At the end of last year, I went on a discipline binge. I got introduced to Jocko Willink through some general “research” about early risers I was casually doing on YouTube (aka I was going down a productivity rabbit hole) when I saw this motivational speech by a man who looked like a freaking statue of Hercules come to life.
I started listening to more of his stuff and I was soon hooked. I bought his book on Audible, Extreme Ownership, and found it really motivating to listen to while I ran. I heard stories of modern warfare and these incredible physical feats overcome through drilling and discipline that helped me convince myself I could go one mile longer on my little fun run in paradise. I started talking about Jocko to whoever would listen. On film set I was on, it even became a joke among the cast and crew to “Get Some” (one of his favorite phrases) when you were feeling tired or low energy.
Though I had gone through plenty of phases of being an early riser before, something about reading that book and listening to that information at that time became a huge transformative step in what has been a wonderful past few months for me.
Here are the main lessons I’d like to remind you, now that we’re a few weeks into the new year and people’s motivations are likely waning.
First, discipline starts right when you wake up. You don’t judge what you’re doing as good or bad. You just do it. If you don’t want to wake up, that doesn’t matter. Discipline means you just choose to do it anyway. And when you do, it builds a tiny little muscle that can become a foundation for a much stronger muscle. Discipline isn’t some big choice you make every day. It’s not bench pressing 1,000 lbs when you walk into the weight room your first try. It’s showing up every day and slowly but surely increasing your strength and your confidence so you can eventually achieve what seems like superhuman strength. When, really, anyone could do it as long as they give the amount of work and discipline required. Don’t judge. Just do.
Well, maybe everyone can’t bench 1,000 lbs in their lifetime, but you get my point.
Oh and Jocko for sure can. I have no doubt. He probably does that as his warm up before eating an entire farm for breakfast. He’s a beast.
Secondly, there’s no point in complaining. It’s fine to get something off your chest. And it’s wonderful to be in touch with your emotions so you become aware when something isn’t serving you or when you may be in an environment where you need to make a change. But complaining doesn’t help fix anything and it wastes precious time and energy on absolutely nothing.
If you need to communicate something happened, communicate it. You don’t need to put all the judgements on top of it being good or bad. Zen philosophy would argue that nothing is inherently good or bad anyway, so the time you spent judging or complaining about some thing that happened is a total waste and doesn’t serve you at all.
If something happens to you, spending your energy complaining about it not only wastes that energy, but it can feel disempowering. Rather than realizing you have the power to do something about it, you act like you’re being productive when you whine and moan. Either you can do something about it to improve the situation for you – in which case figure out what it is and do so immediately – or you can’t – in which case you can’t so simply accept your new circumstances and figure out how to make the most of them. If something happened because of actions you took, own them. Blaming someone else or complaining about someone not stepping up again disempowers you. You are in control. You have power. You are worthy of being in control and having power over your life and how you approach the circumstances within it.
Things just happen. That’s what things do. There’s no need to waste your energy complaining. Once you accept this, you can reallocate that energy into fixing problems around you so that you can live a smoother, more productive existence. Until, of course, the next thing pops up. But deal with issues as they appear. Don’t worry about them or what might happen in the future. Understand that your current actions have repercussions down the line and everything that happens just is. It is what it is. No use in complaining about it so spend your precious short time on this earth complaining.
Jocko’s head is shaved like a monk. I don’t think that’s the look he was going for when he did it, but it’s the look I see. He’s a zen beast.
And finally*, you’re capable of so much more than you may currently believe.
I’m not sure this was a lesson that was outright stated in any of Jocko’s writing, but it’s definitely something I saw directly in his work and his stories. People who are willing to teach themselves intense discipline practices and who spend their time and energy devoted to bettering themselves and their world without complaining or blaming tend to start creating some pretty awesome lives. They slowly but surely start discovering that the world is more malleable than they may have previously thought. They begin believing that anything is possible and that they can achieve incredible new heights in their life, goals, and career simply through constant and consistent application of these efforts.
Our brains are conditioned to be a little lazy. It’s not their fault – it actually usually helps us as humans. We want to stay safe and we want to do whatever will require the least amount of output. If our brain had to exert a lot of energy in order to consistently do the involuntary actions it does to keep us alive, we wouldn’t have much brainpower left to thrive.
The second our brain wires something in as a habit or a learned trait, it becomes part of our hardwiring so that the next time we want to do it, it’s already ingrained and easier. This usually works in our favor. But when it comes to creating new habits – healthier ones to replace the old ones no longer serving us – it can get frustrating. Your brain will want to revert back to what it’s always said, thought, and done. It’s easier. Maybe at first the new habit will be easy because it’s novel and fun. But eventually, when your brain realizes it has to do some work to break the old synapses and replace them with new ones, it will rebel. It will begin to fight back to keep the old synapse alive so that it doesn’t have to do work to create the new one. That’s when you need to be aware and fight it.
A couple weeks into the new year, your motivation may be failing and you may or may not have cultivated the right mindset to have the discipline to follow through on whatever your ambitious resolutions were. And your brain is most definitely putting up a fight not to replace the old habit because that means it has to work harder than it wants to.
Fight back. Recognize what’s happening and recommit to the you you want to be. Don’t settle for the you now if it’s a you that isn’t satisfying. You don’t need some major external change to make a minor internal one that can lead to more dramatic future changes. You just need to know, and maybe sometimes be reminded, that you are capable. Resistance is natural. Choose to commit.
As a dedicated yogi, I have to throw in that it’s totally fine to listen to your body. Nobody is asking you to go to incredible extremes immediately. Even though my beloved Jocko is all about the word “extreme,” I do believe it’s totally fine if your body is telling you it cannot to listen to it. But I would encourage you to have a conversation with it. Get honest and get in tune. Is it telling you to stop because it doesn’t want to? That’s different. Is it telling you to stop because it’s scared? That’s different. Is it telling you it wants to stop because it’s not ready and you’re going to break something? In that case, listen to it and learn how to improve so you can get a little closer to your goal in the future.
Get in your own version of Beast Mode, whatever that may mean, and make Jocko proud.
Oh also sometimes I call him my best friend and life coach. He would hate that if he found that out. I’m not doing it to make him hate me, I’m simply trying to manifest someday meeting him and having a positive interaction. Shoot for the Jocko moon, and even if you miss, you’ll land among the Seals.
Now quit reading and go out and get some.
*There’s plenty more that I discovered and glean (and continue to glean!) from his book Extreme Ownership and his podcast, Jocko Podcast and his various interviews (not to mention his Ted Talk). But these are the few I boiled down for simplicity sake. Jocko says simplicity is the key to good communication (another thing you’ll learn from him!). So as part of a my tribute to him, I’m keeping this short and sweet in three simple main lessons.