Why Success Doesn’t Require Discipline (And What it Does Entail)

by Alexander Heyne · 13 comments

There is a problem with most of us in the west.

Whenever we want to reach a certain goal, achieve or start something, we’re always told to invest effort and be disciplined.

I really need to go on a diet! – Work hard at it and discipline yourself!

I want to build a successful business. – Work hard at it and discipline yourself!

I want to be a better husband. – Work hard at it and discipline yourself!

I want to run a marathon. – Work hard at it and discipline yourself!

In the west we are obssessed with this idea of struggling towards success.

We’re obsessed with using “work more, work harder” as a panacae.

We’re obsessed with effort and struggle.

We’re obsessed with things like “finding your second wind” and “giving it your all” and “putting in extraordinary work for extraordinary success.”

But I want to briefly ask you one thing: is this assumption of what works even true?

Ask anyone who forced themselves to go to the gym every day. A year later are they still going? I’d be willing to be my life savings they aren’t.

And that’s because discipline and willpower are short-lived. They take so much mental energy to maintain. The more forced mental energy things take, the less likely we’re to stick with them long-term.

That’s why I’m here to say that success isn’t about struggle or discipline, but about creating habits.

The tale of the struggling dieter and businessman

I am totally against the idea that life has to be a struggle. I realize we must all struggle at times, and in certain areas of our lives, but in my experience I have realized that a person can truly be successful in a world-class way while investing much less effort than most people.

Take John the average joe dieter (AJD). John hits 40 or 50 and starts needing Cialis because he is too unhealthy to have a normal sex drive. (You can tell this is gonna be juicy, right?)

January rolls around and John decides that his new year resolution should be to get fit again. “I’m strong as an ox, I could kick a 20 something’s ass!” he tells himself.

So John decides he wants to get back in the gym again, even though he hates working out. Lifting weights is boring to him, he gets ADD, and he spends most of his time criticizing the other meatheads in the room or checking out cougars.

John keeps telling himself ” Ok, work out = I can look good, and get my sex drive back. Smaller belly, bigger productivity at work. Healthier = more money made.”

He doesn’t want to wake up early before work because that would entail some 5 am days, so he kind of just gives himself that “alright, time to go to the gym” pep talk after work, and when it works, he goes to the gym right away.

It works at the start – he’s pumped, he’s motivated, he starts seeing a little bit of results.

A bigger bicep, a slimmer belly, better sleep, more alertness at work. It’s working. So he sticks with it.

Now, where is John, this AJD (Average joe dieter) 6 months from now?

99.999999% of these AJDs end up skipping out on the gym once, because one day at 5 pm they end up getting drinks at happy hour with their buddies instead of sticking to the routine. The next week they only works out once. And the following week they stop going. Six months in they no longer work out at all.


People ask me how I don’t have a sweet tooth. 

Diet (or in your business, those small daily tasks that add up to success/failure) is often the hard part for people looking to get healthy.

Any dieter knows that working out is the easy part. It’s only a couple hours a week.

But diet? Does anyone crave less tasty food? Not really.  But how many times do you eat or drink a day, which require conscious choices? Dozens.

Diet is the part that often takes “effort” in the mind of the average dieter.

I want you to briefly compare the struggle of the AJD (Average joe dieter) to my “struggle” to eat healthy.

I walk into the grocery store and I go into the “real food” section. You know, the plants and shit.

I then walk into the meat section. You know, animals and shit.

I don’t even go into the aisles with boxes.

Then I go home and cook that up. No sweets in site. No crap in a box in site. No artificial garbage in site.

Guess what? A few years after starting the above habit, it doesn’t take me any effort to not eat sweets. In fact, I often describe myself as not possessing a sweet tooth now.

Put oreos and milanos and candy corns and stuff in front of me. It takes no effort not to eat them. I don’t feel anything toward them.

And this is because I’ve cultivated a life habit. It does not take effort for me to avoid sweets or not watch tv. I do both automatically. I’m programmed to not use those things in my daily life.

This is all effortless for me. But when people talk about me or describe me they think I have a ton of self control or say I’m “lucky” that I don’t have a sweet tooth.

It requires zero effort on my part.

Why success does not necessarilly require massive effort, struggle or discipline.

Someone once asked Somerset Maugham if he wrote on a schedule or only when struck by inspiration. “I write only when inspiration strikes,” he replied. “Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.”

