discipline is destiny book summary

Book Summary: Discipline Is Destiny by Ryan Holiday

The Book in Three Sentences

In this book summary of Discipline Is Destiny, you’ll learn the power of self-discipline from some historical figures who have mastered it. The premise of the book is that to conquer anything in life, you first have to conquer yourself. That includes your emotions, thoughts, and actions.

Discipline Is Destiny Summary

The Four Virtues

At some point in his journey, Hercules had a choice: vice or virtue. Like him, we all face this choice on a daily basis. Choosing virtue, as old-fashioned as it may seem, is life-changing. Virtue has four components: courage, temperance, justice, and wisdom. You must possess all of them if you want a life of honor, glory, and excellence. They serve as a compass that guides us through life. Everything that happens in life is a chance to choose virtue.


Nowadays, we have unfathomable freedom. We have access to unnumerable luxuries and opportunities yet we’re unhappy. Everything we have access to (technology, success, power, and so on) matters as long as we have self-control. Without it, there’s a sense of imbalance, dysfunction, or dependency. If we don’t master ourselves, someone or something else will do it for us.

We all have a lower and higher self and both versions are constantly battling each other. Ultimately, you’re the only one who decides which one will win. Self-discipline is difficult yet necessary. It’s the ability to work hard, say no, train, ignore temptations, control your emotions, endure difficulties, set boundaries, and develop good habits. Self-discipline is all about balance.

Temperance isn’t about depriving yourself of things but demanding the best of yourself. Whether you succeed or not, you will be great as long as you’re disciplined. Lacking discipline, on the other hand, puts you at risk.

Although the constant hunger for more seems fun and worth celebrating, it’s an illusion. Being lazy, reckless, or endlessly ambitious is a punishment and the truth is that history doesn’t remember those without discipline. Life isn’t about talent, it’s about temperance.

Part I: The Exterior (The Body)

We live in a world of abundance and we all have our own battles with desire and urges. We must dominate ourselves physically because otherwise, external forces will take over. While pursuing pleasures is the easy way out, it’s painful in the long run.

Ruling Over the Body…

Lou Gehrig played first base for the New York Yankees for 2,130 consecutive games. He was often sick and injured but he never missed a game. When Gehrig was little, school kids teased him constantly because he was overweight. Lou used baseball as a way to learn coordination and discipline. Gehrig didn’t want a comfortable life, so as he became successful, he lived below his means. Lou also ignored all distractions, such as drinking or smoking. Sadly, Gehrig’s health deteriorated, and had to stop playing eventually. Your body will serve you for a limited amount of time and then it’ll be taken from you. Use it while you still can.

Attack the Dawn

Toni Morrison had a daily ritual, she’d get up very early, make a cup of coffee, sit at her desk, and write. For her, the early morning was precious because, as the mother of two young boys, she had no other moment during the day to think and write. Early meant freedom, confidence, clearheadedness, and energy. Following this simple routine, she published eleven novels, nine non-fiction works, five children’s books, two plays, and several short stories. Embrace the freedom of the mornings, seize the most productive hours of the day, and use that time to do what you love.

The Strenuous Life Is the Best Life

The rules of health apply to all humankind. There’s so much abuse your body can take without consequence. You can’t eat or drink your way to happiness and later in life, you’ll pay for the mistakes you made while young. Taking care of your body, exercising, and rejecting most desires is not a punishment. Doing this will lead to pleasure eventually. To be great and productive, we must take care of our bodies both through exercise and a healthy diet. Regardless of the training you decide to go through, physical activity is a must.

Quit Being a Slave

Despite landing in Normandy, beating the Nazis, and writing his memoirs, Dwight Eisenhower had yet to conquer himself. He had to quit smoking. To stop the thirty-eight-year habit, he gave himself an order. And just like that, he quit. When you’re trying to fight your inner demons, no one can help you. You have to do it yourself.

Nothing should master us, especially addictions. The source of suffering isn’t the thing itself but the need for it. Just because you’re doing it doesn’t mean that you have to continue. Bad habits, whatever they are, shouldn’t ruin your life, so stop being a slave.

