Winston Churchill once said that courage is the first of human qualities, because ‘it is the quality that guarantees all the others’. But I believe we can add something to that. Something that is much more important than courage in itself. Courage being shown once or twice is nice, but what makes a person truly courageous is showing courage on a consistent basis. That is why one of the most important qualities next to courage, is discipline. The discipline to do what you have to do, no matter how you feel or how imperfect the circumstances are.
In his book ‘Discipline is Destiny’ Ryan Holiday goes over numerous principles about discipline and how to implement it in your life. It teaches you all the aspects of discipline, ranging from the physical to the mental, and shows you how you can become more disciplined. In this blog I’m going over my five favorite principles of Discipline is Destiny.
1- Do the hard thing first.
Procrastination is one of the biggest obstacles people experience when it comes to reaching their goals. There’s always that thought that comes up just before a task that says ‘I’ll just do it tomorrow’, or ‘I can do that later’. Procrastination seems like a benign thing because you don’t experience any negative effects in the short term, but its effects are very harmful in the long term. What often happens when you procrastinate on your work, is that you put it off until another day or time, and when that time comes, you’ll put it off again, and often you will never even get it done at all.
Procrastination is especially an issue with your more difficult tasks. If something is hard, it is often easy to say, I’ll just do it tomorrow, when I’m more motivated, or after I’ve finished this easier thing. What often happens is that tomorrow we put it off to the next day as well, or that we never feel motivated to do the hard task, or after you’ve finished the easy thing you’re tired, and you put it off as well. All of this makes sure that the hard tasks are not being done, or not done soon enough and lose their impact, and as a result, you move further and further away from your goals.
How you can get ahead of this and stop procrastination is by doing the hard thing first. Do that assignment that you have to make, or that chore that you hate doing as the very first thing. This will make every other task you have to do that day seem easier in comparison. It also makes sure that you can’t procrastinate and that you actually get it done. The argument is often used by ourselves that we first do the easy things to warm ourselves up for the more difficult tasks, and sometimes this may be true. But often it’s just a bad excuse to put off the work that we do not want to do and leads to skipping the hard work altogether, putting it off till the day after.
There are two different types of people in this world: those who are getting ready to live, waiting for the opportune moment to finally do something with their lives, waiting until every circumstance is perfect, and then there are those who choose to live today, regardless of the circumstances. In the end, the people who wait will find out that the perfect moment doesn’t exist, and the people who act, realize that the perfect moment is now.
“A man must swallow a toad every morning if he wishes to be sure of finding nothing still more disgusting before the day is over.”
2 - Just show up.
Real results are the product of hard work put in consistently over a long period of time. What people often forget about this is the consistency part. To achieve results you don’t only have to work hard, or just do a lot sometimes, you have to do it consistently, preferably every single day. You’re always going to have off days, days where you’re not motivated, or when you don’t feel like doing the work you should do. It is understandable that these types of days have a lower output than the days when you’re extremely motivated. But if you’re a normal person, the days when you’re not motivated are much more frequent than the days when you are. This means that if you don’t show up when you don’t feel like it, you’re missing most of the days you could have done work. Even if the output on such a day is lower, at least there is an output.
These tiny little improvements and progressions you make will eventually compound and produce a massive difference. If you didn’t show up on these lesser days, you would have certainly gotten nothing, and you wouldn’t come any closer to your goals, you probably would get even farther away from them on days you do nothing. It’s important to understand that showing up will give you at least a little progress, which compounds the more you do it, whereas not showing up will certainly produce no results whatsoever.
Intensity is good, and you should always try to do what you do with intensity, but when it isn’t there, it isn’t a reason to throw in the towel and say I’ll do it later. You’ll never feel like doing something every day, but every day is another opportunity to make progress in something you want to progress in.
The days when you don’t feel like it are actually the most important days of all. These are the days when you show yourself that you want something and that you can do it. These are the days when you keep your momentum going. When you start doing something, you build up a certain momentum. In this momentum everything seems to get easier, you get into a kind of flow, things become a habit, tasks get finished faster, and you notice that you are making real progress. But the dangerous thing is that once you stop working you’ll lose this momentum. And when momentum is lost, it is quite difficult to get it back. It takes some time to get your momentum going, so this means that if you lose it, you’ll have to start from scratch again and get it back just like when you started. This means that all of the progress you could have made when you stopped for a while and when you were trying to get your momentum back is lost. You could’ve made a lot of progress towards your goals but you didn’t. All resulting from you not feeling it for a couple of days and putting off the work you needed to do to keep the momentum going.
What a shame it would be to lose all of this progress just because of one bad decision. Even if you’re not motivated, do the work to keep the momentum going. Just show up.
“Without motivation you’ll never start, but without discipline you’ll never finish.”
3 - Be graceful under pressure.
Nobody likes to see someone lose control over their emotions in any situation. Secretly, everyone pities the man who doesn’t keep his emotions in check. No one is going to admire you when you cry in public, you’re expected, and rightfully so, to suck it up. You’re also not allowed to show uncontrolled anger, because this makes you a danger to everyone around you. Lack of control shows everyone that you are an unpredictable danger to yourself and to everyone else. We’ve always admired people who stay calm under pressure, who are stoic, and who control their emotions. We like Batman from The Dark Knight for this for instance. Batman has some vulnerable moments in the movie, but when it’s time to perform he always performs, although he would have tons of excuses not to. We admire these people who have self-control partly because we know it’s the most useful, and partly because it makes us feel safer. You don’t want to be next to someone who is so volatile that he can burst into a fit of rage at once, or when something stressful happens he loses his mind and freezes. We want people who can control themselves and provide results when we need them.
