Book Club: Discipline Equals Freedom

Discipline Equals Freedom is a manifesto and field manual written by a former US Navy SEAL, Jocko Willink. While, for my personal tastes, it is a little extreme, I think it offers some excellent opportunities for conversation, both around extreme philosophies and how Willink’s mindset is something we can learn from, if not adhere to religiously. Check out the full review of the book’s content here.

This is a short book (quite a few pages but the type is large), so while I think this book could easily be read by most in a week or so, the questions it brings up I think would be well-split between two or three book club meetings (if you like to split things). If you’re the kind of book group that likes to discuss a full book at a time, this book would work well for that purpose.

Discussion Prompts

Part I: Thoughts

  1. What drives you? This is a very driven, relentless man. What is it that drives you out of bed, to work, to create each day?
  2. This worldview is pretty black and white, how does that make you feel? Is this plausible for the vast majority of people? Is there room for gray area here?
  3. How does being disciplined bring more freedom into your life?
  4. How does this just do it approach make you think about things you’re procrastinating? Do you fall into the over-analysis trap he discusses?
  5. How can we learn from others’ weaknesses and strengths, while also accepting that we can’t control them?
  6. What in your life are you giving a vote that doesn’t deserve one?
  7. How do you detach and gain perspective in stressful situations?
  8. What helps you push through when you just want to quit? Are there times, either important or unimportant when you needed “destroyer mode”?
  9. Focus on questioning and finding knowledge – both of yourself and your environment or peers. How can we get better by asking better questions.
  10. How did the “Hold the Line” section hit you? Are there times when you’ve had something like a donut or cookie and thought “Man, was this worth it?”
  11. What do you think of his almost total negation of “failure”. Failure is either something to fear or is “good”.

Part II: Actions

  1. Physical fitness or exercise is central to Willink’s philosophy, part of how he approaches seemingly everything. Is this something that’s required to live a healthy or successful life?
  2. How can you use stress to improve yourself?
  3. How does discipline give you a “psychological edge?”
  4. Sleep is seen by many as one of the most important parts of health. How do you promote good sleep habits in your life?
  5. Do you see being prepared for a physical fight as something you feel is in the forefront of your mind on a given day?
  6. What parts of you diet does this philosophy attack? Did he persuade you that you need to make a change?

If your group would like to add additional prompts or activities around the exercise portion of the book have at it! For me they were interesting to look through but are maybe not pertinent to a discussion group.

What do you think of the book? Did this prompt list help you? Let me know in the comments!

Book Review: Discipline Equals Freedom

After reading this book, I definitely have things to think about. It’s a book that I don’t feel like I can identify with, but that I feel like I learned from nonetheless. The first thing I learned about former Navy SEAL Jocko Willink, is that he is relentless. I am so inspired by him, both the philosophy he’s written down in this book, and his service to his country. The philosophy recorded in this manifesto is what I would call extreme, and maybe won’t fit for all people, but offers us some tactics that I think anyone can use. His commitment to a lifestyle of utter discipline is worth studying, and it also has some great tips for some new workouts and health choices to check out. 

On self-discipline

By far the loudest call I heard in this very rhythmically written book was that there are no hacks, there is nothing besides your own choices and decisions every day that will make you successful. 

“Self-discipline, as the very term implies, comes from the SELF. YOU. It comes when you make a decision to be disciplined. When you make a decision to be better. When you make a decision to do more, to BE more. Self-discipline comes when you decide to make a mark on the world.”

In Willink’s mind, being motivated isn’t a part of the “will I do this or not” equation. Discipline frees him from needing to make choices based on available willpower. He simply chooses to do. 

On just getting started

Talking about building a new routine or habit, the language we use can be really frustrating at times – the way we talk about things is always in the future, and even worse, sometimes is time-boxed. Think of the times you’ve heard yourself or others say “I should” or “30 day challenge”. This sets us up for failure. Your vision is meaningless without action. 

You have to do it. And you have to do it now. So stop thinking about it. Stop dreaming about it. Stop researching every aspect of it and reading all about it and debating the pros and cons of it … Start doing it. Take the first step and Make It Happen. Get after it and you will become the person you want to be. And you become that person through: One. Small. Decision. At. A. Time.

And this applies just as well to procrastination and staying motivated. Willink pulls a brilliant quote from Shakespeare: “Between the acting of a dreadful thing and the first motion, all the interim is like a phantasma or a hideous dream.” Action is tied fully into your commitment to being a better human. If you don’t feel like doing something, or the voice in your head is telling you to take unnecessary rest, go through the motions, push off that rest a little longer. 

On stress

Willink’s view of stress is one that I see as essential to working through life with some amount of peace: 

Stress is generally caused by what you can’t control. The worst thing about incoming artillery fire is you can’t control it. It is happening and you just have to accept it. Don’t stress about things you can’t control. If the stress is something tha tyou can control and you are not, that is a lack of discipline and a lack of ownership.

There are things you can’t control – accept that. If you can control it – do something!

On failure

Many sources of motivational advice right now are advocating for an embrace of failure, to stop being so afraid of failure. Willink does quite the opposite – in his mind, being afraid of failure powers him to keep working, and to work harder. Failure for him, is terrifying. It is almost as if failure doesn’t exist for him. When things are going wrong, he says “good”. So even in the midst of some struggle that some might see as failure, he is constantly leveraging that stress as an opportunity.

All in all, this is a book that had a lot of direct, aggressive advice. I found it inspiring and definitely have had his rhythmic words bouncing around in my head since I stopped reading. Give it a try and let me know what you learn!

Additionally, if you have a book group that would like to discuss Discipline Equals Freedom, I wrote down some discussion notes that I think would help guide your conversation.

Summer Reading List Update

This summer I’ve reading quite a bit and have loved all the new thoughts and ideas I’ve gotten to work through with my book club group. Stay tuned for posts and book club templates for each of these, but for now here’s a rundown of the books I’ve read recently and a short list of what’s on deck.

Straight-forward and inspiring.

I loved this book even though I don’t necessarily want to live quite the extreme lifestyle that retired US Navy SEAL Jocko Willink does. The big takeaway for me is affirming that the only way to get hard work done is to do hard work. The commitment mindset this man has is inspiring and definitely put some new words in play for the motivational voice in my head. If you’re a workout-minded individual it also has some good workout templates at the end. Find it here.

A look at the crazy early days of tech

Ben Horowitz is one of the more famous tech entrepreneurs out there, and in this book shares his experiences of the ups-and-downs of being an executive. This book made me think, as the audience he’s speaking to is probably a little higher level than where I am in my career at the moment, but definitely resonated with me as I work to communicate and manage my teams each day. Highly recommend if you’re looking for war stories from the early days in technology and how some of those companies weathered the storm through the tech crash in the early 2000s. Get it here.

Re-reading a classic

I have an affinity for dystopian novels, and a book club brought this one back to my list – it has aged very well. I hadn’t read 1984 since college, and I’d forgotten how much this book affected me the first time. If you’ve never read it or haven’t in while, this is a good lightweight read that will get your gears turning. Nice break from all the non-fiction I’ve had on my plate recently. Find it here.

If I could give this more stars I would.

I don’t say this often, but this book really did change my mind and my thought processes. It does not skimp on content, and the stories and supported research contained in this book make it hands down the best self-help-esque book I’ve read. Get it here.

Looking ahead to Fall

My list for Fall is starting to take some shape, excited for a new book club book, as well as some other read list items thrown in for fun. Will post on how the books go and provide book club templates for each as well. 

If you have read any of these books or have recommendations as well please let me know in the comments!

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