On Willpower and Discipline 2

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“Discipline is a PRACTICE.

Not a once-in-while thing, but a consistent daily practice.”

“How do you practice it?”

“As we’ve discussed previously [<link; medium length], I like to think of Discipline as a system. I call it the Discipline-system. The function of the system is that of strengthening Willpower.

Willpower is the capacity to break through the Inner Obstacle, which opposes our ‘force of will’ either positively or negatively. We could call them ‘positive-‘ and ‘negative-willpower‘. The Willpower to do, and the Willpower to not do.”

“It’s so interesting that Discipline only has meaning in relation to an Inner Obstacle. Without an Obstacle, there would be no need for Discipline. They go together, a bit like Yin and Yang.”

“This applies to all values, not just Discipline.

The Obstacle is the fundamental means by which we grow.

It is not like the growth of plants which happens of itself, spontaneously. We NEED the Obstacle in order to grow, and, just as importantly, to maintain our gains. The adage ‘use it or lose it‘ applies to most systems of our life, mental and physical. But that is a story for another time.

Back to my Discipline Practice.

‘Positive-‘ and ‘negative-willpower’ are the two components of the Discipline-system, and each is a system of practices in itself.

As concerns negative-willpower, one way to test it is by asking yourself:

Can you give up x?

Either temporarily or permanently. How easy or hard you find it is a good indicator of your Willpower. Ideally, you should be able to give up ANYTHING that does not serve you, or serves you too little.”

“Are you there?”

“Yes. This another one of my most important accomplishments.

The negative-willpower system has to do with keeping impulses in check. An essential component of this system is NOTICING impulses as they arise. This creates space for (micro-)practice.

One of my negative-willpower practices is delaying gratification. You’ve undoubtedly heard of the famous marshmallow experiment.”

“I have.”

“I’ve turned the marshmallow experiment into an actual daily practice. Often, throughout the day, I choose to not act on an impulse immediately.

Another practice is setting limits. For instance I buy one dark chocolate per week, and limit myself to no more than two squares per day. There’s a strong impulse to have ‘just one more’, but I adamantly cut it short.

This ties in to another practice, which is interrupting myself from doing something. Trying to interrupt yourself creates an inner obstacle, so a wonderful opportunity for practice.

For instance I’ve made it a ritual to never eat everything on my plate.”


“Maybe most of us are taught as children to finish everything on the plate. While well-meaning, unless you have strict portion control, this often leads to overeating. I’d followed this rule blindly most of my life. Only recently did I turn it upside down, and turned it into Discipline Practice.

Now, the stronger the impulse, the more powerful the practice.

The prevailing wisdom is that the best strategy is to design your environment in such a way as to eliminate temptation, thus conserving Willpower. This is a good starting point. But by eliminating temptation, you’re not strengthening Willpower.

So another practice is deliberately keeping things around that cause temptation.”

“Is it not draining to constantly have to fight temptation?”

“This is an advanced practice. It is hard at the beginning, but as with everything, the more your practice, the easier it gets. Eventually, you become immune to temptation.

As concerns postive-willpower, you can test it by asking yourself:

Can you do x with 100 percent consistency?

Not 99 percent, but 100 percent commitment. This is what my positive-willpower practices look like. Committing to doing something every single day FOREVER.

I have a growing list of such practices, which includes meditation, burpees, cold showers, morning writing, among others.

As a final tip, make Discipline Practice (and ANY Practice) MEANINGFUL. Every time you engage in the Practice, remember WHY you do it.

Having a WHY is an essential component of the Discipline-system (and ANY Value-system).

Have a WHY, and beautifully integrate it in the higher-order system that is your Ikigai, your Reason for Being, your Purpose.”

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About Dani Trusca

Life-Artist, Thinker, Mover (Traceur)

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