The Ultimate Guide to Challenge

Welcome!

Following from Intensity of Stimulus is the concept of Challenge. This is a big idea and is core to any and all effective action. I have done a lot of personal exploration of struggle and discovered many useful strategies in promoting effective action during struggle.

We will explore in great depth the practical applications of engaging in challenge in order to promote effective action in life. Life is a series of decisions, and your ability to make effective decisions when they count most is vital to success, those decisions that count most are often those during the most stress and struggle. Let’s explore the implications of this.

 

What is it?

Big Idea: The point in time where emotions threaten to take over your sense of control.

Basically: When **** hits the fan. When discomfort becomes your primary experience.

The core idea behind challenge is that you’re engaged with something that is beyond your current level of comfort. Challenge is about struggle. Struggle has a lot to do with exploration of your existence as discussed in the Life Simplified series as well as the fundamentals of Clarity, Awareness, Deliberate Action, and Intensity of Stimulus.

To make the struggle productive, you must have clarity behind the purpose of the struggle. Why are you doing it? Then ask why to the answer of why you are doing it. Then another couple whys to each of those answers… Dig deep into the reason. For example: Perhaps you’re doing it “for your Mom”, WHY are you doing it for your Mom? Because seeing you strong can encourage her to be strong? WHY does she need to see you strong? …

The usual pair of Journaling and Meditation to dig deep into these questions is a great tool to gain the clarity behind the WHY. Refer to the Social realm of the life-simplified series for practical details in its implementation.

Having answers to these basic questions is a vital first step in handling the struggle that comes with effective action.

The awareness of the current degree of struggle and the state that your body is in allows you to develop your ability to be more attuned with your body. This allows your to recognize when you’re in that “improvement zone” and knowing where your limits are so that you can challenge and push them which helps in seeing your progress.

Your awareness itself will develop overall as you apply more awareness to the struggle that you’re in. There is a spiritual aspect that is useful to this that will be explored shortly.

Effective action requires a productive struggle (struggle that is aimed deliberately at improving some aspect or accomplishing some objective), a productive struggle can only come from deliberate action.

This is because when you are in a state of struggle you will often be emotionally overwhelmed such that rational thinking is far more difficult and doubt and negative thoughts are far more likely to creep in. To maintain a state of deliberation is to prevent the momentum from going in the direction of panic and chaos. This is a key point of development in improving your ability to face challenge and is explored later.

Once in a state of chaos you must apply structure and rules to make it through successfully. This applies order to a world view that has been shaken up. In effect, it bandages up your broken view of the world and adds meaning.

Put another way, those who make it through struggle and come out stronger are those who have applied rules and standards. These are applied to help them manage and work through the hardship.

For example, I spent a few months working intensely on breath work. This involved breath holds and reduced breathing 60-70% of my waking time. At first, this was incredibly intense and turned out to not be so healthy, but my stubbornness pushed me on. After awhile, I began developing rules for myself as to when I’m allowed to breathe heavy and fast, such as during exercise. I had rules for when I should breathe calm and quiet. If I violated these rules a correction or punishment, such as holding my breath for a long period of time, was enforced.

This is an example of building up through adding chaos and then condensing down. After chaos, simplify. After intense pushing, relax. Yin and yang. The simplification process is essentially reflection. You take what you’ve learned and you now know enough to apply a healthy and maintainable structure.

This process of reflection is also how you find meaning. The extreme repeated breath holds for over an hour begin to have their place as I’ve learned what it feels like when I’m on the verge of panic and how to calm myself. This is the result of proper curiosity and exploration during such struggle as was discussed during Deliberate Action.

The process of simplification requires deep existential questions. These include questions like “what does it mean” and “why is it important” as you look for what’s relevant. Ideally, what remains is only that which is essentially. This is a continuous process. You basically build rules following an if/then structure. If I don’t do this during this time, then I will do this as a correction or punishment.

The level of intensity that a struggle is experienced determines how productive that struggle is. A balance is important but is ultimately dependent on the objective.
If you’re objective is to develop discipline, then engaging in far more struggle would still be productive towards that objective than would be if you were looking to, say, improve your layup in basketball. It can help to picture an unfair balance scale (i.e. “balance” here isn’t necessarily half and half), what is considered balanced changes based on the objective you have.

This idea of objective-based living is a very important concept as it directly aligns with the “dynamic” principle of life (i.e. all life is dynamic, it is always changing and in motion). This basically means that the answer to just about all high-level questions is, truthfully, “it depends”. Should you take the scenic route to work? IT DEPENDS… Is my objective to relax and explore, or is it to get to work? Due to a life-principle backing this concept of objective-based living, you can bet it is also a large part of my concept of “effective living”, which is the bigger-picture idea behind every one of these concepts.

Whenever you are engaged with a particular action, the question of where your attention should go should be based on “what my current objective is”. This relates to one of the core ideas in the concept of Intensity of Stimulus where all of your focus goes to a single thing that you’re engaged with and want to improve. This will be explored later in a future post (stay tuned!).

 

Why is it Important?

Big Idea: Life inevitably has obstacles, prepare for them by regularly engaging in challenge.

Basically: Do the easy and live a hard life, or do the hard and live an easy life. Relatively.

Consider the moments of your life that you are most proud about, they probably have something to do with you overcoming something that you originally didn’t want to do, where there was a lot of self-doubt and discomfort. These are the exact moments that add value to our lives and to those lives around us. A successful life is simply a life that has had a significant amount of these experiences consistently, deliberately, and in a productive manner.

To add value is to add something that is tough to come across, what is tough to come across is basically that which has a lot of friction around. To be able to overcome this friction is to be able to therefore add more value. If something is easy to come across, then it isn’t valuable.

In order to grow, friction is required. If you find yourself not developing as quickly as you’d like in a particular area then you should ask yourself how you can add more friction. Note, this sort of resistance is different than psychological resistance to action, this friction is attributed to the action itself not the thought or emotions around the action.

Every occasion that a challenge arises, there is an opportunity for growth.
Just about everything meaningful in life that can be achieved is on the other end of friction and discomfort. It is an opportunity for you to gain more meaning in your life, to add value, and to explore your existence.

At the heart of effective action is improvement, and at the heart of improvement is challenge. If you want to improve you have to seek out challenge. Your body is designed to adapt to your environment, if you regularly show your body and mind that the environment that ii is in requires adaptations then those adaptations will occur. They won’t occur any other way.

Challenge goes hand in hand with struggle. Struggling is nothing more than feeling a discomfort around action. Challenge leads to growth, struggling is challenge, and discomfort is a large part of struggle, so therefore the better you can handle discomfort the more growth you will be able to experience.

 

How do I Develop it?

Big Idea: Add friction to the point that you are on the brink of losing control and remain.

Basically: Do what you are afraid to do. Do what other people won’t do due to discomfort.

To improve your ability to handle challenge and to ensure the time spent in a struggle is more productive, it is vital to develop discipline. Discipline is all about doing things regardless of how you feel.

Developing discipline requires just that, doing things regardless of how you feel. Don’t feel like going out in the snow to run? Do so anyways. Don’t feel like volunteering to go first for a presentation? Do so anyways. The more you can do things regardless of how you feel, the more success you will allow for yourself and the more discipline you will have.