Avoid the Superfluous

Frugality shouldn’t be about deprivation, but about independence. Don’t desire more than you need because this makes you vulnerable. Once you willingly deprive yourself of unnecessary things, nothing can be taken away from you. In most cases, living with less isn’t more difficult but easier. You have less to worry about. Ince you remove the unnecessary, what’s left is what’s important. To a certain extent, everyone romanticizes their younger years. Things were simpler, cleaner, and clearer, after all, but you can live that today.

Clear Up Your Desk

Robert Moses built hundreds of public works in New York City. He had many abilities, such as being able to do multiple jobs, but his secret was having a clean desk. He processed work as it came his way, so he dealt with memos, mail, and reports immediately. In fact, he liked working on a table so that he didn’t have drawers where to store paperwork. An organized space lets you get stuff done.

Nowadays, we’re the complete opposite. We spend a long time scrolling, searching, and moving things as we’re constantly distracted from dealing with them. Respect the space where you work, it’s sacred. If your workspace is messy, you’ll soon be comfortable with messy work.

Just Show Up

Edison wasn’t a genius, he just showed up. While it’s easier to assume that the inventor was brilliant, he was quite ordinary. He went to his office every single day and worked regardless of what happened.

Everything you do in life benefits from the discipline of showing up and doing your work. Since this is hard, most people won’t do it, so you’re on your own. Luckily, you’ll have the opportunity for yourself. Consistency is a superpower. The act of showing up is rare. As long as you show up, you don’t have to be extraordinary. You can’t be great without discipline. Actions start adding up and before you know it, you’ll achieve something amazing.

Sweat the Small Stuff

At the beginning of each season, UCLA coach John Wooden taught members of the team how to put their shoes and socks on. To succeed in sports (and in life), you have to know that small things can snowball into bigger problems. Our ego thinks we already know the basics, but we can only face bigger obstacles once we’ve taken care of the little things. Ignoring the basics is a liability and makes you vulnerable.

Hustle, Hustle, Hustle

When the moment comes to take action, you must act quickly and decisively. Having talent doesn’t matter if you don’t do anything with it. Even if it’s scary and uncertain, you must hustle.

Slow Down… To Go Faster

Advancing methodically and patiently leads to big results. Hustling is important, but since our pacing requires discipline, we can’t always rush things or else we’d ignore the small stuff. While going fast is easy, that’s not always the best option. Don’t confuse being deliberate with being slow. As long as you never stop, slow is the answer.

Practice… Then Practice More

You won’t be able to achieve greatness without practice. Practice is repetitive, exhausting, and soul-crushing, but the result is the opposite: energy, strength, and confidence. You have to know what to practice, but that’s how you make progress and how you stay calm when it counts.

Just Work

The greats don’t just practice, they do the work. Work isn’t about bragging rights, about the money we get from it, or about having a nice office. It’s about doing it every day, even when it’s hard (actually, especially when it’s hard). But once you figure out what you’re supposed to do, you do it. Don’t do it for the rewards, the reward is the job itself. Without work, life’s meaningless.

Dress for Success

Whether we like to admit it or not, our appearance is important but since what matters is what’s on the inside, you don’t have to use luxurious clothes or follow fads, just wear the garments that are useful for your body. Wearing sloppy clothes isn’t self-disciplined, but those who use clothes to show themselves as shallow are also off track. Ideally, you should wear comfortable clothes that work in different situations and that you don’t have to think about too much. Presentation counts, so dress well, just not too well.

Seek Discomfort

Seek discomfort, not for bragging rights, but to understand that certain situations are bearable. For a lot of people, success is never having to struggle. Everything is fine when you do it in moderation. The problem comes when we can’t endure small difficulties. The modern world has spoiled us. Being comfortable in uncomfortable situations is a superpower. Success makes you vulnerable. Self-discipline doesn’t just happen, it’s a skill we cultivate. Life will make us uncomfortable at some point and it’s our job to be prepared.

Manage the Load

Discipline is taking decisive actions when everyone around you is telling you to do the opposite. The decision you take doesn’t have to be popular, it has to be wise. Don’t overwork yourself. Work is important, but if we can’t manage the load, we won’t last. Learn to rest, relax, and have fun.

