Category: Discipline

Build || Rebuild

Build || Rebuild

Among my favorite stories about Gandhi may or may not be apocryphal, but it goes something like this:

A woman walked many miles for hours with her young son to see Gandhi and ask him to tell her son to stop eating sugar. He told her to come back in two weeks. She did, and upon arriving, asked, “Why did you send us away after we traveled so far?”
“I had to stop eating sugar myself,” he told her, “before I could tell your boy to stop eating sugar.”

Take care of your own house, first.

I let the chaos of 2020 get me, these past few months. In September, I was down 20 pounds. I was running double-digit miles. I caught some bug, which turned out not to be COVID. It knocked me out for a few days. While I was out, both races I had been training for were canceled.

I never got back. I sat by and let the year hit me.

As I write this, I’ve just finished a round of antibiotics after a bronchial infection (also not COVID). I put all the weight back on. I feel like garbage. I’m drinking kombucha and eating an Asian pear. I guess those are steps in the right direction.

If you listened to the kicking off 2021 episode of JKWD, you heard me say I’ll post less here, and try to write more elsewhere. I’m doing that, and I’m doing other stuff to build, or rebuild, my own house.

This is not a Baldessarian effort; it’s more of a Gandhi dump the sugar effort. It feels wrong to tell you to dominate your day when I’m barely dominating a few hours of my week, it feels like.

I’ve submitted to a couple of writing contests, got some training programs set up, with accountability partners. JKWD is doing well; if you haven’t listened, please do. We’re having some great guests during the first quarter of the year.

In an effort to give myself some grace and get through 2021 healthy and happy and leading my family to greatness, I’m going to put this here: expect not much in public spaces from me this year. Most of those who know me have my phone number or can connect on WhatsApp; you can also go over to the contact page and fill out the form to be in touch by email.

Be well. Win your day.

Arguments for discipline

Arguments for discipline

Sometimes there are spurts when it’s just … difficult to create.

But since last April, I’ve managed to get a post up every Wednesday.

That hasn’t been because of a watershed of creative inspiration. It’s because I’ve set a publish date for myself of every Wednesday. No options, just publish.

Sometimes I get six or seven weeks ahead, and then things dry up for a time. And then the opposite happens. We get a string of a few weeks when it’s just not flowing. Wednesday’s in sight, and there’s nothing scheduled to go up.

And then I remember the admonitions: Discipline equals freedom. You don’t need motivation, you need discipline. Don’t wait for inspiration, use discipline.

Jocko Willink, David Goggins and Tucker Max, respectively, by the way.

As Steven Pressfield notes, do the work. Just show up and write, and the writing will be complete. Eventually.

Here are a few relevant definitions for discipline:

the rigor or training effect of experience, adversity, etc.
behavior in accord with rules of conduct; behavior and order maintained by training and control
a set or system of rules and regulations.

How does it work, then? You set up your rules of order (or system or control, however you want to read that), and then you adhere to them.

Setting up the rules is easy. Picking rules that you can stick to is not.

Like goals, rules have to be achievable, measurable and time-bound.

“Write every day” is not a good rule (not measurable). “Write 3,500 words every day” is probably not a good rule (not achievable). “Write 250 words every day” is a better rule.

Once you set your rules, you have the simple (not easy) job of showing up and following your rules.

And so it is with these posts. I set a fairly straightforward set of rules:

• Blog post must go up Wednesday morning.
• Include something that is interesting for me to write.

It doesn’t have to be long (although some are). It doesn’t have to be spectacular (although hopefully some are). It simply has to publish, and I either have to learn something or pass along something I’ve already learned that I thought was interesting.

That’s why I so often include definitions and etymologies in these posts. We may have a concept in mind when we think about a word like “discipline,” but do we think about what it really means, and how we got it.

Speaking of which, it’s an old word, dating back to Old English (for reference, Beowulf was Old English, The Canterbury Tales was Middle English, Shakespeare wrote in modern English).

The Old English variant usually referred to a system of rules — much like we’re using it here — but the usage really didn’t hit our lexicon until the mid-13th century.

Back to discipline over everything else.

If you wait for inspiration, you’ll be able to get some inspiration occasionally. If you wait for motivation, you’ll be motivated sometimes. If you don’t give yourself a choice — if you work with discipline — you will hit your marks.