A general rule of thumb is to assume you’ve done less such that you do more. For example, assume that you missed a rep while lifting weights and got ahead of yourself during counting. Do another, just in case. There should be no doubt in your mind that you blew past that finish line.

Discipline is something an individual learns on their own, excessive beating of another individual won’t “teach” discipline, you can’t force discipline on someone else. It comes from a conscious choice of an individual realizing and deciding that they might not control what happens to them, but they can control how they respond.

Discipline is core to a personality, to a lifestyle, and to a mindset, and therefore it must be something that bubbles up within the individual themselves as a result of how they choose to handle struggle. The reason “punishment” and other sorts of actions can be misunderstood as important for improving discipline is simply because they promote opportunities for the individual to have to learn how to deal with the struggle that is imposed on them. THAT IS IT.

This is also compounded by the fact that everything regresses to the mean. A punishment usually comes when someone is doing relatively poorly and thus their subsequent actions are likely to be better. This makes it seem like the punishment led to improved performance. Similarly reward can be seen as not useful due to the same idea. Rewards are usually given in the “doing things well” extreme, which makes it more likely that subsequent performance will be not as good.

If behavior change is sought, then reward is far more effective and it doesn’t destroy a relationship such that you lose all influence over the individual to the point they listen to their peers before they listen to you. The individual has to take responsibility for their behavior and the more you interfere with “disciplining” the less the individual will learn to do it themself. This is why martial arts, military, and sports are so effective with disciplining. The individual has committed and the drive to improve is coming from within, the benefits are personal and immediately tangible.

More effective ways to promote the development of discipline in another individual are those that follow this core principle of discipline (that is, it comes from within as a result of learning how to handle struggle, through deliberate practice). This can be achieved in various ways such as sports, martial arts, tough learning endeavors, or anything where a struggle is promised, any sort of get-out-of-your-comfort-zone sort of activities.

If you are a mentor (especially a parent) and want to promote this in an individual it is also a good idea to do these challenging things (e.g. weight lifting, running, etc.) along side them, this has many benefits including improving your own health and discipline but more importantly it delivers the message to the mentee or child that you can be relied on as a caregiver, that even know life can be tough at times, you can get through it. It is simply living by the principle of leadership, leading by example, modeling the way.

This one of the best ways to build a strong relationship with someone. Just consider your closest friends, if asked why you think they are so close your answers may involve some sort of “because of all we’ve been through” idea. What “you’ve been through” probably involves struggle, and going through it together. To encourage behavior change, influence is necessary, you hold the most influence when trust is involved, and trust is destroyed when you inflict pain.

The stronger and healthier the relationship, the more influence you have over the individual as they will trust you to have their interest in mind. In this case simply ignoring the behavior that you don’t want repeated is often enough to convey to the individual that they shouldn’t do it, if you are seen as an admirable person your mentees or children will naturally want to be like you and impress you. They will do what they can to not disappoint you.

Punishment only teaches the individual to not do the thing that resulted in punishment when the punisher can find out, there is no internalization and therefore there is no real lesson being learned other than to make sure the punisher doesn’t find out due to the fear of punishment (and not because they internalized the thing as something that shouldn’t be done due to logical and rational reasons). The result of punishment is often the punisher seeing less of the behavior because the punished individual learns to be more careful and ensure the punisher doesn’t find out and therefore the punisher thinks the punishment is effective, it is a dangerous trap to fall in.

The most challenging part of being a mentor is often the fact that you have to give challenges to your mentee and HOPE that they fail, and furthermore, when they do fail, do NOTHING to help them. They have to learn to get up on their own. When you learned how to walk if people were always helping you back up you’d never learn to do so on your own and you’d even come to expect others to be there when you fall. This is not in alignment with nature or reality, it is simply silly and a failure on the mentor’s part in preparing the mentee for reality. We don’t live in a fairy tale, anything can go wrong in the world and you can bet it will (at least relatively so compared to what you are used to, you will have downs just by the very nature of having “ups”, this is the principle of relativity).

The point here is that discipline is basically learning how to effectively work within struggle. If you are responsible for “teaching discipline” to someone, then your only role should be to add friction in front of the individual, add challenge and hold them accountable for figuring out to get through it on their own. You essentially serve the purpose of answering questions and providing guidance, the “words of encouragement” used should be those which promote the individual “soul-searching” or looking within themselves for what is needed to get through the struggle. For example “how bad do you want it?”, “who are you?!”, “what do you stand for?”, “how strong are you?”, “I believe in you”, as opposed to “I’ll give you a cookie!”.

It isn’t about not having struggle, struggle is inevitable, it’s about what you do when the struggle arises. And this is where discipline comes in. It takes practice and preparation outside of involuntary moments of struggle by putting yourself willing into struggle through exercise and daily habits of being uncomfortable in order to be able to remain level-headed and steady during moments of unexpected chaotic struggle.

The most important idea I’ve found in developing discipline that encompasses all of these principles and core concepts into a single mindset that can be deliberately engaged in is the concept of “Discipline Missions”.

“Discipline Missions” are where the primary objective over the course of a month, 2 or 3 is to simply build your discipline. EVERYTHING you do must be in alignment with this.
Approach AS MUCH AS YOU CAN with the mentality of “how can I make this more uncomfortable, more challenging, more of a struggle”. Then NO MATTER WHAT, stick with it. While you may generally prefer the thought of “I get to” do something, during a Discipline Mission, the thought is very much about “I have to“. This builds discipline through necessity and reshapes your identity. For example, “I have to run every morning for x miles”.

The more you do that follows this pattern, the less time you’ll need to invest (i.e. instead of 2 or 3 months, only a single month may be enough). For example, if you crank up the intensity in weight lifting, running, diet, cold showers, heat exposure, snowing outside? great go for a run, and other sort of mentalities, the more hell you put yourself through such that you will feel completely exhausted and utterly defeated regularly, the shorter this Discipline Mission needs to be.

The objective is discipline, not to kill yourself, but understand that you can take FAR MORE than you think you can, when you think you’re taxed out don’t listen, that is your brain’s governor trying to keep you alive like that on a car (in order to prevent the car from going past a certain speed) , you can do far more, the governor is just is playing it safe and holding you back. Push the governor. This is a concept that David Goggins elaborates beautifully on in his book “Can’t Hurt Me“.

Basically, when you think you’ve given it your all, you’re only about half the way depleted. Life that has survived this long in its evolution is incredibly resilient. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, it hardens your mind and makes you more capable. It gives you the power to be more valuable.

Struggle itself follows the concept of a wave, just like all emotions do. There are peaks and valleys. About half-way (between 30 and 70%) before the emotion is over will be some climax, then the intensity will seem to subside due to the simple principle of relativity (as you get used to more intense stimulus, it’s easier for less intense stimulus to be tolerated).

Examples of things that can be used to build discipline by using this idea of a wave and pushing your mind’s governor to handle more: Touch a hot stove long enough until the initial jerk reaction to pull away subsides, run more than you would have otherwise, more reps than otherwise would, more time spent solving challenging problem before a break than you otherwise would, etc.

