January 7, 2023

Discipline is an identity problem

Think of identity as a system.

Like all systems it has inputs and outputs, and the outputs depends on the inputs given.

With a system as complex as your identity, there are a multitude of inputs and outputs, ones you may not even be aware of.

Besides outputs you’re not aware of, there are parts of your identity system you’re not aware of.

These hidden parts are responsible for both outputs you're aware of and outputs you aren't aware of.

The inputs of your identity system come from your environment.

Since identity is meta-physical your environment also includes your mind, body and brain.

The outputs are your actions including your thoughts.

(If you still have old thought patterns arise after an identity shift it’s because you have old neural pathways that need to be taken care of—I can do a post on this if you’d like, just reach out on X).

Now if you're system is not producing the results you want, you either have to change the input, change the system or both.

The Problem

The problem is, you don’t do what you’re suppose to do, you’ve been defining this as a discipline problem.

But, defining it as a discipline problem will lead to a bandage solution and ignore the root cause of it.

It’s a identity problem and it’s a input problem.

Discipline isn’t about willpower:

- 80% of your discipline is your identity.

- 16% of your discipline is your ‘why’.

- 3% of your discipline is your environment.

- 1% of your discipline is your discipline.

When I wrote this on X, I didn’t have room for nuance.

What should be noted is, your why/purpose both influence and are apart of your identity.

With this in mind you realize essentially all of your actions stem from your identity.

How to Shift Your Identity

Most identity shifts come from doing an action long enough for it to be a habit, realizing you do the action daily, then associating yourself with the action & by connection the associated identity(s).

This is the natural way identity shifts occur.

You do something long enough and often enough until you realize you’re the type of person that does that thing.

You don’t try to do something to become someone.

In fact this tends to make it take longer because you’re essentially telling yourself you’re not that person.

See the natural rhythm of life is:

Be then Do then Have

When you just do something either for enjoyment of the act or to get the natural outcome of doing the thing, you tell your identity you are that person.

In other words by ‘Doing’ you’re telling yourself that you’re ‘Being’

Then by default you ‘Have’ the benefit that the given identity brings.

The Solution

Firstly, remember the way to go about getting the desired results is by both changing the inputs and the system itself.

Since we just talked about identity shifts we’ll start there:

Shifting Your Identity

You just learned how identity shifts occur, now you need to know what shifts to make.

In the context of this problem there are two shifts to make:

  1. Become the person who does the desired task

  2. Become the person who does what’s necessary

Before I explain, I ask you to hear me out before you click off because you may have a “no shit sherlock” moment.

Both 1 & 2 are essentially saying, to do what you’re having trouble doing.

Number 1 is saying to do the desired task you’re having trouble doing.

Number 2 is saying to have the discipline to do what you don’t necessarily want to do.

However what sets you apart now from before reading this is, you now know what was blocking you from making the identity shift.

Before you were identifying as someone who doesn’t do the desired task and isn’t discipline. Then you were trying to do the task and be disciplined, but from the position of trying to become a disciplined person. Which tells your brain you’re not that person.

What I am telling you to do is, to both do the task and do an act of discipline everyday, no matter how small, but to not attach it to the person you want to become.

For a practical path:

The simple path:

This is best explained through an example, let’s use becoming a gamer.

The desire to identify as a gamer is so that you don’t struggle to play games everyday.

Let’s say right now you can play for 30 minutes before getting tired of it.

Set a timer and play for 31 minutes today.

By doing this you are both exercising the identity of being a gamer and being a disciplined person, as you’re doing something you don’t want to do.

Now eventually playing games will be easy and adding more time won’t exercise your discipline.

In this case, pick something you don’t want to do, as an example pushups.

Do 5 push-ups before breakfast and 5 before going to bed.

Remember when you do this, to not say to yourself I have to do this so I can become Y identity.

Just do them.

One way to help with this, is to set up an input in your environment such as a timer that goes off at the same time everyday that is labeled-for this example-’5 push-ups.’

As a note, when the time comes to play your ‘game’ or do your ‘push-ups’, and you don’t want to, you can say to yourself, “I have to.”

Just never ask yourself, “why do I have to?”

I understand that doing what you’re suppose to do, so you can do what you’re suppose to do is obvious, but the main point of this section was to offer a new perspective as most solutions are just changes in perspective.

Now we can get into something a little more physically practical:

Changing the Input

The most important input changes will not come from adding excess inputs, they’ll come from either replacing old inputs or removing inputs all together.

Removing Excess:

First, start by removing the excess in your environment.

The next time you don’t do what you’re suppose to do, ask yourself:

What do I usually end up doing instead?

The answer for most people is, use their phone.

It may be something else, or it may be a mix of a few things for you.

In any case, answer honestly and audit it from your physical environment.

You don't have to audit the item forever, just when you choose you’re going to work.

Optimal Working Time:

Do the task at different times of the day to discover when you work the best.

For me that's in the early-to-mid morning.

For you it may be at 2 P.M in the afternoon.

However I would argue if everyone properly aligned their circadian rhythms it would be the morning for most.

(I think the idea of people having different sleep styles is for the most part wrong, as if you go camping and remove all artificial light, people tend to all wake and sleep at the same time. As well as other data outside the bounds of this letter. Also from personal experience, I was once someone who went to bed at 2 A.M every day and did my best work at night, now I wake up early morning and do my best work in the morning).

Anyways that’s more important from a health aspect, so experiment from the lifestyle you choose to live.


Once you internalize the identity traits, you should be able to do the associated actions at anytime and in any environment.

However during the internalization phase and to solidify the trait it’s helpful to give the chosen associated task a surrounding familiar structure.

This means, doing the tasks at the same time and place as often as possible.

Your brain will connect the time and place to the task making it easier to do the task.

How to Know if You’ve Changed

How do I know I have made the identity shift?

Firstly, realize it doesn’t really matter if you make the identity shift if you’re doing the things that the identity shift would elicit, so don’t stress about this.

However there are 3 things to look out for:

  1. It feels good to do the task

  2. It’s second nature

  3. People comment on what you do

It Feels Good:

When we act in alignment with our identity life feels good.

Even though discipline is consciously fighting against your natural desires for the sake of your betterment, it will still feel good to do the act of discipline, despite how uncomfortable the actually task is.

It’s Second Nature:

If you naturally do the task when you’re suppose and you don’t question why or have to remind yourself it’s time, you know that internally something has changed.

And since actions come from identity, you know an identity shift has/is occurring.

People Notice:

It’s a known thing that we are our own worst judge.

We notice things in others better than we notice things in ourselves.

And so if people comment on how disciplined you’ve become, or ask why or how you’re so disciplined, you know that an identity shift has occurred.

Bonus points if you’re response is something like:

“I don’t know, I kinda just do it. It feels good.”

Wrapping Things Up

This ended up being much more drawn out than I thought, I usually keep posts on this letter to 5 minute or less.

In fact this was originally going to be a thread on X.

But as the name of this newsletter suggests the muses hit me this morning.

I hope this brought you value, if it did feel free to hit the social buttons at the top to share it with others.

For those interested, I tend to post letters on here more whimsically and less often if you want you can sign up & look at old posts here.

(Make sure to check your email to confirm your subscription).

And for those looking for more depth you can read my other letters here.

My letter on beliefs pairs well with this one.

Lastly, some house keeping: The Eternal Learner is still on sale for pre-order, grab it before prices go up next week!