And Willink’s assertion that discipline equals freedom? Choice is fatiguing. You make a lot of choices throughout the day — what, when and where to eat, what to wear, when to shower — and it takes a toll on your brain throughout the day. You get tired. You make worse choices at night. You make worse choices when you’re hungry. You make worse choices if you’ve simply been making choices all day.

But if you remove decisions from the equation and work on discipline alone, you get your stuff done. If you set your workout clothes the night before and set up the coffee pot, you can put on your clothes, brew your coffee, work out, shower, eat the breakfast you already prepared. You’ve done things you’ve set yourself up for, you won’t have to start tiring yourself out with decisions, and you’re ready to keep going.

The more disciplined you can be in sticking to the positive routines you’ve set up for yourself, the more successful you’ll be, and the freer you will be to choose things that are more interesting and fun for you.

On confidence, fear and making decisions: Lessons from ‘Learning to Fly’ by Steph Davis

On confidence, fear and making decisions: Lessons from ‘Learning to Fly’ by Steph Davis

You’ll notice how far away from the ledge we are in this photo. This was about three steps beyond my comfort zone, and I couldn’t wait to stop smiling for pictures.

“In the moment your feet leave the cliff, there’s no going back. The past is simply finished. And it’s you who must fly forward.”
          — Steph Davis,
Learning to Fly

I had a period last year when I got sucked into a bunch of climbing documentaries. Free Solo, of course, but also The Dawn Wall, Mountain and Valley Uprising, among others.

I’m not into heights, as you might have figured from the opening paragraph. What I’m into is understanding people who are different from me, particularly if they are excellent at what they do.

Somewhere along the way, I bumped into Steph Davis (not literally, I just came across her online).

I picked up her book Learning to Fly on Kindle.

She takes us through her life to the point of the book’s writing, and, if you’d rather read the book, just close this out and come back when you’re done.

Davis wanted to be a concert pianist, got a master’s degree, and then attended law school, for about a day. After that, she dropped out, lived in a truck and climbed mountains, eventually becoming an elite free soloist. That means she climbs mountains without ropes — not like walking uphill, more like completely vertical walls. In her words:

I grew up a studious, aspiring concert pianist with a master’s degree in literature, then subsequently dropped out of law school to live in a truck and become a professional climber, so I’ve learned not to rule anything out.

Then, she started skydiving — even though falling is the one thing every mountain climber doesn’t want to do.

Then, she started base jumping. It gave her the ability to climb a mountain without a rope and then just jump off it.

Then, she started taking a wing suit up with her. If base jumping allows you a couple of seconds of free fall then you open a parachute and ride it to the ground, a wing suit lets you steer at a high velocity for minutes before opening a chute. She lost her husband, and later her ex-husband, to wing suit accidents.

I am interested in exactly none of the things that Davis does for fun (and for a living, at various times). But there are three things to take away for everyone: decision-making, overcoming fear, and confidence.

Making decisions

Almost everything we do in life is reversible. Not all of is easy to reverse, but most of it is reversible. If you dive 50 meters, you’re in really deep water. If you get in trouble down there, you can’t just magically stick your head up above the surface — you have almost 200 feet of upward swimming to do, and you have to do it slowly enough that you don’t have problems with the decreasing pressure.

Two other things that are irreversible: Climbing a sheer face without a rope, and jumping from a high point, like a plane or a bridge or a mountain.

It seems from not only Davis’s book but also from the documentaries I’ve seen and interviews I’ve heard that the decisions to climb, how to climb, and whether and where to jump are not made lightly or without much research. People who plan to climb without a rope practice the route many times with a rope first. People who jump scout the landing area and check for obstacles before they even go to the jumping point, and they figure in the weather.

In other words, this is all dangerous, but very calculated. Davis again:

First of all, I’m not a thrill seeker. Second, like any serious climber, I’m inherently cheap, and skydiving is expensive. Third, I don’t prefer being scared. Falling, loud wind, cold air, hitting the ground hard…these are all things I also don’t usually go out looking for.

Consider some points to see what sort of decision-maker Davis is:

• She dropped out of law school to live in a truck and climb. It not only takes guts, it takes self-knowledge: she knew that law school wasn’t for her, and she knew that climbing was. She did what she had to do to climb, and she went on to make a living at it.

