I told myself that I would write something and post weekly on my blog (regardless of what happened) and then this past two weeks happened. Amidst the mad rush of things, I found it increasingly difficult to actually write stuff and formalise my thoughts. My brain has been caught up in a smorgasbord of thoughts, my laptop refused to connect to wi-fi, I had to move into college.
On good days, I can easily churn out 3 pages easily on my notebook. On the worst days, I can stare at the blank space on my notebook, without a single blob of ink landing on the dry parchment. Despite being late and flailing, I will persist in my writing endeavours.
One of my main inspirations was a former Navy Seal officer, Jocko Willink who led T-U Bruiser in Ramadi during the Iraq War. He preaches the mantra of Discipline Equals Freedom who wakes up every day at 0430 to workout. His hardcore pursuit of self-improvement fueled by his discipline has inspired me to work on honing my craft.
Thus I found it imperative to truly uncover what discipline truly entails. As I observe and reflect on my life, I found that especially during my NS days that to tell if a soldier is truly disciplined, see if he high kneels outfield. This would be the key indicator of one’s discipline
“Discipline”, is a composite word, derived from two components. (A quick google into its etymology yielded significant results)
1. penitential chastisement; punishment,” from Old French descepline
As cadets, we were never allowed to stand, walk around and “ba long long” during our missions. We had to always maintain a high kneeling position or prone position. As a cadet, I was often assigned the wonderful role of GPMG gunner. I remember every time we were called to halt, I had to slowly hunch myself whilst trying to calibrate the weight of the weapon slung around my neck and manage the field pack I was carrying. A closer inspection of my face would allow you to see the tears ruining the wonderful camo I applied on my face. The failure to comply would result in a vicious lashing from an instructor or some “remedial training” with a copious amount of thunder flashes thrown at us (simulating artillery strikes).
Jumping into a prone position on the ground while shouting “artillery!” was a sure fire way to get “fruity pebbles” in our mouths. If we were really fortunate to get realistic training that day, we would perform a casualty evacuation. This involved giving the VIP treatment to one of the heavier boys in our sections. He would lie casually on the stretcher while the rest of us would carry his load and his body to the nearest casualty collection point. All this hassle because one of us did not take a knee. (Talk about punishment, pain and trauma)
The pain of discipline is also felt viscerally outside the military domain.
Want to lose weight? Suddenly the red velvet cupcake with the whipped cream and hazelnut filling look extra delicious. Instead of gobbling it down, you force-feed yourself on lettuce and chicken breast. After enduring what is tantamount to psychological trauma, you still have to hit the gym and run on the eternal thread mill of doom and pain where seconds feel like an eternity. (For those advanced lifter bros, this feeling of despair is also commonly known as pre-leg day blues)
So when we think discipline, the idea of pain is immediately brought to the forefront of our conscious mind. Yet the second component is often neglected
2. directly from Latin disciplina” instruction given, teaching, learning, knowledge,” also from disciplus “object of instruction, knowledge, science, military discipline,”
The pain of discipline without instructional value is meaningless. The reason we subject ourselves to hardship is that we value growth and mission success over instant gratification.
This was something I learnt as I matured as a cadet and later on as an instructor.
The point of enforcing the high kneeling was meant to ultimately educate soldiers like me to adopt proper soldier fundamentals to enhance our survival and mission success. High kneeling ensures that one remains concealed under the vegetation when danger is approaching, maximising stealth and security (even when the troops are caught under fire). Coupled with the prone position, high kneeling ensures soldiers can effectively engage without compromising oneself too much.
The temporary relief of avoiding the high kneel might have disastrous implications as one could compromise our position to an enemy observation post who could delay, attrite kill our troops causing unnecessary casualties and hampering mission success. The seemingly harsh treatment we received was no more than a realistic simulation of the disastrous consequences when a lapse of discipline occurs in conflict situations.
In my mind, all these seemingly painful tasks have a payoff at the end. So if delayed gratification is the key, then my hypothesis on discipline would be to just do hard things. But that would seem incomplete because in my time as an instructor, through observing myself and my cadets, I came to realise that you can tell of one’s discipline by observing the easy things they do.
Those who were disciplined took care of the small and minute details of their life.They often cleaned their weapons well, smart in bearings and their rooms were always kept prim and proper (alas, I admit that I too sometimes lacked the discipline.) These were menial tasks that did not require one to move mountains, yet it reflected their character.
Discipline is Relentless Repetition.
Allow me to indulge in the army analogy again. There is nothing hard about just taking a knee (you can do it literally right now). When you are fresh, clean with your camo “gao-gao”, you feel like Rambo, ready to high kneel and kill all the enemies in front of you. But, imagine being out in the field for three days, subject to all elements of the weather and facing your 7th contact. Heat rash sears through your back, thighs and chest. You move gingerly, hoping not to feel the pain of red ants crawling through your body.
What would you do?
Alternatively, when you are well-rested, with your favourite spotify playlist blasting, it is easy to hit the gym. You feel motivated and ready to gorge on your lettuce, cabbage and chicken. But imagine your worst day, when you feel lethargic, lazy. The chocolate cupcake looks extra delicious. Your legs leadened and your soul deadened.
What would you do?
The task is not inherently difficult (we all can take a knee easily, eat salads and avoid having cupcakes) because when we feel like it, it can easily be done.
Regardless the situation, true discipline warrants relentless repetition. On days you feel like it, you execute. On the days, you drag yourself out of bed, you STILL execute.
This differentiated those disciplined and those who were coasting by, because when you repeat the process with no loss of rigour, you would condition yourself to the purposeful pain of discipline. Just like a seasoned soldier who now high kneels in vegetation at the moment the signal is given, eating a bowl of salad (or whatever you wish to achieve) would become instinctual and second-nature to you.
Call to Action:
Choose a very simple task and commit yourself to doing it for 30 days straight, without stopping (Relentless Repetition). This can include:
Folding your blanket every morning
Doing 100 push-ups
Not hitting the Snooze Button
Going for a run
Read for 20 minutes
All these are low-cost activities that do not require you to murder yourself (hence, driving home the point that these tasks are inherently easy) but it is the need for one to intentionally commit him/herself to doing it daily that builds one’s discipline.
PS: I am certainly not the perfect human being and even till now, I am still honing my discipline.