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Book Summary: Discipline Is Destiny – The Power of Self-Control

Discipline Is Destiny (2022) draws on Stoic virtues to make a case for a life guided by self-discipline. It shows how being in control of your body, thoughts, and emotions is a prerequisite to mastering anything else – and uses historical figures to illustrate how things like sleep, discomfort, and kindness tie into greatness.

Book Summary: Discipline Is Destiny - The Power of Self-Control

Content Summary

Genres
Introduction: Discover how self-discipline leads to greatness.
Self-discipline doesn’t deprive you – it grants you freedom.
Take control of your body before it takes control of you.
Build on your physical self-discipline to temper the mind.
To achieve greatness, you have to align your body, mind, and spirit.
Summary
About the author
Table of Contents
Overview
Review/Endorsements/Praise/Award
Video and Podcast
Read an Excerpt/PDF Preview

Genres

Motivation, Inspiration, Personal Development, Philosophy, Self Help, Psychology, Productivity, Leadership, History, Business

Introduction: Discover how self-discipline leads to greatness.

A long time ago, before he went down in mythology as a great hero, Hercules was traveling in the hills of Greece when he came to a crossroads.

On one path, a stunning goddess beckoned to him, promising a life of luxury – he’d receive everything his heart desired and wouldn’t experience a moment of fear, pain, or unhappiness.

On the other path, a second goddess made an offer that was far less flashy. She also promised Hercules rewards – but only ones he earned himself. This path’s journey would be long, requiring hard work, perseverance, and sacrifice. But it would make him the person he was meant to be.

This legend illustrates a dilemma we all face on a daily basis: the choice between vice and virtue – the easy but ultimately empty way versus the hard but fulfilling route.

According to the ancient Stoics, virtue consisted of four parts: courage, temperance, justice, and wisdom. The Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius called these components the “touchstones of goodness.” Everything good in life, he believed, resulted from practicing them.

In this summary to Ryan Holiday’s Discipline Is Destiny, we’ll focus on the second of these cardinal virtues – temperance, or self-discipline. We’ll look at actionable ways to hone temperance in your everyday life, and how mastering it will unlock the door to fulfillment and peace of mind.

Oh, and Hercules? It goes without saying that our hero chose to meet his destiny on the path of virtue. Now, the choice is yours.

Self-discipline doesn’t deprive you – it grants you freedom.

Tired of your surroundings? Hop on a plane. Dissatisfied at work? Change jobs. Crave pizza? Order it. Have an opinion? Share it. In much of today’s world, people can do and access almost anything they want at the snap of a finger. And yet, with all this freedom, so many of us are so unhappy. What are we doing wrong?

President Eisenhower famously said that freedom is the “opportunity for self-discipline.” And this is the key. Unless we have temperance, or the virtue of self-discipline, all of these things that supposedly liberate us – technology, privilege, success – will only leave us spiraling without direction or purpose. In other words, access without self-restraint leads to imbalance and dysfunction.

Let’s dive in a little deeper. We all have a lower and higher self – those inner voices constantly vying for our attention. It’s Hercules’s choice between vice and virtue. The side that gives up versus the side that tries. The part that clings to excess and chaos versus the part that seeks balance.

Self-discipline is the ability to keep your lower self in check and strengthen your higher self. It involves working hard, practicing good habits, enduring challenges, setting boundaries, and turning a blind eye to temptations. In short, it’s about living a life guided by principles, moderation, and determination.

You might be thinking, Hell, no. Not for me. Self-discipline? More like self-deprivation! Maybe you celebrate or even envy people who take the easy path. You might think they’re having more fun or getting ahead faster. But look more closely, and you’ll realize that all that glitters isn’t gold. Take greed, for instance. It means you’re always on the prowl for more – and so never really enjoy everything you currently have. And not realizing your full potential? That’s a state which breeds pain, misery, and self-loathing.

Self-discipline isn’t about depriving yourself – in fact, it’s the opposite. It’s about using control to open up a world of opportunity.