Modern society has told you that showing your emotions and being vulnerable is a good thing, and I partially agree with that. You need to let some of your emotions out sometimes, and there are issues you have to talk about or they’re going to eat you up. However, this emotional vulnerability must be selective. You can only show this vulnerable side of yours to certain people at certain moments. If you show a person your vulnerability all the time, he or she is going to think of you as weak, and that’s not something anyone desires to be. Just like you can’t complain about your problems with everyone, some people are just of no use to you in solving your problems, and others you’re just going to bother rattling on about how bad you’re having it, and they’ll just see you as repulsive for it.
Having problems and feeling certain negative emotions such as anger or fear is normal and it would be weird if you didn’t feel them. But what matters is what you do with them. Are you going to suck them up for the time being, or use them in a controlled manner to achieve something, or are you going to let them out the moment you’re feeling them and mess up the situation?
There are going to be scenarios where you’ll be under high pressure, and these are the times when you need to exercise self-control. There will be moments of pressure when everything depends on the decision you make, people will rely on you, and events will change for better or worse depending on what you do. These are the times when you need self-control, not act out on emotion, not be overwhelmed by fear, or start crying. These are the times when you need to remain cool, think, and then make the best decision possible with a straight face. The world doesn’t care about how you felt when you made the wrong decision, it just cares about the result. Tired, scared, angry, sad, doesn’t matter. What matters in this world is results, whether you like it or not. Talk about your problems and vulnerabilities, but do it selectively and in moments of calm and peace. When it’s time to perform, you have to perform regardless of how you feel.
“The nearer a man is to a calm mind, the closer he is to strength.”
4 - Strict with yourself, but tolerant of others.
Setting high standards for yourself is incredibly important. You’ll never rise above the standards you put on yourself, so if you set the standard really low, you’re not likely to move far past that low point. It is however important to realise that the high standards you set for yourself should not, and will not apply to others. Not everybody is going to have their standards at the same height as you, and that is okay. In fact it is an enormous advantage, because you set your standard higher than the rest, you’re likely to achieve more than the rest because your competition is lower.
What many people get wrong when they go on their journey of self-improvement and become better, more disciplined, fitter, or smarter, is that they expect that everyone else wants the same and should do the same, preferably in the same way you did. When you try to apply this in the real world you’ll soon realize that this only leads to disappointment and frustration. Other people are not like you, and not everyone has the same drive or willpower that you have and may not be made for the high standards you’ve set for yourself. Others may simply not be interested in setting higher standards or achieving more and may be fine with where they are. Trying to get other people to become as disciplined as you, or trying to make them realize that they can achieve more can often lead to frustration with people who are simply not going to be convinced. You ask yourself, ‘Why can’t they simply think the same way as I do’, but what you’re forgetting is that no two people think exactly alike, and more often people think totally differently about themselves and the world.
What you need to do is accept that most people think differently than you. Not everybody is going to set very high standards for themselves, and not everybody is going to be able to reach the same levels as you, and this is okay. Other people are better than you at different things, sometimes they may complement or add to something you are missing yourself. It’s not bad in itself that people are not as strict with themselves as you, they just have a different view of themselves on the world.
Of course, you can help these people get better, and you can try to get them more to your level or help them to do things that will improve their lives, but it is important not to force anything. You were not forced either into setting high standards, it likely arrived naturally to you, as should it with other people. If you notice that these people can’t be convinced, don’t try to push it on them, accept that they will not be like you and move on. You can show them the path, but in the end, only they can decide whether they’re going to walk it or not.
“I’m prepared to forgive everybody’s mistakes, except my own.” ~ Cato the Elder
5 - Improve every day
The quest to becoming better every day never ends. There is always something you can improve on, some task you can do more efficiently, something new you can learn about, and there is always something you can do to improve yourself as a person. With this in mind, it is important to realize that you have a huge potential, and this potential can only be fulfilled if you improve as much as possible. This ties back to the previous point of showing up every day. Every new day is a day that you can improve on something, no matter how large or little. There is something you can make progress on, something new you can learn, or something you can do to help reach your potential. You don’t have to go hard every single day and make massive improvements on a daily basis. That is totally unrealistic and something no one can do. There will be days when the improvements are drastic, or when you have some sort of transformative experience, but those days are rare. Most of the days you make some progress or improvement. But what you do with these days is way more important than on the rare days. The progress and the improvements you make on these days will compound and based on what you did produce massively positive or negative results. The rare days are the ones where you may get a solid boost, but all the other days are the ones that matter because they decide what you build up.
Another aspect of getting better every day is taking responsibility. Self-improvement is just what it says, improvement of self. You alone can decide to improve yourself, no one can do it for you. How you improve yourself and what you improve yourself in relies on the decisions you make yourself, not on what others do. What this means is that you need to stop hoping for the world to help you and start helping yourself. Stop looking at politics to improve your life, stop looking at people who are more successful than you and thinking that they should just give you money because you ‘deserve’ it. You’ll always get what you deserve, and what you deserve is based on the work you put in. Only you can do that work, and only you can decide to improve.