On Willpower and Discipline
Fragments from imaginary dialogues
“What’s the relation between Discipline and Willpower?”
“Concerning Willpower, there are two aspects to it.
Doing something you said you would do, even if you ‘don’t feel like it’ in the moment.
Not doing something you said you wouldn’t do, even if you ‘feel like it’ in the moment.
We can metaphorically think of them as forces.
In the first case we have a ‘negative force’ opposing our ‘force of will’.
force of will ==><== negative force
In the second case we have a ‘positive’ opposing ‘force’.
force of will <====> positive force
I like to think of the positive and negative forces opposing our will as ‘inner obstacles‘ (and part of the ‘Inner Obstacle‘).
What we call ‘Willpower’ is a force that is powerful enough to overcome this kind of inner obstacle.
By default, without training, our Willpower is inconsistent. Sometimes we break through the inner obstacles, sometimes we do not. We can think of the frequency with which this happens as a spectrum.
Now, concerning Discipline, there’s three ways we can think of it (well, there’s more, but that’s what I’m focusing on right now):
– something you have
– something you do
– something you are
In the first case, Discipline can be conflated with Willpower.
I have Discipline/Willpower to do x/not do y in the moment.
This is binary: either I have Discipline/Willpower, or I don’t. Either I overcome the inner obstacle, or I don’t. There’s no half measures.
For me, more interesting are the last two:
– Discipline as Practice
– Discipline as Identity
I like to think of Discipline as a practical system for training Willpower.”
“So a collection of practices?”
“A collection of rules and practices. We all exert Willpower every day, sometimes successfully, oft-times not.
Discipline brings consistency. With the Discipline-system in place, breaking through the inner obstacles happens with increased frequency, and, at the highest end of the spectrum, it happens every single time. Moreover, it becomes effortless. That’s the Holy Grail. That’s when it’s become Identity.
I am Discipline.
Getting there feels like an extraordinary evolutionary leap, like being reborn. Knowing that you have the self-control to keep ANY impulse in check is Beauty in the most profound sense.”
“The beauty of Self-Mastery?”
“Self-Mastery is a lifelong Journey.
This is but one milestone, albeit a very important one. On this Journey, every milestone is not a static outcome, but a Process, a lifelong Practice.
Maybe only after reaching this milestone can one truly understand Jocko Willink’s profound words:
Discipline is Freedom.