Tag Archive | Discipline

On Self-Mastery

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“What is Self-Mastery?”

“What does it make you think of?”

“It makes me think of Willpower and Self-Control.”

“We could say,

Self-Mastery is Discipline.

The capacity to do what needs to be done regardless of how you feel about it. (Positive Willpower)

The capacity to keep your impulses in check and delay gratification. (Negative Willpower)

Discipline is one essential aspect of it.

Now, think what happens when you’re facing a perceived threat in the environment.”

“Your sympathetic system kicks in, which shuts down your prefrontal cortex (cortical inhibition) and triggers the Fight-Flight-Freeze (FFF) mode.”

“To be able to function effectively in this situation requires the capacity to calm yourself down, relax, and regain control. 

Moreover, in the words of George Leonard,

Relaxation is essential for the full expression of power.

“Josh Waitkin has a similar one:

To turn it on, learn to turn it off.

“Same thing.

The better you can turn it off, the more powerfully you can turn in on.

So we could say, 

Self-Mastery is Relaxation Mastery.

This is another essential aspect of it.

And yet another essential aspect of it has to do with emotions.

Most of our failings are due to the incapacity to deal with emotional discomfort

Unpleasant feelings subtly shape the trajectory of your life. Certain things trigger unpleasant feelings, so you avoid them. What you avoid is not the things themselves – they’re neutral –, but dealing with those unpleasant feelings.

The outer obstacle is an illusion. The inner obstacle is all there is.

Your capacity to deal with unpleasant feelings narrows or expands your possibility-horizon.

We could say, 

Self-Mastery is Emotional Mastery.

“Reminds me of a quote by Karla McLaren from her book The Art of Empathy

When your emotional skills are poor, people won’t meet you. They will meet your emotional reactivity and your problems with whichever emotion has arisen.

“That’s my life story.

Only now that I’ve made Emotional Mastery the central focus of my life have I begun to understand it and get better at it. So many people never do.

I still have a very long way to go.”


The light side of technology

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“Did you know that adult Americans touch their smartphones on average more than 2,600 times a day?”

“I’m guessing there’s a lot of statistical wizardry involved in getting to that number, but let’s go with it. So people touch their smartphones a lot. What do you think about that?”

“That seems a bit excessive, doesn’t it?”

“Not necessarily.

Depends what you touch the smartphone for.

For instance, imagine if with every touch of the phone you read a random little piece of wisdom. Those little pieces of wisdom would really add up.

“One approach is to reduce the number of touches. I’m guessing that’s the one you’re advocating.”

“Yes, it is. What’s your approach?”

My approach is to make every touch of the phone meaningful, and to use the phone only as a productivity tool.

The pleasure of NOT satisfying your desires

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“Why do you desire x?”

“Because it’s pleasurable.”

“Pleasure is not a good guide for action, and neither is desire, because they can lead you astray.”

“Then what is a good guide for action?”


Ask yourself always:

Is this a beautiful desire / pleasure?
Is it good for you? (Does it interfere with other systems of your life?)

If the answer is no, ELIMINATE it.

Is it useful / meaningful?
Does it grow you?
Does it help you achieve your deeply important goals?
Does it beautifully fit into the larger tapestry of your masterpiece life?

If the answer to all these questions is no, ELIMINATE it.

I call these filter-questions.”

“Easier said than done.”

“You can cultivate desires, and you can cultivate pleasures.

An important aspect of the Art of (Playful) Living is cultivating the right desires / pleasures.

Cultivate the desire to not be a slave to your desires/pleasures, to have the Willpower to let go of ANYTHING that does not serve you.

You’ll discover the deep pleasure of being in control of yourself. It’s one of the most beautiful pleasures there are.”

Beautiful Systems: Deep Work

High-Quality Work Produced = (Time Spent) x (Intensity of Focus) (Cal Newport, Deep Work)

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“Deep Work is a beautiful concept I know from Cal Newport. In his words,

Deep work is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task.

I’ve tweaked it however to suit my own purposes.

I refer to the ability to focus without distraction as ‘Deep Focus‘. 
And I like to think of ‘Deep Work’ as a system, whose function is to maximize daily productivity.”

Basically, to maximize productivity, you need to maximize the time spent in Deep Focus. However Deep Focus is energy intensive, so it’s not possible to maintain it for long periods of time.

To maintain Deep Focus, rest is essential.

This requires creating a beautiful oscillation, alternating between periods of Focus and rest. And the quality of rest is also important.”

“So we could say the quality of work depends on the quality of focus and the quality of rest.”

“Indeed. I call quality rest ‘Deep Rest‘.

Ideally, while resting, you want to disengage completely from the work. I prefer to move away from the computer, to give my eyes some rest as well.

The micro-unit of the system is the ‘pomodoro‘, 25 minutes of Deep Focus, followed by 5 minutes of Deep Rest. I like to think of this as the ‘micro-oscillation‘.”

“I thought you’d stopped using the pomodoro.”

“I had initially, because I lacked the Discipline to make it work. I’ve since realized the pomodoro is a beautiful opportunity to actually practice Discipline [<link; long].

The macro-unit of the system is what I call a ‘deep-work block‘: 2-3 pomodoros one after another, followed by a longer break. I like to think of this as the ‘macro-oscillation‘.”

“What does an ideal work day look like for you?”

“It starts in the morning, to capitalize on the very first hours of the day, when energy is at its peak, and has at least 3 deep-work blocks.

The beauty of the system is that it’s modular. It can expand or contract based on the available time.”

“What do you do during breaks?”

“Breaks are a design space [<link; medium]. I seek to fill it up beautifully. I play with movement, meditate, take a (cold) shower, go for a short walk, take a nap, etc.

As for the work itself, the content, it falls within three main systems, which every single day must contain:

Creating (writing, playing with ideas)
Learning (absorbing information, eg reading; reflecting/reviewing)
Optimizing/Organizing (eg systems optimization)

I arrange the deep-work blocks in the order of priority: the most important first.

There’s a beautiful directive I know from Brian Johnson:

Be creative before you’re reactive.

I’ve taken that to heart.

I always start the day with a deep-work block dedicated to writing.”

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.

Essentialist 2

The quality of the output is dependent on the quality of the input.

Discipline is Freedom. (Jocko Willink)

SEE the Macro in the Micro.

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“My mind cannot stand still.
I pick a flower of my thought and gently lay it down on paper,
and three more grow to take its place.
Creating has become for me like breathing.”

“You weren’t always like this. What’s your secret?”


I’ve structured my life around my Art, and eliminated EVERYTHING extraneous. I’ve turned my life into my Art.

There are many little things that compounded to this outcome, but I’d say, above all, was Discipline.

Discipline gives you wings, and you grow your wings moment by precious moment, one micro-decision at a time.”