Your Discipline Is Not a Superpower
It was our second day in Nice. I woke up and smiled lazily in the sunlight. Immediately, I thought how great it would be to have coffee and pain au chocolat on the beach.
But not yet, I told myself.
First, I’ve got to complete my daily routine: run 10K and write 2,000 words.
After all, that was the rule I created for myself. And if I deviated from it, it meant I was bullshitting everyone — including myself — when I called myself a ‘disciplined person.’
Some things are just non-negotiable, I think, as I tie my shoelaces.
“Will you be back before breakfast?” my girlfriend asked, clearly irritated that I can’t give myself a break on a fucking holiday.
“I’ll try,” I say and walk out the door.
She doesn’t understand. This is my superpower. I am the most disciplined person alive.
As I run along the coastline of the Nice Promenade, I think about what I will write that day. I made it a point to write every single day — to learn how to write — and to build a following on a platform called Medium. I recently read in Haruki Murakami’s book that writing and running go well together. If it worked for him, it should work for me too. Plus, it’s hard to find two better vocations for an introvert like me.
Once I finish my 10K, I get back home, take a shower, and tell my girlfriend that we need to find a place to get breakfast.
But first, I say, I need to take an hour to write.
“Dude, you were just gone for a whole hour. Running. Can’t we simply eat breakfast and enjoy ourselves? Do you really want to spend our three days in Nice sitting in a fucking room like a hermit?”
I take a second to pause. The idea that I might miss a day of writing — or running — shocks me.
“Yes,” I reply. “This is what I need. This is my craft; you don’t understand. I must write before breakfast — at least start — and then, after breakfast, I’ll finish writing.”
I think to the way Haruki Murakami wakes up at 4 AM — not 7 or 8 as I do. That’s discipline. That’s dedication. These are the kind of people that make it in the writing world.
Or so, I tell myself.
My girlfriend looks at me, and I see that this is not what she had in mind when we made our travel plans. But immediately, I read her disappointment as a selfish desire to have me all to herself.
There’s this constant struggle: my craft vs. her.
We end up finding a hotel, where I sit in the lobby room, writing a piece for my blog for half an hour — we agreed that if I don’t show up in 30 minutes, my girlfriend starts eating without me.
Then we have a continental breakfast in a small, air-conditioned glass room with three retired couples, eyeing us funnily. After we finish breakfast — in silence — I go back to the lobby room, order an americano, and write for one more hour.
When I am finished, I close my laptop and say, “Hey, let’s go see Nice!”
But she doesn’t respond. The trip is already spoiled.
And if you asked me what I wrote that day, I don’t remember.
The only thing I do remember is that it didn’t even get ten views on my blog.
It didn’t matter.
That article, that writing session, and that stress was a useless waste of energy.
I should have gotten that pain au chocolat after all.
We often think of discipline as an essential tool for achieving our goals. The school, our parents, YouTube — they all conditioned us to think that without discipline, we’d be like sails without a mast or a kite without a rope to hold it.
We’d fly away. Be unproductive. Not achieve anything.
Discipline is the steel hand that points us in the direction we think we should go. Let go for one second — and it’s as if you’re finished.
And this is the core of the problem.
We confuse cause and effect. We make ourselves do things we don’t want (and then become surprised that we lack the energy to keep going). Most importantly, we don’t trust ourselves enough.
The truth is, we’re afraid.
We use discipline — an external tool — to make us do things we think we should be doing because we’re too afraid of what we might actually want to do.
Discipline burns energy. But fear fuels discipline.
During that Nice trip, I ran not because I wanted to run — but because I was afraid I’d gain extra weight, or miss a day of running in my ‘program’.
Similarly, I couldn’t afford to take a 3-day break from my daily writing routine because I thought I’d lose ‘momentum.’
Of course, all of this is bullshit. Over the longterm, those three days wouldn’t have made a difference. At the end of the day, there’s no point in any achievements if you don’t enjoy your life.
It’s easy to think of such obsessive (almost neurotic) discipline as a superpower.
But it’s just fear. Fear that we’re not enough or will ever be enough.
This fear keeps us away from being open to the world, enjoying our lives, and knowing ourselves. We do what we’re told to do. (Even if not by others, then by ourselves. And if you think about it, there is almost no difference.)
Because we are so afraid to let go, we don’t trust ourselves enough.
The very idea of doing what we want shocks us — because we automatically assume that what we want is to lie on the couch, binge-drink, watch Netflix, and jerk off all day long.
We forget that we only need the discipline to make us do things we don’t want to do. When we truly want something, it’ll be hard to stop us from doing it.
The most comfortable belt is the one you don’t notice. Living by discipline is like tying your belt tightly to look slimmer than you actually are.
But what if we tried the opposite? What if we lived not from fear, but from love?
What if you ran because you loved running, wrote because you loved writing, and did anything — simply because you loved doing it? Would you need discipline then?
I doubt it.