This essay was written by me, Brandon Nolet, in the context that it’s hard to self-discipline if you go about it in the wrong way. Here’s something that CGP Grey taught me through his podcast, Hello Internet.


In self-discipline, you will inevitably fail or compromise. There will always be a point of weakness. Nobody is infallable and so when the failure does occur, it should not be a surprise. You will fail at some point and it’s not that big of a deal. What matters more are the actions that succeed that failure (pardon the pun).

Failing is a huge part of the learning process, from my point of view. When you fail your mistakes, I find, are made the most apparent. You’re forced to deal with a mistake and it imprints more into the brain. It can impress on the brain in a negative way sometimes, but this is where corrective thinking needs to be implemented.

If that negative imprint goes unchanged for too long, then you begin to feel less motivated, you begin to feel less likely to succeed, and generally you feel like you have less confidence in yourself. However, with the corrective thinking that failing is a natural part of the process, that failure doesn’t seem so devastating. The failure was expected and so it’s just “business as usual.”

Failure goes from this catastrophic thing where it should never happen and now that it has well nothing is the same…to “shit, I failed today, better get a move on.” It goes from this jarring thing to something that seems totally cool. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t lament failure for a moment, it’s to say take notice of them. Contemplate them, don’t ruminate about them.

The Horse

You hear this whole thing about “getting back on the horse” sometimes. It usually implies that you’ve failed some sort of challenge on an initial attempt (in the case of the idiom, the failing action is having fallen off a horse) and you’re going to make another attempt at the chalenge (in the case of the idiom, that would be getting back on the horse).

Almost no horse rider has never fallen off a horse. In fact, even the best ones still fall off a horse now and then if they bite off more than they can chew. But they’ve achieved a higher level of self-discipline. They’ve trained themselves over and over again to get back on the horse. No matter how many times they’re thrown off, they have to get back on the horse. They feel like they’re cheating themselves if they don’t get back on.


That is what you’re training when you practice self-discipline. It’s not that you should be able to never ever ever fail. It’s being able to get back on the horse no matter how grim things look. You cannot be ever-weary of all of your shortcomings. Otherwise, you’d have no confidence in yourself. There are shortcomings that can be overcome and part of overcoming them is not even realizing that those obstacles were there in the first place.

The urge to get back on the horse should be stronger than the self-doubt that was previously instilled.