curiosity across disciplines


..kinda sucks.

Not the having it, of course. That's quite helpful, necessary even. But as a compass that helps you navigate toward your goals, discipline is a bit meh.

And since I'll be aggravating everyone, let's add hustle, motivation, and grit to the pile of sexy hype men with excellent PR and vacuous substance.

To brass these tacks, discipline (et al.) has a fatal flaw: it's not actionable. You can't do discipline.

Suuure, you can "have discipline" and technically "have" is a verb, and anything that's a verb you can, at least in some roundabout way, do.

But tryhard semantics aside, the core issue is that fundamentally, discipline is an emergent property.

Basically, an emergent property is something that is greater than the sum of its parts. Think ant colonies, happiness, or colorectal cancer.

In the same way you can't find a colony within a single ant, you can't isolate and do discipline. Put another way, you can't discipline your way to discipline, strictly speaking.

You need to do other stuff to obtain discipline.

The obvious next question is, "why do we spend so much time focused on discipline and not on the thing that creates discipline?!" And "what's the more useful alternative?"


Yes, patience; vastly superior to discipline in nearly every conceivable way. It's dead simple (not easy) to do, and it's actionable. It's so actionable that when you think you're "doing discipline" you're usually just being patient.

When you don't go ham on the break room donuts put out for someone's birthday, it's not discipline doing the heavy lifting. It's patience.

Patience is the under-appreciated and subtle intermediate step you take when you're deciding if you grab a donut. You pause. You wait. You stick to your guns.

You might say that's willpower, but in avoiding something you shouldn't be doing[1], what is willpower but patience with intention?

Discipline is the thing you passively receive because you were patient and because you built useful habits. Once that happens, you no longer decide about the donuts at all.

Discipline might be the destination, but patience gets you there. What's more, despite it being harder, patience remains when discipline fails.

If you could just do discipline on the first, or second, or twentieth try, then "discipline" and "grit" and "motivation" wouldn't be the sexy, overrated, dripping-in-SEO buzzwords they are.

Patience is the thing you need if you want success over the long term. If you want something to become part of your life, i.e., it's an ingrained habit that outwardly manifests as this thing we call discipline, then you need patience with yourself.

You will fail, over and over and over. The only way to keep moving forward and to arrive at discipline is to be patient and stick with it.

If you want to do awesome things, you should trade up for patience. Discipline will come crawling back later, like the good little boy it is.

  1. Admittedly, my argument falls apart for willpower in the affirmative. As in, if you need to just start that last set at the gym or pop into a cold shower, patience isn't going to help you. That's just willpower. If, however, you're in the middle of a set of high-rep lunges, patience still slaps. You already decided to start, now just exploit inertia and wait out the suffering. Bada bing bada boom. ↩︎