Exactly How Discipline Will Save Your Life

How to unlock your potential and build a life of freedom

I used to write at different hours of the day, at different points in the week, and without much of a blueprint or strategy. I would squeeze in spare time during the day or late at night without much rhyme or reason.

My writing routine wasn’t much of a “routine” at all. When I would tell people that I was a writer, I could barely believe it myself because my literary habits were set haphazardly.

Without a predictable routine,my results were scattered and inconsistent.

I was under the false-notion that working free of rules or scheduling would be what allows me to thrive — no rules and no deadlines would give me the leeway for unlimited creative freedom.

This could not have been more off the mark.

Just over a year ago, I decided to write within well-defined parameters. I planned to write at the same hour every single day, just to see what happened.

I ran through the ordinary questions that accompany new rules.

Would my creativity go stale because of the self-installed rules?

Would I feel suffocated underneath my own scheduling?

How could restrictions give way to more creative freedom?

Since I implemented my writing schedule, I have not looked back. That was nearly 60 articles ago. My capacity as a writer has exponentially improved since installing a system of rules and discipline.

Rules and discipline aren’t the things that constrict you (even though rules and discipline are necessarily constrictive in nature).

Rather, rules and discipline open the avenues of creativity that were blocked underneath the clutter and chaos inherent to a landscape without them.

The very limitations imposed by a set of intentional rules are what catalyzes progress. Moving forward cannot happen if there are no parameters to work within or follow.

Rules help pave a way forward and provide a barometer for goals as well as failures. If there are no defined limits, then success and failure become obscure in how they are reached.

One way to look at this is through the specious lens of having no definition for failure.

Without knowing what to consider a failure, this inhibits you from failing. But affirming to yourself that you cannot fail shouldn’t be a goal.

The opposite remains a glaring shortcoming: failing to define failure means success remains vague and unattainable too.

Rising towards success is impossible without rules, discipline, and parameters that can define the “game” you are playing. No victory, no defeat.

The end result is a sort of complacent limbo, ambivalent and shapeless.

Consider the game of chess.

Chess only works because each individual piece has certain limitations regarding how they move about the board.

A pawn can only move forward one space at a time, while the queen can move in any direction across great lengths.

Would the game be made better or worse if all the pieces had the power of the queen?

Of course the game would not be made better.

Chess is great and timeless because of the severe limitations and parameters that it exists within. If all disciplined action was removed from the pieces, chaos would ensue.

The game would no longer work.

Chess without rules and discipline is no longer chess; it would be unplayable.

Arriving at a winner and loser would be nearly impossible if every single piece had the unlimited powers of the queen.

The free flow of the pieces and the near-infinite medley of moves available in every single chess game all stem from the discipline that each piece follows.

A tight set of rules seems, with a cursory analysis, to be what would hold us back. Like a set of handcuffs, discipline appears to be restrictive rather than freeing.

In reality, the exact opposite is true.

Discipline, rules, parameters, schedules — these are the things that unlock our potential, not constrict it.

In his book, Extreme Ownership, Jocko Willink memorably and tersely puts it as such,

Discipline equals freedom.

People seem to know this instinctively, but seem to rationalize it away out of laziness or fear.

The people that you and I most admire are those who, generally, have a well-structured, disciplined lifestyle and set of habits — the ones who embrace discipline rather than minimize it.

Rules and discipline are what create the flexibility and potentially to thrive. They aren’t what restricts creativity or productivity.

Without discipline, success cannot proliferate and ambitions remain in limbo.

With discipline, the opposite happens.

Consider the chess analogy once again. The rules are what opens up the game to limitless potential moves and iterations — imagine doing this to your life and career.

What would happen if you let discipline save your life?

Phil is a travel writer, columnist, and editor. If you liked this article, you can see more of his ideas on his travel blog and Instagram.

Written by

Bestselling travel writer. Columnist. Author. USC Annenberg School of Journalism. https://philsnextstop.blog

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