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  • Writer's pictureLars Christensen

Discipline is Destiny by Ryan Holiday

I finished this book in January 2023. I recommend this book 10/10.

Ryan Holiday is remarkably skilled in finding interesting clues about famous people's success and constructing them into an incredible tale of wisdom. There are two more books in this Stoic series of virtues: courage, temperance, justice, and wisdom—I can't wait.

Get your copy here.

My notes and thoughts:

  • P5. He worked harder than anyone. "Fitness was almost a religion to him," one teammate would say of him. "I am a slave to baseball," Gehrig said. A willing slave, a slave who loved the job and remained forever grateful for just the opportunity to play.

  • P18. In the dark, she would move quietly, making that first cup of coffee. She'd sit at her desk in her small apartment, and as her mind cleared and the sun rose, and the light filled the room, she would write. She did this for years, practicing this secular ritual used not just by writers but by countless busy and driven people for all time.

  • P35. Remember: No one is having less fun than an overextended, overcommitted person with debtors at their door...or a high-paying job they can't afford to lose. No one is less free than the person trapped on the treadmill, moving faster and faster and faster but going nowhere.

  • P42. As the novelist, Gustave Flaubert commands: "Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work." Clean up your desk. Make your bed. Get your things in order. Now get after it.

  • P44. Show up and try. Get on the treadmill. Pick up the violin. Answer some emails—script out some scenes. Reach out. to some clients. Read some reports. Lift a couple of weights. Jog one mile., Cross one thing off the to-do list. Chase down a lead. It doesn't matter what it is; all aspects of your life benefit from this circumscribed kind of discipline. "Just as long as you do something every day, that is the important thing," Arnold Schwarzenegger said to people trying to stay in shape and productive.

  • P45. But the good news is that because it's hard, most people don't do it. They don't show up. They can't even do one tiny thing a day. So yes, you're alone, out there on the track in the rain. You're the only one responding on Christmas. But having the lead is, by definition, a little lonely. This is also why it's quiet in the morning. You have the opportunities all to yourself.

  • P48. We want to really challenge ourselves, not waste time running through some checklist, stretching before a workout, and reading the instructions instead of diving in. But there is a point: We're fit to tackle the big problems only if we do the little things right first. No strategy will succeed—however brilliant—if it ignores logistics. Zelda Fitzgerald said with only some self-awareness, the opposite is also true. "It is the loose ends," she lamented, "with which men hand themselves."

  • P55. It took time; it took getting a lot of small things right, but it was worth it. It's each to go fast. It is not always the best. They like to say in the military that slow is smooth, and smooth is fast. Do the right, and it goes quickly. Try to get it too quickly, and it won't go right.

  • P61. Only you know what it will look like to train in your art like a samurai, an Olympic athlete, or a master in pursuit of excellence. Only you will know what you need to practice from the morning until night, what to repeat ten thousand times.

  • P64. Today, we're more apt to talk about work than lose ourselves in it. We like to make a big show of it on social media. We spend a lot of money acquiring the right tools or setting up a fancy office. Getting down to it? Every day? That sounds like torture. Sometimes it is torture! There are days when the words don't come easy; there are days when vulnerability makes you ache.

  • P74. The person who has the upper hand of their should, the person who can go without, the person who does not fear change or discomfort or a reversal of fortune? This person is harder to kill and harder to defeat. They are also happier, more well-balanced, and in better shape. We must practice temperance now, in times of plenty, because none of us know what the future holds—only that plenty never lasts.

  • P88. Meanwhile, we're ready to call it quits after our first round of submissions is rejected. We consider it a crime against humanity that the profession demands more than forty hours a week. We hold our business after one slow sales period. We declare recovery impossible after the injury. We listen when they say we're not big enough, not pretty enough, not talented enough. We look at the scorecard and believe that it's hopeless. Does endurance always conquer? Of course not, but nobody wins by throwing in the towel. Nobody wins with weakness.

  • P92. Those who tell themselves they are free to do anything will, inevitably, be changed to something. Discipline is how we free ourselves. It is the key that unlocks the chains. It is how we save ourselves. We choose the hard way...because, in the long run, it's actually the only way.

  • P100. While she never rushes, she thinks through what she wants to do, and then she gets it right the first time. As they say, work smarter, not harder. Discipline isn't just endurance and strength. It's also find the best, most economical way of doing something. It's the commitment to evolving and improving so that the tasks get more efficient as you go. A true master isn't just dominating their profession; they're also doing it with ease...while everyone else is stiff huffing and puffing.

