I spoke to Jocko Willink, author of “Discipline Equals Freedom: Field Manual“, about the connection between discipline and freedom, some of the mental and physical disciplines he practices, some strategies for conquering weaknesses, how technology can help or hurt relationships and how he transformed his life after creating a discipline.
Willink was a Navy SEAL for 20 years, rising through the ranks to become the commander of Task Unit Bruiser―the most decorated Special Operations Unit of the Iraq War. After retiring, Jocko continued on the disciplined path of success, co-founding Echelon Front, a multi-million dollar leadership and management consulting company, writing the #1 New York Times bestseller Extreme Ownership, the children’s book Way of the Warrior Kid, and creating one of the top-ranking podcasts, JOCKO PODCAST.
Dan Schawbel: What is the connection between discipline and freedom? How does this build off your previous book, Extreme Ownership?
Jocko Willink: While Discipline and Freedom seem like they sit on opposite sides of the spectrum, they are actually very connected. Freedom is what everyone wants — to be able to act and live with freedom. But the only way to get to a place of freedom is through discipline. If you want financial freedom, you have to have financial discipline. If you want more free time, you have to follow a more disciplined time management system. You also have to have the discipline to say “No” to things that eat up your time with no payback—things like random YouTube videos, click-bait on the internet, and even events that you agree to attend when you know you won’t want to be there. Discipline equals freedom applies to every aspect of life: if you want more freedom, get more discipline.
It builds off of the last chapter in Extreme Ownership, when I briefly explained my personal operating system and how it tied into leadership. Discipline Equals Freedom Field Manual gets granular in explaining the implementation of personal discipline in life. It explains how to get on the path of discipline — and stay there.
Schawbel: Can you talk about some of the mental and physical disciplines you practice on a daily basis?
Willink: No one wants to hear this, but step number one is to wake up early. That is where it starts. It does take discipline to get out of bed early, but that sets the tone and the pattern of discipline for the rest of the day.
The next thing to do is exercise — do something physical. Again, that takes discipline, but it gives you momentum in the right direction. Exercise also has real physiological impacts on the body and mind that pay dividends all day.
One of the best mental disciplines for people to implement is simply putting together a schedule or a task list and actually executing it. Write the list or the schedule the night before, and then do what you said you would do. Life becomes much better when you do that.
Schawbel: What are some strategies for conquering your weaknesses and potentially turning them into strengths?
Willink: Step number one is not to run from them. We all have a tendency to avoid our weaknesses. When we do that, we never progress or get any better.
Instead of avoiding weaknesses, try attacking them. Don’t like running? Go run. Uncomfortable speaking to groups? Volunteer to teach a class at work. Afraid to email your boss on that tough topic? Send the email.
Although all these actions will be uncomfortable at first, you will get more comfortable over time. As you continue to spend time attacking your weaknesses, over time, they will become strengths.
Schawbel: What are some disciplines for using technology less and focusing on deep personal relationships more?
Willink: I am not anti-technology at all. I don’t think technology hurts relationship in business or in life. In fact, it can help—as long as the technology is used to augment relationships and doesn’t become the main conduit of interaction.
I text message and email with friends and clients all the time. There is nothing wrong with that. But it is also important to know that texts and emails have limits. There are situations where a phone call or a face-to-face visit are needed.
Also, there are times where technology can hurt a relationship. Obviously, talking to a person that is staring at their phone doesn’t build anything but annoyance and frustration. Even constantly checking your phone is not good. Who is it that you think is calling or emailing or texting you that absolutely MUST hear from you RIGHT NOW? The President? Elon Musk? Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson? Sorry to break it to you, it’s not them. In fact, your phone buzzing probably isn’t even a person—it’s a robocall from a solar installation company trying to drum up business.
So. Don’t look at your phone every three seconds. Instead, try looking at the person that is talking to you.
Schawbel: Can you share an example of how you transformed your life after creating a discipline and sticking to it?
Willink: Basically everything positive in my life has come from discipline. I didn’t make it through SEAL Training based on my natural athletic abilities; no, I had the discipline to train hard in preparation and then work hard during the training. My career in the SEAL Teams was not based on some intrinsic gift, but rather on the willingness to do what needed to be done, and to do that day after day. I did well in college not because of some supreme intellect, but because I had the discipline to study hard. When I was inspired to write books, that inspiration didn’t sit down and start typing for hundreds of hours; no, it was the discipline that actually put the words on paper.
And that is the real message: If you want to transform your life in a positive way, that transformation will not happen by itself. You need to make it happen. You need to do the work. You need to put in the hours, the days, the weeks, the months, and the years. You need to get on the path and stay on the path—the path that leads to the positive transformations, the path that leads to a better you, the path that leads to freedom.
And that path is the hard path. The tough path. The relentless path. It is the path of Discipline. And the path of Discipline is the only way. Discipline Equals Freedom.
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