martial artists practicing their discipline through meditation

Discipline is Hard, But Only At First

Dan Sullivan

Dan Sullivan

I’ve felt like shit lately. Complete shit, actually. That’s different from incomplete shit. Feeling like incomplete shit isn’t so bad. You’re like half shit and half a Hostess cupcake or something. But I’ve been complete shit. All shit, no cupcake.

Life’s been kicking me repeatedly in the balls. If you’re signed up for my newsletter (Subscribe), you’ve heard my perspective on this already. I don’t want to get into it too much because I don’t want this to turn into a bitch session, but basically there are a lot of life stressors hitting my wife and I. Let’s just say it’s all completely normal stuff that comes about when starting a new family. (YES, we’re expecting)

Anyway, that’s not what this is about. I don’t want to focus on the problems, I want to focus on the aftermath and something interesting that I discovered about training, habits, and the psychology of discipline through all of this.

Why Discipline is Hard at First

“No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace…” That’s from the bible, and it’s the fuckin’ truth.

You know how no one likes to hear hard truths like that? I include myself in that by the way. That doesn’t really sound like good news to me. “You mean I have to go through unpleasantness before I can get the good shit?” Yeah, you do. Everyone does.

The man at the retirement party being celebrated by hundreds of people, the pitcher who just threw a perfect game, that super hot influencer chick that everyone ogles — all of them have gone through some sort of discipline. Success, true success, is not had without trials.

Here’s another one, “Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it.” -Also the bible. Why the hell am I quoting the bible so much? Who knows, it makes a good point, though. Anything gained quickly either does not truly matter or will be quickly lost.

This why there are studies that demonstrate a lack of long-term benefit from liposuction procedures both in terms of keeping fat mass low and having a profound effect on heart disease. They got rid of the fat, but not the behavior that led to it.

Since I’m quoting the bible so much, maybe let’s hear a little bit from the other team… the Romans. “Dig deep within yourself, for there is a fountain of goodness ever ready to flow if you will keep digging.”-Marcus Aurelius. Discipline is difficult at first, but you just have to start digging for it. When you keep digging, you’ll keep receiving…. Which leads me to my next point.

My Discipline was There for Me

As I said at the beginning, life has sucked recently. And, yeah, I felt bad about it for a little while and shut down. I’m not perfect, it happens.

But you know what I found? I found that I knew how to get myself out of it. I’d been here before and I knew what to do.

One of those things for me was exercise. I took a mental health day the other day… something I’ve never done. That’s how bad it got. I couldn’t even go into work. And I felt like shit for the whole first half of the day. You know when it turned around? When I lifted some heavy weights until I couldn’t stand up anymore. That changed my attitude real quick.

All of a sudden my blood was pumping, I was breathing heavy, I wasn’t depressed anymore. I started planning, figuring out what was wrong.

The next day I went for a run. The day after that, some upper body endurance work. I kept going.

But I also never really stopped. I’d continued working out, albeit less intensely, even as I was starting on my downhill slide. I just wasn’t challenging myself.

Contrast that with the alternative. Normally when I get all bummed out about something, I stop doing EVERYTHING. I stop writing, I stop working out, I stop eating well, you name it, I stopped it. That’s how it used to be. But I’ve built up a system of discipline since then. Now, when I reach that same shitty state of mind, the training kicks in.

Discipline Gets Easier as You Go On

I don’t have to work hard to be disciplined anymore because I’ve been doing it for so long. But this isn’t about me. I’m just sharing my own experience that led me to this realization, not patting myself out the back. This is to illustrate a point. Your discipline will be there for you in your darkest times if you’ve taken the time to sharpen it.

Your brain handles experience through systems of exposure and tolerance. The more you are exposed to something, the more tolerant you become to it. Doesn’t matter what it is. If you exercise every day it will get easier and you’ll need to do more to feel challenged. If you snort lines every day, you won’t get as high from the same amount and you’ll need more to get high.

Every repetitious behavior is a discipline. They can be good disciplines or bad disciplines. Your body and mind will react differently to all of them. Some are harder to keep going because your body feels like molten Jello when you’re done with them (take ultramarathoning for example).

Disciplines also have side effects. Those side effects are either good for you or bad for you. Cocaine may feel good in the moment, but it has a high propensity for fucking up your life. Running 3 miles may feel shitty in the moment, but it makes your muscles and bones stronger and helps your lungs do their job better.

Regardless of what discipline you choose, if you keep doing it, it will get easier to do because you will become tolerant to it. Therefore, it is best to choose those that are worth doing.

Final Thoughts

Discipline becomes easier, but you have to keep exercising it. You have the freedom to drop any discipline you want at any time.

If you incorporate a positive discipline into your life and put in the work, it will be there for you in your lowest moments. If you incorporate a negative discipline into your life and cement it as a habit, it will be there for you in your lowest moments.

You get to choose what you make a part of yourself.

Photo by Thao Le Hoang on Unsplash

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