(re)Discovering Discipline

As I’m sure many of you know I was once a pretty good athlete. I am that typical “peaked in high school” type of former athlete, where once I got to university and fell in love with partying and laziness I fell away from that life. Unlike those other peaked in high school types I don’t blame my failures on an injury, or the world at large, I know I am 100% responsible for every failure in my life (well, except one).

The reason I fell apart in University was due to lack of discipline. University is a big shift from the structure of high school where nearly every minute is controlled by other people. It’s easy to be disciplined in an environment like that. Skipping class is a punishable offence, all your friends (in my case) are playing sports so you do too and missing practise means getting kicked off the team and no longer being able to hang out with your friends.

To be undisciplined in an environment like that probably takes more effort than just going with it. Then you’re tossed into university where you can do whatever the hell you want. All my friends went to different schools and I made new friends. I could be the master of my own time and slowly that discipline faded as I learned that the only person I had to report to was me.

First year of University I was handing in essays on time, studying hard, going to the gym every day and being a model person. Sure I partied a little too much but I actually had a lot of free time (as I didn’t need a part time job thanks to my savings and parents).

Slowly that slipped away as I learned that I could be lazy and still get grades that kept me off academic probation. I fell into a place where I did the bare minimum. I got fat, I drank too much and became an all round pretty bad human. It wasn’t until I missed an assignment deadline in third year that I finally came around to what I was doing. To how I was giving up.

For me things are a little different than the average person, it’s unbelievably easy for me to fall into a well of depression and darkness, mostly because I’ve been battling depression since I can remember. So if I start to give into that desire to just quit it slowly rolls into a full blown avalanche. Honestly, to this day my life is marked by a series of fits and starts. Failures, recoveries and then failures. I feel that my life is a loop of almost reaching a place of success before I give up and give into my disease.

I’ve been spending a lot of time looking back lately, trying to figure out what changed. In high school (paradoxically) I was on average the happiest I’ve been. Sure there was adolescent moodiness and yes I was still depressed but I think that my baseline was much higher. I’ve been trying to figure out what was different, why I felt good during a time when most people struggle. Why I enjoyed a time that most people look back on with hatred.

I realized that it comes down to discipline. I was happy because I was living a life of discipline. A life of five AM mornings and 11 PM evenings. A life of fitness, daily work and nearly non-stop movement toward one goal or another.

Even in my adult life, the periods I’ve been the most stable and the most content have been the ones where I’ve forced myself to work. The ones where I practiced discipline. When I accept that all my failures are my own fault and realize that failure comes down to lack of discipline I realize that success will follow with discipline.

Rediscovering discipline will be that which make my life one worth living. It’s all too easy to fall into a life of mediocrity, it’s discipline that will set me free. The best part is that I know how to live that life because I’ve lived it before. It’s a life of doing that which one does not immediately want to do.

There are plenty of people out there pushing that self motivation discipline message and I make no claims at being a guru. I would honestly tell anyone coming to me for life advice to go somewhere else, my life is not one to be imitated. I’m a 28-year-old failure, please don’t imitate me. However, for myself I think I have come to a point where I know what I must do.

There is a line from a speaker / podcaster, a former navy SEAL Jocko Willink, that really brought this home to me. When asked what to do when you really just feel like resting he answers: “Don’t take today off”. You can take tomorrow off, but just get through today. Chances are that when tomorrow comes you’ll be feeling it again. And if you still feel like resting then maybe rest, or maybe follow that same advice and procrastinate on quitting. Keep putting off that desire to quit to tomorrow.

It’s a version of the advice they give you in Alcoholics Anonymous, you don’t have to be sober for your whole life, just be sober today. Just be sober for the next hour. Just be sober for the next minute. Then when the next minute comes you tell yourself, one more minute. You keep putting off that drink, on minute at a time. Life takes places in these minutes.

Looking at a life of hard work and struggle is overwhelming, of course when you look at another 40 plus years of pain, hard work and effort you’re going to feel overwhelmed and want to quit. So look at the next hour, and then maybe quit tomorrow, just don’t quit today. That, for me, is the essence of discipline.

Discipline is not never wanting to quit, it is wanting to quit almost all the time but putting it off until the next minute, the next hour, the next day, the next week. Break things down small enough and 40 years becomes nothing. It becomes a series of manageable moments.

That’s not advice from me, that’s advice from actually successful people so you can trust it. Returning to a life of discipline has already started to help me. I’ve been working on it for the past ninety days and I’ve accomplished some things I thought I never would. Sure there is a lot of work I still need to do and yes I am not even close to disciplined enough, but that’s fine, I just need to keep going for another minute, just need to keep putting off quitting until tomorrow.

Oh, and for those that are wondering, my one failure that was out of my control was my rejection from the military on medical grounds. That’s the one failure that I can’t blame on myself, I have no control over my genetic make up so I won’t hold that one against me (I can actually blame my parents for that one haha). But that’s one failure out of tens of thousands, so on the vast average my failures are my fault. I think that applies to most people, take an honest look at your failures and stop blaming the world for a minute, chances are that you are the cause of that failure.

For example, let’s say that you applied at Google to become a developer and didn’t get hired. Sure you could blame their hiring practices, or the lack of privilege and how the kids with rich parents who could afford to go to the best schools had an unfair edge, but at the end of the day you could still do better. You could take that rejection and instead of blaming the world, spend the next year becoming the best developer you could be. Making amazing apps, growing as much as possible, taking part in hackathons, learning like you’re addicted to books, and then apply again. If you still got rejected you could keep pushing, keep trying to get better, keep building amazing things and keep banging on that door until they hired you or until you became such an amazing developer you no longer needed a job at Google.

Most failures are your fault, but that’s a good thing because that means you can correct it with hard work and proper effort. Obviously, if you can’t become a fighter pilot because you were born blind there is nothing to be done about that, but if you spend some honest time thinking about it I think you can tell when your failure is your fault.

Bit of a side rant there, sorry about that. Any way, best of luck to all of you in your endeavors and maybe give a disciplined a life a try and see if that helps you on your own path. Thanks for reading.

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