Let’s return to Eisenhower for a moment. When he was young, he learned a Bible verse that echoed a lesson taught by the Stoic philosopher Seneca: “Most powerful is he who has himself in his own power.” Eisenhower carried this lesson throughout a long, unglamorous military career, all the way into his appointment to Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in World War II – and then into his role as the 34th US president. His enormous success didn’t result from force; instead, he was powerful in his restraint and ability to persuade, compromise, and practice patience.

It’s true that it takes courage to cultivate self-discipline. But embracing this lifestyle will likely make you more successful. And, more importantly, it’ll make you great – no matter what happens.

In the next sections, we’ll explore exactly how to manifest self-discipline physically, mentally, and spiritually. First up? The body.

Take control of your body before it takes control of you.

Lou Gehrig was one of the greatest baseball players of all time. He hit 495 home runs, including 23 grand slams, and didn’t miss a single game in the 17 years he played for the Yankees – a record he held for more than five decades. But Lou wasn’t a natural athlete. As a kid, he was overweight and uncoordinated. So how did he end up playing 2,130 games straight, through injury and sickness, to become the legend he is today?

He trained harder than anyone else – and refused to quit. It’s safe to say Lou knew a thing or two about self-discipline.

The Stoics ate a frugal diet and exercised vigorously not so they could show off their abs, but so they could develop the physical fortitude required to face life’s hardships. Being self-disciplined with regard to your body means boosting your endurance and investing in yourself for the long term, so you can live longer and better – none of that “live fast, die young” BS. It’s about realizing your potential and being able to combat things like laziness, atrophy, and tough circumstances.

There are many small changes you can make in your life to start conquering your body before it conquers you.

First off, incorporate strenuous activities into your day. It doesn’t matter what you do – jujitsu, weightlifting, basketball, long walks, a marathon. But it should be physically challenging . . . and a little uncomfortable.

Seeking out discomfort is key to building temperance. Maybe you think that the point of success is not having to struggle. But here’s the thing: too many comforts make us weak, dependent – and afraid of losing them. By being hard on yourself, you’ll toughen yourself up; you’ll also make it impossible for others to be hard on you. So test yourself. Take cold showers. Try sleeping on the ground. If you can be content with less, you’ll ultimately be richer, freer, and more powerful.

Next, go to bed early – for two reasons. One is so you get enough sleep. Be honest: Do you perform better when you’re well rested, or when you’re bleary-eyed and running on fumes? It may sound obvious, but getting enough sleep can change your life. You’ll have more motivation and energy, and you’ll make better decisions. The second reason is so you can master your mornings – those quiet, early hours when your thinking is freshest and you have the most willpower. If you get enough sleep, you can get up and get going before the day’s frustrations wear you down.

Finally, show up. That’s what Lou Gehrig did for 17 years. Consistency is your secret superpower to success – not sheer inspiration or brilliance. Lots of people are smart or talented. But not everyone puts in the work. So every day, show up for your priorities, even if you’re tired, busy, or don’t have to. Show up, even if it’s in a small way. Go for a 10-minute jog. Write just one sentence of your novel. Once you’ve shown up, you’ll often find that you can build on your momentum. Maybe 10 minutes of running will become half an hour. Maybe one sentence will turn into a page.

Life is hard. It’s filled with a lot of obstacles and situations that are out of your control. Being self-disciplined about your body isn’t one of them. But the body’s just the first step. In building physical temperance, you’re building something even bigger: willpower. Ultimately, your body’s just a training ground for your mind – which we’ll dive into next.

Build on your physical self-discipline to temper the mind.

When you practice self-discipline in your body, you empower your mind to work at its full potential. These aren’t just flowery words – the neuroscientist Lisa Feldman Barrett has shown that brain function depends on a body’s well-being. If you’re physically depleted, your brain can’t do its job of regulating your body.

But there are lots of people out there who are physically self-disciplined . . . and yet their lives are still a mess. Why? Because there’s more to temperance than muscle. In the end, it doesn’t matter when you wake up, what you eat, or how much you push your body if your mind is constantly at the mercy of distractions, bad moods, or self-sabotaging impulses.

So once you’ve gotten your body under control, it’s time to work on the next step: moderating your mind. This involves cultivating balance in how you feel, think, and respond amid the chaos and confusion otherwise known as life. The British motto “Keep calm and carry on” is a great example of this – and Queen Elizabeth personified it to a T. She stayed even-keeled when, in 1966, a heavy cement block fell onto the royal car she was sitting in. Her response? “It’s a strong car.” And in 1981, when a gunman ran up and fired six shots at her, she hardly flinched.