• When it was obvious her marriage wasn’t working, Davis got divorced.

• When Davis needed to try something new, she was ready to skydive. She called a friend, and asked him to help her learn — the next day, after she’d have to drive out to the place he lived.

He had barely got out his happy hellos when I burst out, “Brendan, I want to learn to skydive. Can you teach me if I come to Boulder? Tomorrow?”

• When it became obvious to her that skydiving was too expensive to be more than a whenever-she-could-afford-it hobby and she felt she had enough experience, she went right for base jumping lessons.

These are all major decisions, made quickly. From the Hagakure:

In the words of the ancients, one should make his decisions within the space of seven breaths. Lord Takanobu said, “If discrimination is long, it will spoil.” Lord Naoshige said, “When matters are done leisurely, seven out of ten will turn out badly. A warrior is a person who does things quickly.”

But also keep in mind that, to the point of her writing the book, she had never suffered a serious injury climbing, and the couple of times she hurt herself jumping, she had bad gut feelings about the jumps but went anyway.

This speaks to experience. Get good at something, then make decisions. Go for it or don’t.

Overcoming fear

I didn’t want to feel scared, my physical ability impaired by feelings of fear. I flatly drew the line at free soloing anything I considered at all difficult and would choose moderate, classic routes as my overall ability increased year after year.

“My immunity to fear was not impenetrable,” she goes on to write, noting that, in some instances, she should have been much more nervous than she was.

But, we find out, when we make the decision to be done with fear, we can be done with fear.

Making the decision to not do something doesn’t have to be rooted in fear. It can be rooted in the understanding that our skill sets are not all-encompassing. Another way to say that: Know your limits. Stretch them, yes, and stretch your comfort zone, but don’t attempt anything that is outside the scope of your capabilities, especially if your life is at stake.

You can practice and build your skill set in a safe manner before you take those bigger risks.

When it comes to something like free soloing, that means practicing over and over with a rope until you never miss. Yes, the possibility of a mistake still stands, but it diminishes greatly the more we practice.

Don’t take unnecessary risks, but don’t let fear stop you from doing the thing you’re prepared for.


I was coming at the problem the way I knew, taking apart my weakness and working at it relentlessly, like the complicated parts of a Bach fugue. I wanted to fix it. And I knew from years spent on a piano bench that through sheer discipline and focus, I could.

This works for any problem you could possibly have, any weakness you could have. Focus and discipline can eliminate weakness — just remember to put that focus and discipline to work on the right thing. Where does it lead? “My natural confidence and strength were rooted in discipline and practice,” Davis writes.

Practice. Get stronger. It will give you confidence.

Focus: What it is, and how to ditch distractions

Focus: What it is, and how to ditch distractions

Do you ever sit down to pay your electric bill and four hours later you’re down a YouTube rabbit hole?

How about opening your phone to send your mother a text and an hour and a half later you find yourself in an argument in Facebook comments?

Sit down at work to check your email before your morning meeting and all of a sudden your coworker is asking if you want to go to lunch?

You might just be lacking some focus.

So, what is focus? How does it manifest in our brains? How about distractions? How can we avoid them? I mean, without hiring Jocko to follow you around and smack you in the head every time you get off track.

You probably don’t need that kind of pressure in your life.

Focus is really about attention, and more specifically, attention with intention.

Your brain pays attention to a lot of stuff most of the time. You’re probably not consciously aware of it. If you’re reading this, and maybe listening to a podcast or watching a movie while the kids play in the other room, trying not to spill your drink, wondering how that bag of chips you were going to eat five of is empty of all of a sudden, and daydreaming about the next time you can get 20 minutes of peace and quiet. And all the while, your brain is watching out for snakes and tigers and missiles, just in case.

There are several brain chemicals tied to focus: acetylcholine, dopamine and norepinephrine.

Acetylcholine (ACh) is an important neurochemical in the brain for paying attention, learning and memory. Although there are relatively few ACh cells in the brain compared to some of the other major neurotransmitter systems, ACh cells – which arise from collections of nuclei in your evolutionarily older brainstem and midbrain – extend out to nearly every region of the brain.

