Inertia is tough to overcome. We become comfortable, and in becoming comfortable, we become less hungry, more steady state. Energy comes from uncertainty and instability- channeling the energy leads to movement, hopefully in the right direction.
To begin channeling the energy, we have to first take a step; we need to make a decision to start.
Decisions aren’t that difficult – we make them all the time, consciously and otherwise. Making the right, informed decisions can be more challenging. Making the best decisions for us at any point in time can be toughest of all.
When we think about decision-making we tend to be best-served if we understand our decision-making process and drivers. Simon Sinek would term it as starting with our Why. If our decisions are made in line with our explicit or implicit principles, they are more likely to take us down the path we ultimately want to follow.
However, making a decision is just the start of that path. Whether it is the decision to begin writing for example, like this blog, or to start a business on our own, or to begin a weight-loss journey, the decision is just the first step.
To stay on the path, we need discipline. Most of us struggle with maintaining discipline. It takes constant effort to discipline our lazier selves, our desire to be comfortable rather than seeking discomfort, our mental shortcuts as displayed in System 1 thinking. It takes discipline to be brave and to be kind. Jocko Willink wrote a brutally-framed ode to discipline, in which he offers practically-oriented steps to bolster our flagging selves. Lay out our gym gear the night before, so we don’t give ourselves excuses for not starting the morning with an exercise session. Don’t hit the snooze button, ever. Work out to our maximum capability, and then we will stick to our diet plan because we’ve started the day in a disciplined fashion. The way Jocko puts it is that it is simple but not easy. And there is a truth to this. We know, when we’re being honest with ourselves, what we need to do to achieve our goals. If we want to advance, we need to work hard, no excuses. If we fall down, we have to get back up. One mistake or lapse is not an excuse to lapse again – it is a temporary blip, which we acknowledge, forgive, and then move on from.
And the more we exercise discipline, the easier it is to rely on it. It’s like breaking a bad habit or starting a new one. If a smoker repeatedly exercises discipline and declines to smoke, they become an ex-smoker (speaking from personal experience). That becomes a permanent state, to the point where the discipline required to maintain it is minimal to unnoticeable. I haven’t smoked for twenty years, and now when I smell cigarette or cigar smoke it tends to result in a mildly distasteful reaction, rather than a desire to grab a pack and start again.
Jocko refers to discipline as if it were a muscle, and the exercise of discipline as being the path to freedom. To me, if a decision is the start of a path, discipline is the engine to keep us on that path. Sometimes we run a little low on fuel, and it is easier to end up on the hard shoulder of excuses and wasted effort. But it is just another decision to get back on the path, and to exercise discipline to keep us on it.
For me, decision and discipline go hand-in-hand, and are two sides of the same coin.