There’s a brief moment between each stimulus and your response. You can either use it to think, gather yourself, and wait for more information – or you can succumb to destructive patterns like getting offended, jumping to conclusions, and assigning blame. Bad situations won’t get better through bad reactions toward them; they’ll just get worse. So hone that tiny moment of patience before you respond. Ask yourself if what you’re experiencing is actually true, whether it’s as annoying or upsetting as it feels. Don’t let fear, anger, or prejudice override your mind.

Another aspect of disciplining your mind is training yourself to focus. Take a cue from Beethoven, who’d mentally disappear in the middle of a conversation to pursue a musical idea.

In his raptus, or flow state, he once told a friend, he was “occupied with such a lovely, deep thought” that he “couldn’t bear to be disturbed.” This may seem like indulgent behavior, but it actually takes extreme self-control to focus in a world where we’re constantly bombarded by distractions. So, selfish as it may sound, practice ignoring things. See what it feels like to really commit to following your inspiration or solving that difficult problem.

And don’t even try to reach perfection. That’s just another word for paralysis – and if you get stuck, so does your potential. An obsession with not having any flaws means missing the opportunity to get things done and learn from them. Instead of trying to be perfect, aim to do your best. And when you fall short, which you inevitably will – on your diet, running plan, morning routine – don’t give up. We make standards so we can aspire toward them, not so we can use them as excuses to quit.

Remember, failure isn’t forever. And it’s a chance to grow. The philosopher Socrates knew he didn’t know much. But he was sure of one thing: “We can’t remain as we are.” The fact is, everyone can improve. Whether or not you believe that, though, becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you believe you can grow, you will. If you don’t, well, then you’re also right – you won’t.

To achieve greatness, you have to align your body, mind, and spirit.

According to the ancients, charioteers were the ultimate model of temperance. A charioteer had to do many things simultaneously to win a race: Make their horses run as fast as possible while keeping them under control. Stay mentally focused while firmly gripping the reins. Steer around bumpy hairpin turns without crashing. Remain calm in the face of danger – and often death. All while a raucous crowd cheered and jeered.

A great charioteer existed on the magisterial plane – they aligned themselves physically, mentally, and spiritually to perform at the highest level in one of the most stressful situations imaginable.

Antoninus Aurelius was another master of true temperance. He ruled the Romans for 23 years and never put himself or his family before his subjects. He didn’t complain or try to skirt his duties; he just did the work. He was said to be kind and balanced in both his personal life and as emperor of an enormous empire. As a testament to that, there weren’t any major conflicts during his reign. His final word, before he died, was aequanimitas – equanimity.

Balance is the reason why Antoninus was so successful, and why the best charioteers raced over the finish line intact. It’s the final step for each of us striving toward greatness.

Self-discipline doesn’t mean much in the real world if it’s not balanced by kindness, compassion, and love. The journey of temperance is strict and challenging. But it’s about self-actualization – not isolation. At times, people might not understand your choices; they may outright disagree with you. But as you get further along your path of virtue, you’ll become kinder and more willing to turn the other cheek. You’ll realize that everyone’s on their own journey, doing the best they can. You’re not here to judge. You’re here to accept them, cheer them on, and inspire them to be better.

Here’s one final, very short story: The Stoic philosopher Cleanthes was walking through Athens one morning when he came across a man deriding himself for some mistake he’d made. Cleanthes paused and said, “Remember, you’re not talking to a bad man.”

As a self-disciplined person, you hold yourself to high standards, challenge your limits, and don’t accept excuses. But that doesn’t mean you should hurt or hate yourself when you mess up. Everyone you’ve ever looked up to has pressed snooze before. They’ve gotten angry. They’ve been a less-than-ideal partner or friend. They’ve fallen off the wagon in some way. If you’d witnessed those moments, would you have told them they sucked? Probably not. Instead, you would’ve tried to convince them it wasn’t the end of the world – and encouraged them to carry on.