This concept of “doing more than you otherwise would” is an important one. Basically, the idea is to accomplish a thing “without a doubt”. For example, consider the objective of running 6 miles. To do so without a doubt would be to go a little over for “just in case”, “good measure”, or compensation. Assume that your watch, device, or some other means of tracking your mileage is inaccurate and under estimates. Compensate as a result by doing more. At the same time, don’t let this lead you to setting the bar low for yourself. Still maintain high standards, just see everything past the predefined finish point as bonus, if you keep going you begin getting exponential return. The benefits stack even more.

Doing more than you would otherwise is a great way to build momentum.

Build this habit, it leads to incredible discipline. You’ll end up achieving far more than you thought you could. You may have moments where others challenge you to a particular amount of reps or mileage and you find that that “exact” amount is easy. You may still find the urge to go past that predefined point. This is basically the mindset of aiming your objective PAST the finish line, overshoot, aim to do more than you otherwise would. This ensures that you give the ENTIRE predetermined amount your full effort and not slack off as you near the end. Don’t let the defined ending point be enough, push a little more. Blast through that finish line!

The big idea is simply to spend more time in struggle, to push further than you would have otherwise. You’ll notice your identity rapidly changing to that of heightened discipline and far more confidence. Commit and go all in, make this the primary objective of your life, the last thing you think about each night and the first each morning. Make the struggle the thing you live and breathe. Go all in for a month or so. This is the idea of a “Discipline Mission”.

During these intense endeavors you may develop your own strategies for dealing with the struggle, which is to say you’ll develop discipline. Below I’ll share a few more of my most effective strategies.

As mentioned in the Life Simplified series, perspective is everything. How you interpret a situation largely determines the impact that situation will have on you. Pain is inevitable, but you can always choose how you respond to that pain. Seeing your body as a sack of sensory organs that is only there to provide your brain (which lives in a dark skull) with inputs from the outside world in order for it to develop an understanding of the world so that it can effectively survive. With practice you can develop your ability to control your interpretations.

The interpretation that your body is a mere vessel to serve a higher purpose (e.g. the universe) is one that I’ve found particularly useful in remaining effective during moments of intense struggle. It is also important to drop the need to feel special and focus fully on being a servant to a higher power.

The universe has a more important mission as you are just a tiny spec compared to it, and whatever happens to you is simply what was meant to happen. This interpretation allows for a removal of thinking things “should” or “shouldn’t” be and pulls you away from past and future thinking all of which only adds psychological resistance and more pain and hesitation than there needs to be. Your desire to be comfortable and avoid discomfort is silly in the face of such a perspective. Sensations will come and they will go, “this too shall pass”. Refer to the exploration of the Physical and Mental realms for deeper background and practical applications to this.

This idea of being separate from past and future and fully absorbed in the present is closely related to the importance of “loving the struggle”. To love the struggle is simply an interpretation of applying the primary focus on exploration, to live the experience, exploring the sensations that you feel and the strange aspect of extremes in stimulus. It is to recognize growth from the struggle, and that the struggle will allow you to be more valuable.

During chaotic moments and intense struggle you can find a wickedly profound sense of peace, building your ability to find this moment of “stillness amongst chaos” takes practice but is one of the most rewarding components of developing discipline that I’ve found. Clarity in mind and thought is incredibly empowering. This practice mainly involves putting yourself into more chaotic situations and learning to calm yourself.

When I say “learning to calm yourself”, I mean discovering the strategies, words/phrases/mantras, recalling the purpose behind your actions, reinforcing the identity you have about being someone who does challenging things, etc. These are all relative to you and are things you must discover for yourself, and can only be done through practice. It is entirely individualized.

Recognize that every moment in struggle, is another moment that separates you from your old and less capable self, and further in the direction of growth and success and further away from the “average dysfunctional human”. Every moment in the struggle is another moment in redefining who you are, which empowers you to choose who you want to be. It is a process of removing the clutter that society has imposed onto you up until this point and replacing it with a deliberately chosen perspective and mindset towards life, one that is effective

At the core of developing discipline is the idea of becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable. This even serves as a great metric in how disciplined you are. Can you engage in more intense and chaotic situations that invoke discomfort and yet remain level-headed and still? Maybe you begin to realize those around you complaining and shying away from certain things such as eating more healthy (i.e. “discipline of diet”) or working out (i.e. “discipline of exercise”), all of which you haven’t even considered to be uncomfortable yet or that you simply see as “normal”. These result from completely absorbing yourself in a lifestyle that promotes discipline, but these are great signs that you’re becoming more disciplined.

This leads into another important idea in developing discipline and that is the concept of “habits of discipline”. These are things that you do regularly that are uncomfortable but serve to keep the discipline you’ve developed thus far well maintained and to promote further development. Basically, these ensure that you don’t “become soft” and since they occur regularly they make it easier to live a lifestyle that promotes discipline and thus promote the adoption of an identity of being someone who is disciplined (since you do these uncomfortable things regularly). This is simply the principle of environmental absorption, where the more you surround yourself and your every action with what you want to develop, the quicker and more profound the development will be.

Examples include:

  • Socially embarrassing or awkward activities.
    • E.g. Going for a walk and people are around? Do something strange that would make you uncomfortable such as walking in unusual paths such as to the corner before turning down the next hallway (put toe in corner). Wave to strangers as if they are long lost friends. Walk and balance on curbs of sidewalks like you might of when you were a child.
  • Feeling an itch rise? Let it pass. Repeat to yourself “sit…” “stay…” and just allow, no labeling or resisting. Recognize the wave of sensation that you feel, where there is a peak that later subsides, this is a great teacher of the principle of waves in life (e.g. all emotions are waves, all discomfort, feelings, etc. all are waves and thus have peaks and valleys and will come and go, “this too shall pass”).
    • You can employ this principle of waves to everything you do that involve discipline, from doing socially embarrassing things to taking cold showers, recognize the wave-like pattern that they all follow. This pattern is a property of all sensation and thus is at the heart of being able to manage intense sensations such as pain and discomfort. And therefore core to the development of discipline.
  • Cold showers
  • Crank out more reps in gym than you would otherwise do
    • NOTE: ONLY if objective at current point in life is to build discipline, if so then everything you do should be in alignment with that including reps to COMPLETE failure.

At the heart of all of these strategies in developing discipline is a single mentality. I call this mentality the “Lean-In” mentality. It is simply the idea of leaning into the discomfort or struggle, to feel whatever is there and to aim to experience it more intensely. It is essentially a question of what your gut instinct is when discomfort or struggle arises. The opposite is what I call a “Lean-Out” mentality where, upon the initial rise of discomfort, you are quick to turn and run looking for comfort.

Developing discipline is all about building the “Lean-In” mentality. This mentality is incredibly effective due to its nature of “flipping the script” and going to the opposite extreme. The principles backing this mentality can be seen in many aspects of life where you can change your behavior with a sudden shock in the opposite direction, this is essentially what “hitting rock bottom” is all about. To fight the desire to sink into comfort, do a complete 180 and go all in on the opposite extreme.

For example, flip the thought of “I don’t want to make this pulled muscle worse and therefore I’ll take it easy and go slower” to “how much worse can I make it and still keep going”? Ask yourself “how can I make this more challenging?” This is a powerful mindset shift that is at the heart of developing discipline.

Ask “how long can I keep going” or “how much more can I take” in a challenging and explorative manner. For example, do so while fasting, exposing yourself to cold or heat, reps while lifting weights, or anything uncomfortable or painful. This does wonders to building your ability to delay gratification.

