Haven’t gone for a run in a while? That hike with your friends just got a hell of a lot harder.

Cutting your sleep short and staying up too late? Your performance is lacking.

Eating lots of processed garbage? Hope it was worth it, your favorite shirt or dress no longer fits.

Living an undisciplined life may feel good in the moment but it strips you of your freedom. Jocko Willink has popularized the saying “DISCIPLINE EQUALS FREEDOM”, he also lives his life according to this mantra and tries to help other people do the same. What does Jocko mean when he says discipline equals freedom?

In any aspect of your life, when you decide to take the easy path you reduce your future freedom in that same aspect. Alternatively, when you walk the difficult path, the way of discipline, you increase your future freedom. 

Two simple examples that illustrate this point:

Financial freedom

Everyone would like financial freedom. However, many people are irresponsible with their finances. Overspending or neglecting to save will strip you of financial freedom later in life. Alternatively, spending a little bit of each paycheck, living within your means, and investing in appreciating assets gives your future self the best chance at financial freedom. 

Financial discipline equals financial freedom.

Free time

We all want more free time, we want to decide how we spend our time. If you lack the discipline of time management you decrease the amount of free time you will have in the future. Alternatively, by doing what needs to be done when it needs to be done, you give your future self free time.

This might feel counterintuitive to some. For example, binging several episodes of a show on Netflix might feel like freedom. You enjoy the show, decide to keep hitting that ‘play next’ button, and are feeling free as a bird. 


By lacking the discipline to stop after one episode you’ve shirked your responsibilities for the day and accumulated time debt at the expense of your future self. The more you do this the larger the burden on your future self. 

A lack of discipline compounds in the worst possible way.

So, what exactly is discipline and how does one stay disciplined?

Routine and discomfort are the two main ingredients of discipline. You cannot walk the path of discipline without both.

Routinely doing comfortable things is easy. But this comes at a cost. Comfortable things make you soft, poor, strapped for time, and unhealthy, mentally and physically. 

Doing uncomfortable things once-in-a-while is relatively easy. Everyone can wake up early for some infrequent occasion or eat healthy some days. It takes true discipline to wake up early or eat healthy. Every. Single. Day. (or just about)

Jocko is a great example of someone that implements routine and discomfort throughout their life. He wakes up at 4:30AM every morning and starts the day with an incredibly intense workout. He’s also a Navy Seal veteran, runs a few successful businesses and has published several books. Jocko’s discipline has earned him a lot of freedom. Here are three tips that I have learned from reading books by Jocko and watching his podcast appearances:

Don’t complain

Your internal environment and self-talk are important when it comes to staying disciplined. Complaining is a common coping mechanism for uncomfortable activities or situations but complaining pollutes your internal environment and leads to negative self-talk. Avoid complaining at all costs. 

Two ways I like to do this are:

1) Framing your undesirable activity. 

Instead of thinking you “have to do” an uncomfortable thing, tell yourself you “get to do” an uncomfortable thing. This small semantic tweak will radically change your internal environment and self-talk, and will give you a bias toward action.

E.g. You’re deciding whether to go for a run you’ve been dreading all day. Instead of saying to yourself, “this run is going to suck, I’m tired, it’s hot, blah, blah, blah” say to yourself, “hey, I’ve still got two working legs, it’s a beautiful sunny day, and I get to go for a run”. The former pollutes your internal environment and undermines your discipline. The latter frames a difficult task in a positive light and gets you out the door with gratitude.

2) Replace your complaint with a short and simple mantra. 

Come up with something that you find motivating and positive. When you feel yourself starting to complain about something, replace the complaint with your mantra.

E.g. When I notice myself starting to complain about a difficult activity I replace that negative thought with one of two mantras and slap a smile on my face. “It’s a good day to be alive” or “I’ve got two feet and a heartbeat”. I really like both of these mantras and they help me buck up and get it done. 

Stage your habits

The easier you make an uncomfortable habit to start, the more likely you will complete it. 

If you’re trying to go for a run every morning, then put your shoes out beside the door along with your running clothes the night before. Reduce the number of steps it will take for you to complete your difficult habit. Obstacles on the path of discipline offer an easy way out. Avoid at all costs.

Wake up early

The simplest but most important piece of advice. Wake up early. Before 6:00am. You can do it. 

Everything stems from waking up early and having a productive morning. As Jocko would say, “the enemy can’t sneak up on me if I wake up before him”. My translation: by waking up early, before most people, you give yourself a chunk of the day where you and your habits are the top priority and nobody else is awake to bother you. Waking up early is the epitome of discipline, an uncomfortable routine that gives you freedom.

Balance is important. We aren’t all going to be Jocko, waking up at 4:30am every single morning to do a barbaric workout before attacking the day with militaristic precision. But we can all decide what a disciplined life means to us, identify the uncomfortable routines we need to adopt, and stick to them ruthlessly. If you’re struggling to stick to your uncomfortable routines you must stop complaining, start staging your habits and, for the love of god, WAKE. UP. EARLY.

If you’re already walking the path of discipline and are looking to optimize your productivity check out this article on how you can do less to get more results.

If you’re looking for a difficult habit to start doing routinely consider grabbing one of our cushions and reading 5 Tips for Making a Daily Meditation Habit.

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