Nicotine helps boost acetylcholine, but most nicotine delivery systems are not only highly addictive, they’re carcinogenic. Prescription drugs aimed at neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s — stuff like donepezil and galantamine — can help keep acetylcholine in the brain longer.

We’ve discussed dopamine a few times lately. That’s the system that cocaine and meth hit. It’s the same system that keeps us going back to Facebook and Instagram looking for more likes. But it’s also your dopamine system that rewards you for keeping focus in a situation in which you prioritize based on your experience.

Norepinephrine (noardrenaline) is a neurotransmitter found in the brain which has very similar in structure to the hormone epinephrine (adrenaline). It is a chemical involves in wakefulness, memory, alertness and generally readying the brain, and therefore the body, for action when it is being challenged or threatened.

Norepinephrine brings you back to focus when something novel enters your attention sphere, whether it’s a new song or a friend of a friend.

Our biggest problem with focus isn’t deciding what’s relevant to our focus. We generally know what we should be paying attention to. It’s about shutting out distractions — knowing what’s irrelevant to your desired task before you go too far afield.

You can actually practice if you know you’re going to get bombarded with the same irrelevant task over and over. In one study, people were shown photos of famous actors with a name written across the actor’s face, and asked to identify the actor pictured. Only half the time, the name written across the face was the name of the actor in the photo, so the goal was to ignore the distraction of the text while focusing on the image.

As you can imagine, people were slower identifying the image when the wrong name was printed across the photo. But the brain can adapt. If an incorrect name was placed over the same actor’s face 75% of the time, people learned to ignore the words for that actor’s face.

For example, if a photo of Tom Hanks came up eight times, and twice the name “Hanks” was printed across it but the other times a name like Clooney or Damon or Cruise was printed across it, people just started focusing on Hanks’ face.

Researchers could tell that not only be the speed of correct responses, but also by running a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) screen during the task, to see which parts of the brain were active.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Meditation can help. Yep, that’s right. It helps with confidence, it helps with patience, it helps with happiness, and it helps with focus.

Last month, when writing about patience, we mentioned the default mode network. This is the part of your brain that won’t shut up sometimes. You might be sitting there quietly, but if your brain is spinning, it’s your default mode network.

There’s another network that works antagonistically to the default mode network — that is, it’s at work when the default mode network is not. It’s called the central executive network. If the default mode network is the annoying chatterbox of the brain, the central executive network is the part of the brain that slams the door, puts on noise-canceling headphones and gets to work.

And guess what? Mindfulness, a type of meditation practice, helps replenish the central executive system.

Belle Beth Cooper cites Daniel Kahneman’s work in discussing two brain systems that appear to be the default mode network and central executive system, before they were named. She offers up some of the things she does to make sure she maintains focus to write on a daily deadline: Getting out in nature, doing things you enjoy, and (wait for it) meditation.

Jory MacKay identifies two types of focus: Top-down, or voluntary focus, and bottom-up, or stimulus-driven focus.

Top-down focus is the type you want: to sit there and write a blog post or pay the bills or read a book. Bottom-up focus is a fight-or-flight response. If you hear a loud noise, your focus switches to that to see if it’s something you need to run from or prepare for.

You can, of course, cut down on those distractions by doing things like reducing the number of audible and visual alerts you have on your devices. MacKay also offers some tips that include chewing gum (ooh, I’m going to try that!), taking breaks and … practicing mindfulness.

Alina Vrable — who recommends, of course, meditation and reducing distractions — introduces the Pomodoro method, which suggests taking a five minute break after every 25 minutes of focus work, with a longer break (20-30 minutes) after every four working periods.

And with all these recommendations for meditation, Susan Taylor offers up the science of how meditation helps us focus.

More tips for beating back distraction

There are really two types of distraction: internal and external. External distractions are things like your cell phone dinging. Internal distractions are things like wandering thoughts.

Here are some more tips for wiping out both internal and external distractions, followed by the links from whence they came — all with more tips.