We’ve said it before, but stoicism isn’t about punishment. Seneca wrote, “In fact no philosophical school is kindlier and gentler . . . its very purpose is to be useful, bring assistance, and consider the interests not only of itself . . . but of all people.”

You’re one of those people. So be your own friend. And use your self-love and support to grow and thrive in moments of difficulty – and destiny.

Summary

Self-discipline isn’t about deprivation; it’s about being in control of your actions, thoughts, and emotions. You can honor and become part of the Stoic tradition of living virtuously by working hard, thinking hard, and holding yourself to high standards. Doing so will make you not only more productive, but happier and healthier in the long run. And if and when you fail, you’ll be OK. You’ll know you did your best – and that you have what it takes to face life’s challenges, pick yourself up when you fall, and continue on your journey with purpose and power.

About the author

Ryan Holiday is one of the world’s bestselling living philosophers. His books, including The Obstacle Is the Way, Ego Is the Enemy, The Daily Stoic, and the #1 New York Times bestseller Stillness Is the Key, appear in more than forty languages and have sold more than five million copies. He lives outside Austin with his wife and two boys…and a small herd of cows and donkeys and goats. His bookstore, The Painted Porch, sits on historic Main Street in Bastrop, Texas.

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Table of Contents

The Four Virtues xi
Introduction xvii
Part I The Exterior (The Body)
Ruling Over the Body … 2
Attack the Dawn 18
The Strenuous Life Is the Best Life 23
Quit Being a Slave 29
Avoid the Superfluous 34
Clean Up Your Desk 38
Just Show Up 43
Sweat the Small Stuff 47
Hustle, Hustle, Hustle 50
Slow Down … to Go Faster 54
Practice … Then Practice More 58
Just Work 62
Dress for Success 66
Seek Discomfort 71
Manage the Load 75
Sleep Is an Act of Character 81
What Can You Endure? 85
Beyond the Body … 90
Part II The Inner Domain (The Temperament)
Ruling Over Yourself … 96
Look at Everything Like This 111
Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing 116
Focus, Focus, Focus 122
Wait for This Sweet Fruit 127
Perfectionism Is a Vice 131
Do the Hard Thing First 135
Can You Get Back Up? 138
The Battle Against Pain 143
The Battle Against Pleasure 149
Fight the Provocation 154
Beware This Madness 159
Silence Is Strength 165
Hold, Hold Your Fire 169
Temper Your Ambition 174
Money Is a (Dangerous) Tool 180
Get Better Every Day 187
Share the Load 192
Respect Time 198
Put Up Boundaries 203
Do Your Best 209
Beyond the Temperament … 214
Part III The Magisterial (The Soul)
Elevating Yourself … 220
Tolerant with Others. Strict with Yourself 238
Make Others Better 244
Grace under Pressure 248
Carry the Load for Others 253
Be Kind to Yourself 257
The Power of Giving Power Away 261
Turn the Other Cheek 266
How to Make an Exit 270
Endure the Unendurable 276
Be Best 281
Flexibility Is Strength 286
Unchanged by Success 291
Self-Discipline Is Virtue. Virtue Is Self-Discipline 296
Afterword 301
What to Read Next? 313
Acknowledgments 315

Overview

The instant New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today Bestseller!

In his New York Times bestselling book Courage is Calling, author Ryan Holiday made the Stoic case for a bold and brave life. In this much-anticipated second book of his Stoic Virtue series, Holiday celebrates the awesome power of self-discipline and those who have seized it.

To master anything, one must first master themselves–one’s emotions, one’s thoughts, one’s actions. Eisenhower famously said that freedom is really the opportunity to practice self-discipline. Cicero called the virtue of temperance the polish of life. Without boundaries and restraint, we risk not only failing to meet our full potential and jeopardizing what we have achieved, but we ensure misery and shame. In a world of temptation and excess, this ancient idea is more urgent than ever.

In Discipline is Destiny, Holiday draws on the stories of historical figures we can emulate as pillars of self-discipline, including Lou Gehrig, Queen Elizabeth II, boxer Floyd Patterson, Marcus Aurelius and writer Toni Morrison, as well as the cautionary tales of Napoleon, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Babe Ruth. Through these engaging examples, Holiday teaches readers the power of self-discipline and balance, and cautions against the perils of extravagance and hedonism.

