Why Discipline = Freedom

By Jimmy Warden

Everyone has ambitions. Everyone has goals. Everyone has dreams. There is no denying that. The intriguing part is that we don’t always attain everything that we want. Do we lack the skills? Do we lack the willpower? Are we aiming too high? The truth is, we lack the discipline necessary to do what it is that we want to do. If we want to be free enough to live the life that we want to live we need more discipline because in the words of former Navy SEAL, Jocko Willink, discipline equals freedom.

Now, some might be thinking that that’s a conundrum because of the personal definition of freedom in your heads or the idea of freedom you have. Usually, this equates to picturing a person who literally does whatever they want to at any given time, but they don’t necessarily have freedom because they are more than likely putting off the responsibilities that they should be fulfilling. In reality, freedom can be thought of as “doing as you please”, but the only way we can do that guilt free is by fulfilling our responsibilities, and that indeed takes discipline.

Discipline can be thought of as doing what we said we were going to, long after the state of mind we were in when we made the commitment is gone. We’ll be ambitious and we’ll set some high goals or visions for what we want our life to be like, so we need to take action. We might have said we were going to exercise more, or write more, or begin a new skill, or something in between. We’ll begin this new commitment with ultimate zeal and get after it. This might last a few days or even weeks, but eventually our willingness and excitement begins to fade. Soon enough, we begin to think, “what else could I be doing?”, “is this new habit worth all of this time I’m spending?”, “is this paying off?”.

This is when discipline needs to be put into action the most. The mood and mindset has left. The easiest thing to do is “take a day off” or “do it later” or even stop altogether. The problem with that is that if any of those choices are made, we’ll find ourselves back in the same behavior pattern loop we were trying to break ourselves out of. Now, when this occurs we must recall our “why”. We have to remember and truly think about why we decided to make the change. It usually boils down to the idea that we want to be a better version of ourselves, but that doesn’t always work out, because we’ve let ourselves down in the past. Our thoughts control our actions because we tell ourselves that the challenges of waking up early, exercising daily, writing about our experiences, or trying something new is not worth putting leisure aside for a bit. The conundrum here is that the more disciplined we are, the more freedom we can actually obtain because freedom comes in different ways.

The first example of freedom is that leisure or that rest that we all yearn for. Before we can get to that, we must tackle our objectives for the day. I’d like to think that most people have some sort of “to-do” list each day, whether it’s personal or work related. With that being said, there is a lot of interference that can get in the way of completing that list. Some of these things can include unforeseen work tasks, breaking news in our lives or the world, text messages, and social media, to name several. Interference can really be thought of as anything that diverts our focused attention away from the tasks we want to accomplish. Without our attention being focused in the right direction, we will not be able to accomplish everything that we want. Period. If our focused attention is used for accomplishment versus distraction, we’ll be able to get more done and have less difficult emotions. You ever notice you feel guilty, shameful, and anxious when you don’t do what you said you would? Yeah, me too. It’s human nature. It can be attributed to the fact we know we are not living up to our potential. We could be living up to who we COULD be, but we chose NOT to. We’ll also be able to genuinely enjoy the leisure knowing that there’s nothing else that needs to be done that day, so our attention can be focused on relaxing and recharging, which everyone desperately needs each day because of how exhausting life can be.

The second example of freedom is that we’ll have more freedom from certain thoughts or emotions. When we are undisciplined with our actions, our thoughts and emotions often follow suit. I am not advising or advocating that you bottle your thoughts or emotions because that could lead to high levels of emotional responses, such as depression or anxiety. The better option for all of us is to have our actions be in direct correlation with our thoughts and emotions. Think about how you feel and think after you finish something you said you were going to do. It can even be as trivial as washing the dishes. The completion of any micro-goal or even a macro-goal instantly releases dopamine and serotonin. Dopamine and serotonin are neurotransmitters that are thought of as the body and brain “reward and pleasure system”. They send messages from the brain to the body that leave you feeling accomplished and confident. Therefore, when we engage in meaningful tasks, we feel more “fulfilled” because the tasks hold value and that shows us that we too have value. When we stay disciplined and accomplish what we set out to do, we’ll be free from difficult emotions and thoughts, and they’ll be replaced by more positive emotions and thoughts.

The final example of freedom that I will mention is that we’ll have more spiritual freedom with a higher level of discipline. The first reason being is that we won’t be trapped in our negative thought pattern and low sense of self-worth. We’ll have faith in ourselves because we will be able to rely on ourselves. We’ll have belief in ourselves too because we’ll have done difficult things when we didn’t want to physically, mentally, or emotionally. We’ll have the confidence to take on new challenges and know that even if we fail, we’ll have a new standard of excellence and a new standard of who we can be. Once we build our spirit we’ll know we can continue to break through personal barriers. The second reason our spirit will have more freedom is that we’ll be living our own personal ethos. There really is not more freedom that can be attained than that because an individual who has the freedom to make their own decisions, can look interference in the face, and still have the courage to stick to their ethos, will earn spiritual freedom knowing that they stayed true to their personal values. If our values align with our actions, often times we find ourselves in “good spirits”, and the only true way to do that is to be disciplined enough to do what we said we would do.

In conclusion, if we lack discipline, we won’t be able to accomplish any of our sought after goals, no matter how big or small they might be. We won’t be the person we could be either. We also won’t have a whole lot of freedom either. The antidote to this is more discipline. First, we create a literal sense of freedom, where we can enjoy some leisure activities knowing that we don’t have any more tasks for the day. Second, this will give us some emotional freedom because we won’t be anxious or guilty, but rather satisfied and confident. We’ll also have more spiritual freedom. Our character will build itself over time, with discipline. As we continue to “up the ante” of what it is we want to do and who it is we want to be, the more satisfied we can become. In some time, we can be who it is we want to be, but if we want that freedom, it’s going to take some discipline.

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