Discipline is domain-dependent. Someone may be disciplined with time, but not with money. With diet, but not with exercise.

Discipline as freedom

Discipline and freedom sit sound like they are on opposite sides of a spectrum, but in fact they are connected. Discipline gives you more agency because it gives you more power to follow through on the choices you make. Without discipline, we give up agency to other forces, such as emotion and impulse.

If we want to over the Resistance, it requires discipline. Discipline is required to lives the lives we want to live.

If you want to work independently. If you don't have the systems, practice, and discipline to work on something when you are doing it part time, you won't be able to do it full-time.

Socrates demonstrated long ago, that the truly free individual is free only to the extent of his own self-mastery. - The War of Art

In the short term, distractions can keep us from doing the things we want to do. In the longer term, however, they can accumulate and keep us from living the lives we want to live, or, even worse, undermine our capacities for reflection and self-regulation, making it harder, in the words of Harry Frankfurt, to “want what we want to want.” Thus there are deep ethical implications lurking here for freedom, wellbeing, and even the integrity of the self. Jenny Odell - How to do Nothing (Kindle link)

How discipline builds self respect

When you don’t have self-respect, you don’t trust your judgment, therefore don't have the discipline, therefore give into short term pleasures, vices, and other people

When you don't do what you say to yourself you are going to do, you lose trust in yourself and respect for yourself. you start to dislike the roommate in your head. one solution is to declare "trust bankruptcy", start over, and do small things. rebuild the trust within yourself. Building this trust gives you a confidence, knowing that if you say you are going to do something, you are going to make it happen.

Self-respect is something that our grandparents, whether or not they had it, knew all about. They had instilled in them, young, a certain discipline, the sense that one lives by doing things one does not particularly want to do, by putting fears and doubts to one side, by weighing immediate comforts against the possibility of larger, even intangible, comforts - On Self-Respect: Joan Didion’s 1961 Essay from the Pages of Vogue

Is discipline a muscle or a resource?

Psychologist Roy Baumeister believed that using discipline, willpower, and making choices led to the depletion of energy and mental fatigue. Philosophers such as Seneca believed that discipline is a muscle, and gets stronger the more you use it. Which model is more correct? Could their be truth in both of them?

Discipline is required for persuasion

The very first thing I talk about when I’m training new negotiators is the critical importance of self control. If you can’t control your own emotions, how can you expect to influence the emotions of another party? Never split the difference

What causes lack of discipline?

  1. Learned dislike of discipline because it is thrust upon us by the public education system, instead of seeing it as a tool to get what we want.
  2. Lack of emotional support and education about self-management from family.
  3. Distractions. We live in a world where media corporations vie for your attention every second of the day.

What does discipline look like in practice?

  1. attention to detail
  2. consistency

How can one improve discipline?

  1. systems over willpower - Build processes and systems so you don't have to resist impulses every time.
  2. habit building - Build consistency by building habits.
  3. simplification - Keeping life simple reduces distractions and mental fatigue. Leverage environment design.
  4. prioritization - make sure you are spending your energy on what's most important to you.
  5. writing things down - Writing tasks and goals makes the more real, and can encourage us to stick to them. Review your priorities, what's working, and what isn't.


No horse gets anywhere until he is harnessed. No steam or gas ever drives anything until it is confined. No Niagara is ever turned into light and power until it is tunneled. No life ever grows great until it is focused, dedicated, disciplined. ~ Harry Emerson Fosdick

“It was said that Stilpo was drunken and Socrates was dull, and that both were given to sensual indulgence. But these natural faults they uprooted and wholly overcame by will, desire, and training (voluntate, studio, disciplina) - Cicero

Further reading