Discipline Is Destiny: The Power of Self-Control

Discipline Is Destiny: The Power of Self-Control

by Ryan Holiday

Discipline is Destiny is the second book in a Stoic Virtue series by the author, covering courage, temperance, justice, and wisdom. It draws on the stories of historical figures we can emulate as pillars of self-discipline, such as Lou Gehrig, Queen Elizabeth II, boxer Floyd Patterson, Marcus Aurelius, and writer Toni Morrison, as well as the cautionary tales of Napoleon, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Babe Ruth. Through these examples, the book teaches us the importance of self-discipline and balance, as well as the dangers of luxury and hedonism.

Summary Notes

The Strenuous Life Is the Best Life

“In a world of abundance, each of us must wrestle with our desires, our urges, as well as the timeless battle to strengthen ourselves for the vicissitudes of life.”

We live in a world of convenience. An ordinary person in a developed nation today can already acquire luxuries and opportunities that were only available to powerful kings before. With the snap of our fingers, pleasures and distractions appear; When we get bored, we travel; If we hate our jobs, we can just change them; and if we crave something, we can have it. Nearly anything we want, whenever we want it, and however we’d like it, can be ours in a second.

These modern-day conveniences are good but could also contribute to our mental and physical weakness, leaving us unprepared for the inevitable difficulties of life. Society has become so reliant on them that it’s now hard for us to think of life without them.

To become great contributors to society, we must deprive ourselves of its comforts from time to time. It’s okay not to travel when you get bored but to create something with your hands instead. It’s okay to deny yourself your cravings sometimes, especially if you’re trying to stay healthy.

Self-discipline is ultimately not a rejection of pleasure. The pleasure of excess is always fleeting. But treating our body well, moderating our desires, working hard, exercising, and hustling eventually free us up to enjoy an excess of pleasure!

Actions to take

Managing the Load

“We don’t just want to be fast and strong now — we want to be fast and strong for a long time.”

When you’re committed, driven, and eager to win in life, self-discipline usually manifests itself in the form of waking up earlier and getting more work done. But sometimes, the harder choice is to rest — to manage the load instead of throwing it on your shoulders without thinking.

The desire to skip a workout and the impulse to work too much are both detrimental, even though they come from different mindsets. They’re both short-term bargains with long-term consequences.

It’s good to want to keep winning, but you must understand that nothing left unchecked lasts for long. No one is invincible, and no one carries on forever. Even iron eventually breaks down or wears out. To last and be great, you have to understand when and how to rest. And not just rest, but to relax and have fun too.

Actions to take

Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing

“Keeping the main thing the main thing is not enough. Once the plate is cleared, you must be able to put your whole mind into that main thing. It has to get all of you.”

Life is full of opportunities. You’ll be presented with a good number of them from time to time, and they’ll be difficult to turn down. However, no matter how appealing some opportunities may seem, they could contradict your life goals, and you’d be doing yourself a disservice by taking them on.

To avoid this, you must first determine your goals — your mission or your “main thing.” Once you’ve identified them, you'd know what opportunities to accept or turn down. You must first discipline yourself to step away and think about what’s most important to you, then develop the discipline to ignore just about anything else.

This is the key not just to professional success but also to personal happiness. Trying to do everything ensures that you’ll achieve nothing. No one can say yes to their destiny without saying no to what’s clearly someone else’s. Similarly, no one can achieve their main thing without the discipline to actually make it the main thing.

Actions to take

The Privilege of Command

“Being the “boss” is a job. Being a “leader” is something you earn. You get elevated to that plane by your self-discipline. By moments of sacrifice like this, when you take the hit or the responsibility on behalf of someone else.”

As a leader, you must be selfless. You must sacrifice and face the same deprivations as everyone else. Sure, it’d be wonderful if power or success exempted us from everything time-consuming, pedestrian, inconvenient, and difficult. But in practice, this will just obligate us to do those things even more. It will demand more of us—that’s just how it shakes out.

The leader shows up first and leaves last, works the hardest, puts others before themselves, and takes the hit when things get tough. The more you’ve done, the higher the standard you must hold yourself to. The more you have, the more selfless you must be. Not for the sake of optics but because it’s the right thing to do. After all, it’s what you signed up for when you decided to take responsibility.

Remember that to lead, you have to bleed. This may be a figurative speech, but its literal meaning also makes sense. When you’re able to deprive yourself of all the luxuries of power and prioritize your followers’ needs, they’ll follow you to the end of the world. That’s the reward for selfless leadership. That’s the true privilege of command!

Actions to take

Tolerant with Others, Strict with Yourself

“While we hold ourselves to the highest standards —and hope that our good behavior is contagious —we cannot expect everyone else to be like us. It’s not fair, nor is it possible.”

The number one cause of angry outbursts from successful or talented people is the way other people don’t measure up to their level. They often forget that not everyone has trained like they have or possess the same level of commitment and willpower they do. They also fail to realize that not everyone has signed up for their kind of life either! This is why they must be tolerant and generous with those around them.

The only person you get to be truly hard on is you. It’ll take every ounce of your self-control to enforce that. Not because it’s hard to be hard on yourself but because it’s also hard to let people get away with things you’d never allow in yourself. While it’s hard to let people do things you know are bad for them or let them slack off when you see so much more in them, you have to. This is because you don’t have full control over their lives, and if you can’t get to a place where you live and let them live, you’ll burn yourself out.

This is the higher plane: when your self-discipline can be complemented by compassion, kindness, understanding, and love. Other people will choose to live differently. They may attack you for your choices out of insecurity or ignorance. They may even be rewarded for things you find abhorrent or ill-disciplined. Credit them for trying. Credit them for context. Forgive, forget, and help them get better — but only if they’re open to your help.

Actions to take

Perfectionism is a Vice

“An obsession with getting it perfect misses the forest for the trees because, ultimately, the biggest miss of all is failing to get your shot off.”

Many great people across many fields have incredibly high standards on which they build their success. These standards are often higher than anyone else’s, even sometimes greater than their audience or market could demand of them. This virtue, however, could be a terrible vice, not only because it prevents them from enjoying what they’ve achieved but also because it sometimes hinders them from producing the next thing.

Leonardo Da Vinci was like this, becoming almost serially incapable of finishing his paintings. Steve Jobs got stuck releasing the Macintosh before he was fired from Apple. They may have claimed to be obsessed with getting the little things right, but this is just a reassuring excuse we make for our narcissism. We’re convinced everyone cares so much about what we’re doing that we get stuck. We tell ourselves it’s self-discipline when in fact, it’s self-consciousness.

We have to be brave enough to soldier on, to give it a shot, to step into the arena even though we might well lose. Perfect is not just the enemy of the good, but it’s the enemy of everything that might come after. If you get stuck, your potential does too. This is why finishing is itself an achievement, an act of monumental discipline that must happen!

Actions to take

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