Sleep Is an Act of Character

To do your job well, you have to be well-rested. When you’re training hard, you have to give your body time to recover. If you’re disciplined when it comes to work, eating healthily, raising children, and exercising, all you need is a final push: make sleep a priority. Mastering the morning starts by mastering the night before.

What Can You Endure?

Certain experiences in life put us to the test, but we must endure them. But even if we want things to be easy, we should prepare for the opposite to be true. We must develop a simple trait, that of sitting down and doing our job, and contrary to what some people believe, you can’t make up for it with brilliance and creativity. You’ll never win by giving up too soon.

Beyond the Body

We’ll all die at some point. Living involves taking care of our bodies. Make good decisions today because they have an impact over time. The body is the first step in your journey to self-discipline. We do this because the state of our body directly affects the mind. Discipline is about freedom. Freedom of the mind and freedom of the spirit, but to get there, we first have to constrain ourselves physically.

Part II: The Inner Domain (The Temperament)

You may have full command of the body and still be a mess in all other departments. Being disciplined in our diet or sleep is great, but it means nothing if you have bad moods, give in to distractions, and give over to impulses. To reach our full potential, we need moderation in how we think, feel, and behave. Temperament is everything.

Ruling Over Yourself

Discipline is endurance, strength, and commitment. Soon, you’ll be working smarter, not harder. We mustn’t confuse self-discipline with resistance. Temperance is about adjusting and finding opportunities to grow. While certain people have a lot of power over others, not all rulers have power over their own actions. Greatness is about what you do, not about what you don’t. The path of temperance is a full-time job. And the more you do it, the more rewarding it’ll be.

Look at Everything Like This

No one’s a natural stoic, you have to make yourself that way. The pause between a stimulus and its response is everything. Thinking fast is the lower self. Thinking slow is the higher self. Be a slow thinker, a rational and principled philosopher.

Keep the Main Thing The Main Thing

It isn’t all about endurance, hustle, and energy. Sometimes, you just have to say no. People won’t like it, but if you do it for the right reasons, you’ll be too busy to notice. Before you can say no, you have to know what’s your main thing. Once you do, you need the discipline to ignore everything else. Other things can be fun too, but they come at a cost: you must give them your resources and energy and they’re both limited.

Focus, Focus, Focus

Embracing creativity and inspiration when they strike might seem undisciplined, but it’s an act of focus. This unwavering commitment to deep work is rare and a superpower of sorts in a world full of distractions. Focusing on one thing requires you to ignore less important things.

Wait for This Sweet Fruit

Being prolific isn’t the same as being sloppy. In fact, finish something and let it sit for months. Be patient and give some projects time so that you can get the small details right. This isn’t easy, but patience rewards you in the long run.

Perfection Is a Vice

Perfectionism leads to dread, despair, worry, self-criticism, and guilt. It’s also the result of narcissism and obsession. The biggest failure is to never release something, even more than realizing it and not meeting expectations. This is cowardice. Finishing something is an achievement in itself.

Do the Hard Thing First

Do the hard things first even if they’re not easy. Don’t get ready to live, just do it. Procrastination is about entitlement and arrogance.

Can you get back up?

We all make mistakes. We all take opportunities unprepared at some point. But when that happens, we must get back up. No one’s perfect all the time.

The Battle Against Pain

Pain and pleasure are felt in the body, but they affect our temperament too. There are acceptable drugs and treatments, but there’s no magic pill that will make certain problems disappear. Medicine should be a tool, not an escape. Some things in life we have to face. While this is a tedious process instead of an instant transformation, the side effects are minimal.

The Battle Against Pleasure

Excess isn’t a sin. Self-discipline is about avoiding an unpleasant existence. The body isn’t intelligent. It wants what it wants and it wants it now. But we must be smart or else we’ll deal with the consequences later. Certain activities (drinking, eating, working, having fun, and so on) should be enjoyable while you do them, but you should also feel good the morning after. No one who engages in excess is enjoying themselves. They’re slaves. Discipline is something we do to value ourselves. The mind should rule, not the body.

