Cal Newport's "Deep Life Stack" - Layer 1: Discipline

Sep 21, 2023

mentalHealth productivity 100DaysToOffload deepLifeStack

Reading time: 5 minutes

In the last post I introduced Cal Newport’s “Deep Life Stack”, his program to put your life on a more solid foundation. Today I want to expand on this and have a look at the fist layer, “discipline”.

If we want to start some meaningful changes in our lives, the first step, according to Cal, is to change our peception of ourselves.

Our thinking and our behaviour are deeply linked together. If I am well organised, have everything under control and can stay calm even when faced with difficult situations, I also have the mental image of being well organised with a decent amount of self-discipline. But if I have been living my life without much of a plan and maybe have a few skeletons in the closet, like unfinished projects, or 20 failed attempts at dieting, or attempting to overhaul my life again and again without success, then the mental image I have of myself is probably not the best.

And that’s where the discipline layer can help. If (I’m exaggerating here) I think of myself as a loser who can’t get anything done anyway because that’s the way it has always been (doesn’t matter if this is actually the case or if this is only in my mind), then it will be almost impossible for me to change because my attitude will be “I will fail anyway”.

So first we have to change our image of ourselves. And since we can not really change our thoughts, the way to get there is to change our behaviour first, and the thoughts and our self-perception will follow. This is classic behavioural psychology and the same basic idea behavioural therapy is based on. Body and mind are one and influence each other, changes in behaviour are followed by changes in the mind.

So what do we do?

Cal suggests creating three keystone habits.

The exact nature of these three habits is less important, the goal is to convince yourself that you are able to set your mind on something and then follow through, even if it is not always easy or pleasant. In other words, you should start thinking of yourself as a disciplined person.

The habits should therefore require a certain investment of time and energy, but they should still be managebale on a daily basis. If you want to improve your fitness, “I look at my dumbbells once a day” is probaly not enough, as it will hardly have any impact, but “I do a hardcore 90 minutes Crossfit workout every day” is way too much, you will not be able to keep this up for long. It should be something in between.

Ideally, the habits are spread across different areas of your life, for example one habit could be about health/spirituality, one about work/profession and one about your hobbies/personal development.

After thinking about this for a while (in other words, totally overthinking it), I’ve settled on these three keystone habits:

  • Writing: I want to spend at least 15 minutes every day writing something. Doesn’t matter what or how, it can be on a computer, can be on paper, can be a journal entry, a blog article, a short story… whatever. Just write.
  • Yoga/Meditation: I want to spend 20 minutes every day practicing meditation or doing a small yoga session, therefore doing something for my mental and physical health.
  • Cleaning my apartment: I will set aside some time each day (doesn’t matter how much or how little) to clean and tidy up my place, because my surroundings have a huge impact on how I’m feeling.

In order to to track these habits, I just downloaded a habit tracker template from some random website and printed it out so that I can record and check off every day that I have my habits.

And now let’s do this for a few weeks, and then we’ll talk about the next layer, where we’ll look at our values and bring them up to date.

Post 005/100 of the 100DaysToOffload Challenge

This is a translation of the original German post made by DeepL and then manually adapted to (hopefully) sound a bit more human