Another concept that is related is the “if only” concept. It’s essentially a feeling of “if only I can put this off a bit longer”, “if only I can wait or go a little longer…”. If you could only go for a bit longer then maybe you can achieve a bit more. Perhaps you could build more muscle, feel more satisfaction, make faster progress, reinforce the habit, build character, or develop your ability to delay gratification. Afterwards you can promise to yourself that you will enjoy a slightly larger reward than you otherwise would.

This is a very effective strategy. The slightly larger reward reinforces the extra pushing you had to do. This encourages you to push more next time. It builds your confidence and shapes a new identity around the action. For example, if you do this for running another mile, then you reinforce the identity that you are a runner as well as being someone who has high standards and is disciplined.

There is yet another variation of the Lean-In mentality that can be applied. It is the “Reapply” method. If you quit or give in, immediately reapply. If you feel the last rep of a lift wasn’t up to your high standards, then immediately reapply. If you end a cold shower and feel like you didn’t meet your standards of having relaxed muscled, good posture, breathing steady, past the peak of discomfort, etc. then immediately reapply the cold water. Repeat until you get it right. This is basically the concept of “ending on a high note”.  If you’re about to be done anyways, you might as well give it the best you’ve got and finish strong.

This, like the “if only” concept, is a great way to develop discipline. It shows you that there is always more. You can always give more. The key with the reapply method is to not think about it. Immediately go back in, the less delay, the better.

Aim to raise your standards so high that this reapplying method becomes habitual at the end of every set. This is especially true during Discipline Missions. If you were going to do 12 reps then push for more and keep reapplying until the weight can’t even be held anymore. The aim is to prove to yourself that there is always more. Do this habitually and discipline will naturally follow.

Keep in mind, that doing this for weight lifting is best done for things like bicep curls, machine exercises, or body weight exercises. Avoid doing this for dangerous lifts to completely fail at such as barbell bench press or squat. You don’t want your grip failing you with a heavy barbell above your chest.

The Lean-In mentality works so well because it destroys resistance. The utter commitment that leaning in promotes moves the brain in full alignment. Its job is no longer to solve the problem of if, but to solve the problem of finding out how.

This mentality is powerful and with all power comes responsibility, if the objective is to develop discipline, then this is 100% the mentality to adopt and life with as if it is all you know for weeks to months during the “Discipline Mission” times of your life. This is a great way to prepare you for what life has to throw at you. At the same time though, if the objective is to develop a skill so that you become proficient at it, then throwing yourself against the wall won’t accomplish that objective. But if the objective is to build discipline, grit, etc. then by all means, try to break that wall.

This going all in is a great way to get into a flow state. Recall from our discussions of the Intensity of Stimulus that the flow cycle follows 4 stages: struggle, release, flow, recover. After struggling intensely and then engaging in a brief period of rest, when you return to the activity you’ll find action flows far more seamlessly. To properly apply intense action for the sake of flow there are caveats and balance considerations to keep in mind, but to experience a wonder flow state, discipline is required in order to overload the body with the stimulus necessary during the struggle phase of flow.

As you go all in with more and more struggle you may find that your very identity begins shifting such that you start to see yourself as someone “who does hard things”, this has a profound impact to confidence. Engaging with struggle promotes thinking along the lines of “I wouldn’t be sticking to this struggle if I didn’t think I could handle it, so I must be able to..”

These personality changes can occur more quickly and profoundly the more you develop a bias towards action. Friction is required to build discipline, and friction is primarily experienced through motion. This motion may be the lack of motion though, for example the discipline to meditate for long periods of time. In a sense, however, this is still “motion” in the way that you are still “progressing” towards a productive objective.

The more action you take, the more failure you may experience. This is completely alright, unfortunately society has imposed on people that failure should be avoided and you should feel ashamed when it occurs. All growth and progress comes from failure though, great ideas come out of many more bad ideas. This is simply due to the principle of perfection, which states that an ideal is reached not when you have nothing more to add, but when you have nothing more to take away.

Perfection is in simplicity, when everything that exists goes entirely to promoting the essential function of that thing, where there is no clutter or bloat. To reach an ideal you must first build up something through exploration and experimentation, you must develop the necessary experience. Then, you can begin taking things away and it is through the repeated failures that you know what to take away. Therefore, to reach any ideal you must experience failure, it is inevitable, you wouldn’t even know what to recognize as ideal otherwise.

Aim to fail as often as you reasonably can while still having momentum. If you are not failing regularly enough then your progress will slow, so if you find you’re not progressing as much in a particular skill or endeavor, then consider how you can ramp up the challenge to the point that you begin failing more frequently.

Another key aspect is developing discipline is the ability to slow your mind and heart rate during stressful situations. When your body is challenged to new limits your mind is quick to rationalize quitting, much like how your mind is in a completely different state when you’re horny, rationalizing how you should spend your time and dropping all other priorities.

Understand this, and plan for it, much like what was mentioned in the exploration of clarity, you must plan for the obstacles. And an irrational mind due to high discomfort is an obstacle like no other.

The only way to prepare for this is practice. Put self in as many situations as you can where your mind wants to convince you of going the easier route, to give up or to turn around. Do something that sucks every day, put yourself (willingly) in an uncomfortable situation every day.

Doing so willingly is important as it builds the identity that you do hard things, even when you could have taken the easy route but instead you chose to stick with it Build up the identity that you are someone who does challenging things and who is comfortable being uncomfortable. This is a vital component to developing discipline.

In order to actually develop discipline you have to go through all of the stages of discomfort, you have to experience the resistance and wishing the discomfort wasn’t there, hating it, doubting yourself, etc. It is all a natural part of this process. Discipline comes from developing the confidence that no matter what, you know you can remain in control of your mind to at least a productive degree so that you can take effective action.

Developing discipline doesn’t make stages of discomfort go away, they just shorten the duration they occur and weaken the grasp they have (i.e. their momentum). This is one of the most important things you can develop in your life, and there is no end-point, develop it throughout your life, it will help you in every way.

With the right mentality you can achieve anything you want. Just think of all the dreams you’ve had, and how you could see them to fruition if you could just push through the discomfort. Discipline gives you a huge advantage of making your ambitions come reality.

Discipline plays nicely with the principle of life that all life is incremental, you can not go from 0 to 60 MPH without hitting everything in between. Impatience is the great enemy here as it sets the expectation to leap ahead, which is unrealistic, it violates this principle of life.

All evolution is incremental, all growth of life, animals from babies to adults, they don’t skip any “height” or “weight”, they hit every bit along the way. As a side note… Quantum Physics and the idea of entanglement poses some interesting ideas, but that is at a much different scale and the wrong mentality to approach everyday life with. Avoid using this to rationalize your impatience or laziness, that’s just silly.

To be disciplined is to own the “one-second decisions”, your only objective should be to survive the initial tug away, the initial urge to quit. This is the peak of the wave that accompanies all emotions and especially the emotions associated with struggle, it will come and go, perhaps even several times. Learn to take the hit but keep in the fight.

One of the most important ideas to keep in mind about one-second decisions and the principle of waves as it applies to emotions and struggle is to not stop until well after the peak of that wave (or after several peaks of the emotional overwhelm waves). I.e. don’t quit when you feel the peak of struggle, but when you feel most in control such that the end is a rational choice and not due to emotional overwhelm.