Fight the Provocation

At some point in our lives, we’ll be insulted, condescended to, and bullied. Sadly, that’s life and we have to put up with such treatment. For a conflict to take place, two people have to be involved, so don’t engage even if the other person is wrong. When given the opportunity to fight, refuse it and move on. Reacting to everyone who attacks us is a waste of time. Don’t abandon your self-control just because someone is doing it in front of you. If you redirect such provocations in a productive manner, nothing can stop you.

Beware This Madness

Passion blinds us. An early celebration or a playful taunt can have serious consequences. Something similar happens with moments of arrogance, excitement, anger, anxiety, avarice, envy, or lust. Feel those emotions, but never get carried away with them. Passion is one of the hardest habits to quit because it’s explosive and hard to control while you’re feeling it. Slow things down before acting impulsively.

Silence Is Strength

The Spartans developed the laconic style to the point that it became part of their culture. They said as few words as possible and this became their trademark. Spartans impressed and intimidated others because they said less. This verbal restrain made them powerful. While having power gives you the ability to say anything you want, not doing it shows discipline and commitment.

In today’s world, the ego has access to technology and this leads to explosive online arguments that go nowhere. This gets us into trouble and seldom makes a positive difference. Sometimes we have to speak up and sometimes we have to shut up. When you do speak, be succinct and precise. Make every word matter so that when you don’t speak, people wish you were talking more. Instead of talking, you can listen, ignore insults, decline invitations, journal, be silent, and let your work do the talking.

Hold, Hold Your Fire

There’s always the pressure to do something, but can you wait patiently when you know it’s the right thing to do? Can you resist doubt and external pressure? This takes mental discipline. You’ve decided to act, just not now. Sometimes you only get an opportunity to do things right and we make take it when the right time comes.

Temper Your Ambition

Even if you’re brilliant, ambition can leave you empty, alone, and unhappy. Unlike other bad habits, society rewards ambition and this makes it harder to control. Not being able to stop doesn’t make you powerful but powerless. When you can’t control yourself, don’t try to control others. Ambition isn’t bad, but it must be tempered.

Money Is a (Dangerous) Tool

To most people, success is about security, freedom, and contentment. But if they’re not careful, it causes anxiety, envy, and instability. Spending money isn’t a problem, the problem is spending money you don’t have on things you don’t need. Likewise, saving money’s great as long as it’s not costing us time or our relationships. Money is a tool. It can’t buy happiness or freedom. Regardless of how much money you have, you’ll always have problems.

Get Better Every Day

Nobody’s perfect and there’s always room for improvement. The objective shouldn’t be to achieve a grand goal, but to get better. Chase evolution rather than revolution. To do this, show up and commit to improving something every day.

Share the Load

Don’t do everything yourself. It’s not mentally or physically possible. The best way to manage the load is by sharing it. Dealing with trivial matters exhausts you and when you have to deal with big moments, you’re out of energy. Delegate, automate, and re-assign tasks when possible. In some cases, delegation is expensive, but what you get in return is invaluable: time.

Respect Time

We all get twenty-four hours per day. Respect time, know how to use it, manage it, and don’t take it for granted. Time’s the only resource that once’s gone, you can’t get back. Time is a gift and what we spend our time on matters. That’s why having a routine is so important. You focus on what matters and ignore everything else. The present moment is life’s way of giving you a second time. You may have misused the past, but you still have right now. How will you spend your time? After all, now is the only thing we have.

Put Up Boundaries

Establishing boundaries is one of the rarest kinds of discipline. Few people keep their private lives private, communicate what they like and dislike, and respect other people’s preferences. Most of our heroes are vulgar, silly, immature, and selfish. But the people worth admiring are the complete opposite: dignified, reserved, serious, professional, and respectful. Boundaries are is about drawing lines around yourself. These are the borders that determine what you’ll share, what you’ll accept, and how you’ll treat others. A lot of people without boundaries will drain your energy with their neediness, selfishness, dysfunction, and drama. Always remember that the happiest people, the ones doing important work, are keeping to themselves and you’ve never even heard of them.

