Discipline = Freedom

July 26, 2016

“Extreme Ownership. Leaders must own everything in their world. There is no one else to blame.”

When former Navy SEAL Jocko Willink says something like that, you take notice. To him, as it is with the co-author of his book and fellow SEAL Leif Babin, the concept of ‘extreme ownership’ is one that’s pivotal to any kind of successful human endeavour. Responsibility is the name of the game. Instead of actively trying to shirk it? Embrace it. 

Jocko first entered my world through a suggestion of a friend. Duly playing along with my social responsibility to pay respect to such recommendations, I first sought out what he had to say thanks to the Tim Ferriss podcast. Spellbound by his story and deeply influenced by his “get-up early and go after it” philosophy, I was intrigued to learn more. That subsequently led me to his outstanding podcast (which you’ll see listed here numerous times) and eventually his book itself, Extreme Ownership.

This is a guy who’s seen a lot of things, lived through some extremely testing times and still finds himself engaged in battle. But it’s not the kind of conflict of his military past. It’s the daily struggle for betterment. To work on yourself and push yourself further each and every day. That’s the kind of message that Jocko promotes. 

Admittedly when you first hear his mantra “discipline = freedom” it can breed a lot of confusion. Usually when we think about what discipline means we think of exteriorly bound constraint. People or institutions obliging us to do things. Parents. School. Military. The government. Friends. Lovers. Bosses.

Discipline, we think to ourselves, means not fun. Means preventing us from doing the things that we’d much rather do. Like gaming instead of work. Or staying in to watch countless videos on YouTube.

The real truth however, as will become apparent if you either listen to the Jocko podcast or read the book, is that the things we think we want to do, or would rather be doing, are pretty much bullshit. Escape mechanisms. Things designed to deliver us immediate gratification at the expense of long-term satisfaction. Distractions from the real work at hand.

But while Jocko continues to live a strict life of discipline that involves him waking up around 4:30am everyday to jump into an extreme exercise regime, followed then by hours of work, might not sound like our idea of a good time, the notion of freedom, at least, becomes a very interesting one to examine. 

Due to having enforced discipline in countless areas of his life, from his career, to his personal fitness, to his hobbies in sports like surfing and Brazilian Ju-Jitsu, Jocko enjoys certain pleasures beyond the average human. This is a person who’s disciplined his spending and his investment strategy to become financially independent. A person who’s disciplined himself to exercise so hard that his sheer physical presence, especially given the fact he’s approaching his mid-40’s, is better than that of most 20-year-olds. 

So now, based on that level of conditioning, he enjoys a great amount of freedom. Freedom of mobility. Freedom to pursue hobbies and passions. Freedom to experiment with new streams of income (be it gyms, podcasts, book writing or growing his consulting company). 

And it all boils down to his steadfast clinging to that mantra; “discipline is freedom”. 

Pointing you in the direction of Jocko’s material is the aim of this post. If the amount of inspiration you take from him his anywhere the amount that I’ve taken, it will be interesting to see what the future has in store.

Here’s a reminder to not look so desparagingly on the notion of discipline breeding restraint. But rather acknowledge it is a gentle force. A force that can guide you away from everything superficial. A force that can put you on a better path.