Jocko Willink is a retired US Navy SEAL and was a commander of US SEAL Team 3’s Task Unit Bruiser in the Battle of Ramadi. Jocko is also the co-founder of Echelon Front, an organization that provides leadership training for individuals and businesses using battlefield principles. He is also the host of the highly successful Jocko Podcast and author of several best-selling books, among them, Discipline Equals Freedom Field Manual.
“Discipline Equals Freedom” is a common refrain in Jocko’s podcasts and writings. Essentially, it says that having structure, discipline, in your life ensures you do the things you must do to win and removes any excuses. The DEF Field Manual is a relatively short book that addresses the mindset and actions you must employ to “stay on the path”. Those things that enable you to win. In the book Jocko writes,
“Discipline: The root of all good qualities. The driver of daily execution. The core principle that overcomes laziness and lethargy and excuses. Discipline defeats the infinite excuses that say: Not today, not now, I need a rest, I will do it tomorrow.”
I’ve been a fan and follower of Jocko Willink and his work and principles for some time now. It’s made an enormous difference in my life and that of my family. Sometimes they roll their eyes at me when they know I’m quoting Jocko, but here’s the thing…you may not like what’s in this book or his others, but you can’t tell me it’s wrong. You may be able to rationalize that it’s too hard or too extreme or too whatever, but you can’t convince me that being un-disciplined in better than being disciplined, that being weaker is better than being stronger, that being dumber is better than being smarter.
Much of DEF is reminiscent of Ben Bergeron’s book Chasing Excellence, except that where Bergeron’s book is about the process required to push the limits of human performance or excel at your chosen pursuit, Jocko’s message is more visceral, motivated by something deeply personal.
I had the opportunity to meet Jocko and much of the Echelon Front team at their event, Muster 005, in Washington D.C. I think about that event often, particularly when I’m tired, frustrated, or discouraged. As you would expect, these are intense people and while they laugh and joke as much as anyone, maybe even more, they don’t mess around. They don’t waste time. They know the true value of a human life and are unwilling to squander it. Lots of people who have experienced combat come home with mental and physical baggage. Jocko Willink and his team are no different.
“We were ready and we fought and we won. The one day, it was over. I was no longer a soldier; no longer a leader of men. I was no longer preparing myself or my men for war. So. What drive me now?
The answer is simple: The men who did not come home. Marc and Mikey and Ryan. But it is not only them. There are others. Hundreds more. Thousands more. Countless more. Who fought and died to give me the gift of freedom. And for them, I will make every day – every minutes – every second – I will make it all count. I will live to honor their sacrifice – A life worthy of the price they paid, for me, for us.
I will not let them down.”
This is heavy stuff. Knowing friends and brothers willingly gave their lives for you is both a blessing and a curse. But it’s important and again, you can try to rationalize it away, but that doesn’t make you right and Jocko wrong. And let’s not forget…those men, fathers, sons, brothers, friends…gave their lives for you and I, too.
The DEF Field Manual is made up of two sections: Part One – Thoughts and Part Two – Actions. Part One – Thoughts is a dense section of short writings with titles like “The Person You Can Control”, “Weakness”, and “Stress”. The most important one and the one on which the rest of the book hangs, is called, “Nature vs. Nurture.”
“What is more important: Nature or nurture? In my opinion: Neither.
I have seen people from every stratum of life. In the military, I worked with every type of person: Ivy League kids with silver spoons, former gangbangers, hood rats, prep school kids, kids from blue-collar families, kids from strong families and kids with no families, kids who were pampered and kids who were abused. And everything in between. Everything.
And with all those different types of people, there were good and bad. Successful and unsuccessful. And in working with businesses, I see the same thing: People from every walk of life. From the bottom to the top – and I have seen every type of person be successful.
So to me, it is not about nature or nurture: It is about choice. The people who are successful decide they are going to be successful. They make that choice. And they make other choices. They decide to study hard. They decide to work hard. They decide to be the first person to get to work and the last to go home. They decide they are going to take on the hard jobs. Take on the challenges. They decide they are going to lead when no one else will. They choose who they are going to hang around and they choose who they will emulate. They choose to become who they want to become – they aren’t inhibited by nature or nurture. They overcome both. And I will tell you something else: It is never too late to make that choice.
You are never too old to decide where you are going to focus your efforts and push to make the most out of every situation. So. Think not about what you’ve been through and where you were. Think about where you are going, and choose. Choose to make yourself smarter and stronger and healthier. Choose to work out and study and eat good food and keep your mind clear. Don’t let nature or nurture make you.
Choose to MAKE. YOUR. SELF.”
That is what the Discipline Equals Freedom Field Manual by Jocko Willink is about. It’s about choosing what you want to become and providing the simple thoughts and actions to send you and keep you on the path. It’s written by a man who has seen the best and absolute worst humanity has to offer and has chosen to embrace the best and prepare for the worst.
Lest you think this book isn’t for you but only for those special few who never step off the path, think again. I have found Jocko Willink’s Discipline Equals Freedom message to be remarkably honest and in many ways, forgiving. You will fail. You will back slide. You will eat crap. You will sleep in. You will skip a workout or ten. You are human. But that’s when the DEF Field Manual is best employed. When you realize you’ve strayed from the path, you just get back on it, one step at a time. Step. Step. Step. DEF is forgiving of past weaknesses. It is always possible to improve yourself. If you’re conscious and breathing, the path forward is there.
If you read none of Jocko Willink’s other books, please read this one. The ideas in this book need to become part of your psyche, part of your personality. You need to be driven by these principals to become better today than you were yesterday, to refuse to slide backward, and to win. For all of us.
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