- Steven Pressfield

You know that thing called “showing up every day?” In the really successful, it comes by way of habits and not by discipline or this massive struggle.

I’m not saying everything in life will become effortless or no work, but I’m saying things will become massively easier.

Let me give another example.

I was the classic high school scrawny “100 lbs wet” kid. Graduating college I was around 6′ 2″ and weighed around 135. Yeah. That’s like anorexically skinny, except I was actually eating food.

Despite the fact that I was lifting weights 4+ times a week, I had plateaued somewhere around 140, 145 1-2 years out of college. I thought I was eating a lot; I thought I was doing everything right.

I was still horrendously, unattractively skinny.

Around the time that I moved to China, I decided this was a perfect opportunity to get bigger since food was cheap and I could afford to eat out every single meal of every day.

So here’s what I did: instead of force feeding myself, I got into the habit of waking up extra early for class, and then programming reminders on my iPod to eat at certain hour intervals. This went off 5+ times a day, 7 days a week, for a year.

I just followed the checklist of instructions. I ingrained the habit every single time, every day. 5+ small habits. 7:30 am, 10:30 am, 1:30 pm, 4:30 pm, etc.

At the end of that year I weighed closed to 170 lbs — and gained very little fat (remember that part about eating plants and meat and shit?).

Gaining 20-30 pounds of relatively healthy weight is an absurd accomplishment, especially if anyone reading this is a skinny kid who has tried gaining weight. That’s a legendary achievement. And it was all pretty pain-free due to ingraining certain habits.

It was an effortlessly epic achievement.

Lots of baby steps taken daily result in massive changes over time.

Stop thinking of how to invest more effort. Think of how to invest less effort.

There’s a massive shift that takes place in your life when you decide to view everything from the perspective of “how can I do this smarter/differently/ more frictionless” rather than “how can I invest more and work harder.”

We always say more effort, more struggle, more work.

Extraordinary success requires extraordinary work.

Uhhh, how about extraordinarily different or smart thinking? How about extraordinary success through extraordinary laziness?

Whether it’s for a diet, or for a relationship, or for your business, what’s with this EFFORT thing? Why would I want to compete on an even playing field with others where my only option is “more work” ?

The big problem is that if you buy into this “effort” thing that we love hearing about in the west (Uber hard work = success!) you automatically assume that’s the best way to get what you want. So dieting takes EFFORT. Success takes EFFORT. Marriage takes EFFORT. Raising kids takes EFFORT.

You don’t even realize there is another way.

But what if people told you that losing weight or getting fit was effortless, done right? What if people told you success was about making 5 or 10 little habits and routines you go through daily? What if people told you marriage is much easier when you have a few key little routines or things you do routinely for and with your spouse?

You and only you make your life much harder than it has to be. Hard work and effort becomes the hammer you look for nails with.

This “hard work struggle” is a very myopic view of life and I feel like it should be your “worst case scenario” . Worst comes to worst, you can invest 2 or 3 x the hours into something and you’ll get better than everyone else.

But why would you want to settle for a worst-case scenario?

No one cares how hard you worked (there’s nothing glorious about martyrs) 

“I loved working hard to get where I am, and to get the things that I want. It makes me stronger, it makes me feel like I earned the things I have.”

Cool. You know what else is cool? No one cares how much you struggled. That’s a bitter pill to swallow, but your boss only cares about the results you give him – whether that takes 1 hour or 10.

Some people just love being martyrs, they LOVE saying they suffered for where they got. It gives them some sort of identity or something.

I don’t mean to be an asshole (No, wait, I do), but people genuinely don’t care. They may empathize, they may “feel for you” but now that you’re where you are, they truthfully don’t care how you got there.

Results, not time invested, is one of those key qualities separating entrepreneurs and the successful from everyone else. 

Stop thinking about how you can make things better by working harder and working more. 

Once you get into the habit of viewing life as requiring massive effort, struggle, and work, it will become that way!

But if you view life, work and success as things that should become more effortless as you understand them better, they’ll become that way too.

This more effortless way is called habits.

Any of you who have been in love know that it feels infinitely more effortless and natural than a relationship that doesn’t work. It just makes sense. You put in massive effort and it feels like fun.

This is how life becomes for people who understand and utilize the power of ingraining many small, daily habits.

Challenge the assumption that success has to require massive struggle and effort, and you may be surprised to learn that it becomes a little more effortless.

Image: Cubagallery

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