Jocko Willink, the retired Navy Seal who is now a podcaster and best-selling author is famous for coining the phrase Discipline Equals Freedom and it is even one of the titles of his many books alongside others like Extreme Ownership.

Despite making acquaintance with the phrase on a few occasions, it just didn’t make much sense to me.

If you get up early each day to work, if you religiously follow your training regimen, if you say no to all parties unless it’s a friend’s birthday, where’s the freedom in that?

It seems fairly clear that you are tied down, with no flexibility due to your own self-imposed rules.

This was my line of thinking for quite a while.

Then it struck me one day. I had been fairly disciplined in my academic studies and managed to get my essays submitted in about a week advance of the deadline. The following week there were a few social events and I could pick and choose which ones I went to depending on how I felt, whereas many of my friends were pulling all-nighters and having to say no to every invite.

Oh, I thought, there’s the freedom in the discipline.

This discipline equals freedom concept is nestled into many areas of life when you actually start searching for it. However, these things are often so difficult to see because, despite the fact that all of us seek freedom in one form or another, we often get mixed up between fake freedom and real freedom.

Fake freedom would say that working out is time that could be spent elsewhere. Whereas the discipline of working out regularly means that you will have the freedom to move as and how you wish in your own body for much longer. Not to mention all of the proven cognitive and psychological benefits of exercise. That’s real freedom.

Fake freedom would say that with the money you earn, you can (and perhaps should) spend it all on anything that you want. Whereas the discipline of saving and investing money rather than living paycheck to paycheck gives you much more freedom over where you work, how you work and not having to sell your time for money. That’s real freedom.

You don’t even need to have any motivation in order to be disciplined or even to think, you just do it

Mark Manson highlights these contrasts between fake and real freedom very effectively in his book ‘Everything is F*cked’:

Fake freedom puts us on the treadmill toward chasing more, whereas real freedom is the conscious decision to live with less.

Fake freedom is addictive: no matter how much you have, you always feel as though it’s not enough. Real freedom is repetitive, predictable and sometimes dull.

Fake freedom has diminishing returns: it requires greater and greater amounts of energy to achieve the same joy and meaning. Real freedom has increasing returns: it requires less and less energy to achieve the same joy and meaning.

Fake freedom is seeing the world as an endless series of transactions and bargains which you feel you’re winning. Real freedom is seeing the world unconditionally, with the only victory being over your own desires.

Fake freedom requires the world to conform to your will. Real freedom requires nothing of the world. It is only your will.


Fake freedom is everywhere and tries to disguise itself as real freedom. More often than not, it is discipline in any walk of life that will guide you to real freedom.

Are you seeking fake or real freedom?