Maintain Discipline

633 Days Inside by Greg Lindberg


Maintain Discipline

Thoughts lead to actions, actions lead to habits, habits form character, and your character’s your fate.

Discipline in Your Emotions

Prison teaches you how to stay calm under emotional situations. “They’ve already locked me up, so what else could they do?” I see in the outside world enormous angst and fear over this and that. It’s unproductive, and it undermines good leadership. The best leaders operate primarily in the cerebellum and have figured out how to disconnect the “fight or flight” emotion from their decision-making. They face indignities, insults, threats, pain, and failures with a calm determination. Their communications don’t carry a negative emotional load that furthers the angst in the organization at the very time the organization requires rational and fearless thinking.

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.

“Are you paying enough attention to what other people consider trash?”

One of the most important leadership lessons is the art of obeying commands. Obeying and commanding are two sides of the same coin. The best commanders are likewise the best at obeying. We all encounter a higher power. Your ability to obey when you encounter a higher power is a testament to your leadership strength—particularly the humility and self-awareness to recognize when you are not the leader. Failure to obey at the right time is a failure to see reality, and the right leader is always the person closest to reality. So, by failing to obey, you are no longer the leader.

Being locked up in prison presents dozens of opportunities to obey every day. Now several months into my prison sentence, I find these opportunities to obey a tonic to the soul. Knowing I can obey with the same enthusiasm as I can command makes me stronger. Wake up at 5:30 am. Clean toilets. Stand up for count. Wear uniform as prescribed. Keep cell neat and tidy. Address the guards formally. Obeying builds character and character builds leaders.

Discipline with Your Eating

I turned 52 this year and I feel like I’m 25 years old. I have never felt better, slept better, and never had better memory and physical strength. Most think that the whole prison experience is terrible. But the truth is, it has made me stronger. The key: prison has given me the discipline to do an intermittent fasting routine where I fast for 114 hours, then eat 54 hours, on a rotating basis. I would have never had the discipline to do this fasting routine had I not come to prison.

There are numerous recent medical journal articles which show that when you fast for more than 48 hours, your body repairs age-related damage (via autophagy) and generates new tissue for your brain, skin, and muscles (via mitochondrial biogenesis). Also, after 48 hours of fasting your body produces 20 times the level of Brain-Derived Neurotropic Factor (BDNF), which creates new brain cells and synaptic connections via neurogenesis. I can now remember the names of employees from 20 years ago. My flexibility has improved to the point where I can now touch my toes, which I was never able to do. I am also putting on muscle mass for the first time in my life.

The medical studies on intermittent fasting with animal models suggest that intermittent fasting can increase life span by up to 40%. Numerous studies indicate that intermittent fasting is the most powerful antiaging treatment on the planet, and it’s available free to everyone. Note that almost all the major anti-aging drugs in development are calorie restriction mimics. However, it’s far better to simply restrict your calories for intermittent periods.

Calorie restriction has been around for a while, but it has major drawbacks—the body needs a “feast” period after fasting. Intermittent fasting produces epigenetic changes so that the genes expressed during fasting carry over into the “feasting” state. Intermittent fasting literally changes how your genes are expressed.

Leadership is a never-ending increase in your stress level as you reach toward your goals. Every one of the 30+ trillion cells in your body must be prepared for that stress. Intermittent fasting does exactly that: it increases the stress resistance of every cell in your body by improving mitochondrial biogenesis and activating autophagy. The effects on your creativity, focus, detail orientation, and determination are profound.

As soon as you achieve a goal, the most important word is “next”. What is your next goal?

Discipline with Your Goals

Success can be defined simply as setting goals and working toward meeting them. Success and goal achievement are often confused with monetary success, but it is not. The process of setting goals for a poet, plumber, or surfer are the same: Do you have the internal integrity to keep your own word and do what you say you are going to do?

Author Ayn Rand says it best: “Achievement of your happiness is the only moral purpose of your life, and that happiness, not pain or mindless self indulgence, is the proof of your moral integrity, since it is the proof and the result of your loyalty to the achievement of your values.”

Your happiness comes from being the best you can be in the plumbing trade, the most creative poet, or the most talented surfer. All of these require goal-setting and an extraordinary dedication to rational and consistent effort. True happiness can only be achieved with such effort . Happiness cannot be achieved by escapism and pure pursuit of pleasure.

