Discipline equals freedom: A Navy Seal approach to fitness

Before you even read a word of this post, I need you to check someone out.

Jocko Willink.

Ex navy seal commander, head of navy seal training and just all round bad-ass. If there was ever a comic book hero come to life moment. This guy is probably it.

I was first introduced to jocko via the Tim Ferriss podcast. Tim was lucky enough (likely skilled enough) to coax this hardened war vet out and into the public eye. Since then he has released three top selling books, inspired countless people to start working out, taking charge of their lives and he is one of my personal heros.

Let me be really honest, I am not a military man nor do I think I could ever be as brave as the men and women that put their lives in the way of danger to protect all of the beautiful things we enjoy. B ut what I can also say is that I look up to and (in my own way) try to emulate more than a few of the core tenants military has lived and died by throughout history.

Discipline is one of them and that is what I want you thinking about his week.

My favourite Jocko quote, and there are more than a few is

“Discipline equals freedom”

Three words. Not overly flowery or excessively poetic.

But shit. He’s right.

Although I have a lot to learn on the subject (side note: I am writing this article with 2 liberal fingers of scotch sitting in an iced glass next to me… on a Wednesday) Discipline is something that has added tremendous value to my life in the past year and a half.

You would think a life dedicated to sports, education and a profession that spouts routine, programs and meal prep as its core values that discipline would come easily to me. It never has and likely never will. Sport for me was always play. I didn’t turn up to practice because I had to, I liked beating people at stuff and being with friends! Toss in a healthy sprinkle of (probably) undiagnosed ADD and BOOM you get a kid half decent at every sport under the sun.

University for me was exactly the same. Sure, everything got done, but it was usually done in the wee hours of the morning the day of the due date. Caffeinated up to the eye balls, physically and mentally exhausted I would drag my ass across two busses to hand in an assignment with crossed fingers. Luckily the genetic advantage mum and dad delivered in the brains department saved my ass on more than one occasion. (I still have never thanked you guys enough for that)

With a little insight and 10 extra years under my belt, I am starting to understand the reluctance adolescent me had to follow rules, conform to structure and stay the fuck in line.

It just felt suffocating.

Discipline to me was always the removal of freedom – not the adding of freedom that Jocko preaches. Rules always felt limiting, especially the ones that made no sense at all under even the smallest amount of scrutiny.

As you can imagine mum and dad were often requested for appearance when parent teacher interviews rolled around.

Now I want to be really clear. I was not a BAD kid. I did all sorts of good stuff and generally followed the rules that made sense. The rest I usually only bent or fractured a little.

Getting close to thirty and a tonne wiser, my understanding and definition of discipline has changed.

I think discipline really comes down to rules and routines that not only take you where you want to go but also make sense to you on a deeply personal level.

One example, three different approaches:

  1. Care free: If you don’t believe that eating half a wheel of camembert is going to seriously effect your ability to lose weight this week… you’re eating it.
  2. Fuck authority: If your personal trainer tells you that you can’t eat camembert for the 12 weeks your are trying to lose weight… you’re eating it.
  3. Discipline: Working with your trainer to create a solid meal plan you allocate ¼ of a camembert wedge per week. At the same time your trainer explains to you the trade offs you will have to make (be it diet or exercise related) if you break this discipline. You win.

Discipline can really be this simple. Just make sure the changes you are trying to achieve make sense.

Me personally – whisky is a downfall.

Mission: Fat loss .5-1kg / week

Method: 500al deficit / week

Main objectives / directives: 4 double whiskys and 2 beers / week only. All food to be tracked in MyFitnesspal

Contingencies: Should you exceed daily calorie or weekly alcohol goals, calories muse be reallocated (see as: made up for) in the subsequent 2 days.

This is discipline.

What does it mean for me in practice?:

  1. Don’t be an asshole and drink 6 pirate life IPA’s (my favourite beer for those playing at home) because you simply don’t have the capacity, or motivation to correct this sort of gross indulgence in 48 hours.
  2. Enjoy yourself – if you are particularly moved to imbibe (which I strongly recommend from time to time), DO IT.

Discipline gives you freedom by setting the stage for self-regulation. At the same time it allows you free movement within a safety net.

Use discipline to start changing your life today. Just remember it works for you, not the other way around.