1-Sentence-Summary: Discipline Is Destiny is a three-part manual to master and implement the Stoic virtue of temperance, aka discipline, in your life, thus improving your body, mind, and spirit.
Read in: 4 minutes
Favorite quote from the author:
Most of us know Hercules as this legendary, super-strong, club-whipping guy who fights lions before lunch and can defeat nasty, multi-headed hydras all day long. Long before he became “Hercules” in bold letters, however, everyone’s favorite Disney hero and Greek demigod found himself at a crossroads.
Standing at a literal fork in the woods, Hercules sees two women, each pleading with him to take her path. One is beautiful beyond belief, half-naked, and offers him a life full of pleasure and completely devoid of pain. The other is also pretty but dressed more conservatively. She tells him the only rewards he’ll find on her path are those he’ll have earned through courage, honorable deeds, and, yes, hardship — but that this path will help him become who he was meant to be.
The women in this parable are Vice and Virtue, and I’m sure you can guess which path Hercules chose, given how awesome he became. Has this story ever happened? Probably not. But is it still important? Yes, because it’s a story about us. At least, that’s what Ryan Holiday thinks — and why he opens his book Discipline Is Destiny, the second of four in a series about the cardinal virtues of Stoicism (courage, discipline, justice, wisdom), with this metaphor.
Here are 3 lessons from the book, covering the 3 areas in which we need discipline — body, mind, and spirit:
- Controlling your body is the first step of mastering self-discipline, and it can happen in many small ways.
- Only a moderate mind can be happy, and directing your brain is a lifelong job.
- Discipline is about actualization, not isolation, so stay kind to yourself and others.
Let’s see what it takes to live a disciplined but satisfying life!
Lesson 1: Taking charge of your body is the easiest way to build discipline, and you can take many small steps to do it.
The reason discipline is most easily built by starting with small, physical challenges is that you can feel your body’s responses to those challenges. When you work out, you feel the result the next day. When you sleep early, you feel more rested. That’s a great way of sending yourself the feedback that, yes, building discipline is working — and helping.
While Holiday suggests a variety of things, from eating lean to strenuous activities, like taking cold showers, working out, or walking the long route to work, to sleeping early, the most important is this: Show up. When it comes to physical discipline, doing a little every day will have a much bigger impact than trying to do a lot on rare occasions.
Holiday mentions Lou Gehrig as an example, a legendary baseball player who played over 2,000 games straight without missing a single one. Did he not feel well during some of them? For sure. But he showed up regardless, and, in the long run, that made all the difference.
Lesson 2: We can only be happy when we practice restraint, and it’s a lifelong job to moderate our minds.
Like Vice calling out to Hercules, our modern world is loaded with opportunities for instant gratification. It, too, seems to want to fulfill our every desire immediately. But if you’ve ever given in to those impulses, you know how empty and unrewarding that can ultimately feel.
When you order pizza every time you feel like it, you’ll get health problems. When you rage quit at work whenever your boss makes a snide comment, you’ll never build a meaningful career. And so on. Everything becomes meaningless when you do it all the time, so we need restraint to enjoy life’s pleasures to the fullest — and, therefore, moderating our minds is a lifelong job.
The Buddha was born in a palace, yet he still felt miserable. The poverty he later experienced outside wasn’t any better. It was only once he learned to practice patience, to sit with suffering, and to not lose it when things went awry that he found he could calmly manage — even enjoy — both life’s ups and downs.
Try to pause before you react, analyze your feelings, and learn to shut things out on purpose. Most of all, remember you’ll never be perfect. Mastering our brains is a job that will take forever — and that’s okay.
Lesson 3: Unless used for the greater good, discipline is pointless, so show kindness and compassion both to yourself and others.
The highest level of discipline happens on the plane of the spirit, according to Holiday, who mentions ancient Roman charioteers — competitive horse carriage riders — as a prime example. Having to balance many activities and roles at once while performing in a life-or-death situation, these athletes used their self-discipline for a higher purpose — in this case to entertain their community — while remembering that failure is just part of the equation.
Spiritual discipline is about staying calm, doing the work, and steering the course without alienating others. When you fail to get to work on time, keep cool. When you feel groggy, just try to get through the day. And when others don’t understand why you’re doing things the way you do them, try to be respectful and diplomatic about it.
When Stoic philosopher Cleanthes walked down Athens’ streets one morning, he bumped into a man yelling at himself for some mistake. “Remember, you’re not talking to a bad man,” he told him, according to Holiday. So yes, show others kindness as you pursue discipline, but remember to extend that same courtesy to yourself whenever you need it.
Discipline Is Destiny Review
This book is a follow-up to Courage Is Calling, the second of four books Ryan Holiday is penning on the cardinal Stoic virtues. The virtues are courage, temperance, justice, and wisdom. Given both books follow a similar structure, I assume all the others will too. It starts with a brief story and introduction to the four virtues, followed by three parts about how to master and implement this particular value into your life. Holiday’s writing style is conversational. He draws on a wide range of examples, and the chapters are manageable, engaging, and make clear points. I’ve been a fan of Holiday’s work for years, and Discipline Is Destiny: The Power of Self-Control is no exception!
Who would I recommend the Discipline Is Destiny summary to?
The 15-year-old high school student who struggles with constant distraction, the 34-year-old waiter who feels lost in her career, and anyone who enjoys modern takes on Stoic philosophy.
Last Updated on January 4, 2023