Cultivating Discipline: The Secret Key to Freedom and Feeling Good

One way to think about freedom is having no restrictions on your actions. You’re a grown-up—you can do whatever you want, go wherever, eat whatever and whenever you want. So liberating right? So empowered! But how come this always leaves you feeling crappy, self-hating, and full of regret?

Aristotle once said, “Through discipline comes freedom,” which brings me to a second way of thinking about the concept: freedom as the strength to stand for what you truly want, to get your deep-down desired outcome. In other words, to be free from your own vices, weaknesses, or whims of the moment.

Discipline is a Muscle

But how does the act of restricting yourself through the practice and discipline become the vehicle for liberation? We’ve all felt the constriction on our “free-will” at the beginning of a new diet—it’s not comfortable or fun to limit ourselves.

Let’s think of this initial phase as growing pains. Discipline is a practice, a muscle you develop with care and frequent use. The more you train yourself the easier it gets, but at first it’s gonna hurt. That’s why you have to be patient with yourself and forgiving. Malcolm Gladwell wrote a whole book just to say that to become an expert at anything it takes 10,000 hours. (I think you’ll get the hang of it long before then.)


When I was overweight, I wore layers and layers of clothes to hide my extra pounds. I felt my extra weight was like a badge announcing to people that I had no self-control. Achieving and sustaining weight-loss, especially with a program like Breakthrough M2 that requires you to change your entire way of relating to food, takes a tremendous amount of discipline—there’s no two ways about it. But when we get the outcome we want, we feel so powerful, so free—we’re on top of the world!

Your Life As Art

Think of your life as a work of art, and you the artist. The director Orson Welles (from Citizen Kane) is quoted as saying, “The enemy of art is the absence of limitations.” Think about that for a minute. We’re back to this idea of restriction as a liberating force. And it makes sense, because the world is too big, the possibilities are too infinite for us to make sense of without some sort of boundaries to ground us. We’ve all had too much free time at some point (long ago), and squandered it because we couldn’t figure out what to do. In art, it is the same. Poets use specific forms with limitations, like the sonnet or the haiku, as a framework within which to create something beautiful.

Discipline is the framework to create the masterpiece out of your life. The self-control you learn through weight-loss is a principle that can be applied to anything. So then the question becomes who do you want to be? Want to garden more and watch less TV? Want to learn a foreign language or write a book? Discipline is a secret weapon that puts you back in the driver’s seat of your life, so you can make the choices you want, spend your time how you want, and be the person you want.

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