  • P117. "Anyone who has not groomed his life in general towards some definite end cannot possibly arrange his individual actions properly," the writer Michel de Montaigne reminded himself. If you don't know where you're sailing, the Stoics said, no wind is favorable. This means first, discipline to step away and think: What am I doing? What are my priorities? What is the most important contribution I make—to my work, to my family, to the world? Then comes the discipline to ignore just about everything else.

  • P133. It doesn't matter the cause, whether it was from procrastination or perfectionism, the result is the same. You didn't do it. The Stoics remind us: We can't abandon a pursuit because we despair of perfecting it. Not trying because you're not sure you can win, you're not sure whether everyone will love it, there's a word for that too: cowardice. We have to be brave enough to soldier on. To give it a shot. To take our turn. To step into the arena, even though we might well lose. We have to be strong enough to do this too.

  • P137. To paraphrase the Stoics: You could be good now. Instead, you chose tomorrow. To procrastinate is to be entitled. It is arrogant. It assumes there will be a later. It assumes you'll have the discipline to get to it later (despite not having the discipline now). The graveyard of lost potential, we might say, is filled with people who just need to do something else first. The time to do it is now. The time to get started is now. The thing to start with is the hard part, the part you want to do the least. Not begrudgingly, but promptly and enthusiastically, with a body that's been trained for hard work and a mind that's sharp and focused. Fools are too weak, too scared, and too ill-disciplined for this—which is a problem for them but an opportunity for you. Because it's here, you'll win. They'll be delaying; you'll be pulling ahead. But only if you start now.

  • P141. That's what being a pro is about: treating winning or losing as a chance to get right back to it. To come back to your groove and stay in it—because that's where you're happiest, most in control, most connected.

  • P153. Discipline is not a punishment; it's a way to avoid punishment. We do it because we love ourselves and we value ourselves and what we do. And we find, conveniently enough, that it also heightens our enjoyment of things as well. Indeed, the person content with less, who can enjoy a small pot of cheese as if it were a culinary bounty, is much more easily satisfied and much better able to find good in all situations. Seek yourself, not a distraction. Be happy, not hedonistic. Let the mind rule, not the body. Conquer pleasure, and make yourself superior to pain.

  • P156. Remember always: As wrong as they are, as annoying as it is, it takes two for real conflict to happen. As the Stoics said, when we are offended, when we fight, we are complicit. We have chosen to engage. We have traded self-control for self-indulgence. We've allowed our cooler heads to turn hot—even though we know hot heads rarely make good decisions. Life...people...They're going to give you the opportunity. You can decline to accept it.

  • P162. People who are doing less important things than you can get away with not being in control. You can't. You can't afford for a moment of ego or excitement costing yourself (and your teammates) a championship. You can't afford for an impulse decision to undermine your training. You can't afford to let passion block out the calm and mild light. Maybe other people can. Not you.

  • P166. Online or in person, we can't just sit here. We jump in because we think we're supposed to. We jump in because we don't want to seem dumb (even though by speaking, we risk removing all doubt). We jump in because we just can't live with someone else being wrong and not knowing it. Where does this get us? Usually into trouble. Rarely does it make any sort of positive difference. Never does it help us with our main thing. It's almost always a distraction from that main thing! Can you...

    • Keep a secret?

    • Bite your tongue about someone or something you dislike?

    • Get someone else to deliver the news?

    • Put up with being misunderstood?

  • P170. Could you have done this? Can you trust yourself enough to stand alone? Can you stoically endure the criticism and the questioning to persist in what you know is right? Even at a great cost? A leader who cannot do this...well, they're not a leader. They're a follower. At nearly every juncture of the war, Churchill was provoked. There was always the impulse and pressure to do something. From his allies. From the British people. From the enemy. Yet success—as a most strategy does—depended on judicious restraint.

  • P178. Ambition is good; it just must be tempered. Like all elements of self-discipline, it's about balance. The monk or the priest who tries to reduce their needs to nothing., who rejects everyone and everything in pursuit of spiritual perfection, is not all that dissimilar to the billionaire who keeps building and building or the quarterback who can't ever consider retiring. At the same time, the person who dreams of nothing, who believes in nothing, who tries nothing? Well, that's not really the point, either. We don't need accomplishments to feel good or to be good enough. What do we need? The truth: not much.

  • P189. It is a little discouraging that we never seem to "arrive"? That our standards rise just out of reach of our abilities? Absolutely not! We move the goalposts so the game doesn't get boring and, more importantly, it never ends. Ultimately, this brings us more pleasure and more satisfaction. We reach heights we'd never have been able to see otherwise. Do you want it to be rotting or ripening? Are you getting better? Because if you're not...then you're probably getting worse.

