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Book Review | Discipline is Destiny

Rating: 4 out of 4.
Publisher: Profile Books (Hardcover)
Year: 2022
Pages: 312
 Ryan Holiday

Discipline is Destiny is my first foray into Ryan Holiday’s literary world and I must say that I am delighted to have read it.

Discipline is Destiny - on the bookshelf

It’s a book about the power of self-discipline and is the second book in Holiday’s four-part series on the virtues of courage, discipline, justice, and wisdom. Holiday, who has carved a niche for himself as a modern-day Stoic philosopher, believes that these virtues are essential for living a life of excellence and glory.

Admittedly, I haven’t read the first installment called Courage is Calling, but after having read Discipline is Destiny, I plan to do so soon.

In the first few pages, Holiday lays down a compelling thesis that discipline is a concept far richer than the constant grind of accomplishing daily tasks. From there on, he takes the reader on an intriguing journey of the subtleties of discipline, tearing down the traditional notion of relentless striving.

Rather than advocating for an incessant drive, Holiday reminds us that discipline can often be a matter of stepping back, slowing down, and even choosing not to act. It’s as much an exercise in emotional restraint as it is in continuous activity.

He calls Discipline a timeless law of the universe.

Holiday’s quest unfolds over three distinct sections, comprising 54 unlabelled chapters and it concludes with a thoughtful afterword. In total, it spans approximately 312 pages of insightful discourse.

The three sections include – The Exterior (lessons on how to conquer your physical self), The Interior (lessons on how to hone your mind), and The Magisterial (lessons on how to win your soul).

The Exterior (The Body)

The core message of the book’s opening section is – Dominate yourself so that no one else could. In order to build temperance or self-restraint, you first need to conquer your physical self. Holiday cites multiple personalities from the recent past and from centuries ago to impart this point.

But it’s his story about Lou Gehrig that truly steals the show. An incredibly disciplined athlete, known for his tireless work ethic, he was famous for his dedication to his craft. Holiday beautifully uses Gehrig’s story to illustrate the importance of discipline in all areas of life.

He argues that we should strive for a strenuous life, one that challenges us physically and mentally. Treat the body vigorously, seek out discomfort, he quotes Seneca. It reminded me of something Nassim Nicholas Taleb also asserted in his book Antifragile (a must-read in case you haven’t read it) about benefitting from stressors and disorders.

Finally, Holiday asserts that discipline is the key to freedom. He urges the readers to choose the hard way of building self-discipline since in the long run only discipline sets you free. Those slaves to their urges or to sloth cannot create a good life.

The Inner Domain (The Temperament)

Ryan Holiday declares that in order to live a fulfilling life, you must first master your body and your mind. He frequently references Queen Elizabeth, who was able to maintain her focus and self-restraint even in the midst of chaos.

This section of Discipline is Destiny underscores the significance of self-containment, particularly in an era where narcissism and shamelessness are often celebrated.

He challenges readers to navigate the difficult terrain of saying no to individuals, objects, and desires that do not align with their long-term goals. In essence, Holiday advises readers to look beyond the superficial and ephemeral temptations.

Discipline is Destiny - in front of a bookshelf

He reinforces this argument by quoting the philosopher Epictetus, “Only focused individuals receive the favor of the muses“. His mantra is to respect time, concentrate on what truly matters, and ignore the rest.

Holiday argues striving for perfection is a fool’s errand. However, I diverge from his viewpoint. A few years ago, I wrote a post about how perfection measures up to speed.

While I agree that speed or hustle is effective for short-term goals, I think that properly nurtured and applied perfection can result in a lasting legacy.

Throughout this section, Holiday drives the point that the pursuit of happiness is futile. He asserts that by tempering desires, remaining unprovoked by others, being content with less, and refraining from seeking instant gratification, you can attain mastery over your inner realm.

While contemplating the fundamental question – What do we need in life? – he offers profound guidance. He answers:

“Some food and water. Work that we can challenge ourselves with. A calm mind in the midst of adversity. Sleep. A solid routine. A cause we are committed to….Everything else is extra.”

Ryan Holiday, Discipline is Destiny

The Magisterial (The Soul)

In the concluding section of Discipline is Destiny, Holiday delves into honing self-discipline to the level of mastery – a superpower that you could summon when the situation demands.

He venerates the likes of Antonius Pius, the ancient Roman emperor, and the renowned philosopher and senator, Cato the Younger, positioning them as epitomes of discipline and moderation.

He believes that the Roman greats were able to achieve great things because they were able to find a balance between indulgence and moderation. They were able to enjoy the pleasures of life without letting them control them.

Holiday urges his readers to do the same, and to practice “unrestrained moderation” in all things. This means enjoying the good things in life, but not letting them enslave you.

Later in the section, he talks about failure and success. He counsels not to beat yourself up in the event of failure. Instead, when things seem too hard to overcome, he suggests leaving the scene and coming back prepared. And, when you do succeed, Holiday wants you to remain stoic in those moments of triumph.


Holiday’s book is a stirring examination of self-discipline that challenges conventional wisdom and offers insights for those seeking to live a life of glory and excellence.

His narratives are engaging, his lessons impactful, and his advice, practical. Holiday’s ability to weave ancient wisdom into a contemporary context offers a fresh perspective on mastering self-discipline.

In essence, Discipline is Destiny is a must-read for anyone seeking self-improvement and personal growth.

©BookJelly. All rights reserved

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