How War Promotes Discipline
A good soldier going to war embodies discipline in its essence and its richness. He needs discipline to kill and to survive. And he is embedded in a social structure—a team, a platoon—that demands nothing of him but discipline. His work is a training in discipline. His art is a training in discipline. His life is a training in discipline.
Likewise, when you train in a sports team, what is demanded of you is just that:—discipline. And likewise when you work in a corporate team.
When you work on your own, however, when you work without a team of fellow comrades, then you have to develop discipline on your own. But how can you develop warrior discipline when the stakes are much lower, when there’s no enemy to kill, no opponent to crush, no competition to battle? How can you develop discipline when there’s nobody to kick you in the ass and when you know that you’re not going to war?
Even in times of peace, you can strengthen your willpower. All you have to do is leave your comfort zone.
The Truth about the Comfort Zone
We have comfort zones for a good reason: to keep us physically and mentally in homeostatic balance. Your comfort zone is something you should appreciate. In fact, it’s so positive that you want to expand it as much as you can. That’s why you leave your comfort zone in the first place: to expand it. And that’s why soldiers have to endure the toughest training programs on earth: to expand their comfort zones, to harden them against traumatizingly stressful situations, to make them feel more comfortable in most uncomfortable battles—to prepare them for war.
A certain homeostatic balance is necessary for you to stay healthy. If you move too far out of your comfort zone, if you live too much out of balance, you will get sick, you will get traumatized, you will wreck your body, you will die. That’s why it’s hard to leave the comfort zone in the first place; for it’s a protective mechanism against serious damage.
To give an example, the simplest way to develop discipline in your everyday life is to wake up early. Wake up at 4 am every single day. This will uplift your willpower to new heights and give you a sharp mental edge. I’ve done this rigorously for nine weeks: out of bed at 4 am, take a cold shower, lift some weights, have some food, and start working.
After just a few days, however, I already experienced the ill effects on my bodymind: a need to take naps, a significant drop in my mood, less motivation to work, impaired focus and productivity at work, stalled progress in the gym, and increasing coffee consumption. Although I sucked it up for a while, I learned that cutting into my sleep is no sustainable method for developing discipline. Now I always get up at 5 or 6 am, depending on when I go to bed, and I feel much better. I’m still maintaining my willpower because I stick to the schedule, but I’m no longer that far out of my comfort zone.
Another seemingly promising way to get out of your comfort zone is to approach strangers when you’re out alone during the day, in particular, hitting on cute girls you’ve never seen before, without your friends standing by for motivational support. Solely hitting on chicks doesn’t necessarily build up your discipline, but what definitely does is forcing yourself to talk to strangers when you absolutely don’t feel like it. To be social when you completely lack social momentum, to initiate social momentum, especially when you’re naturally an introvert, is a paramount willpower exercise.
However, this practice isn’t a sustainable willpower challenge, either; it demands too much time and focus. When I walk around outside, I’m typically fully immersed in work. I incessantly obsess about my work, and I want to. To shift my focus away from being productive and toward being social would simply mean to do less work, to work less hard. Of course, staying productive doesn’t fortify my discipline as much as having to switch frequently between work state and social state. I’m still maintaining my willpower because at least I work hard, but it doesn’t force me that far out of my comfort zone (because I love my work and love is comfort).
From another perspective, though, work can be your first royal road to ever-improving discipline.
Principle 1: Go to work like you were going to war.
This means to overpower laziness, to reject immediate gratification, and to crush all distractions. Distraction is your most vile enemy.
Whenever you don’t work, go back to work. Whenever you do work, work harder. And always listen to your killer instinct.
This also goes for working out: work out as if you were preparing for war—scream loudly, breathe heavily, focus deeply, and crush those fucking weights. (I take it for granted that you would never think about skipping a workout.)
That’s the first way how you can sustainably develop discipline without going to war. You work like you were going to war, and you work out like you were preparing for it. And don’t forget to always take a cold shower afterwards!
The second way—the second royal road—is almost the opposite, but just as valid.
Principle 2: Practice stillness like your life depended on it.