This adds to your confidence and identity of being someone who does challenging things and it greatly increases your belief that you can go more than you realize. It also is a great teacher that all emotion and stimulus is temporary. It reinforces the idea that “this too shall pass”.

The more of these “peak waves” you get under your belt through experience, the more confident and capable you will feel, the more discipline you’ll develop. The idea of having a period of time devoted to a “Discipline Mission” is to simply promote the rapid accumulation of these waves through the strategy of complete absorption. This helps to numb you after awhile such that the resistance to getting started is less, since it will soon become “all you know”, instead of doing things that promote discomfort only occasionally and having a lot more resistance to getting started as a result.

This resistance is often what sets the expectation of “this will suck, why do I do this to myself, how will I get through it, I hate… blah blah”. Being able to remove this initial resistance and hesitation is the related to an idea that came up during our exploration of deliberate action where it is far easier in bringing deliberation from one moment to the next and starting with deliberation, that is to say that when you start off on the right foot it’s easier to swing the other leg in a balanced and good-form way, an initial stumble will easily lead to falling flat on your face.

By getting used to the lifestyle of doing difficult things and changing your identity to be aligned with that will help remove this initial resistance and therefore save the energy to be spent towards overcoming more emotional overwhelm peaks. At these emotional overwhelm peaks you may find it difficult to recall the purpose behind your actions and find thoughts such as “I can do this tomorrow” or “I don’t want to hurt myself” are much easier to pop in your mind..

One strategy that I find helpful in dealing with this is to literally allow yourself to go brain-dead, train yourself to recognize these sudden surges of emotional overwhelm (which is entirely possible, since by definition, it is a feeling and therefore something you can “feel” and notice, in a wave-like manner). When you recognize them bubbling up, go completely brain-dead, don’t listen to anything coming from your brain during the action, prepare for the sudden hit of overwhelm by recognizing it coming and then bring deliberation to remain in control from moment to moment. This relates, once more, to the ideas explored with clarity regarding planning for the obstacles, training yourself to deal with the emotional overwhelm peaks is planning for the obstacles by focusing on the bottlenecks that make action the most difficult.

It can help to say to yourself “I can think about that later”, and then dropping it, whenever a particular thought (e.g. “I want to quit”) gets a strong hold. The idea here is to recognize that when you’re in this peaked overwhelm state that thoughts will come up trying to convince you to quit, you are not your thoughts (you’re the awareness above the level of thought) and therefore you can simply recognize them as such (meditation helps with this) and let them pass.

The key is to realize that you’re not in any state to be making decisions when you are emotional, and by definition, emotional overwhelm is the peak of emotion. This is great to develop for more than just physical discomfort but also to better function in life in general, realizing when you’re in an emotional state and understanding that you should avoid making decisions or taking your thoughts seriously during this time is a very practical and important life-long skill. It is related to emotional intelligence. This is a really big idea.

Trust and commitment plays an important role here in allowing yourself to disconnect from your thoughts. Thoughts will come back, don’t worry (: You are not your thoughts, so going without them for a period of time or at least completely ignoring them is not a threat to your identity or your very existence, again, you are not your thoughts, you are the awareness above the level of thoughts. If you are able to “watch your thoughts”, then who is the one watching?

To help with these one-second decisions it is important to make more efficient the recalling of big ideas such as your purpose behind the actions and other mental strategies you’ve developed. This is expressed through the importance of developing concepts. This is done by chunking a lot of meaning into a single or a few words that capture your purpose and are easy to recall or bring to mind when the overwhelm hits.

These can be thought of as basically mantras. They are meant to be like a truck-load of meaning that cascades from a single word or phrase. The simpler the phrase and the fewer the words, the better (easier to recall). This is important because one-second decisions are, by definition, very short time-frames and when struggle is involved the “easy-route” is often related to your brain freaking out about the discomfort and looking for a way out and this is the route that the brain regularly takes because it is easy. But having these concepts developed, chunked, and rehearsed regularly, allows for an alternative path for your mind to take, one of continuing on through the struggle. This, again, relates to clarity as it is all about preparing for the hardest moments you will encounter, the obstacles that provide the bottleneck to continued growth.

The development of these chunks involve deciding what the purpose behind the struggle is to you, and chunk all those words and feelings into a single word or phrase. Practice bringing this word or phrase up during struggle. It should be individualized and representative of what encourages you to take action.

Ensure to include the feeling when you recall the word or phrase. Perhaps it involves the feeling of empowerment, certainty, accomplishment, freedom, connection, exploration/adventure, understanding, etc. The feeling is the most important part of this concept, it will be what is used to adjust the emotional overwhelm to something more energizing and productive.

This also serves to package together a lot of other words and meaning into something easier to recall. It is like a care-package during your darkest moments. This can be applied to any emotionally overwhelming situation or struggle, such as if you suddenly are in the middle of a terrorist attack or severe storm, you can use this to ground yourself and recenter away from the chaotic out-of-control emotions to more structured and productive emotions. Because that is exactly what mantras are meant for, recentering yourself.

This is a core idea in how people are able to remain calm in intense situations, although the “word or phrase” may not be explicitly a part of what goes on in their head during the overwhelm, but a productive habit of particular feelings and control of thought is certain to exist. Basically, when the overwhelming stimulus hits, their brain automatically fires the associated neurons for properly dealing with the situation by leaning to the extreme of effective action and a calm/still mind as opposed to the momentum going in the opposite direction to panic and disorder. This is exactly what mastering the “one second decisions” is all about and what “callusing your mind” is all about.

After practice you’ll be able to better prevent the emotional mind from gaining momentum and stay “level-headed” such that the things that give your action purpose begin to come into focus (they will be easier to recall and keep in mind).

When all else fails, default to approaching overwhelm with a sense of curiosity. This can be done by simply asking questions, they don’t need to be explicitly stated, but implied by your actions.  What this does is helps to bring your mind out of the past/future and into the present moment. This helps eliminate the psychologically added pain of resistance to what is and aids in being able to slow the mind down quicker and gain better control. For example: What do these sensations feel like? Or implicit thoughts such as how strange, the range of sensations that I can experience are.

Avoid questions that provoke excessive thinking, there shouldn’t be explicit answers either, the aim are questions that promote going into your body, questions that promote looking within and being in the present moment. For example to avoid thoughts such as “I wonder if other animals feel this”, this is not looking within, thoughts like these are on the external and therefore opens the door to your mind to get carried away with potential threats of the environment

There is a bit of a spiritual touch to this, the sort of “accept the present moment”, “accept what is”, “drop the resistance”, sort of principles. Don’t let the fact that it’s “spiritual” steer you away, it is incredibly powerful and there is a strong reason why the stereotypical “spiritual person” is one who seems the most emotionally-controlled and still-minded. There are lessons to be learned here. And they’re not wrong, there is no past/future, there is only right now. For all you know your understanding of a “past” was uploaded into your memory from a simulation that just started running this instance.

On the more practical side, having your thoughts in the past or future distracts you from the present moment and thus causes quality to suffer, excessive thinking can more easily take over and doubt and uncertainty can easily creep in as those thoughts are often not possible without a sense of the past or future (where anxiety comes from).

