Discipline was one of the four pillar virtues the Stoics valued. They believed that to accomplish something, we need to put in the work, requiring effort and consistency. As Seneca said, “no one is fit to rule who has not first mastered themselves”. Discipline is needed to get things done, even when we don’t feel like it. In fact, discipline actually reduces stress and anxiety as the structure and predictability of actions counteract the stress of uncertainty.
But how can we keep ourselves disciplined in such a distracted world? How can we build and master self-discipline? Marcus Aurelius stated that nature is hard-working, and thus so are humans. It’s in our nature to work and contribute to the world. Here’s how to do it.
The Importance of Self-Control:
In order to become more disciplined, we need to master self-control, and it’s becoming increasingly hard to do so thanks to the constant distractions we are exposed to. Whether it’s social media, TV or even the opinions of others, we are always distracted by something which makes us deviate from our work. However, self-control can be learnt and improved over time. We can learn to resist temptation and master our ability to restrain ourselves. This can be done through repeated exposure to the temptation and resisting it. The more we expose ourselves to our temptations and resist them, the less powerful and overbearing they become.
Stoics believed that it’s in our nature to work. Industriousness is the habit of being active and busy. We need to do what needs to be done consistently for the world to operate normally. As an emperor, Marcus Aurelius needed to constantly show up for his people, even when he didn’t want to. He often questioned himself as to whether his purpose was to stay warm under the sheets or serve his country to motivate himself to get up and work. He also argued that animals and nature wake up everyday and fulfil their tasks to keep the world in order without question, thus humans should do the same. After all, work has been an essential part of humanity since the dawn of time.
Stoics believed that laziness came from a lack of self-love: “in earnest, you have no true love for yourself. If you did, you would love your nature and honour her wishes”, Marcus Aurelius once said. Therefore, in order to arouse our love for industriousness and work, as it’s such an important part of our lives, we should approach it from a place of joy and value. The more your job aligns to your values and qualities, the more motivated you’ll be to complete the tasks.
The Importance of Goals and Aim:
The Stoics preached the idea that if we don’t have any goals, we risk putting our energy into things that don’t matter long-term, i.e. scrolling on social media, binge-watching TV or going out drinking. These things need to be done only in moderation as a way to relax and decompress from work.
Having no aim or goal in life can come from fear of failure or because nowadays, we have too many options as to what one can do for work. Work on overcoming your fear of failure and know that mistakes teach how to do better next time. Then, set some goals for yourself to give direction and purpose to your actions. If you aren’t one of those people that has great aspirations in life (and that’s totally ok), set yourself smaller, short-term goals that are easier to maintain and work towards, such as exercising regularly, eating healthy, etc., which have long-term benefits.
“If your well-being matters to you, be your own saviour”
– Marcus Aurelius
Some resources if you want to learn more about Stoic philosophy:
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations [book]: Meditations: Marcus Aurelius (Penguin Classics) : Aurelius, Marcus, Clay, Diskin, Hammond, Martin: Amazon.co.uk: Books
Marcus Aurelius – How to Build Self-Discipline, Philosophies for Life : Marcus Aurelius – How To Build Self Discipline (Stoicism) – YouTube
How to Build Discipline: The Stoic Way, Einzelganger : How to Build Self-Discipline: The Stoic Way | Stoicism for Discipline – YouTube