“It is through discipline that not only are all things possible, but also that all things are enhanced. And without it, even the most wonderful things turn to ash or regret. Name someone truly great without self-discipline?”
Discipline is Destiny is the latest offering from Stoic philosopher and writer Ryan Holiday. This is the second in a series of four in his Stoic Virtue series. Each one addresses one of the key elements, Stoic practices, that he believes are required to live a good, fulfilling, satisfying life. Discipline may not at first sound exciting or like something that one would need a whole book to explain, but by exploring the teaching of the Stoic philosophers and combining them with modern day examples, and expanding on the benefits of developing self-control, Holiday has created somethings that is both detailed, specific, and also remarkably easy to read and process.
The philosophy of the Stoics became particularly popular during pandemic lockdowns, with the teachings of Marcus Aurelius popping up all over the place, and one can see why. With Stoicism, the focus is on oneself. On discipling yourself no matter your surroundings or external situation. The appeal of this during an unprecedented pandemic are clear. Although there are complications in separating the self from ones social, political, economic situation, stoicism must have hit a chord with so many for a reason. Holiday argues that despite how much freedom and liberty people now have, so many are still unsatisfied and unhappy. Perhaps the remedy to this lies in becoming a ‘great’ person. One who is virtuous in the Stoic sense. And a significant part of this, is discipline.
The book is divided into three sections: body, mind, and soul. For each section Holiday has chosen a particular person to represent the virtues he is discussing and reinforces these with further examples in many of the chapters. Some of his favourites are baseball player Lou Gehrig, Queen Elizabeth II, Aurelius, Winston Churchill, Joyce Carol Oates, President’s Eisenhower and Truman, and Cato the Elder. They are an eclectic lot, but are pulled together to illustrate the benefits of each aspect of discipline. It is helpful for the reader to have discipline broken down into so many small chunks. There is a lot here to process and trying to take on each element would be a lifelong challenge, which makes the manageable chapters focusing on one thing more accessible.
Many of his suggestions will be familiar to the reader. Get up early in the morning to start work, be neat and tidy, push through discomfort, avoid vices such as gluttony, laziness and most of all unrestrained ambition. We have heard many of these from childhood and his examples reinforce the message. However, Holiday is without doubt his own best advert. Born in 1987 this is his 12th book. His podcast Daily Stoic draws in thousands of viewers, and his appetite to continue pushing forward and creating seems to be in no danger of declining. It is rare that one can really follow someone’s example as well as their words. This only adds to the validity of the contents of Discipline is Destiny. It is far easy to listen to ideas and suggestions from someone who acts them out.
Although Holiday says his aim is not necessarily to motivate; the build-up in each chapter, the movement from stoic law to living example to the benefits, can start to carry one away. The build up begins to become motivating. His writing style, short chapters and making his examples familiar and real, do more to inform and catch the attention of the reader than most ‘self-help’ books. Even if someone were to dip in and out, they could glean useful pearls of wisdom and actionable ideas.
Any Cop?: Self-control and restraint are not qualities that come easily to many of us. It feels almost engrained in us to always want more. Writing this in between Halloween and Christmas, times of want and excess, this couldn’t be more apparent. Even while writing this, the lure of the internet has proved strong and lengthened the amount of time spent writing. Perhaps Holiday is on to something? Although sceptical, there was plenty in here to encourage better habits and smooth the journey through life. This is testament to Holiday’s extensive knowledge of his subject and writing skills. Or as he would probably phrase it, his discipline and ability to know what is worth working towards.