How to Build Discipline - My Story

The word “discipline” scares a lot of people. What goes through your head when you hear the word discipline? Perhaps it’s the concept of being disciplined—punished. Or maybe it’s an image of a drill sergeant keeping the troops in line. Does that one fanatical friend come to mind? They seem to be stuck in rut—all they ever talk about is that one thing. Never mind the fact they are the best at doing that one thing—can’t they talk about anything else from time to time?

Whatever your interpretation of discipline is, it’s often an intimidating concept.

What if, just for a moment, we looked at discipline as a route to personal freedom?

Up until the last ten years or so of my life (for context, I am 33 at the time of writing this), I was not the most organized or driven person. I would alight upon certain ideas or desires but put forth minimal effort to actually make them happen. Content to “go with the flow” of whatever happened to me, I just coasted through life. Looking back, I was not particularly happy, but neither was I really upset about anything either.

I was very neutral...about everything.

What does this have to do with discipline? Because I was content to “go with the flow” and let life happen to me, I didn’t have any constructive habits. Heck, I didn’t really have any habits, period. When my life finally came completely unraveled ten years ago, I started to look at ways to better myself. Since then I have started and tried new things, attempted to break bad habits, failed repeatedly, and picked myself up to try again—over and over again.

Each time I picked myself up to attempt a new direction and improve myself and my life, I learned something about the importance of discipline.

Here’s the moral of the story: discipline is the practice of deciding which things to say “no” to, so you have more room for the things that will help you improve. This practice takes a certain mental catalyst to provide you with the personal grit to facilitate—a turning point or epiphany, if you will.

My turning point was the end of a long relationship with someone I deeply cared about. After the last conversation with my now-ex, I realized I had nothing going for me as a person. My only hobby was sitting in my room and playing video games by myself with no human interaction and wasting countless hours on StumbleUpon, a web platform which would take you to a random website based on your stated interests. Now, those activities in and of themselves are not necessarily bad things. However, I had let it get to the point where it was becoming unhealthy. I was in my sophomore year of college at that point, and not only was I in poor shape physically, I had gotten to a dark place mentally as well, not to mention my lack of friends and tenuous grasp on a passing GPA.

Fast forward to a few years ago, when I finally worked up the courage to read a book by Jocko Willink called Discipline is Freedom (link goes to a non-affiliate Amazon page for the book). By this time, I had read dozens of books on entrepreneurship and self-improvement that had given me lots of different ideas and methods which I had tried—some of which had even stuck! I was dubious about reading a book written by a hardcore former Marine, but I quickly discovered the book has some very sound concepts. Even if you aren’t keen on the idea of learning from a Marine for any number of reasons—the military mindset, the intensity of the person, lack of desire to have anything to do with the military, etc.—I would still encourage you to give this book a shot. It’s a very easy and quick read.

Discipline Equals Freedom helped me start to get my own thoughts in order around discipline. Here are the core concepts that I’d like to share with you, based on my own life experiences and reflection.

Saying No

How many things do you turn down on a regular basis? What kind of things do you turn down? We are all subject to the same 24-hour hour days and we each have our own unique levels of energy, ability, and drive. If you don’t say “o” to certain things in order to free up time for more impactful things, then you stand little chance of ending up where you want to be in life. If you “go with the flow” and let life happen to you, you’re going to end up in a place that other people have put you—a place which serves their devices and desires rather than yours. Making your own goals and desires a priority will often mean you have to turn down things that might make you or others unhappy, at least in the short term. This leads to the next concept.

Clarity of Purpose

If you don’t know what you want out of life, it’s hard to pick a direction. I get it: finding what you want out of life is often a daunting task in and of itself—the Protagonist team has tackled this in other posts (also see my posts on Ikigai). Once you know what you want—for example, the ability to travel more, living debt free, or maintaining a specific level of health—it becomes much easier to find habits and set goals that then inform your ability to say “no” to the things that won’t get you there.


Drive is the inner energy and mindset that compels you to try again when you fail. This cannot be artificially created to the degree that will carry you to where you want to go. Everybody will have their own catalyst—remember my story from earlier where I hit rock bottom? I’m not saying you should go and create a crisis of some sort to attempt to set off that inner spark for yourself, but if you ever do go through a major event like that, you’ll know. That said, you can build drive over time through small, calculated habits. Fair warning: this is a much longer process that will require patience and diligence on your part (we also talk about this in other posts on our blog). I highly recommend setting smaller goals to start, so you can build confidence by achieving them.

Through leveraging and building discipline in my life over the last ten years, I have gotten to a point where I have plenty of time to pursue the things I want, like regular exercise, time for video games and books, building businesses and helping entrepreneurs, and many other personal projects. I am also currently working a full 40 hour work week as a consultant on a project I enjoy, and which I would not have landed if not for the discipline and habits I leveraged while I was unemployed (i.e. I turned down several opportunities that were offered because I knew in my gut they would not be a good fit, in spite of the fact that I badly needed money and how much they offered to pay me).

These are the basic concepts you should need to start on your journey to having more discipline, and, subsequently, more freedom to enjoy the life you want. You can find our 1-page guide with these concepts for FREE on our Patreon.

Go forth, implement the concepts that resonated with you, and remember to be the hero your life deserves!

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