At the heart of Stoicism are four simple virtues: courage, temperance, justice, and wisdom. Everything else, the Stoics believed, flows from them. Discipline is Destiny will guide readers down the path to self-mastery, upon which all the other virtues depend. Discipline is predictive. You cannot succeed without it. And if you lose it, you cannot help but bring yourself failure and unhappiness.

Review/Endorsements/Praise/Award

“Ryan Holiday has helped bring the ancient teaching of Stoicism to millions of readers—from athletes and politicians to CEOs.” – GOOD MORNING AMERICA

“A brisk and absorbing read.” – ANNIE DUKE, bestselling author of Thinking In Bets

“A powerful case for the virtues and values that leaders must live by in the modern world.” – ADMIRAL JAMES STAVRIDIS, former NATO 16th Supreme Allied Commander

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Part I The Exterior (The Body)

Our body is our glory, our hazard and our care.

Martha Graham

We begin with the self-the physical form. In St Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, we’re told to keep under the body, and bring it into subjection, so that we will not be made a castaway. The Roman tradition, according to the Stoics, was about “endurance, a frugal diet, and a modest use of other material possessions.” They wore functional clothes and shoes, ate off functional plates, drank moderately out of functional glasses, and committed earnestly to the rituals of ancient life. Do we pity this? Or admire it for its simplicity and dignity? In a world of abundance, each of us must wrestle with our desires, our urges, as well as the timeless battle to strengthen ourselves for the vicissitudes of life. This is not about six-pack abs or the avoidance of all that feels good, but instead about developing the fortitude required for the path we have chosen. It’s about being able to go the distance, and steering clear of the blind alleys and mirages along the way. If we don’t dominate ourselves physically, who and what does dominate? Outside forces. Laziness. Adversity. Entropy. Atrophy. We do the work, today and always, because it’s what we’re here for. And we know that while it might seem easy to take it easy and more pleasurable to indulge our pleasure centers, in the long run, it is a far more painful route.

Ruling Over the Body . . .

He played through fevers and migraines. He played through crippling back pain; pulled muscles; sprained ankles; and once, the day after being hit in the head by an eighty-mile-per-hour fastball, he suited up and played in Babe Ruth’s hat, because the swelling made it impossible to put on his own.

For 2,130 consecutive games, Lou Gehrig played first base for the New York Yankees, a streak of physical stamina that stood for the next five-and-a-half decades. It was a feat of human endurance so long immortalized that it’s easy to miss how incredible it actually was. The Major League Baseball regular season in those days was 152 games. Gehrig’s Yankees went deep in the postseason, nearly every year, reaching the World Series a remarkable seven times. For seventeen years, Gehrig played from April to October, without rest, at the highest level imaginable. In the off-season, players barnstormed and played in exhibition games, sometimes traveling as far away as Japan to do so. During his time with the Yankees, Gehrig played some 350 doubleheaders and traveled at least two hundred thousand miles across the country, mostly by train and bus.

Yet he never missed a game.

Not because he was never injured or sick, but because he was an Iron Horse of a man who refused to quit, who pushed through pain and physical limits that others would have used as an excuse. At some point, Gehrig’s hands were X-rayed, and stunned doctors found at least seventeen healed fractures. Over the course of his career, he’d broken nearly every one of his fingers-and it not only hadn’t slowed him down, but he’d failed to say a word about it.

In another sense, he’s almost unfairly famous for the streak, which overshadows the stats he accumulated along the way. His career batting average was an unbelievable .340, which he topped only when it counted, hitting .361 in his postseason career. (In two different World Series, he batted over .500.) He hit 495 home runs, including twenty-three grand slams-a record that stood for more than seven decades. In 1934, he became just the third player ever to win the MLB Triple Crown, leading the league in batting average, home runs, and RBIs (runs batted in). He’s sixth all time with 1,995 RBIs, making him, effectively, one of the greatest teammates in the history of the game. He was a two-time MVP, seven-time All-Star, six-time World Series Champion, Hall of Famer, and the first player ever to have his number retired.

