A simple technique: If you are facing a grave threat, start fasting. Your body will produce the brain-stimulating chemical compound “brain-derived neurotrophic factor” in substantially increased quantities after 24 to 48 hours of fasting. On that second day of fasting, your creativity, memory, confidence, and focus will multiply rapidly. You will become charged with energy to overcome the threats you face. Your heart rate will slow down, and a general calm will overcome you. These are all the traits we humans evolved over tens of thousands of years as hunter/gatherers.
When food was scarce, our bodies went into overdrive and produced extraordinary mental and muscular energy. The gene that produced this response to hunger very quickly came to dominate the human gene pool as those who became stronger and smarter about hunger lived longer and had more children. So, stay calm under fire. Don’t eat. Drink only water. And take your leadership fame to a new level. And most amazing about intermittent fasting, the changes to your memory, speed of cognition, and vascular health are permanent because they occur via epigenetic changes, i.e., your genes are expressed differently and permanently after a period of intermittent fasting.
Discipline in Your Thoughts
In prison, there are generally two categories of inmates—those who are getting bitter, and those who are getting better. Those who are getting bitter spend their time complaining, finding fault, and engaging in all kinds of bad habits and unproductive activities. They are angry at the Bureau of Prisons and angry at the system as a whole. It’s natural to be angry at whoever has set you back, done you harm, and treated you with indignity. By staying in an angry and emotional state, however, they are failing to move their thought process to the cerebellum where they can develop positive work habits and goals to turn their adversity into an advantage.
For some time, this anger is unavoidable for most of us. Anger can be an extraordinarily powerful motivator, but only when you channel the anger into productive activity towards a specific goal for self-improvement. However, the faster you turn this anger into productive activity, the faster you can turn the adversity to your advantage.
The inmates who are getting better see prison as an opportunity to gain strength and perspective on all levels. I’ve met several prisoners who have been down for 10+ years and have used that time to completely transform who they are. They are positive, optimistic, and focused on improving their mind, body, and soul.
Build your discipline by repeated warnings to yourself that if you don’t achieve your goal, if you don’t become stronger from this adversity, then “they” have won. If anger is driving you, ponder this: What is the one thing that would mean you win, and your distractions lose?
Your adversities are likely to fall short of the adversity that these prisoners face. Are you going to turn it into a productive advantage by improving yourself, or let the opportunity go to waste?
Thoughts lead to action. Action leads to habit. Habit forms character and your character is your fate. So quite directly, the thoughts that you permit to occupy your mind will become your fate. Do you intentionally select the people in your life based on the positive thoughts that they will put into your mind during your interactions with them? Inevitably, the thoughts of those with whom you surround yourself will ultimately become your own thoughts, even if only subconsciously. In prison, it’s clear that many people are there because they simply allowed the wrong people into their life.
One wrong person in your life can determine your fate. Who do you permit to occupy your mind? Do you take the people you allow into your life seriously enough? And likewise with the employees you hire?
Discipline in Your Actions
I was born in a working-class family. My grandfather on my mom’s side was an auto mechanic; on my dad’s side, a plumber. Both were hardworking, everyday people. A generation prior to that, my ancestors were German and Swedish peasants who immigrated to the United States in the late 1880s. I remember looking at the census documents of my great-great grandfather, Peter Frederick Lindberg. He was listed as a “day laborer.” His own great grandfather worked to dig the Got a Canal in Sweden, living in a hut alongside the great dig.
My ancestors lived a long, hard, grueling life. I feel an extraordinary obligation to not waste the hardship they lived through. I am grateful for their struggles and grateful for the gifts of perseverance I inherited from them.
Instead of dating a lot in my 20s, I built a business. By 2000, when I was 30 years old, I had built a $5 million business from scratch with no outside capital. I bootstrapped it. By the year 2001, the business was making about $1 million in profit a year. That could have afforded me a very good life in 2001. Even so, I didn’t take that money out of the business and start spending it.
I paid myself just enough to live on: $40,000 a year for the fir st 10 years. Everything else went back into the business. I kept reinvesting and reinvesting. We bought more companies and grew the business. And, we became more successful. It can look like luck, magic, or being in the right place at the right time, but when I look back at those early years, it was simply discipline and focus.
When I say “discipline,” I don’t mean a cold, heartless monotony. Rather, I mean building your dream into a fiery passion and allowing that fire to consume you at the expense of all else. Inside, you get a “burning” and nothing else matters except keeping your word for achieving the goal you set for yourself.
To paraphrase Nietzsche, your passion must be great enough to extend your will across great stretches of your life “and to despise and reject everything petty including even the fairest, divinest things in the world.” Are you prepared to live the life a monk, rejecting all earthly and petty pleasures for the sake of keeping your word? Sometimes, that is what it takes. That’s exactly what I learned in prison.
Prison teaches you the power of the ascetic. Everything there requires discipline, and the more discipline you apply, the better the results. Our
commissary purchases were limited to $90 per week. We got two rolls of toilet paper per week. We were issued one towel. This, and many other
examples, did not simply encourage the practice of self-discipline, they required it. Each makes you stronger by forcing an ascetic in virtually
everything you do. Nothing is wasted. Everything has value. I remember when I got my first pen. I remember when I found my first paper c lip.
The ascetic teaches you to value the smallest of forward advances and appreciate with sincere gratitude the smallest of gifts. The best part of
prison is the generosity and support from my fellow man as I see from my fellow prisoners every day.
All discipline comes from a place of emotional fortitude where you don’t break discipline in times of stress, fear, anger, and depression. The more you adhere to your long-term goals with daily discipline, the more effective your leadership will be. The more support from your friends, the more confidence you will have to avoid breaking discipline when things are not going your way.
When you share your stress with your friends, their support can help you overcome the challenge without turning to bad habits, whatever they may be. Knowing this, I have been amazed by, and grateful for, how supportive my inmates are of each other.
Part of the ascetic is being a scavenger. We throw away so much that is valuable. Once, at Montgomery Federal Prison Camp, I found a half-eaten bag of almonds in the trash. I fished them out . We were limited to $90 a week at this commissary, and a bag of almonds was $1.70. When an inmate is sent home, the items he leaves behind are scavenged by fellow inmates in a matter of hours. My tennis shoes must have been worn by three or four other inmates before me. To buy new shoes costs $90 at the commissary, which means I would have no commissary food for a week. So, I wore a worn-out pair of tennis shoes. Everything there is important: plastic bags, tape, paper clips, etc. There is enormous value to “trash” in the right place at the right time.