As children, we believe freedom is a life without constraints, a premise that remains with many well into adulthood. But what if the key to freedom was discipline itself? This may sound counterintuitive, but an in-depth look reveals that structure and discipline—often mistaken as rigid and inflexible—are the foundation for unparalleled growth, innovation, and freedom.
Although this concept may feel revolutionary, I assure you it’s not. The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle (384 BC-322 BC) wrote, “Through discipline comes freedom.”
Centuries later, this sentiment resonates in everything from sports and business to the arts and sciences. Disciplined athletes shatter world records, while visionary entrepreneurs disrupt industries. Trained artists create masterpieces that transcend time, and scientists methodically unveil the mysteries of the universe.
Through the lens of history and the achievements of the determined, we see discipline not as a burden but as a tool to unlock our fullest potential. Here are five ways to become more disciplined and experience freedom like never before:
1. Structured Time Increases Creativity and Productivity
A seminal, peer-reviewed study published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior indicates that structure increases creativity and productivity by allowing individuals to focus on a manageable number of core elements.
Imagine two artists: one with unlimited time but no plan, and the other with limited time but a structured routine. Looking deeper into some of the world’s most celebrated creators, it’s evident that structure was essential to their productivity and creative process. Leonardo da Vinci, for instance, was not just an artist who sketched when inspiration struck. He maintained detailed notebooks, developed systematic studies of anatomy and flight, and often planned his work meticulously. Similarly, the famous writer Maya Angelou would rent a hotel room to write daily, keeping a strict routine even if she sometimes produced only a few pages.
This is not to say that spontaneity has no place in creativity and productivity. On the contrary, unplanned moments of inspiration are invaluable. However, establishing a structured routine provides a foundation for spontaneity to be useful. Like a trellis that guides a growing plant, structure supports and shapes creativity and productivity, allowing it to flourish.
2. Discipline Leads to Mastery
Psychologist Angela Duckworth’s New York Times bestselling book, Grit: The Power of Perseverance and Passion, sheds light on achieving long-term goals. Discipline, a close relative of grit, is about consistently choosing the long-term benefit over short-term comfort. In the business world, this principle is mirrored in startups that endure initial hardship but emerge as industry leaders.
Case in point: Tesla Motors. Incorporated in 2003, the independent carmaker entered an industry controlled by a few large, powerful corporations. The company set out to develop a zero-emission electric car that was powerful, beautiful, and fun to drive. Although Tesla launched its first car in 2008, it wasn’t until it launched its second car four years later that it succeeded.
With a market capitalization of $685.15B, they’ve gone from industry disruptor to industry leader. How? They mastered their craft through grit, discipline, and perseverance, allowing them the freedom to change the world.
3. Financial Discipline = Financial Freedom
Embracing financial discipline is about making informed and thoughtful decisions now to ensure a more prosperous future. The idea of living below your means might seem constricting at first. But as the late American author George S. Clason discusses in The Richest Man in Babylon, those who save and invest diligently will find themselves in a more liberated financial position down the line.
It’s essential to understand that financial discipline is not about denying oneself but prioritizing and delaying gratification. A solid foundation built upon financial discipline enables businesses and individuals to react quickly and efficiently when situations or investments present themselves.
They’re not shackled by massive debt or stuck living paycheck to paycheck. In this way, discipline doesn’t limit freedom; it amplifies it.
4. Avoiding Decision Fatigue
While former President Obama and the late Steve Jobs were well-known for making significant contributions in their respective fields, this was not the only thing the men shared – both stuck to limited wardrobes. This wasn’t a fashion statement or lack of interest in clothing but a calculated approach to minimize trivial decisions.
Every choice, no matter how small, requires mental energy. Over a day, these seemingly insignificant decisions accumulate and can lead to decision fatigue, a cognitive phenomenon that, according to the American Medical Association, is “a state of mental overload that can impede a person’s ability to continue making decisions.”
This is particularly detrimental for leaders and innovators who make critical choices with wide-reaching implications. By automating certain aspects of their lives, like what to wear, these leaders effectively reduced the number of non-essential decisions they faced daily, preserving their cognitive bandwidth for more significant matters.
Furthermore, this underscores the importance of discipline in fostering productivity and focus. It serves as a reminder that sometimes, to achieve greatness, we must narrow our attention and eliminate extraneous variables. It’s not just about wearing the same outfit every day but also understanding where to direct energy and how to conserve it.
Such disciplined practices can act as a foundation, creating an environment where one’s mind is free to innovate, lead, and make transformative decisions without being bogged down by the minutiae of daily life.
5. Creating a Predictable Success Framework
In his influential book Good to Great, Jim Collins delves into the mechanisms that allow companies to transcend mediocrity and achieve sustained excellence. One of the standout concepts he introduces is that there’s no magic formula or single move that catapults a company from good to great. Instead, it’s about implementing a structured, disciplined approach to operations and strategy.
Growth and discipline aren’t just about adherence to rules or established norms. It’s about developing and adhering to a well-defined framework that leads us to predictable and sustainable success. This approach echoes the Japanese principle of Kaizen, which translates to change for the better or continuous improvement.
In the business world, there are countless tales of companies and leaders that make massive, splashy moves in hopes of overnight success. Some enjoy initial success, but it’s often temporary because they lack a sense of foundational discipline. The essence of a leader’s greatness isn’t in the spotlight of monumental decisions but rather in the shadows of consistent, more minor actions and choices.
In this light, discipline becomes less about restriction and more about providing a clear path that keeps us focused on our core values and objectives. The diligent repetition of well-thought-out actions and decisions compounds over time, turning good leaders into great ones.
Discipline Is The Key to Freedom
In leadership, specific lessons stand the test of time, remaining unaffected by shifting industries, fluctuating markets, or evolving cultural norms. Chief among them is the understanding that freedom springs from a foundation of structure and discipline.
A lack of structure can spiral into chaos, resulting in missed opportunities. Through discipline, we carve out a path that amplifies our potential and surpasses our goals. Striving to live a life infused with discipline is a testament to freedom. As you prepare to make your next major personal or professional decision, realize that discipline is not a shackle; it’s a key that unlocks doors you never thought possible.
After all, freedom isn’t living without guidelines; it’s living without limitations.
Discipline is freedom.