Discipline equals freedom — a field manual by Jocko Willink

Wang Yip
5 min readJan 17, 2019

Jocko Willink is a retired Navy SEAL officer. He’s a #1 best selling author of Extreme Ownership and Way of the Warrior Kid. He is the host of a top rated podcast. He’s also a cofounder of Echelon Front, a premier leadership consulting company. And he is also someone that I cannot believe exists in this world. He regularly wakes up at 4:30 AM, busts out intense workouts and seems to always be on top of his game (or at least from what I’ve seen). If you want some motivation, just follow Jocko on Instagram and I dare you not to feel like you’re not getting up early enough or to say that you don’t have time for working out. Seriously.

But how does he do it all? What’s his secret? I was hoping to find the answer through his book Discipline equals freedom and I have to say, the book does not disappoint. This book is divided up into the following sections: Thoughts, Actions, Fuel, Repair and Maintenance and then workouts. The book itself is also unlike anything else I’ve seen before — a hard cover book, with a light image of Jocko on the front cover and lots of background pictures of Jocko just getting in good workouts or sparring sessions in jiu-jitsu — it is just a book that oozes motivation, discipline, routines and hard work.

Here are some of the things I took away and what I learned from Jocko on discipline:

Mind control

Mind control is often thought of, as Jocko says, as trying to control someone else’s mind. But rarely do we ever think about mind control for ourselves — that is, controlling our own thoughts and feelings. As I thought about this concept of mind control, I also started thinking about James Clear’s book on Atomic Habits and how linked the subjects are. People ask “how can I get up early in the morning to work out?” or “How can I stop eating sugar?”. Jocko has a simple answer for you. Control your mind. Get up early in the morning to work out. Stop eating sugar. Sure, it’s not as simple as just doing that but think about it this way, every time you get up early in the morning to work out or stop eating sugar, you’ve made a ‘vote’ for what you want to be. And just like in the elections — the majority wins. If you vote enough times that you get up early in the morning to work out or do not eat sugar, you’re going to be the type of person that wakes up early in the morning to work out or not to indulge in sugar and the more ‘votes’ you will make in the right direction. Most importantly, negativity, laziness, procrastination — these are things that should not get your vote.

Engage beast mode

You may have seen stories of the Iron Cowboy — a man who did 50 ironmans, in 50 states, in 50 days. What the what? Or maybe you heard the story of Ross Edgley who swam around Great Britain without setting foot on land. And maybe it all started with the 4 minute mile ran by Roger Bannister. People didn’t think it was possible to do these once thought impossible things. How do you push yourself to accomplish more? Push past the hurt? Jocko says that it’s about finding the balance between logic and emotion. You ride one or the other until you get past that finish line. Logically, maybe you don’t have enough training or energy but that’s when you use your emotion, your anger, your frustration to push you. Or if you are exhausted and your feelings are telling you you have had enough, use your iron will to say that you will not stop. I think my one takeaway here is to distract yourself from your negative thoughts, from those thoughts that tell you that you cannot do it because if you just keep going, you will be able to finish. You will be able to win.

What’s more important, nature or nurture?

Neither. You can be naturally gifted or you can train to be gifted but neither will lead to success unless you do the one key thing. If you want to be successful, you have to decide to be successful and to put in the hard work, to make different choices and to choose to improve yourself slowly. I also like that this is similar to the theme of one of my favourite books Choose Yourself by James Altucher =)

When your body tells you that you have had enough, it’s a defence mechanism for your ego

This is such a great quote — and quite frankly, your ego does not want to be damaged by failing so it tells you that you’ve had enough, you’ve already put in the work to finish 90% of the marathon and you don’t need to complete it or you don’t need to finish writing that book despite years of research and writing. Don’t listen to it. Fight on! And you know what, if you ignore that voice and if you keep fighting and if you do this enough times, maybe that voice doesn’t go away, but you know that you have the strength to finish and win if you decide to.

How do you make progress towards your long term goals?

It’s really a two step progress. One — have your long term goals buried into your mind. Post it on your bathroom mirror. Put it up as a wallpaper on your laptop or phone. Two — every day, do something to work towards that goal. That’s it. One of my favourite entrepreneurs that I follow is Ramit Sethi and he often talks about a question that his parents ask him “A year from now, you are going to be a year older, what are you going to do?” It’s a question that asks about what you can do right now so that when you look back at it a year from now, you are going to realize how smart you are working towards a goal.

Setbacks? Good

Jocko shares in this chapter that whenever his subordinates would come to him and say that there’s a situation that is going terribly wrong, Jocko would respond with “Good”. He responded in this way so much that the next time that his friend came to him with a bad situation, he said that he already knew what Jocko was going to say. Why does he do this?

Jocko does this because even though things may be going bad, there can be good that comes from it.

Didn’t win that project? Good, we get to work on another project.
Can’t afford to buy that car? Good, get to save money for a nicer car in the future.
Didn’t get the job you wanted? Good, you can gain more experience and build a better resume.

Reframe that setback into an opportunity.

Any time I need a dose of discipline and motivation — I read Jocko’s book. I think about how he wakes up at 4:30 in the morning to work out and get things done. I think about how he does not take a break, waking up at 4:30 even on the weekends. I think about how he is out there, fighting the enemy, being vigilant, and not giving in to temptation.



Wang Yip

Author of Essential Habits. I write about personal development, work and managing your career. Connect with me at www.wangyip.ca