“Happiness is not to be achieved at the command of emotional whims,” according to Ayn Rand. “Happiness is not the satisfaction of whatever irrational wishes you might blindly attempt to indulge. Happiness is a state of non-contradictory joy—a joy without penalty or guilt, a joy that does not clash with any of your values and does not work for your own destruction, not the joy of escaping from your mind, but of using your mind’s fullest power, not the joy of faking reality, but of achieving values that are real, not the joy of a drunkard, but of a producer. Happiness is possible only to a rational man, the man who desires nothing but rational goals, seeks nothing but rational values and finds his joy in nothing but rational actions.”

I grew up in California. My dad was an airline pilot, and he found his happiness to be a “damned good stick.” My mom found her happiness in her six wonderful children.

Despite their modest income, my parents ponied up the cash and sent me to a private high school, Crystal Springs Uplands School. I was really lucky to go. However, it was a school of mostly wealthy parents and their kids. My parents were working class. Everyone would drive up to the school in their Beamers and Porches. My mom dropped me off two blocks away because she was so embarrassed by the 1979 Honda Civic (she called it “Tin Lizzie”) that she drove. I would walk the rest of the way to school. My parents couldn’t afford a nice car because they were putting all their money into tuition. It never occurred to me at the time that my mom was embarrassed about her old Civic. I only knew her as a fearless and dominant woman who could handle anything that came her way.

It was at that point I started dreaming about a nice car. The car I got was a 1969 hand-me-down Chevy Malibu that my sister gave me. It was totaled and then refurbed. California is a car culture. Some people put more into their cars than their houses. All the girls liked nice cars. I wanted to have a nice car.
What did I have to do to get one? Clearly, my parents weren’t going to buy it for me. I had to make some money. That was the first goal I set in life.

The very first thing I did when I started my own business was to lease a new Mercedes 190E. I washed that car three times a week. My rent payment was less than my car payment. It was a labor of love. It was a beautiful, shiny, low-end, entry level Mercedes. My life was very basic. I had that car. I slept in the office. I built my business. And it worked. Within five years, I had a turnover of $1 million and a staff of 12.

It was time for the next goal.

In 2002, I bought a business in Naples, Florida. I would fly into Fort Myers and drive to Naples (there weren’t any commercial flights to Naples back then). In Naples, I would stay at the Inn on 5th Avenue—right on the approach path for the private airport. Every five minutes, a private jet flew over my head. I would sit there, working, looking up at these planes flying over. I watched these guys fly right into Naples’s municipal airport on their own jets. I thought that was pretty cool, and I dreamed about having my own plane for many years.

The cost of operating one’s own plane is astronomical. The cheapest private jet is at least $1 million a year. My entire business at the time was making a couple of million a year. I couldn’t afford it. But, I put that dream in my goal book (Napoleon Hill 101: “Set a goal and achieve it.” See it, believe it, and achieve it.). I imagined myself flying on that plane every day. I did the math and realized that the company would need to probably get to $50 million of EBITDA before we could afford a private jet. So, I set the goal to achieve $50 million in EBITDA.

When I started going to Naples, we had a few million dollars of EBITDA. By 2014—when I leased a plane—our EBITDA came in right at $50 million. I worked 12 hours a day, six or seven days a week, for 12 years for that dream. I built a business so that I could afford a plane. I loved every minute of the business. It wasn’t as if it was hard labor, but I worked hard to achieve my long-term goal. First is the dream. Second is years of hard work. I leased that plane in 2014. I started the business in 1991. That is a long time.

After you achieve your dream, the most important thing is to immediately set a new goal. Don’t linger on being proud of yourself. Take yourself out to dinner, take your friend out to dinner. Then ask, “What’s next?”

If you find yourself easily achieving your goals, dream bigger.

Every chosen field—from auto mechanics to poetry to plumbing—has a need for people who dream big. My grandfather was a plumber. You might think of that profession as somewhat traditional—until your toilet doesn’t work, your water bill is unsustainable or you find out there is lead in your pipes (in fact, some historians say that lead pipes were one of the primary contributors to the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, one of the greatest empires in the history of humanity). Don’t underestimate the importance of “workman-like” jobs such as plumbing or auto mechanics. Your entire world is based on them. The people who work in these professions can achieve greatness at the same level as any other.

Regardless of where you choose to make a difference, choose a path that will require you to use all your gifts. As Descartes says, “It is not enough to have a good mind; the main thing is to use it well.”