One of the biggest struggles I have faced as a budding Stoic is trying to balance the philosophy of Stoicism with the theory of Hedonism. A gentleman I worked with that sat right next to me tested my stoic nature every day. He had the nickname “Big Chillin’” as he was known to cruise through life. He would regularly grouse “you need to just take it easy man, you’re always so serious. Try big chillin’ for a bit.” I would, in turn, scoff at this idea and prattle on about discipline and the need to work hard now to have more freedom in the future. Paying a price upfront for a reward down the road. This conversation would happen almost daily.
Knowing that everyone is my superior in some way, I can look back at those conversations and reflect on what I can take away from Big Chillin’s lifestyle. While I don’t personally agree that the pursuit of pleasure and self-indulgence is the answer to life, I can see where its merits are. I, in turn, have come to fall in love with the struggle of putting my immediate gratification to the side and putting in hard work to get a more desirable outcome down the road. When I’m being tempted by the hedonistic lifestyle I turn to a few words of discipline to keep me on track.
This has quickly become a motto in my life. These three words were my gateway to learning to love hard work. I had spent 30+ years looking for shortcuts, easy paths, and “get rich quick” schemes for life. The one thing I had never tried was putting in hard work. After some trial and error, I came to learn that the path is trial and error. Lots of error. Yet, never letting error win. Errors and failure are our teachers.
Do you want more financial freedom, enact financial discipline. Sit down and really take a look at what you’re spending your money on. What is a true expense that needs to be paid? Rent/mortgage, utilities, groceries? Where are you spending money that is “fun money?” Coffee, video games, theatre trips, eating out. Discipline is not easy, which is why not everyone chooses to exercise theirs.
You will often hear the words “well I’m not disciplined.” I’ve learned to respond to this by saying “you aren’t disciplined yet.” This is a skill just like any other: writing, rock climbing, calligraphy. It just takes practice.
Want more nutritional discipline? Be more mindful of what you’re doing instead of just doing it. Are you really hungry, or is it just “time” to eat? You know what’s good for you, you know what’s bad for you, so ask yourself why you’re choosing the bad thing. Is it immediate gratification over long-term rewards?
So how does this translate into “discipline equals freedom?” When you’ve spent the last two months eating nutritionally sound food, eating a piece of cake isn’t going to completely derail you. When you’ve been disciplined with your budget and spending, splurging on a nice meal or going to the movies isn’t going to put you into a financial pinch. You have the freedom to make those choices. They’re just…later instead of now.
This has been a great reminder that the pursuit of knowledge is never enough. We don’t want to get stuck in a rut of procuring information and doing nothing with it. One must act on the knowledge and wishes we have. Reading a self-help book is easy; to some finishing the book itself may be an act of discipline. Once the book is read, we have to have the discipline to act and implement the guidelines and directions that have been given.
Without the discipline of taking action and doing the hard work, all we have is hopes and dreams.
Far too many times have I sat at home and thought “I wish I would have kept going, I wish I would have gone to X.” “Why didn’t I just do Y.” That feeling is one that most humans have felt. Regret and remorse at our own actions. Self-imposed torture. The worst part? We have the power to remove that feeling from our life but regularly choose not to. How? By choosing the disciplined path and doing that which feels difficult and daunting.
If your goal is to run a mile without stopping and you stop running knowing you could have kept going, that 1/4 you had left will haunt you. You’ll ask yourself why you didn’t keep going or try to figure out why you stopped. That is the pain of regret. Pay a little now to get that reward just a little later.
Once we learn how to defeat that little voice in our head that says “stop, you’ve earned a rest, nobody wants to hear what you have to say, you’re not really a writer, you’re nobody,” you’ll have become unstoppable. That little voice, the saboteur, Big Chillin’, is looking for ways to make your life more comfortable immediately, the easy way. The payoff for that? The shameful and vile feeling Plato was referring to.
How do we defeat that voice? Small, every-day acts of discipline completed habitually. Any act of discipline is a step away from complacency and the “easy” life. Feel that shame no longer.
Remind yourself of what you want for yourself, not what you want at this moment. Pick 1 thing that seems hard and start doing it. Just one. Once you realize all it takes is a little discipline, you can start tackling those daunting tasks. You’ll realize all it takes is a little work done consistently and suddenly, anything is possible.
Want to write a book, start writing, even just 100 words a day. It might take you a while, but after 7 days, you’ll be 700 words closer to a book. 700 words that didn’t exist seven days earlier. Want to read more? choose a goal and stick to it, habitually. Follow these self-imposed rules as if they were law and you were to be jailed if you didn’t follow them.
When you look back and see which pain you chose and you realize you chose the pain of regret, remember that there is no pity for self-inflicted wounds.