This is a common conversation I’ve been having with a lot of people lately. What is discipline? Where does discipline come from? Is discipline something that an outside force imposes upon you, or something that you impose upon yourself? Or, should it just come naturally?
I believe that discipline works best as a pull (your own spirit and internal motivations pull you to do this activity), not as a push (external punishments and rewards push you to follow the rules). But how do you develop your own personal discipline? How does it work mechanistically? Where is the instruction manual?
Fundamentally, every choice you make throughout each and every day is a choice between discipline and regret (to borrow a phrase from Jocko Willink). When you make a choice that benefits you and your mission, that’s discipline. When you make a choice that hurts you and your mission, that’s regret. Therefore, I would say that personal discipline is a process of recognizing your own regrets, then developing proactive habits to avoid repeating any of those regrets in the future.
It works like this: you make RIGHT NOW YOU suffer for a little bit (going to bed earlier instead of watching the show, eating broccoli instead of candy) so that FUTURE YOU won’t have to suffer a lot.
It’s the basic concept of sacrifice. You’re giving up something that looks good in the present moment (a TV show, some candy) in order to gain something even better in the future moment (the mental acuity you have after a full night’s sleep, the better skin and improved digestion from eating healthy green veggies).
To develop your own personal discipline habits, you simply keep a journal (or mental log) of the choices you made that turned out to be regrettable or sub-optimal. Also log the choices you made that led to better outcomes. Then, you practice exerting a little bit of willpower each day to repeat the good choices without repeating the bad choices. That’s the beginning of your personal discipline.
The good news is that this becomes easier with time. A little bit of discipline goes a long way. The benefits compound like interest. Flex your willpower muscles and you’ll come a long way very quickly.
So, the answer to those questions above is that discipline is a personal process of learning to make better choices for your own benefit and for your own reasons. It is something you teach yourself to do, and once you’ve practiced it, it becomes instinctive, natural, and effortless.