Originally written on Twitter, now saved here:
I think it’s kind of out of fashion to talk about discipline—creative, ethical, athletic, intellectual. It’s the kind of thing you can write off as an internalized productivity myth—a bad capitalist habit. But the people I admire most have an awful lot of it. It runs so deep.
There’s something about intentionally cultivating your ability to do the hard thing. These people will tell you that their goodness is only by practice—that it is difficult, not intrinsic. They make commitments to their better selves, and hold their lesser selves accountable.
The people I know like this are a bit quirky. They wake up early, stay up late. They have obsessive spreadsheets to track their runs. They paint every day. They are meticulous in their work. They have habits. They accomplish incredible things, they resist incredible pressure.
They do the difficult-right thing, routinely. They climb literal and figurative mountains. They drag their ass to the lab, the studio, the dojo not because they always want to be there, but because showing up serves their higher purpose.
And because they want to be the kind of person that shows up.
Coaches, like dads, have favourite sayings. “Discipline is all you have when motivation runs out.” “You can’t fake practice.” “Sit in your discomfort.” These are probably as close as I’ll ever get to personal mantra.
And maybe this is why I often feel at odds with the corporate take-it-easy dogma of “self care,” which can feel individualistic, indulgent, almost narcissistic. Like it’s selling you something.
(Of course it can be so much deeper and important—but this tendency is undeniable).
Because there’s also something very radical about looking inside, finding what wild thing it is that you are intrinsically motivated to do, and then doing it. Challenge isn’t inconsistent with self care. It’s the dimension of self care that is self-actualizing, that is self-work.
I’m not quite sure where I’m going with this except to say that I admire these things in other people, and wish there was a richer conversation in public life about what makes them—without getting written off as a misguided Protestant work ethic or latent self-loathing.