Effective action can not be achieved if you are not in the present moment, these “drop the resistance” and other spiritual lessons are the practical tools and mindsets for promoting this presence.

The idea of psychologically added pain being the root cause of suffering and a large part of the pain you feel can be addressed directly through the concept of clarity. Clarity is all about recognizing what bottlenecks exist in you performing at your best and what stands in your way of being most effective. Recognizing these bottlenecks gives you the ability to properly plan for them..

Lastly, it is important to understand balance of working hard and resting hard. Overload yourself and then recover. After a “Discipline Mission”, allow your body time to recover and use this time to do a lot of self-reflection (such as “After Action Reports” that were mentioned in The Ultimate Guide to Clarity).

How much rest you get depends on the objective. If you’re in a “Discipline Mission”, then overload overload overload for the sake of the objective, i.e. developing discipline.

It is highly recommended to have a “Discipline Mission” of sorts for at least 2-4 weeks once a year. This is just as mentioned above, go all in into discomfort, live there, breathe there, everything you do add a degree of challenge to it.

I have found value in having the first “Discipline Mission” longer than usual, this serves a few purposes. One it acts as sort of a dividing line in your life where you made the decision to make changes happen and to take control of your life. And two, it serves to promote the lean-in mentality and completely shock your very identity into anew, one in which you see yourself as someone who does difficult things. This is simply a consequence of the lean-in mentality. Go all in, don’t do anything for “only a few minutes” or “only a few reps”, instead push to the extreme. Lean in to the struggle or pain, resistance will only add psychological pain.

The key behind developing discipline is to simply go further than you think you can. When you have the urge to quit or doubt yourself, or feel the struggle bubble up to the peak of that emotional wave, SIT WITH IT, and push through.

Never quit when you feel the max discomfort or struggle, ALWAYS push a little more until it begins to subside. This can’t be overstated, it is a huge aspect of discipline development.

Here is an example of a way you can draw this line in your life and engage in more disciplined living. If you’ve never been much of a runner, schedule a marathon in 2-3 months and use the 2-3 months of preparation as your “Discipline Mission” time. All the discipline you build up through everyday actions such as cold showers and pushing for more reps in the gym or going without scratching an itch all contribute to the discipline you’ll need during the training runs. Meaning if you already have a habit of pushing yourself outside of training runs, then during your training runs your identity will be developed in such a way as to support pushing yourself even further during training to prepare you even better for that marathon. You will thank yourself later.

That is an important idea, develop discipline by doing things that you will thank yourself for later. This is essentially delaying gratification.

Mentalities such as “but I won’t have any energy for my training runs”, and such goes against the very idea of a “Disicpline Mission”.  The idea of these “Discipline Missions” is to develop discipline, you WILL feel depleted and doubt yourself and even hate life during the process. Welcome to developing discipline.

Again, all life is incremental. You can’t achieve higher levels of discipline without going through the very things that build discipline. You are missing the point of “Discipline Missions” and the “Lean-In” mindset if you are “leaning out” by looking for comfort and making excuses.

The core idea of “Discipline Missions” and the “Lean-In” mindset, is to feel all of that overwhelm, doubt, fear, etc. And still do the thing that you don’t want to do anyways. I find this mentality is more consistently applied when it is fully incorporated into everything I say and do, when my whole life is realigned with thinking this way. When all of my focus is on this one thing of willingly being uncomfortable. That is why “Discipline Missions” are recommended and why the first mission should be longer than usual.

The most profound and consistent growth comes from this full absorption of the “Discipline Missions” lifestyle. This follows nicely in line with the principle of Deliberate Action. Which is to say, if you want to develop discipline, develop it deliberately.  Since discipline is all about willingly doing the uncomfortable, then deliberately developing it is all about doing the uncomfortable willingly as often and consistently as possible.

Discipline has been discussed on a macro level, where we have considered it in a general sense. But someone can be disciplined in say healthy eating, but lack the discipline in another component of their life, such as exercise or relationships. A pivotal moment in the process of developing discipline in any aspect of one’s life is a moment where the sudden realization occurs that “this can’t hurt me”. This is a feeling that what you are doing is temporary, it can’t kill you. Why not see how far you can push it?

Whatever the extreme stimulus or discomfort that is felt, you realize that you are stronger than it. This moment is accompanied by a deep sense of relaxation. This is the exact moment that resistance falls away and relief floods over you. This is a moment that can not be forced and often times comes and goes, likely following a cycle much like the flow cycle. In particular, such a realization may occur during the transition from the release phase to the flow phase. See The Ultimate Guide to Intensity of Stimulus for more on flow.

This realization is something developed through experience. You have to put yourself in situations where you struggle, but stick with it anyways. After awhile you will build up many instances of thinking you can’t go any further, but you do. This is the sort of experiences that a Discipline Mission aims to provide.

The “this can’t hurt me” milestone is a point of total trust; therefore all resistance melts away. It is a feeling of indifference. Discomfort may arise, or it may not. You may succeed, or you may not. But it’s fine either way. Experience is necessary to develop this because you have to build up proof that you will be alright. This is true whether you are adapting to cold showers or running long distances. This milestone is often the point of the most rapid growth and improved performance.

There are other strategies for dealing with challenge that serve as more addressing symptoms than the root-cause which would lead to life-long changes. I aim for depth over shallowness, but for completeness sake here are a few basic strategies that you may discover yourself with implementing “Discipline Missions”.