Every soldier has to master the art of self-control. One wrong movement could mean his death, or worse, the death of a brother. I’m not a soldier (due to my bad eyesight) and I know nothing of war, but I have some dim idea about how war is way too complex for me to comprehend.
I’ll just pick one example out of a million. Think about the incredible self-control a sniper must evince—the patience to wait, to endure, and to hold still with his body as a whole as with the smallest muscle in his finger.
Only through patience, hard work, concentration and great self-discipline will the mastery of trigger control be achieved. (US Navy SEAL Sniper Training Program)
There’s only one way you can develop this type of discipline as a civilian on a daily basis:—through meditation.
Pure meditation where you focus entirely on your breath, your body, your mantra, or your God will be too hard (“boring”) for you in the beginning. But you can train your concentration skills also through other meditative practices like studying a martial art, running a marathon, creating music, or practicing archery. All these activities require self-control—the ability to hold still and cool your mind at inner command.
Find a meditative hobby you enjoy and practice it as if your life depended on it!
I come home, and there’s a guy standing on our front porch. The guy’s at the front door with his second black shirt and pants in a brown paper sack and he’s got the last three items, a white towel, an army surplus mattress, and a plastic bowl, set on the porch railing. From an upstairs window, Tyler and I peek out at the guy, and Tyler tells me to send the guy away.
“He’s too young,” Tyler says.
The guy on the porch is mister angel face whom I tried to destroy the night Tyler invented Project Mayhem. Even with his two black eyes and blond crew cut, you see his tough pretty scowl without wrinkles or scars. Put him in a dress and make him smile, and he’d be a woman. Mister angel just stands his toes against the front door, just looks straight ahead into the splintering wood with his hands at his sides, wearing black shoes, black shirt, black pair of trousers.
“Get rid of him,” Tyler tells me. “He’s too young.”
I ask how young is too young?
“It doesn’t matter,” Tyler says. “If the applicant is young, we tell him he’s too young. If he’s fat, he’s too fat. If he’s old, he’s too old.
Thin, he’s too thin. White, he’s too white. Black, he’s too black.”
This is how Buddhist temples have tested applicants going back for bahzillion years, Tyler says. You tell the applicant to go away, and if his resolve is so strong that he waits at the entrance without food or shelter or encouragement for three days, then and only then can he enter and begin the training.
So I tell mister angel he’s too young, but at lunchtime he’s still there. After lunch, I go out and beat mister angel with a broom and kick the guy’s sack out into the street. From upstairs, Tyler watches me stickball the broom upside the kid’s ear, the kid just standing there, then I kick his stuff into the gutter and scream.
Go away, I’m screaming. Haven’t you heard? You’re too young. You’ll never make it, I scream. Come back in a couple years and apply again. Just go. Just get off my porch.
The next day, the guy is still there, and Tyler goes out to go, “I’m sorry.” Tyler says he’s sorry he told the guy about training, but the guy is really too young, and would he please just go.
Good cop. Bad cop.
I scream at the poor guy, again. Then, six hours later, Tyler goes out and says he’s sorry, but no. The guy has to leave. Tyler says he’s going to call the police if the guy won’t leave.
And the guy stays.
And his clothes are still in the gutter. The wind takes the torn paper sack away.
And the guy stays.
On the third day, another applicant is at the front door. Mister angel is still there, and Tyler goes down and just tells mister angel, “Come in. Get your stuff out of the street and come in.”
To the new guy, Tyler says, he’s sorry but there’s been a mistake. The new guy is too old to train here, and would he please leave.
(Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk)
How can you achieve mister angel’s level of discipline? By knowing what you want, by doing your True Will, and by practicing self-control, practicing stillness, practicing toughness. And by making your practice a matter of survival!
I’m currently field-testing a new method of meditation I’ve come up with. If it proves effective for sustainable self-control development, I will turn it into a step-by-step program and release it here on mindcoolness.com. So stay put and subscribe to the mindcoolness newsletter! The program may be coming soon.
In the meantime, study my book Willpower Condensed to acquire the proper mindset that will boost your discipline immediately and permanently.