While the streak started in earnest in June 1925, when Gehrig replaced Wally Pipp, a Yankees legend, in reality, his Herculean endurance could be seen at an early age. Born to German immigrants in New York in 1903, Gehrig was the only one of four children to survive infancy. He entered the world a whopping fourteen pounds, and his mother’s German cooking seems to have plumped him up from there. It was the teasing of school kids that first hardened the determination of the young boy, sending him to his father’s turnverein, a German gymnastics club where Gehrig began to develop the powerful lower body that later drove in so many runs. Not naturally coordinated, a boyhood friend once joked that Gehrig’s body often “behaved as if it were drunk.”

He wasn’t born an athlete. He made himself one in the gym.

Life as a poor immigrant was not easy. Gehrig’s father was a drinker, and a bit of a layabout. It’s more than ironic to read of his father’s chronic excuses and sick days. This example shamed Gehrig, inspiring him to turn dependability and toughness into nonnegotiable assets (in a bit of foreshadowing, he never missed a day of school). Thankfully, his mother not only doted on him, she provided an incredible example of a quiet, indefatigable work ethic as well. She worked as a cook. She worked as a laundress. She worked as a baker. She worked as a cleaning lady, hoping to provide her son a ticket to a better life.

But the poverty, the poverty was always there. “No one who went to school with Lou,” a classmate recalled, “can forget the cold winter days and Lou coming to school wearing [a] khaki shirt, khaki pants and heavy brown shoes, but no overcoat, nor any hat.” He was a poor boy, a fate no one would choose, but it did shape him.

There is a story about Cleanthes, the Stoic philosopher, who, as he walked through Athens on a cold day, had his thin cloak blown open by a gust of wind. Observers were stunned to find he had little else on underneath, despite the frigid temperatures. Slowly, they burst into applause at the sheer endurance of it. So it went with Gehrig, who, even as his Yankees salary made him one of the highest-paid athletes in America, was rarely seen in a hat or even a vest in New York winters. Only later, when he married a kind and loving woman, could he be convinced to put on a coat-for her sake.

Most kids like to play sports. Lou Gehrig saw in the game a higher calling. Baseball was a profession that demanded control of, as well as care for, the body-since it was both the obstacle and the vehicle for success.

Gehrig did both.

He worked harder than anyone. “Fitness was almost a religion to him,” one teammate would say of him. “I am a slave to baseball,” Gehrig said. A willing slave, a slave who loved the job and remained forever grateful at just the opportunity to play.

This kind of dedication pays dividends. When Gehrig stepped up to the plate, he was communing with something divine. He stood, serenely, in a heavy wool uniform that no player today could perform in. He would sway, trading weight between his feet, settling into his batting stance. When he swung at a pitch, it was his enormous legs that did the work-sending the ball off his bat, deep, deep, out of the ballpark.

Some batters have a sweet spot; Gehrig could hit anywhere, off anyone. And when he did? He ran. For a guy who was teased for having “piano legs,” it’s pretty remarkable that Gehrig stole home plate more than a dozen times in his career. He wasn’t all power. He was speed too. Hustle. Finesse.

There were players with more talent, with more personality, with more brilliance; but nobody outworked him, nobody cared more about conditioning, and nobody loved the game more.

When you love the work, you don’t cheat it or the demands it asks of you. You respect even the most trivial aspects of the pursuit-he never threw his bat, or even flipped it. One of the only times he ever got in trouble with management was when they found out he was playing stickball in the streets of his old neighborhood with local kids, sometimes even after Yankees games. He just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to play . . .

Still, there must have been so many days when he wasn’t feeling it. When he wanted to quit. When he doubted himself. When it felt like he could barely move. When he was frustrated and tired of his own high standards. Gehrig was not superhuman-he had the same voice in his head that all of us do. He just cultivated the strength-made a habit-of not listening to it. Because once you start compromising, well, now you’re compromised . . .

“I have the will to play,” he said. “Baseball is hard work and the strain is tremendous. Sure, it’s pleasurable, but it’s tough.” You’d think that everyone has that will to play, but of course, that’s not true. Some of us get by on natural talent, hoping never to be tested. Others are dedicated up to a point, but they’ll quit if it gets too hard. That was true then, as it is now, even at the elite level. A manager in Gehrig’s time described it as an “age of alibis”-everyone was ready with an excuse. There was always a reason why they couldn’t give their best, didn’t have to hold the line, were showing up to camp less than prepared.

