Discipline Equals Freedom

Discipline equals freedom.

This is an idea that Jocko Willink lives by.

Jocko is a former SEAL commander, and has a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Obviously, he knows a thing or two about discipline.

But on the surface, the idea of discipline equals freedom doesn’t make any sense. Isn’t discipline the exact opposite of freedom? Almost by definition, discipline strips you from the freedom to make decisions in the moment.


Take a step back and think about it in a wider context.

Only when we have the discipline to consistently take care of the little things in life do we have the freedom to fully devote ourselves to the bigger issues.

The basketball court is a perfect example.

There are a few core skills: dribbling, positioning, footwork, etc. These are the little things.

The game of basketball comes down to making plays. On offense, it’s about consistently finding ways for your team to get the ball in the hoop.

Positioning doesn’t win you games. Neither does footwork.

But they are prerequisites for success.

Before you even have a chance to make a play, you need to be in the right position. When you’re making a move, you don’t have time to think about whether you’re going to go through your legs or behind the back. It needs to be automatic.

These little things can only be mastered through intense discipline. You need to be willing to put in countless hours working on different dribbling moves. You have to take the time to study the game to understand where you need to be.

But once you do master these fundamentals, the impact is amazing. Suddenly you find yourself with opportunities to make plays.

In basketball, as in life, the little things enable the big things.

You need the discipline to make these things automatic before you have the freedom to execute.


This idea extends beyond the court too.

When I was college, there was school work to be done every day.

Some days, I would sit in front of the TV with my laptop and hang out with my roommates, trying to work. But there were always distractions. I would start on an assignment, and get a text from my girlfriend. Or a show would get interesting, and I would get sucked in.

There were days when I would waste my entire day “working,” and get almost nothing done. And the little work I did finish was embarrassing.

But some days I had the discipline to take a different approach. I would wake up at 6 AM and heading directly to the library to find a quiet place to work, turn off my phone, and get to work.

On these days, I’d usually finish everything I needed to do for the day in just a few hours. Then I’d have the rest of the day to do whatever I wanted.

That’s freedom.

On days like this, I  could spend my evening how I chose. Whether that meant going to play pick-up basketball, going out with my friends, or just hanging out to watch a game; I could do whatever I wanted.


How does discipline give you freedom?