Why Discipline Is the Key to Freedom

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Photo by Jason Hogan on Unsplash

What does it mean to be free?

There’s this notion being free is being able to do whatever it is you want to do. Wake up when you want. Eat what you want. Say whatever you want. Be whoever you want.

This couldn’t be farther from the truth.

If you believe in freedom as doing whatever you want, you’ll come to realize freedom is just an illusion.

With freedom comes consequences. If you are free to buy whatever you want, you blow through your money. If you are free to eat whatever you want, you purge on junk food and feel like crap. If you are free to say whatever you want, you run the risk of being punched in the face.

Is this idea of “freedom” what we want? And is it truly what we need?

Freedom Through Discipline

To experience true freedom, one needs discipline. Jacko Willink, a former Navy Seal and currently a leadership consultant, coined the following expression:

Discipline = Freedom

Does this equation make any sense? I always thought discipline and freedom were polar opposite. Freedom is the coach potato who plays Fornite until 4 am. Discipline is that dude who wakes up at 4 am to go swimming in the ocean (I swear that’s a thing).

What gives? How do discipline and freedom have any relation?

It turns out discipline and freedom go hand in hand. The more disciplined you are, the more freedom you have.

I’ve identified three ways discipline generates freedom in life. Let’s dive in.

1. Discipline = Freedom of Time

The discipline to wake up an hour earlier gives you a “free” hour. The discipline to not check your phone during a project allows you to finish the project faster, which creates more time.

Now compare that to the “freedom” of waking up past breakfast or the “freedom” to check your phone when you please. These undisciplined acts decrease how much free time is available.

We may not be able to buy time in the traditional sense. But through discipline, we can generate extra time in our days.

Our most valuable asset is time, therefore buy it through discipline.

2. Discipline = Freedom to Choose

Discipline generates options for the future. If you’re disciplined today, you’re free to choose in the future.

Imagine you’re a high performing high school student (it’s ok if you weren’t, I’m sure you turned out just fine.)

If you had the discipline to follow your teachers’ guidance, you were likely to perform well academically. Your academic success is noticed by colleges, which provides more options where you could attend school.

3. Discipline = Freedom of Motion

The discipline to stretch allows you the freedom to move your body.

The discipline to eat healthily gives you the freedom of more energy throughout your day.

Eating healthy and stretching takes discipline. Even if you work out, it’s easy to discredit the need to stretch.

Discipline is preventive work. What we take for granted — such as our health — can be taken from us. Discipline is doing what should be done, even when it’s easy to put off.

The Freedom Prison

We all love freedom. But with freedom comes responsibility. Take the wise words of Eleanor Roosevelt:

” Freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being. With freedom comes responsibility. For the person who is unwilling to grow up, the person who does not want to carry his own weight, this is a frightening prospect.”

A frightening prospect indeed.

If we’re not careful, we become prisoners of our own freedom. Freedom can paralyze us. Freedom can lead to bad decisions.

At this point, it sounds like freedom is the worst thing ever. But it can also be the best thing since sliced bread.

Through discipline, you get to experience the best parts of freedom. We have the freedom to be disciplined.With discipline, more freedom is available. 

With freedom comes responsibility.  Generate more freedom by living a disciplined life.


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