Do Your Best

To be a success, you have to be the best at the things you think are right. While you can’t control your outcome, you can control whether you do your best or not. You don’t have to be perfect but always do your best.

Beyond the Temperament

We have to be in command of ourselves. There will be setbacks, but it’ll be fine because we had developed the determination to get up and keep going. To reach your potential, your body, mind, and spirit have to take action.

Part III: The Magisterial (The Soul)

Some people are in command of their bodies. Other people are in command of their minds and spirits. What’s rare is finding someone who has the two disciplines. This plane is called the Magisterial and it refers to mastering yourself both physically and mentally.

Elevating Yourself

Temperance, when there are temptations around, is a divine thing. It makes us greater, but ironically, we don’t want recognition for it. Discipline, like courage, is contagious. You need both courage and temperance to be moderate in a world of excess. After all, those who don’t take part in the pleasures and passions are often mocked and attacked. Temperance is self-sufficiency, purpose, clarity, and power. People are imperfect by nature, but we tend to remember those who stayed on course despite their failures.

Tolerant with Others. Strict with Yourself

It’s called self-discipline because we impart it to ourselves. We do what we think is right and we hope that our high standards are contagious. Forgive everyone’s mistakes but your own. You’re only allowed to be hard on yourself because that’s the only life you control. It’s not your job to change other people’s destinies but your own.

Other people will live differently which means they’ll criticize your choices, but let them deal with that. Ignore them or accept them, but don’t judge them.

Make Others Better

Everyone has a model that inspires them to be better. Being disciplined isn’t about getting recognition, it’s about doing your job. Become that person for others: your children, neighbors, or colleagues. We don’t control their reactions, but we can do what’s right.

Grace Under Pressure

Staying calm amid a crisis is an asset. Self-control must be cultivated over time. This is more than just being calm in difficult situations, it’s about not doing what seems natural: taking things personally. But we have to do it so that we can inspire those who believe in us.

Carry the Load for Others

Sometimes a leader has to make sacrifices for the good of a group. Being the “boss” is a title, being a “leader” is something you have to earn. Success doesn’t mean that there are no consequences. Once you succeed, you have to carry the load with other people too.

Be Kind to Yourself

Self-discipline is about being strict, but that doesn’t give us the right to treat ourselves poorly. No one’s perfect, not even your role models. The point of studying philosophy is to be a friend to yourself.

The Power of Giving Power Away

Power corrupts, but also reveals. The more concentrated it is, the more dangerous it is. The people who have to be in charge aren’t great. They’re addicted. The best leaders don’t want power because they don’t need it. Who you choose to become is more important than power, wealth, control, or what you have.

Turn the Other Cheek

Turning the other cheek is the spiritual principle of non-violence, but it’s also an act of will. Something you mustn’t do anything despite being hurt.

How to Make an Exit

Sometimes the best course of action is to attack head-on, but sometimes you have to retreat. Retreat is often seen as the opposite of courage and discipline, but there’s dignity in it. There are graceful ways to retreat, such as not abandoning anyone. The stubbornness to not give up isn’t a virtue, is a vice.

Endure the Unendurable

Everything in life requires patience, toughness, and delayed gratification. Without perseverance, we won’t stand what life demands of us. By rising, you’re proving yourself greater than adversity.

Be Best

Being the best isn’t about conquering others, it’s about conquering yourself. It isn’t about what we do, it’s about how we do it and who we are. Money, fame, and victory are meaningless on their own, they’re more important when they’re the byproduct of conquering ourselves.

Flexibility Is Strenght

When you practice something too much, you can become rigid. But by mastering something, you run the risk of becoming a prisoner of your method. To avoid this, push yourself out of your comfort zone. You’ll be able to reinvent and change. Feel free to change everything but your principles. Cultivate the ability to change and be flexible when it counts.

Unchanged by Success

Success doesn’t mean you’ve earned the right to relax. That’s the moment you need discipline the most. There will be more temptations, distractions, and opportunities. Success isn’t about changing who you are but becoming a better version of yourself

Self-Discipline Is Virtue. Virtue Is Self-Discipline

Words are meaningless. Actions matter. Courage, Justice, and Wisdom are impossible without self-discipline.

Further Reading

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