  • Simplify
    • Take a complicated problem and break it up into smaller pieces. People who quit when they are in a struggling part of their life often do so not during the climaxes of struggle but in realizing how far they still have to go and what lays ahead of them. This causes a lot of anxiety and is what causes the most drop-outs in intense training regimens such as for the military. Realizing all of the work that you still have to do can be incredibly overwhelming, focusing on the present moment, no matter how uncomfortable it is, and breaking up the large problems into a single step at a time can help keep you sane.
    • What is the next smallest step that will progress you towards your objective?
  • Regular reflection to promote revising your strategy
    • When pursuing a challenge there is often a lot of thought activity, hesitation, and a series of steps that you must engage in. These all provide for a lot of meaningful experience, you will get the most out of this experience by reflecting on where you’ve come and ensuring that you are still on track. This process also includes updating your strategy and managing expectations so that the obstacles that remain are brought into awareness. This ties together with the idea that clarity is best achieved through action, to get another foot of clarity in foggy weather, you must take another step.
  • Keep track of your progress
    • Keep a “scorecard” to track the days you successfully engaged with the activities related to your challenge (e.g. did you go for a run today? if so… place a check for that day). Keep the streak going.
    • It may also help to track other useful metrics depending on what your objective is, such as miles ran for running. You can then use this during reflection to ensure you are progressing at an appropriate rate.
  • Realize that there is a time and place for everything
    • When you’re in the midst of the grind, it is not the time to think about the pain or discomfort. You explore and experience the sensations, but avoid adding labels and interpretations. The sensations just are, they are neither good nor bad.
    • Grit missions are not the time to think about how bad things are. This isn’t the time to worry about if you’ll hurt yourself. Even if you do, you’ll figure out how to get through it. Developing discipline is a process that takes commitment, there is no other way to effectively adjust your personality. If you want to be seen as a “disciplined” individual, then you have to repeatedly push yourself past the boundaries that you have set for yourself.
    • When on a grit mission, it isn’t even the time to think at all. The more you think, the more likely negative thoughts will slip in. The brain prioritizes survival, this means minimizing discomfort. It is easy for thoughts of minimizing discomfort and maximizing pain to slip in. If you instead develop your ability to take action with an “empty mind”, then these negative thoughts will stay out and the added resistance will be minimized.
  • Explore your sensations
    • Without necessarily applying words to these thoughts, look at the sensation with a sense of curiosity. Here are a few thoughts to try:
      • “That’s an interesting feeling”
      • “I haven’t felt that before. Neat, I have a new experience of the human condition. I may be able to pull on this novel experience later to better understand some situation I’ll face in my future”
      • “I wonder ….”
      • Notice the sensations. E.g. holding back a cough or when food is in throat.
        • “The sensations that I’m feeling are a vibrating of my thought, watering of eyes, flickering and vibrating sounds in ears, …”
    • Notice that these come from a place of pure curiosity. There is no labeling something as good or bad. There is only recognizing what is. There is only exploration and curiosity.
    • Again, you won’t necessarily apply words to these thoughts. It’s more of a feeling. It is as if the sensations in your body are speaking for themselves. You express these thoughts through where you place your attention. Words may come up, that is fine, but the focus is on the feeling.
    • Notice how the emphasis is on curiosity and exploration. There is no suggestions of labeling something as good or bad. It emphasizes recognizing the sensation as being what it is. This greatly removes the resistance that many people psychologically add,. This sort of resistance only increases the suffering as we apply a negative story to the experience.
  • Build a system of habits
    • A goal of “running a marathon” is great, but you’ll be in a failure state the entire time until you accomplish that goal and you would also lack the clarity in how to get there. The real value is in systems of habits where you have daily practices to promote the achievement of that goal. Daily runs is a good start, but I’m talking about even deeper than that, down to where you place your shoes, the routine of getting out of bed and immediately putting on the outfit that is right next to your bed where your keys lie ready for you to get up and immediately go out for a run. This approach helps to eliminate resistance and prevent you from the opportunity to rationalize going out, don’t even look at the weather, have the mentality that rain, hail, or snow, you’ll engage in the habit by at least getting outside and running more than you otherwise would have. This is the core idea of discipline.
      • You can even get more granular with this system of habits for running and include things such as immediately after a run what nutrition you will consume, what stretching you will do, how will you record your mileage to show progress for later reflection, etc. This, a system of habits, is how objectives are met.
    • This is where I prefer the term objective over a goal, I define an objective to be basically a goal with clarity. In other words, a goal with a system of habits, reflection, and a purpose all built in.
  • Reconsider the “Keep your eye on the prize” cliche
    • Commonly used, but can be misunderstood easily. The objective should still be presence and focusing on the current moment, the way I interpret this is to have a purpose in your actions. The prize is often thought of as the finish line where the “goal” is complete, you collect the prize and move to the next thing, but no, that is not at all a good approach to effective living and is likely to lead to a lot of disappointment and poor health (mentally and physically), you’ll die much less fulfilled than you would otherwise be. The prize should be thought of as what is within the current, present, moment that needs your full attention in order ro progress you towards your objective.
    • This goes to show how the language you use and the concepts (as suggested with the idea on chunking) are vital in shaping how you view the world (i.e. your environment) and how you interpret struggle and hardship.
  • Be consistent
    • Consistency is key to any change, it is the repeated stimulus that promotes adaptation to be made. This can be seen throughout all of evolution and even in things such as learning and personality changes. The concept of Intensity of Stimulus come into play here as well as the full picture involves both the intensity of the event (e.g. witnessing a murder) and the frequency of the event. A system of habits promotes this consistency.
  • Commit
    • Once you put your mind to something you can accomplish anything, this is commonly repeated without a deeper inspection. The big idea as to why this is important is alignment and clarity. With the proper planning and clarity you will more easily find a degree of commitment that will be the key to sticking to challenge and pushing through. Consider running, if you know when you are to stop it is easier to keep going, but if you are just told to run, after awhile you will find it harder to get the energy to push on. Set an objective and commit to the system of habits and employ regular reflection, this is a great formula for accomplishing anything and developing your character to learn lessons that you can carry with you into future endeavors. This is simply investing in yourself.
    • If you are not committed to the action then resistance is far more abundant, resistance is what prevents action. Resistance can come from impatience, lack of discipline, and a lack of commitment, but it all circles back to a lack clarity. The reason clarity is so powerful is precisely because it helps to eliminate the psychological resistance.
  • Visualize doing the action smoothly and handling any obstacle that comes up
    • This helps with commitment and is a great way to pass effectively through the struggle phase of Flow (it decreases the time in struggle).
    • Visualizing is truly powerful as it does wonders in removing mental resistance. It aligns the mind to your objective and even helps to convince you that it is possible, once you see yourself doing it, the doing becomes just a matter of effort and time. This greatly improves your ability to commit, which in itself is powerful, since you can do so much more when you put your mind to it (i.e. commit).
    • Effective visualizing before a performance will greatly improve your ability to perform. It helps to remove doubt, increase commitment and confidence, and invests you into the task.
      • Try it! Before your next set of weight lifting, visualize the movement and the form. You can do this as well before running, public speaking, a university exam, etc.
  • If you want to quit, fine, but be sure to never do so until a transition period, never stop midway, go until a predefined point of transition. If you still want to quit at this transition, then fine. Otherwise, if you go past it and the urge to quit comes up again, same protocol, don’t allow yourself to until the transition period.
    • A transition period is just a predetermined time when something (anything) changes. As long as you are consistent with the rules you set for transition periods you can define them however you wish.
      • E.g. end of semester, summer, seasons, etc.
      • Waking up is even a transition. Transitions are a great time to place new habits since they serve as an anchor or trigger for execution.
    • At the first urge to quit, stick with it a bit longer, this is the basic HABIT of discipline. Start developing it now. Ride that wave of intense sensation over the peak and only ever stop once you are a good ways past that peak.
    • This builds discipline because it follows the basic principles of it. Such as  going longer than you would otherwise, stay after the urge to quit, don’t quit when sensations are the highest but at predetermined times. It also Defines RULES for yourself and enforces you to stick to them, and it promotes having standards. You can’t be disciplined without these.
    • Some examples of my own transition periods for weight lifting:
      • I allow myself a drink of water after every 4 sets.
      • I wear a hoodie (with the hood up) to warm up at the beginning of my workout and it can get pretty uncomfortably hot in it after awhile. I allow myself to take the hood down after the 2nd working set and take the hoodie off after the 4th working set.
      • These are transition periods that I enforce, the rewards of the water or removing the hoodie feel extra good and reinforce the discipline it took to get there.
    • You can apply this idea to just about anything. The general concept is delaying gratification. The more you can do this regularly (many times a day), the more discipline you will build. Do something that sucks, daily.
    • Transition periods have many implications past discipline, such as rights of passage into different periods of your life. You can use these as a means to mark a “new chapter” in your life.
      • Do something unusual that serves as a right of passage or transition period and have that symbolize a new you being born and the old you dying.
      • It’s best to make these difficult so that it reinforces the new identity. This will basically convince you that you’ve “gone too far now” and can’t go back. You’ve “seen too much”.
      • You know you’re doing right when you feel “this sucks”, “why do I do this to myself” and potentially even doubt your ability.
        • Like a wind-up toy, as you enter this zone of intense struggle, you build up the feeling of accomplishment and reinforcement of that new identity.
      • Transition periods are a great time to incorporate new habits and let bad ones die off. They are a basic marker of a disciplined individual, because they are rule-based, and discipline is all about (relatively) high standards and strict rules.
    • Transition periods have special use during “Discipline Missions”.
      • After weeks of building this habit, it should get to the point where you, YOURSELF, don’t even know when you’ll finish. Simply due to building up your stubborn nature of doing more and more and more.
      • When you say you’ll do “12 reps”, you may have done 20, who knows, you lost count. Even if poor form on the last few. Just brute stubborn reps that serve the purpose to prove that THERE IS ALWAYS MORE. Limitation is all in your head. It also trains your ability to dig deep into that part of your mind that pushes on, it trains and calluses your mind. Do this regularly, every set, every workout, every day, for anything and everything. E.g. walks in socially awkward pattern that you repeat, looping in a circle around a particular path. Repeat until you forget you’re repeating, don’t quit when the urge is the strongest, ride that wave till it subsides a few times.
        • The younger you are, the more intense you can get with this. The point is to error on the side that you CAN do more and not the other way around. Instead of thinking “I’m afraid of hurting myself or making an injury worse”, think “How much worse can I make it and keep pushing on?”. Flip that script and feel the power it gives you. See and aim for far past that finish line.
  • The best metric for progress in building discipline is the amount of time spent struggling.
    • Discipline is built by getting more times under your belt of doing inconvenient or uncomfortable things. It takes discomfort, many reps of discomfort.
    • Give yourself no excuse for things that you have committed to already. For example, consider running. Is it snowing? Still go run!
    • Especially continue doing the thing you previous committed to during uncomfortable or inconvenient times. Just like accomplishing an objective requires a change in an identity, so too does building discipline. This change in identity is most profound and long-term when you continue to do what you set out to do, even when it is uncomfortable or extra difficult. Some days will be easier than others, that’s the way it is, don’t dwell over them or seek out the easy route.
      • It’s similar to how a real friend is the friend who is there not just when you’re rich and famous but also after you have lost everything. Someone who remains when times are tough, when they count the most. Not just when you have wealth and success but when you lose that all as well. If they remain they are more likely a true friend and that action of remaining speaks far louder and leave a larger impression. This is the sign of a strong relationship.
      • The same goes for the times when things get tough or inconvenient, stick to what you set out to do. It is extra important during these times. They are the best opportunities to reinforce the identity of, for example, being a runner, by continuing to act when it is unusually difficult. This is the fastest way to change any identity.
        • Developing this sort of discipline will carry over into your relationships as well as you embody the idea of committing deeply. You’ll be able to notice “friends” who begin to disappear on you when times get tough, you’ll also take special notice on those who remain by your side when you lose wealth or success.

