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.

Change is not magic.

There is no magic number of times that you have to do something to make that new habit stick. 21 days, 90 days, all of these little maxims are misleading and honestly almost seem like some kind of scheme.

The truth is, every day you have a choice. A choice to do what you know makes you feel clean, healthy, satisfied, and supported. Or to not do that. It’s not the end of the world if you don’t, but don’t find solace in some arbitrary number of times you have to do something before you have to stop trying. That’s just not how it works.

How to make your habits about making intentional change in the present.

  1. Don’t establish an end date for your goals

    This is I think the most dangerous piece of the philosophy that there is a magic number of days you need to repeat some habit to make it last. It implies that there is a date when this habit will stop being a priority. If this habit is only worth 21 days of effort on your part, then it may not be something you truly want to be a part of your life in the long-term.

  2. Avoid the opportunity for failure.

    If your habit is that you want to stop eating ice cream at home, don’t buy ice cream! Don’t even walk down the freezer aisle at the store. Willpower is a fickle friend, and why create the need to use it?

  3. Don’t worry about doing everything, do what you can and be generous with yourself when things don’t happen in order.

    If your routine you’re wanting to implement feels like a checklist that you have to do in order at a specific time of day, you’re setting up little limiting factors to you day. Your routines are not an in order process, they’re a list of ways you can be better, at this moment. Do what you can in the moment and focus on the action and not the perfect process you may have laid out originally.
  4. Make your routines granular and approachable.

    In that same vein, don’t set yourself up for an overwhelming experience of your goals. Look carefully at the habits you want to form and make sure there are small pieces (actions you can take in 5 minutes or less) so you have specific actions you can take without it meaning a 3 hour diversion from you day. Small, quick wins will keep you on track.

  5. Identify mental loops that help you avoid the work

    I don’t know about you, but my brain has a specific language it starts to use that alerts me that I’m on a path towards procrastination and avoidance. Be aware of your thoughts around the work that needs to be done, and when you start to feel an internal dialogue that is helping avoid your healthy habits, literally stop yourself and identify what is making you feel that way, and take some small action to stop the loop.

These are steps I take every day to lead me incrementally towards my goals. How do you find ways to keep your goals and routines top of mind an manageable?

Habits You Love are Habits that Last

After reading a bunch on what makes routines stick – one of the things I’ve found to be too, too true in my own life is that I stick with routines that I actually like far more often than ones that are a pain. That may sound super obvious but it’s also a little counterintuitive to the whole “change your life live different” industry. I feel that most people seek to reach goals via brute force – This is where the seeds of failure are planted. Eventually you just get tired of feeling deprived and limited and quit.

I read this article the other day and was knocked over by how much sense it made. The key to this discussion is the difference between having self-control, and having to exercise willpower.

“In these rigorous tests, people who say they’re great at self-control aren’t much better at controlling themselves than the rest of us.”

These studies showed that what actually proves to be more useful to those individuals with higher levels of success in their lives, wasn’t their ability to exercise self-control through willpower, but the avoidance of temptation in the first place.

Habits that Linger

That may sound discouraging. How are we to build healthy habits from scratch if willpower is not going to help us, and may actual hurt? I’d implore you to think of this in a different way. Let’s start with the best news: you’re trying too hard.

Okay, maybe “too hard” isn’t the issue, but this information tells us we need to try smarter

“The people who exercised more effortful self-control also reported feeling more depleted. So not only were they not meeting their goals, they were also exhausted from trying.”

Find steps in your routine that make you feel grateful and satisfied.

Your habits, your journey in life is not going to look like someone else’s. Invest some time in identifying what healthy things feel gratifying to you. What routines or activities not only make you feel like you’re on the right path, but also just make you happy and satisfied. Lean towards those activities and let them support you

Avoid the Unnecessary

Additionally, take concrete steps to avoid things you know will knock you off course. Building the habits of saying no to the unnecessary and building a supportive environment as you go will prevent fewer opportunities to step away from your routines.

Take Time for Self-Care

Lastly, the most important thing that came to my mind reading this article and others, is that the key you’re going to benefit the most from is a self-care mindset. Shaming yourself for missteps, injecting guilt into your day because you’re a normal human can be an accelerating force for a wayward spiral. Be generous with yourself, be willing to experiment with your routines and your personal path. 

What are some healthy habits have you tried that you don’t stick to out of willpower but out of real enjoyment? Let me know in the comments!

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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