Discipline Won’t Get You Anywhere

Auriane Alix
Conversely, structure is the surest path to fulfillment.
Photo by Lukas Medvedevas on Unsplash

If you need the discipline to do something, it’s proof that you don’t genuinely like doing this thing. It’s just a means to an end. Just another chore. You are chasing something that is beyond.

Discipline is a way of getting you to do what you think you should do. It’s also a sign that something’s wrong. That you’re going down the wrong path. There is only one place where discipline will take you: far away. Far away from the real you.

Because the real you knows how it wants to spend its time, and certainly doesn’t need the discipline to do it.

What you need is structure. Which is often confused with discipline.

Discipline translates into: “You’re trying too hard”

In his book “First Real Decade”, the author Sergey Faldin explains it very well:

“We use discipline — an external tool — to make us do things we think we should be doing because we’re too afraid of what we might actually want to do. […] When you create rules for yourself, when you have to resort to discipline, it’s a symptom you’re trying too hard”

That’s what I was doing. With sports, my attempts to write a book, working 8-hour days, etc. I was forcing myself. I was creating rules to stick to it. It made me feel like I was in control. When really I was forcing myself to do things that were not for me, or not yet, or not this way.

Until a few months ago, I kept using rules with just about everything. Including my hobbies. I was afraid that everything would fall apart if I didn’t. That I would become lazy. I was spending more time planning things than doing them. For one simple reason: I didn’t like doing them.

When you use rules, you use discipline. When you use discipline, it means you’re trying too hard. When you’re trying too hard, it’s a sign that you’re chasing something (money, fame, success, a toned body, … [fill in the blanks]) and that you are using the task in question as a means to an end. Except that to do so is to work backward. The thing you really want will only happen when you least expect it, as a result of something you did because you loved it.

Money, fame, and success are not goals in themselves. They are turns of events.

Structure is the answer

The answer to your objectives is: say yes to structure, no to discipline (caution, this way of thinking will probably lead you to revise your objectives).

Structure is like “positive” discipline. It is about rules, but about the “how”. Not the “what”. For example, I used structure to start writing on Medium a year ago. I didn’t need to whip myself to make my fingers move: I already felt the urge to write. I didn’t need discipline but structure: when to write, how often, how much?

The rules were linked to the side of the task at hand. Not the task itself. My rules were: write every day, first thing in the morning. Period. I used those rules to get closer to my goal, which was to become a consistent writer.

If you need the discipline to write every day, then maybe writing is not your thing. You shouldn’t need to “push” yourself every day to do what you love to do.

I have used structure to make writing an important part of my daily life. Once I got momentum, I didn’t need it anymore. Because no matter what happens, I feel the need to write. So it just happens. The same goes for working out. I found a place for it in my life because I genuinely wanted to. Now my body is asking for it. The momentum is built.

“I have to exercise three times a week”: Discipline
“I want to exercise but I can’t find the time. From now on, I decide I’ll do it on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday when I get home from work”: Structure.

When you need discipline, it’s a sign that you’re taking the wrong path.

Discipline distances you from yourself

If you have to force yourself to do something, it means that you are spending your time doing something that is not you. And I know no other path to balance and happiness than to get as close to the real you as possible. Leave those things to the people who genuinely love them, and do your things.

How do you find your thing? By listening.

When you stop doing what you force yourself to do, you find yourself idle. It’s time to sit back, do nothing, and wait. You’ll soon get bored. And then you’ll hear the call. That’s what you should do.

The call may seem weird or irrelevant at the moment. But it’s fine. You’ll connect the dots later. Just go after what you’re genuinely interested in. I’m doing it right now with baking. I don’t know why, but I love it. I’ve felt a calling for a long time, and I’ve only allowed myself to spend 3 hours in a state of flow every weekend for the past few weeks. It feels great.

Discipline is reassuring. It’s like a safeguard. It makes you feel in control of your life. You feel it’s the ultimate tool to influence the direction your life is taking, and you with it. You’re probably wondering: What if I end up doing nothing, watching Netflix all day while eating potato chips? I was afraid of that, too. The truth is, that’s not going to happen.

Final thoughts

Stop trying to find yourself. Your true self is already hidden in all the things you genuinely want to do every day, but don’t always allow yourself to do.

Don’t confuse discipline with structure. Structure is about finding a way to do the thing you want to do. Discipline is forcing yourself to do the things you think you should do. It makes a huge difference. Conversely, it would take discipline to keep you from doing something you are really passionate about.

Your life should be filled as much as possible with things you love. That’s why for a balanced, healthy, and happy life, you don’t need as much discipline. Maybe just for household chores. Nothing more.

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