There are a lot of other considerations such as finding the joy of exploration in the struggle, setting aside committed time for challenge, and leaving yourself no other choice (i.e. forcing necessity of action, destroy your escape route). These will be explored later in their proper depths (stay tuned!).

To finish, I’d like to emphasis some important points as to why Discipline Missions are so useful.

Discipline is closely intertwined with character and personality. Intense bursts of discipline building habits over and over for a long period of time is very effective at changing personality. This is because you are repeatedly putting yourself through something tough. The best way the brain can rationalize your behavior is through changing how it perceives itself. Your very identity has to be changed.

This is how I’ve changed my identity to include the concept of being a runner. I’ve lifted weights for almost a decade, but never been much of a runner. One year I decided to do a couple of marathons. The training runs that I did were far more intense then the marathons.

Overtime I began thinking of myself as a runner. I ensured actions were in alignment with this identity, or else I would feel like I was betraying who I was. If the question was “to run” or “not to run”, my identity answered it for me. My default thought patterns were now wired to automatically answer “to run”. This came from repeatedly engaging in the activity of running, as often as possible.

Imagine having some tragic kidnap happen to you over the course of a month. Coming out of it your personality would be very different. You may be more skittish and easily spooked. Perhaps you are less trusting. This is because of your world being shaken up. Something you thought was stable was tested.

It doesn’t have to be a tragic event like a kidnap. It can be an intense amount of training runs, both cadence and mileage. This is what I call “shake up events” and I find them incredibly powerful in changing behavior.

A Discipline Mission is about providing a lot of these shake up events. Its aim is to shake up your understanding of your abilities and spirit. Anything that changes your mindset at such a fundamental level will change how you view and behave in the world. How you view the world and your sense of identity is fundamentally related to how you behave in the world. This is personality and therefore, your personality will change as well.

A shake up event is experiencing a sudden negative extreme. Relatively, this extreme wouldn’t be much of an extreme if you are always within it. This is why it is important to go hard for 2-4 months during a Discipline Mission and then have a month or so to recover. Then you ease back into your regular training over another few months. The emphasis during the recovery month should be on reflecting on your experiences and integrating them into your identity.

 

shake up event

 

Summary

Big Idea: The growth from regular and voluntary struggle leads to effective living.

Basically: Life is a series of decisions, the key is to make effective decisions under stress.

Discipline is about being able to maintain a steady mind during chaos. To make effective decisions when there is a lot of noise and mayhem. To keep in mind what is important when your brain is begging you to take the easy route.

Success in any field is relative and is something that is seen valuable due to its difficulty in obtaining, in other words, its barrier to entry. Something that is valuable is simply something that is not easy to come across. Discipline provides the mental tools of understanding emotional overwhelm and understanding how your mind responds to chaos through repeated exposure to such situations in order to allow for the still-minded decisions that lead to this success. It is a life-long journey for the greatest of causes.

The underlying idea to developing discipline is repetition of doing the uncomfortable regularly. Push your comfort zone and seek challenge. Strategies such as approaching overwhelm with a sense of curiosity, owning the “one-second” decisions, focused Discipline Missions, and seeing your body as a vessel that serves some higher purpose are all useful interpretations in making the engagement with struggle more effective.

Building discipline involves developing individualized strategies that work best for you so that you can maintain a still mind during chaos. Having a purpose is a great way to promote effective action and disciplined behavior, purpose promotes structure in aligned with a vision or cause and discipline is nothing more than structure, it is developed through structure. Have a strong why full of the associated feelings and chunk it to something easy to recall and keep it in the front of your mind so that when you are in the trenches or face down in the arena, you can call on this purpose and stay in the fight.

 

Your Call to Action

Thank you for reading!

Challenge has been the core of my own growth. I would love to hear how challenge has changed your life. Share your thoughts on my strategies for developing discipline and share your own. Share in the comments section below!

Don’t put off contemplating what the insights from this article mean, find a quiet location and think deeply about what it might mean for you. Just 10 deliberate minutes can make a large difference, set a timer, do it regularly and you will notice the changes within a few weeks. You improve your ability to think and therefore make effective decisions by spending more time deliberately thinking about the relevant subject. Consider applying journaling and meditation to see more profound changes, these are just more deliberate and concentrated forms of quiet and focused thinking. Slow down, find stillness.

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