The purpose of Ego Engineering is to create a knowledge-driven framework to optimize the self so as to realize one’s potential. But knowledge without application is dead, and I myself have admittedly failed to apply my own advice, owing largely to a lack of personal discipline. To understand what I mean by “discipline”, let us first separate it into the primary components that discipline constitutes in the context of self-improvement:
1. Habits: This is the foundational focus of Ego Engineering, to build perfection on habits that are optimized for one’s purpose in life, and the goals thereof.
2. Expectations: When one is expected to be great (either by others or themselves) great they will tend to become. Expectations are thus a relatively reliable predictor of success. Of course, the inverse also tends to be true. I first wrote about this here:
3. Resolve: To ensure that you are disciplined in your goals, you must be sufficiently resolute in your motivation to see such goals through. To be disciplined you have to genuinely desire to manifest the goals for which the discipline is motivated.
4. Follow-through: This is the one I’ve been most concerned with: what enables people to follow-through with the resolve, habits, and expectations they need to formulate personal discipline? Interestingly enough, the answer to this is more a mindset than anything, but to better understand this, let me first give a little anecdote of my years in the group home system…
I lived in the group home system for my entire adolescence (from 13 to 18 years old), and during that period there was a rigorous system of structure for every aspect of my life, from schedules to education to productivity to play time to chores….and everything was based on a rewards system where adherence to a structured life resulted in more freedom and money. From a psychological standpoint, group homes work like magic, transforming chaotic ruffians into sophisticated members of society. From every measure of what works and what doesn’t, I like my fellow residents became a sophisticated adult, ready to take on the world with a mature grace guaranteed by a rigorous system 0f well-reinforced structure.
Yet after I left “the system”, I became lazy, mindless, and completely lacking in any motivation to make anything of myself. I stopped taking my meds, slept and woke up at random hours, and spent every waking hour watching movies and porn and Japanese anime and playing video games. It was as if I were a young child who impulsively did what pleasured him most in the moment, without any plans for the future or personal goals to work towards…it was as if I had never lived a life of structure at all!
So what happened? To answer this question, I asked my mom for her opinion on the issue: “How do you acquire discipline?” Her answer, wise and simple as ever: “Discipline is when you make a decision, and follow through with it.” From this statement, I was able to derive a few choice morsels:
1. Discipline requires following through with one’s decisions
2. You must consciously make decisions in order to instill discipline.
3. To instill discipline, the one who makes and follows through with decisions must be you!
The third morsel in particular has explained a great deal for me; the reason why the group home system failed to instill any discipline in me at all, is because they made all the decisions for me, I didn’t have any say in the matter! When someone else makes decisions for you, those decisions are only relevant so long as they have a strong impact on your environment, so when you leave that environment, all the “discipline” built up then, it just fades away as no longer relevant, because your new environment does not not require that which the disciplined environment did. So in this respect, discipline that is decided by the environment is only relevant until the environment changes, as we are in a way a “product of our environment”.
The product of environment bit is particularly disturbing, as it would seem to undermine freewill. But consider this: If you can be sufficiently independent so as to be yourself irrespective of the external world, you are still a product of your environment, the difference being that you are your environment. This is where true self-discipline comes in: When you make your own decisions, and follow-through with your decisions, you become your own environment, and so the discipline stays with you regardless of changes in external phenomena.
When you consciously make your own decisions of your own accord, you’re telling yourself “these habits, expectations, resolve, and decisions are important to me”, that the importance of such decisions is not limited to a particular environment. Discipline is the self-reinforcement of a self-decided character, a character that is the same at work, at school, at leisure, at play, it stays with you wherever you go, until you consciously decide to get rid of it.
This kind of universal discipline is true discipline, and it cannot be fostered by your external environment– all everyone else can compel you to do is to simulate it– to instill this kind of discipline you must proactively decide everything, and follow-through with those decisions on a continual basis, keep following-through until it all becomes second nature to you. When consciously deciding to follow-through with your own decisions becomes second nature to you, that is when you know you have achieved true discipline.