[Letter] You're the smartest kid in your high school. Now what? #3

July 22, 2021


I should have started with discipline in my first letter. This was a mistake on my part. At your age, self discipline is the most important thing you can learn. It takes priority over everything else.

There are lots of tricks to getting the most results out of the minimum discipline. Don't bother with them (yet). Just build sheer will.

Eventually there will come a time where you ought to throw discipline out the window. How do you know when you have self discipline? When you can push your body and brain to their physical limit for weeks on a whim.

You increase your willpower by doing hard things. The best task to use for training willpower is boring, hard[1], physical, neverending and can be performed productively even when you're exhausted. Here are a few examples.

  1. Cleaning.
  2. Practicing an instrument. This means stuff like chords and reading sheet music. Jamming with your friends is fun. Therefore it doesn't count. Don't actually practice until your fingers bleed. Injuring yourslf is bad. Give yourself a safety margin. When you approach the safety margin, switch instruments.
  3. Practicing sleight of hand. The same safety margin advice applies here.
  4. Learning to read Chinese. This is my favorite.[2]

You will have self discipline when you can perform a single activity like this with literally all of your free time[3] for twenty-one days straight.

Self discipline comes from yourself. If you're doing something because someone else is watching you then it doesn't count. You are not allowed to use The Commitment Form.



[1] Physical conditioning is a surprisingly bad source of self discipline. Strength training involve only a few seconds under the bar. Optimal endurance training occurs below the aerobic threshold whereas optimal willpower training occurs above the aerobic threshold. Physical conditioning is a good idea and it does improve willpower, but it is neither necessary nor sufficient for cultivating self discipline.

[2] Anki isn't designed to be used for hours on end. I wrote my own SRS system with a different review algorithm that is designed to be used for hours on end. If you want to push the limits of human memorization, message me to try it out.

[3] Here, "free time" is defined as time when you don't have obligations like school, work, cooking, sleep, exercise, chores and other scheduled activities.