• Get enough sleep
• Make your to-do list manageable
• Turn off your phone
• Stop chasing perfection
• Find significance from those who matter to you, not from the world at large
• Incorporate movement and fun into your day
• Set yourself time limits for tasks
• Make some of your tasks difficult — you won’t be bored and you’ll need to focus to accomplish them

Minimizing Distractions: 10 Ways to Take Control of Your Day
9 Ever-Present Distractions That Keep Us From Fully Living
Take charge of distractions
7 Proven Strategies for Overcoming Distractions
Five ways science can improve your focus

The long game

The long game

I’m a fan of shortcuts (things we, at the moment, are calling “hacks”). Things like making hard-boiled eggs easy to peel.

I’m a fan of combining moving and brain work. Things like walking meetings and listening to audiobooks and podcasts while running (a recent favorite is Can’t Hurt Me by David Goggins.

I love that some chores can be done while I do other things. For a two-hour job, laundry has such a short hands-on time that I can toss it in the washer, then go do 45 minutes’ worth of anything else, move it to the dryer and disappear for over an hour, and then it needs folding at some point. I can put five pounds of chicken breast in the slow cooker, spend hours doing everything else, and then I have dinner for two for a week.

I love processes that I can batch. Email a couple of times a day. Portioning a few days’ worth of salads into containers; same for oatmeal.

I think there are some diet and wealth schemes that can get you where you want to go quickly, even if I’m wary of their sustainability.

Discipline can be a good substitute for productivity. Skip the time-wasters, find a routine that includes good habits (meditation and exercise, for example). You’ll find if you take away choices, you get more done.

But not everything is meant to be done quickly.

Health, for instance, is a long game. You can do some things quickly, but then they need maintenance. Lower your blood sugar. Decrease your LDL (bad) cholesterol. Get your kidney health on track. Lower your inflammation. Gut health. Hydration.

Relationships, too. You can form a friendship or business partnership or client relationship in a heartbeat. It takes a lifetime to nurture and build each.

And for every time we’ve looked at a kid and said she’s six going on 25, it’s not true. It takes 18 years to raise an 18 year old. There are no shortcuts.

When I was in kindergarten, I skipped reading group and went to the library. I already knew my ABCs and wanted to read an actual book.

Throughout elementary school, I went to math class in the next grade up.

But it still took me 12 years to get to 12 years old.

And so with a three-week-old girl at home, there’s a giant learning curve. We’re trying to put some weight on her; she’s butcher-scale sized right now and we don’t have a scale that’s going to let us know if we’re getting a couple of ounces on her every three days or so; we just have to wait for doctor’s appointments.

We guess whether her cries are for food, diaper, cuddles or soothing. Her food/soothing cry is distinct; we can tell when she’s hungry because when we pick her up she’ll start looking for a nipple. I have the peck marks to prove it. [OK, not really.]

It’ll be great when she can tell us what she needs or wants, but that time is not coming tomorrow. I don’t want it to come tomorrow.

One thing I learned from comedian Louis CK is this: We’re not raising the child she is. We’re raising the adult she’s going to become. There’s going to be a lot of trial and error along the way. We’re going to do the best we can, realizing that we’re just making it up as we go along.

There will be opportunities for failures — for us as parents and for her — but make no mistake, they are opportunities. You don’t learn anything new when you get things right all the time.

Remember that thing about me being in advanced math throughout elementary school? I would go upstairs from my fifth-grade class to take math with the sixth graders. The teacher introduced to us pi, the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. She briefly mentioned the mystery of the number and that people looked for repeating patterns in the decimal, and then offered it as a fraction, twenty-two sevenths (22/7), without noting that it was a fractional approximation.

Twenty-two divided by seven brings a repeating decimal very quickly, at six decimal places (3.142857142857142857…). I had done the work long-form on paper (no calculator) while in class and presented her with my calculations at the end of class.

“You might be the first person to ever find a pattern!” the teacher exclaimed. And then she looked at my work and frowned. “Oh, I’m sorry,” she said. “Twenty-two sevenths is only an approximation.”

That was a failure for her to learn from — explain approximations when they’re approximations — and it was a moment for me to recognize that (a) adults sometimes underestimate children and (b) fifth-graders aren’t actually generally smarter than their teachers. Those were good lessons for me: question everyone and everything, but find a little humility.

I’m not sure why I’m reminded of that, but I’m glad I am.

I’ve long joked with my wife — since long before we had a kid — that if we get a call from a kindergarten teacher that our kid called someone a fucking asshole, my first question would be if the person in question was being a fucking asshole, and if so, my kid wasn’t the problem.

