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posted on August 12, 2021

What is discipline? Should you practice discipline all the time? Are there times that you should be undisciplined? 


This blog won’t aim to answer these questions for you, but it will attempt to help you understand the factors that go into answering these questions. Discipline is obviously an integral part of successful training, so being disciplined all the time is good, right? Maybe. 


Fast Thinking vs. Slow Thinking (Intuition vs. Logic)


Daniel Kahneman wrote in Thinking, Fast and Slow that we have two rough categories of thinking. One mode of thinking is quick, intuitive, and acts on the aggregation of both conscious and unconscious information. This type of thinking is very efficient in social situations and in which time is extremely constrained. This is the more primitive form of thinking, and it’s been refined over the existence of humankind. 


The second mode of thinking is slow, deliberate, and has the ability to make the most accurate decision from the specific information given. What’s more, this type of thinking is able to take into account the past events of history and possible projections of the future. More about this in a moment. Although this thinking is slower, the decisions made are usually more robust because they have survived scrutiny from a multitude of angles. 


The reason I bring this up is that logical thinking is great at projecting the future. This means that we are able to play out possibilities in our head. This also gives us the unique ability to understand the impact of our decisions and delay gratification. You’ve probably heard all about this. Run on the treadmill now and suffer, have better body composition and wellness in the future. This lies at the heart of the idea of discipline. In layman’s terms, discipline is the ability to make decisions now that sacrifice the short-term and optimize the long-term. But should we do this all the time?


Discipline and Autonomy Clash


There are times in which the discipline that we’ve committed ourselves to restricts our autonomy. Autonomy is a fundamental human need in different amounts across individuals. However, we all need it to a degree. Don’t feel like benching? Too bad. Suck it up. Don’t feel like doing conditioning? Tough cookies. Get it done. 


While this approach will help us stick to our commitments, we are ignoring important information. Intuitive information. Enter fast thinking. If you really don’t feel like lifting, there may be a good reason for it. Grinding through sessions is a good skill to possess, but my contention is that this skill shouldn’t always be expressed. The reason is that always choosing the routine you’ve committed yourself to betrays some deep desires. 


So, what’s the answer? Do your best to balance discipline and autonomy. There are most certainly times in your life in which you won’t make very disciplined decisions. If you’re on vacation, I would contend that discipline should be the last thing on your mind. Relax and follow your interests. Get away from the structure for a while. But at the same time, don’t use your intuition and impulses to justify making decisions that don’t align with your goals. 


There is a season for everything. Discipline can help us transform ourselves into the people we want to be in the future. This is an important endeavor, but not at the expense of completely sacrificing good food with the people we love, being silly and impulsive, or spending time not doing a whole lot at all.


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