As a rookie, Joe DiMaggio once asked Gehrig who he thought was going to pitch for the opposing team, hoping perhaps, to hear it was someone easy to hit. “Never worry about that, Joe,” Gehrig explained. “Just remember they always save the best for the Yankees.” And by extension, he expected every member of the Yankees to bring their best with them too. That was the deal: To whom much is given, much is expected. The obligation of a champion is to act like a champion . . . while working as hard as somebody with something to prove.

Gehrig wasn’t a drinker. He didn’t chase girls or thrills or drive fast cars. He was no “good-time Charlie,” he’d often say. At the same time, he made it clear, “I’m not a preacher and I’m not a saint.” His biographer, Paul Gallico, who grew up in New York City only a few years ahead of Gehrig wrote that the man’s “clean living did not grow out of a smugness and prudery, a desire for personal sanctification. He had a stubborn, pushing ambition. He wanted something. He chose the most sensible and efficient route to getting it.”

One doesn’t take care of the body because to abuse it is a sin, but because if we abuse the temple, we insult our chances of success as much as any god. Gehrig was fully ready to admit that his discipline meant he missed out on a few pleasures. He also knew that those who live the fast or the easy life miss something too-they fail to fully realize their own potential. Discipline isn’t deprivation . . . it brings rewards.

Still, Gehrig could have easily gone in a different direction. In the midst of an early career slump while playing in the minor leagues, Gehrig went out one night with some teammates and got so drunk that he was still boozed up at first pitch the next day. Somehow, he didn’t just manage to play, but he played better than he had in months. He found, miraculously, that the nerves, the overthinking, had disappeared with a few nips from a bottle between innings.

It was a seasoned coach who noticed and sat Gehrig down. He’d seen this before. He knew the short-term benefits of the shortcut. He understood the need for release and for pleasure too. But he explained the long-term costs, and he spelled out the future Gehrig could expect if he didn’t develop more sustainable coping mechanisms. That was the end of it, we’re told, and “not because of any prissy notions of righteousness that it was evil or wrong to take a drink but because he had a driving, non-stop ambition to become a great and successful ball player. Anything that interfered with that ambition was poison to him.”

It meant something to him to be a ballplayer, to be a Yankee, to be a first-generation American, to be someone who kids looked up to.

Gehrig, as it happened, continued to live with his parents for his first ten seasons, often taking the subway to the stadium. More than financially comfortable, he later owned a small house in New Rochelle. To Gehrig, money was at best a tool, at worst a temptation. As the Yankees reigned over the game, the team was treated to an upgraded dugout, with padded seats replacing the old Spartan bench. Gehrig was spotted by the team’s manager tearing off a section. “I get tired of sitting on cushions,” he said of the posh life of an athlete in his prime. “Cushions in my car, cushions on the chairs at home-every place I got they have cushions.”

He knew that getting comfortable was the enemy, and that success is an endless series of invitations to get comfortable. It’s easy to be disciplined when you have nothing. What about when you have everything? What about when you’re so talented that you can get away with not giving everything?

The thing about Lou Gehrig is that he chose to be in control. This wasn’t discipline enforced from above or by the team. His temperance was an interior force, emanating from deep within his soul. He chose it, despite the sacrifices, despite the fact that others allowed themselves to forgo such penance and got away with it. Despite the fact that it usually wasn’t recognized-not until long after he was gone anyway.

Did you know that immediately after Ruth’s legendary “called” home run that Lou Gehrig hit one too? Without any dramatic gestures either. Actually, it was his second of the game. Or that they have the same number of league batting titles? Or that Ruth struck out almost twice as many times as Gehrig? Lou not only kept his body in check in a way that Ruth didn’t (Ruth ballooned to 240 pounds), but Gehrig checked his ego too. He was, a reporter would write, “unspoiled, without the remotest vestige of ego, vanity or conceit.” The team always came first. Before even his own health. Let the headlines go to whomever wanted them.