I get the distinct feeling some of my choices as a parent are going to be a little on the unusual side. I’ve got some good role models and peers to lean on.

But the hardest thing for me to remember here is that, unlike using baking soda and a temperature shock to make peeling hard-boiled eggs quick, there is no shortcut. It’s a long game raising a decent human, and I’m in it for the long haul.

To rebuild, you must burn it down

To rebuild, you must burn it down

About six weeks ago, I was feeling buried in hatred. The bile and ugliness that has become a substitute for discourse in today’s world was too much. I went over to my Twitter account and deleted almost 30,000 tweets — 10 years of thoughts, connections, replies and occasionally a joke that didn’t land.

Something miraculous happened: nothing. Nobody said anything. Nobody unfollowed my now-empty account. I was hurt for about 12 seconds, and then I remembered that the reason I left the service in the first place was the community I’d built was gone. The followers were still there. The friends I’d made were still my friends. But Twitter was only serving as a shouting board; there didn’t seem to be any more listening.

So I made it a shouting board. If you want a good place to get a feed of all my content, go on over and follow me @JoshShear. No, I won’t respond to replies. You’ve been warned.


I got to thinking about the legacy I want to leave the world. Legacy is one of my personal pivotal needs — one of the driving forces behind what I do when I’m being true to myself.

I want to leave the world a better place for the next generation. In no small part, that means a world that has more love than hate, more kindness than apathy, more happiness than anger, more wealth than poverty.

If that’s important to me, everything I do should work in that general direction.


Nobody makes it on their own. I picked up some books. I talked to some people. I let the wheels turn. I thought about where I’d been.

Someone said something which seemed obvious. I’m paraphrasing: If it’s not relevant to your aim, don’t do it.

I thought about all the times I said publicly, typically in this space, I said I was starting over, I was focused, I was moving forward with unity of vision.

And then I looked over my shoulder.

Burn it down

I thought about John Baldessari, the artist who cremated his old work, then looked in the camera and repeated, “No more bad art” until he was sure he was ready to produce good art.

What must you kill in order to go on to live? »

I poured myself a cup of coffee and started.

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve gone through 12 years of blogging in this space and deleted every post that didn’t either meet my purpose of leaving a better world or my current standard of writing, with these exceptions: Guest posts stayed intact, as did all the podcast episodes.

Posts that met my standards got some edits and some attached images.

In all, I’d say a dozen posts needed nothing. 667 posts went in the trash. Another 220 got updates. I hope, if you’re relatively new here, you’ll feel confident going back through the archives of and knowing that it’s all useful, high-quality content. No publishing just to publish. No posts that didn’t require thought, sweat and sometimes tears. They’re not all long, but they’re impactful.


What do you have to offer your heroes? »

I had a dream last night. Not for the sake of this narrative; I actually had this dream. I know it wasn’t for the sake of this narrative because it started with me bumping into Ben Greenfield in a coffee shop. Apparently we knew each other.

This was very strange because I’m familiar with Greenfield through two episodes of Joe Rogan’s podcast (10691120) but he’s not someone I think about as anything other than a self-experimenting journalist (Rogan, on the other hand, is someone I probably write too frequently about — he’s designed a life for himself that includes doing what he loves, paring back when he wants to spend time with his family, and that combination of curiosity and fame that makes him want to talk to all different kinds of people and the ability to get them into his podcast studio).

I told Greenfield I’d be down the road in the woods having a roundtable if he wanted to join us after his meeting, in the usual spot.

It was muddy but not soaked, and Greenfield joined the group just as I was getting up to find a good spot for a restroom. For some reason, I knew this area of the woods — it didn’t look familiar to me, but my dream self was very aware of the place. I went to cross a couple of boards over a creek and found, to my surprise, that the creek bed had dried up and there was a more permanent structure built over the bed.

When I came back, Rogan was hosting about a dozen and a half people in a conversation, all with headphones, sitting on stumps around the clearing.

It was a sure sign I’m working toward having something to offer my heroes.


Where are you going? Where have you been? What are you doing that is getting in the way of where you want to be? What have you done that is holding you back? What do you need to destroy in order that you may rebuild what you want?

Go get it.