  • P191. Will you remain as you are? Or become what you're capable of? Because once you stop getting better, there's only one direction to go. It's a beautiful irony: You're never content with your progress, and yet, you're always content...because you're making progress.

  • P193. As Plutarch reminds us, while a leader must know how to do anything, they cannot conceivably do everything. It's not physically possible. It's not mentally possible.

  • P199. That is why we do our work promptly. Why we get to the point. Why we stick to the agenda. Why we don't drone on, don't tolerate digressions, or indulge in distractions. It's why we keep our desk clean—so we don't waste time looking for stuff. It's why we get up early—so we have more time, uninterrupted time, at the freshest part of the day. It's why we're deliberate about what we say yes and no to, because we understand that time is a gift—and what we give it to matters.

  • P207. Understand: Most of the people doing important work are people you've never heard of—they want it that way. Most happy people don't need you to know how happy they are—they aren't thinking about you at all. Everyone is going through something, but some people choose not to vomit their issues on everyone else. The strongest people are self-contained. They keep themselves in check. They keep their business where it belongs...their business.

  • P208. Set your boundaries. Enforce them—gently but firmly. Treat everyone else's with as much respect as you'd want for your own. Be the adult in a world of emotional children.

  • P212. You don't have to end up number one in your class. Or win everything, every time. In fact, not winning is not particularly important. What does matter is that you gave everything, because anything less is to cheat the gift.

    • The gift of your potential.

    • The gift of the opportunity.

    • The gift of the craft you've been introduced to.

    • The gift of responsibility entrusted to you.

    • The gift of the instruction and time of others.

    • The gift of life itself.

  • P226. No leader, no matter how good they are, can hope to avoid criticism. Antoninus received plenty of it, much of it unfair and unwarranted, but he declined to return pettiness with pettiness. He ignored informers and gossip. He tolerated being questioned because it made him better, even if it meant admitting error.

  • P239. It's so hard to let people get away with things you'd never allow in yourself. To let them do things you know are bad for them, to let them slack off when you see much more in them. But you have to. Because their life is not in your control. Because you'll burn yourself out if you want to get to a place where you live and let live. Credit them for trying. Credit them for context. Forgive. Forget. Help them get better, if they're open to help. Not everyone has trained like you have. Not everyone has the knowledge you have. Not everyone has the willpower or the commitment you have. Not everyone signed up for this kind of life either. Which is why you need to be tolerant, even generous with people. Anything else is unfair. It's also counterproductive.

  • P246. That's what great leaders do: They make people better. They help them become what they are. As it is written in the Bhagavad Gita, "The path that a great man follows becomes a guide to the world." The self-disciplined don't berate. They don't ask for anything. They just do their job. They don't shame either...except perhaps subtly by their own actions. In their presence, we feel called to step up, to step forward, to reach deeper because they have shown that it is possible.

  • P251. We need to understand that temperance is more than just being mild and calm in stressful situations. It's more than just putting up with the occasional criticism or keeping some of your urges in check. Sometimes it's having the strength to not do the thing you want to do more than anything else in the world. It's holding back the most natural and understandable and forgivable feelings in the world: taking it personally. Running away. Braking down. Locking up with fear. Celebrating with joy. Cursing in anger. Exacting retribution.

  • P256. The more you've done, the higher the standard you must hold yourself to. The more you have, the more selfless you must be. Is it really unfair? Or is it what you signed up for? And by the way, isn't it also what you get paid the big bucks for? That's the privilege of command.

  • P282. Epaminodas took fully to his new job, declaring that it is not the office that brings distinction to the man, it is the man who brings distinction to the office. With hard work and earnestness, Plutarch wrote, "he proceeded to transform that insignificant office into a great and respected honor, even though previously it had involved nothing more than overseeing the clearing of ding and the diverting of water from the streets.

  • P283. This is what you find when you study the true masters of any profession. They don't care much about winning, about money, about fame, about most of the things that have come their way as a result of their success. Their journey has always been toward something bigger. They aren't running a race against the competition. They are in the battle with themselves. Self-discipline has never been about punishment or derivation. It is about becoming the best, the best that you are capable of becoming.

  • P303. In one of the best passages in Meditations, Marcus Aurelius, almost certainly in the depths of some personal crisis of faith, reminds himself to "Love the discipline you know, and let it support you." That's what my note said to do. So I listened. I began showing up at the office earlier each day to work with my material. Card after card, I sorted them into tiny little piles. Looking for connections, for the threads, I could follow, for the key that would unlock the book.

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