing the difficult work, I often think of David Goggin’s words:

Only you can master your mind, which is what it takes to live a bold life filled with accomplishments most people consider beyond their capability.

David Goggins

2. Create Time Blocks

A tangible step you can take to encourage more discipline is setting a timer and dedicating your time to one task. The important part is that you treat this timed work session as free from distractions.

Leave your phone in another room, close all your other tabs and request absolutely no interruptions. Uninterrupted time leads to a phenomenon known as deep work.

Deep work is, “the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task.” Deep work is a valuable skill that allows you to quickly master complicated information and produce better results.

The author of the book “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World”, Cal Newport, developed a rigorous training regimen that involves blocking off chunks of time to enter the zone.

This is a simple method that works. If you acknowledge that you have a short attention span, customize your time block to be shorter. Sit down for ten or even five minutes straight and work on a given task and then take a break. 

3. Start a Routine

When I’m trying to integrate a new habit into my daily life I create a list in the notes app in my phone and I check off the habits I want to complete throughout the day. The process can be difficult at first because, frankly, I don’t love incorporating change.

It’s hard to add a 30-minute meditation session to my existing morning because it wasn’t something I was accustomed to doing. Over time, I began meditating every morning and it was so ingrained in my day that I no longer had to add it to my daily goals list.

Creating a routine turns goals into habits. If you make time for a creative writing session every afternoon from 2:00 pm to 3:00pm, it becomes a non-negotiable part of your routine, like brushing your teeth or making your bed. Routines are comfortable because they allow our brains to function on autopilot. Add training or deep work sessions to your routine and discipline will become second-nature.

4. Keep a Progress Journal

What is the point of being disciplined if we don’t get to celebrate the results? Yes, we determined that motivation is cheap and fleeting but can feel good. Nothing boosts motivation like tracking your success over time.

In a progress journal you can write down your goals, your habits and your checkpoints. For example, if you want to learn French you can create checkpoints like:

  • Recite 20 basic phrases in French
  • Order a meal from a restaurant in French
  • Ask a question to a stranger in French
  • Have10 minutes of small talk in French

From here, you can create habits that support these checkpoints, like:

  • Watch a French movie every month
  • Finish at least one DuoLingo lesson a day
  • Listen to a podcast episode in French every week
  • Write down French phrases periodically

Finally, you can celebrate your accomplishments by checking off successful goals and reflecting on your progress. Experiencing feelings of accomplishment fuel future discipline. 

5. Say No More

The ugly truth about being disciplined is that it requires you to make sacrifices. Momentary temptations are a big hurdle that prevent many people from staying loyal to their goals. Being disciplined requires the power to say “no” with confidence and without guilt. 

Why don’t we say no? There are a number of reasons that make saying “no” challenging, including:

  • We want to say yes but we’re trying to reprogram old behaviour by saying no
  • We want to say no but we don’t want to disappoint, upset or inconvenience someone else
  • We want to say no but we feel pressure and coercion from an outside source
  • We want to say no but we want to perceived as agreeable, laid-back and easy going

There are numerous reasons we may abandon our deep needs for momentary comfort. The first reason, “We want to say yes but we’re trying to reprogram old behaviour by saying no” is a common situation. For example, we want to say yes to ordering take-out even though we committed to saving money this week and have food at home. 

The best way to address this boundary is by removing temptations and changing your environment to support your quest for discipline. Try to surround yourself with people and activities who will reinforce your long-term goals, especially if you’re early in your journey. Hanging out in the smoker’s table is not a great place to quit smoking.

The following reasons we say yes when we want to say no are a little more complicated. When we put the needs of other above our own it often stems from low-self worth. We want to be liked, accepted and validated by others. As a result, we often do what others expect or want from us to gain their approval.

The day you start caring more about what you think about yourself as opposed to what others think about you, is the day you stop sacrificing your life for others.

how to be more disciplined
Removing distractions and coming back to yourself allows you to connect with your gifts.

Have Fun Being Disciplined

What have I learned from researching discipline? Discipline isn’t stale, boring or restrictive. Discipline is the gateway to enhanced creativity, self-respect and the realization of our potential.

Give yourself the chance to hone your skills and reach your full potential. You simply won’t reach your highest capabilities without first making friends with discipline.

You’re doing yourself a disservice every time you choose to scroll your phone and distract yourself from sitting down and doing the work you need to do.

At the end of the day, you owe it to yourself to experiment with implementing a daily discipline routine and seeing if you can better your life.