Preparation, not Discipline

Discipline is actually only preparation. Think about it. When we have a goal we want to achieve, we work out a series of actions that will get us there. If you want to visit your mother in Los Angeles and you live in New Jersey, and you plan to fly there, you have to check available flights, make a reservation, pack your bags, get yourself to the airport on time, get on the plane, wait your way through the roughly 6 hour flight, and get transportation in Los Angeles to take you to your mother’s home. If you leave out any one of those steps, you will not get to see your mother. This scenario is relatively obvious. To get to the end in question, we have to recognize and activate the relevant means.

Take a different example. You want to lose weight. You lay out a diet plan, embark on it with enthusiasm, and 5 days later, you go off the diet. You say, I just don’t have the discipline to do this. You are mistaken. It is not a lack of discipline. It is an unwillingness to take the appropriate means to the desired end. To lose weight means to cut down on your caloric intake and perhaps to exercise as well. Those are means to that end. It is not about discipline at all. It is about recognizing that the means to losing weight takes place through the medium of less calories consumed. If you don’t sustain the diet, it is because you have confused preparation with what you call discipline. Every goal requires the requisite means. Those means represent the overall preparation we have to take to get to our goal. The means are a series of connected links to the end result. The diet is no different than the trip to Los Angeles or any other goal you set yourself to accomplish. All goals require the means that will realize the goal. If you falter, it is a breakdown in the means required and the goal is lost.

If you want to run a marathon, you have to train your muscles to endure running for the distance of a marathon. There is no discipline involved. There is the means of increasing your mileage tolerance for running which is something you can only do gradually. If, over a 3 month period you increase your weekly mileage from 25 miles a week to 60 miles a week, and you increase your long runs from 4 miles to 18 miles a week, you will be able to run a marathon. If you don’t, you won’t. I know this is true because that is how I trained for my first marathon. I ran it non-stop in 3 hours and 34 minutes at age 50. It wasn’t a matter of discipline. It was a matter of consistent training.

Goals achieved are a function of means taken. Discipline is a myth, an obscuring concept we insert between the means and the goal in question. All goals require that we take the means that leads to the goal. What we call “discipline” is simply activating the means along the way of achieving the goal in question. It is a process, where one link takes us to the next until we reach the final goal.

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About The Practical Philosopher

I am a retired Philosophy professor. I taught philosophy for 43 years, and I would like to share some of what I have found pursuing the fascinating journey of philosophy.
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