“We must all suffer from one of two pains: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret. The difference is discipline weighs ounces while regret weighs tons.”
The essence of discipline
Why is discipline important? It seems strange that we cannot just go about our lives as the animals do, making decisions and choices based on what we feel at the present moment. Serving whatever fleeting desire we feel at the time.
Wouldn't that be so much easier?
I struggled with this concept for a long time when I was a younger man, where everything seemed to be designed to stop you enjoying yourself or fit you into a box with someone else's dimensions on it.
But when I found martial arts, and through it was exposed to philosophy, I began to understand the value of discipline, the necessity of it, and now, more than ever in this modern world where comfort comes easy and meaning is a rare treasure.
Discipline is what allows us to become greater than what we are, it is what allows us to realise our true potential as divine beings in this world.
It is the thing that stops us becoming slaves to our desires and our insecurities.
When our mammalian brain craves something, it is the prefrontal cortex, our logical, modern, problem solving brain that kicks into action to serve that craving and make it happen.
A truly magnificent survival skill.
But now, in this age of comfort, where the ability to experience any form of slight discomfort is non existent. And as we move more and more into a “collective comfort zone”, Our own problem solving skills work against us, convincing us to just eat the cake, or not to bother going for that walk.
I mean, from an ancestral point of view, eating the cake and not going for that walk is a perfect survival strategy, if we were surviving !
But we're not struggling to survive any more, even though our brain still thinks we are. We must use our higher consciousness to rise above impulses and cravings, and figure out which of these are serving us and which are detrimental to us on a personal level, and on a collective level.
And that's not even taking into account the drugs.
Yes, the drugs.
When you perform an action that your brain perceives as contributing to your survival or the survival of the species, it rewards you with a little home brew narcotic concoction :
dopamine, serotonin, endorphins, and oxytocin.
These 4 neurotransmitters cause a pleasurable response in our brains and they make us feel generally really fucking good!.
Actions that cause this response are known as PHENOTYPIC INDULGENCES.
It is essentially your system saying : “you just helped us survive champ, well done, here’s some happy juice”
It is why sex is pleasurable.
It is why fat, sugar and salt taste good.
It is why cooking meat smells so god damn delicious!
It is why hugs make us happy and breastfeeding feels meaningful.
It is why seeing your child excel at something makes you feel all warm and fuzzy.
It is the reason getting a promotion or a pay rise makes you happy.
These phenotypic indulgences are powerful drivers in our lives and they tend to shape why and how we make many of the decisions that we make.
let us look at sugar as an illustration of how phenotypic indulgences can work against us without discipline to temper them :
In ancestral times, when we lived from the land, hunted and gathered, which is any time before the agricultural revolution 10,000 years ago(the blink of an eye in human history). sugar was an extremely valuable asset.
It gave us energy that we could use instantly as glycogen and also allowed us to store the excess energy as fatfor a later date. Excellent from a survival perspective.
Sugar is also quite rare in the wild in most parts of the world, so when our ancient ancestors found a source of sugar (beehive, ripe fruit tree etc) we would gorge on it and eat as much as possible, giving us instant energy and also topping up our body fat stores for the winter (most sources of simple carbohydrates ripen at the end of summer/ start of autumn which is perfectly timed to put on weight for a cold winter in the wild)
However, fast forward to our current situation, sugar is no longer a scarcity, in fact when you walk into any shop now, the vast majority of “foods” are high glycemic, carb based crap!
The thing is our drives and impulse remain the same as our ancient brothers and sisters. (we are biologically identical to them believe it or not!)
We still have the drive to eat all the sugar, to prepare for a winter that is never coming !
This is where discipline comes into the equation.
Understanding which of these phenotypic indulgences are absolutely necessary for our physical, mental and spiritual well being, and honouring those.
At the same time, understanding which of these phenotypic indulgences work against us and need to be curtailed.
The first step is to understand the process of these things and how they can control us, then exercising higher consciousness and discipline to redirect or ignore them for our own good.
I often explain this to people that find it hard to control their dietary intake : it isn't simply a matter that you are weak and a failure, these are very strong primal drives that are acting upon us, and it takes practise and consistency to control them and learn to work with them.
At the same time , there are things that maybe are not pleasurable and don't fill us with joy, that we still must do for the personal and collective good.
physical training probably falls into this category, I don't necessarily WANT to go to the gym and train, but I do want to be healthy and able bodied, I want to be able to protect my family and household, and I want my wife to be sexually attracted to me, so I take the short term hit for the long term gains.
This is discipline, feeling an urge or an impulse, and deciding whether to follow that urge or impulse depending on whether it is good in the long term or not.
The same is true for cold showers in the morning, I definitely don’t WANT to turn that tap to cold and it is a battle every single morning, but I know that the long term payoff is great, (wakes me up, trains my ability to downregulate my nervous system, builds healthy brown fat stores, strengthens my cardiovascular system) so I do it for the better good.
The thing is, discipline is literally like a muscle, the more you practice, the easier it gets.
So start flexing that muscle, understand the underlying process of phenotypic indulgences and how they can trick us, don't follow every impulse and desire unless it gives you a return on your investment. exercise your higher consciousness and make decisions based on whether they are good for your long term development.
understand that discomfort is something that we need to experience in order to develop and grow, and that “comfort” is the true enemy of growth.
Thanks for reading, please reach out if you have any thoughts or feedback, I would love to hear from you.
Have a great day!