Discipline equals Freedom

A podcast I was listening to some months ago made a reference to a quote “discipline equals freedom” by Jocko Willink. The podcast was not about discipline or habits, yet this small phrase stuck in my mind and intrigued me. I wondered what it meant and how could discipline be equal to freedom. The first person that came to my mind when I heard the phrase is my father, who is very disciplined with himself. So much that, sometime some of us at home get irritated.

We often joke around that we can set the clock based on my father’s routine. Before you start wondering, let me give you a glimpse of my father and his disciplined routine. He is 79 years old and 8 years ago he had a fall resulting in a fractured hip. Having gone through an implant surgery, his life changed dramatically after that. Already having a severe scoliosis in his spine was not helpful and post the surgery his physical ability was heavily affected. A physically active and engaged person, he was now limited in the things he could do and had to completely stop his daily trips to the market or for other errands.

Slowly as he recovered, he established a routine that he has been following for the last 8 years. He wakes up at 7.00, will do a set of exercises his physiotherapist had taught him after surgery. Watch the TV for news. Read Indian Express newspaper. Around 8.30am go downstairs to feed the birds and walk to get some sun. Have his bath by 9 am, say his prayers. Precisely at 9.30 am he has a small breakfast. Read the papers in more detail, maybe some magazine or write the notes for various courses he takes from time to time. Fold all the clothes- a chore my Mom has assigned to him to keep his hand eye coordination in good condition as he has some issues with nerves in his hands. At 11.30 second round of physio exercises, a small nap, some more reading and he is ready for lunch at exactly 1.30pm.

Post lunch nap, he heads to the kitchen at 3.30 pm and gets ready for an important afternoon ritual. He takes one packet of milk from the fridge and places it in a bowl of water. At 3.55 he will take the milk packet from the water, as it has now reached room temp. Boil the milk and then make tea for anyone who would like to have some. Between 4.30 and 5.30 he might read or do some writing or watch a bit of TV. Change into trousers and shirt for his evening walk. Back from his walk, he changes again, does third round of physio exercises, some reading and ready for dinner at 8.00 pm.

If you are thinking that I am making this up, the truth is that I am skipping some of the specific details. He has followed this for the last 8 years and has never complained about his dented abilities to do things. He says that this self-discipline is what he measures his daily success by. Doing what he chooses to do each day helps him stay positive and feel a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day. In a way he is stating that self-discipline has given him freedom. Freedom from unnecessary distractions and freedom to be purposeful.

I could have never understood this if I were not in a lockdown, thanks to Covid19. Without really planning, I seem to have developed a kind disciplined rhythm while being home. Surprisingly, I feel a sense of accomplishment as long as I have stuck to the tasks planned and have achieved them. I do not feel the urge to step out. I do not feel like I am missing doing something more important. I guess in some way I seem to have imbibed my father’s sense of discipline in choosing to do small things intentionally.

I have realised in this housebound state that freedom is not about being able to be out and about doing things. Freedom is the ability to choose what I want to do within the boundaries that are around us. In my father’s case, he has chosen what is important for him in the 24 hours he has each day and developed a discipline to accomplish those things without fail.

The lockdown has further limited the things my father can do. He is unable to go down for walks or read newspapers, but he has replaced these with some more exercise, prayer time and re-reading old books. But never once has he complained that he feels imprisoned in his own home. He is happy that he can do everything he has chosen to.

Lockdown or not, every one of us has limitations within which we need to operate. We experience a sense of freedom when we diligently do what we have chosen to do within the constraints that are part of our lives. Paradox of life is that, more discipline means greater mastery over resources we have to work with. Discipline equals freedom takes on a new dimension. Freedom is not a permission to do whatever one chooses, it is the space one creates when exercising self-discipline, space which one is free to fill with purposeful action.

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