Discipline for Freedom

Discipline is definitely a word that we hear thrown around a lot at the first of each New Year, but its not long afterwards and it seems to get thrown right back out the door. Ugh!

If you’re like me, you probably excel at planning your personal discipline regimen (PDR),  but perhaps lack the follow-through (ahem, discipline) to maintain what you’ve planned.

Maybe that’s for good reason too. I mean, who can really plan for every eventuality, or anticipate the obstacles they’ll encounter? So, where does planning factor into our PDR?

The World War II leader and U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower recalls a “statement I heard long ago in the Army”:


Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.

Now, certainly, there are no perfect plans, but planning is nevertheless indispensable. So, what’s the catch? Why do we so often fail in the follow-through required to get us there?

Plans intersect routines

The famed Brazilian footballer Pelè is noted as saying,


“Success is no accident.

It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice and most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do.”

But, that’s just it, right? Nobody loves discipline, not for discipline’s sake! But, maybe Pelè and King Solomon (today, synonymous with wisdom), had it right: love is a motivator.


If you love learning, you love the discipline that goes with it—
    how shortsighted to refuse correction!

Our routines define what’s really of value to us, as we generally spend our time on what really matters. But, you know as well as I do, our priorities can get hijacked. So, we’ll have to dig a little deeper than that to find our motivators. What is it that we really love?


Last year, I read his excellent book, You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit by James K. A. Smith. According to Smith,

“Discipline is aimed at formation for a specific end, and that end is determined by our founding narrative.”

Our founding narrative is our base pursuit, around which we create “liturgies” or habits. Put another way and formed as a question: what are we really after, what is it that we really want, and what’s behind those cliché New Year’s phrases? Why do they tug at our hearts? I mean, are we that bad, do we need a “new” us? What’s motivating us forward?

Lack of discipline = risk

Let’s flip that question around. What might we risk or lose if we reject the discipline that our lives really need? Most of us could use some extra stability and we’d like to see some progress on our goals. Without discipline, we risk things getting out of control, going off the rails. We risk never seeing our well-laid plans come to fruition, perhaps even going backwards instead of advancing. Let’s stop right there and come to terms with discipline.

Here are some thoughts, courtesy of various online dictionaries:
control gained by requiring that rules or orders be obeyed and punishing bad behaviours
the ability to keep working at something that is difficult
a regimen that develops or improves a skill
So, let’s say that discipline and developing a PDR gives us some added control over our lives. Not the circumstances that life throws at us, obviously, but some new leverage.
A strategic advantage – or tactical edge – is for those who plan and think through their execution in advance. The probability of our success is driven by our planning for it!

Discipline for freedom

Let’s go back a year, when I started implementing new morning rituals and personal discipline regimens. I was inspired by some blogs the likes of Michael Hyatt and Zen Habits, recounting the manifold benefits of rising early, slaying dragons and developing morning rituals or routines. Honestly, my motivation was more related to finding a strategy to get my stress levels under control, than an advantage over my workload.
I can say that I’ve benefited greatly from the past year of “personal training”, but there’s one particularly unexpected asset I’ve gained that I want to share with you: it’s freedom.
Remember that word control from above? What if what we mean by a new us is really getting some new control over parts of our lives that have gone wayward, down the wrong path, or ended up in a ditch? Freedom is a word that recalls liberation and restraints being removed, but could it also place new restraints in place? New control?

Find your motivator

What does freedom look like for you? A breath of fresh air? A mountain vista that liberates your heart? Not dealing with the same weights, burdens and chains that’ve plagued you over the previous year(s)? With the same breath, we could say that freedom liberates us from external forces, but at the same time places us under internal forces.
What is it that you’d love to attain? what would you love to do that you’ve never done? what kind of person would you love to be for your loved-ones? What do you aspire to?

Discipline paves the road


Discipline Equals Freedom: Field Manual
I’m reading a book this month by Jocko Willink, something that a kind friend of mine from the states took it upon himself to send me – thank you! In some ways, it’s a follow up to his New York Time’s Bestseller, Extreme Ownership, itself an excellent read which I highly recommend. It’s worth the price for its inspiring stories of heroism and lessons in personal responsibility (i.e. extreme ownership), leaders and entrepreneurs take note!

 Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win (New Edition)

A little less than scholarly, but definitely inspiring and thought-provoking, his new book DEF acts as a personal trainer, mentor, and drill-instructor for life. It’s choc full of battlefield mantras and drill-instructor(esque) statements. But, most importantly, it invites us to come under the tutelage of discipline. Willink will not rest until we too find the kind of freedom that he believes is derived only from a lifestyle of discipline.

“There is only one way,” he drills into his readers.

Discipline: the root of all good qualities.

More than pros and cons

The narrow path of discipline is not just a better way of living, it’s the only way of living.

When asked what drives him, the “why” behind his methodology, the logic of discipline, (his days as a Navy Seal commander being long gone), Willink cites his battle-readiness:

“When I was younger, I was preparing for war. I knew that somewhere out there, another man was also preparing. That man was my enemy. He was working, training, planning, and preparing to meet me on the battlefield. I didn’t know when. I didn’t know where. But I knew that at some point: we would meet. And I wanted to be ready.”

Freedom is lost when we are unprepared, and involuntarily taken captive – blind-sighted.  Life will come, tests will come, trials will come, and all that we’ve worked for and gained will be undone unless we walk hand in hand with discipline. Unless we love discipline.

It’s not a cure-all, but consider what’s at risk by not daily disciplining yourself (PDR). Consider what we lose when we’ve not planned in advance, or done the work required to succeed. Every day is a battle, and there will always be proverbial “dragons” to slay.

What can you add to this?

What are some ways that you’ve developed – and achieved – battle readiness through a personal daily regimen or routine? How did it help you succeed or gain life-control?

2 thoughts on “Discipline for Freedom

  1. I have learned by the daily discipline of devotion to Jesus spent in early morning scripture reading (the entire Bible every year), worship and Prayer that i don’t have to decide what time i wake up or how I will spend my Morning because those choices and determiniation were made years ago and remain to this day. It has produced great fruit in my life. Now the challenge is to continue making single minded choices leading to other life long habits (eating healthy and exercising consistently:) to find the same discipline and freedom for years to come! Geezz!! Well done Brian!

    1. Great perspective, Toni, thanks for your comment. You point towards “decision fatigue” or what I’ve heard called “the choice paradox”. Essentially, by giving yourself less decisions to make on a daily basis (e.g. when to get up and what to do first, by prioritising your spiritual life, health and well-being), you’re really freeing yourself up to live, think and breathe on another level. Who can put a price on focus or “single-mindedness” leading us to develop better, life-enriching habits? Love it, great stuff!

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