Strive for off-grid discipline

We lost a floorball game yesterday. I can't stop thinking about it. Maybe because it felt like a pointless loss, like we lost because of something fully within our grasp.

What happened? Two periods into the game, we were ahead 3:1. We had kept our defence intact, our game decent. But then in the third period we just came apart. We started to push on the attack even though we were in no hurry, the opponents were. Maybe it was that we felt confident enough and wanted to have some fun as well, score some goals? And then we completely let the fundamentals of the game slip, and so the opponents scored 3 goals in one period and won.

Afterwards, I thought about something I've heard about war. Wars are won not by the heroic motivation by the men on the front -- it helps, but is definitely not enough. Wars are won through good supply chains, strong production & restocking, getting materials and men where needed on time. In other words, Discipline.

Discipline is a sort of ongoing assertion that we will adhere to what we've agreed upon, whether it's a set of formal rules or simply a standard we set to ourselves. It is ongoing because in every moment of weakness -- whether the thought of grabbing a self-forbidden chocolate, or lingering upfield and not running to defence -- you need to make the right decision. Discipline is what you fall back on: whether you make the right decision in a difficult moment depends on how disciplined you are.

So it is easy to see why discipline is hard to keep: it requires ongoing effort. The default is for the pre-made agreement to fade from memory. For new, more interesting thoughts to appear. For another part of you to argue yourself out of following the rules. For emotion to take rein.

I think discipline is a habit. It has the hallmarks of one: trigger (the moment of weakness) and action (choosing the pre-agreed right path vs choosing the easy path). And because it is a habit, practice helps. If in training you always run back to defence you are more likely to do so on game day, because you've reinforced the habit.

Discipline generalizes. I've observed that the players who are late to training are also the first to fall apart when things are not going well, and vice versa. Again, this makes sense if discipline is a habit, a predictable behaviour in response to a trigger.

In a military setting, or even at work, you can enforce discipline a lot with hard power. But in some situations, like amateur sports or voluntary organizations, you can't do that. As soon as you start leaning on people to go out of their comfort zone they might leave or resent and undermine the effort in other ways. So you need to introduce it cleverly. It's probably easiest to start with rules that make sense on their own, that aren't drills with the pure purpose of instilling discipline.

Where does discipline come from? Is there a genetic component? Is it drilled into you at school, and are some people more receptive than others? It's hard to tell. But from my own experience, it can change a lot over time, and I have the ability to mold it. It's hard to go from zero to hundred in a day, but you can get there by building Momentum slowly over time.

There is externally enforced discipline, like your boss saying you have to be at work at 9am or you are fired. And then there's internal discipline: what time will you wake up if you have lots of interesting things to do but no particular deadline, not even in weeks or months?

Even though they look similar, the two types are very different. External discipline is like a grid power connection; it's valuable as long as it's there. Internal discipline is more like a small nuclear reactor inside you that produces power almost indefinitely, independently of whatever is happening in the outside world.

I think your goal should be to get off-grid, to self-sufficiency. That means you should get to a point where you have enough discipline that, without a boss or deadline or law or whatever, you consistently do the things that you want. You go on that 10k run on Saturday morning at 6am. You read that algebra textbook you've been meaning to make progress on, in your spare time without any exams. You do the thing, purely because you have decided you want to, and there is no argument about it.