Manvotional: Discipline-The Means to an End

by Brett & Kate McKay on February 26, 2012 · 32 comments

in Manvotionals

I thought this Manvotional went well with this week’s article on “Freedom From…Freedom To.”

From Self-Knowledge and Self-Discipline, 1916
By Basil William Maturin

We do not endure [self-discipline] merely for its own sake, but for what lies beyond it. And we bear those acts of self-denial and self-restraint because we feel and know full well that through such acts alone can we regain the mastery over all our misused powers and learn to use them with a vigour and a joy such as we have never known before…

It is as though one who had a great talent for music but had no technical training, and consequently could never produce the best results of his art, were to put himself under a great master. The first lessons he will have to learn will be, for the most part, to correct his mistakes, not to do this and not to do that; it will seem to him that he has lost all his former freedom of expression, that he is held back by all sorts of technical rules, that whenever he seeks to let himself go he is checked and hampered. And it is no doubt true. But he will soon begin to realise that as he learns more and suffers in the learning, possibilities of utterance reveal themselves which he has never dreamed of. He knows, he feels, that he is on the right path, and as the channels are prepared and the barriers against the old bad methods more firmly fixed, he feels the mighty tide of his genius rise and swell, he hears the shout of the gathering waters as they sweep before them every obstacle and pour forth in a mad torrent of glorious sound. All those days of restraint and suffering are crowned with the joy of the full and perfect expression of his art. The restraint and discipline he knew full well in those seemingly unfruitful days were but the means to an end. The end is always before him, and the end is positive expression. The dying to his old untrained and bad methods is but the birth throes of a larger and richer action…

Without such an inspiring motive [discipline] is meaningless, it is cruel self-torture. We need—who does not know it—to fill our life, not to empty it. Life is too strong a thing, our nature is too positive, to be content with mere restraint and repression. Many a soul who has given up one thing after another and emptied its life of interest after interest, learns to its dismay that its energies finding no means of expression turn inward and revenge themselves in morbid self-analysis and sickly scruples. They need an outlet; they need interests. You may check the flow of a stream while you are preparing to divert its channel, but you cannot stop it. If you try, it will only gather force behind the barriers that hold it back, beat them down and rush through with a strength and volume all the greater for the restraint. And the stream of life cannot be merely held back. Many a man trying thus to repress himself finds after a time that temptations have only grown stronger and passions more violent, and that he seems to have become worse rather than better through the temporary resistance. What he needed, what might have protected him from failure and despair, was to be taught that all the restraint was but temporary, and in order to turn the stream into its true channel.

{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Mato Tope February 26, 2012 at 3:14 pm

“The man who has daily inured himself to habits of concentrated attention, energetic volition and self-denial (discipline) in unnecessary things will stand like a tower when everything rocks around him and when his softer fellow-mortals are winnowed like chaff in the blast.”

William James

2 William February 26, 2012 at 6:27 pm

Could not have been better timed.

3 Shawn February 26, 2012 at 7:08 pm

A short view of history shows that the ends cannot always be justified by the means. To be a success one must first understand and accept the cost of every journey we undertake.

4 Adam February 26, 2012 at 9:31 pm

I agree with William- this has been timed PERFECTLY.

5 James Marsh February 26, 2012 at 10:07 pm

I agree with the above; the timing on this fits perfectly.

6 Scott February 26, 2012 at 11:50 pm

Very inspirational. The first paragraph could be an oath and reminder of a full philosophy of life.

7 Evan February 27, 2012 at 2:31 am


This spoke exactly to a situation I am going through right now and even though I am a long time reader this was the most perfectly timed article I have ever read on this site.

8 Graham February 27, 2012 at 5:41 am

I’m curious about everyone else’s “perfect timing” comments. This popped up just as I’m writing the conclusion to an essay on the spiritual disciplines for my master’s in psych/religion. I think I’ll help myself to quoting Maturin–brilliant. Should hit it home. So many get caught up in discipline as an end, which doesn’t work spiritually or otherwise. This and the freedom from/to article give a lot of meaning to the paradoxical “perfect law of freedom.”

9 William J Thomas February 27, 2012 at 8:26 am

Thanks I needed that

10 Tim February 27, 2012 at 10:02 am

Wow! I’ve been preaching this to my five kids for the past 24 years and was starting to wonder if I really was “old fashion.” Praise God!

11 Adam February 27, 2012 at 10:11 am

I will venture to guess that the “perfect timeliness” of this article is that in the Christian world we are in the season of Lent – a period of disciplining the body and spirit in preparation for the joy of Easter.

12 Matt (2) February 27, 2012 at 11:53 am

How utterly poignant…thank you again for a well timed, and perfectly accurate article!

13 Nav February 27, 2012 at 12:10 pm

You had me at the first line of the article, but then lost me in the last paragraph,

“They need an outlet; they need interests”.

I might be taking the context to another level, but allow me to put forth a question, your motives for anything, everything, what is at the bottom of it? Why do you do it? Ponder over this: anything that you do, anything, at the root of it, you do it for happiness. You do it because it makes you happy. That’s it, not too complicated.

Different cultures, specially Eastern, suggest that everything you want/need to make you happy is within you, you don’t really need outlet(s) to find happiness outside. You can try to indulge in a lot of things, interests, relationships etc. but that might not lead you to happiness. I am not saying you shouldn’t pursue interests or hobbies or worldly pleasures, I would be the last person to say that. But also be aware that you don’t really need outside influences to make you happy. Just a thought.

14 yahya February 27, 2012 at 12:25 pm

This is really cool. One quote I use to motivate myself is the following:

“I have learned that if you let some thing stop you, you will eventually let any thing stop you” – Oswin Wadewitz


15 Erick February 27, 2012 at 12:29 pm

Great stuff! The incentive of achieving the carrot — rather than being mainly motivated by the stick — will produce the best results.

16 Peter February 27, 2012 at 1:14 pm


I think the point of the manivotional still hits on the belief happiness is found within. I am not an expert on Eastern beliefs, but I think most of them espouse internal discipline. Thus the referenced stream still needs a guide for redirection of energies to the true channel, be it for outward expression of abilities or internal examination/happiness. So while the manivotional is targeted towards outward expression, there is nothing limiting its application to internal discipline and acheiving “super-human” capabilities.

17 Christopher February 27, 2012 at 1:16 pm

Wow! I love it when I read something that resonates so deeply in myself that I feel I could have written it if I had thought about it. Thank you for sharing this!

18 Rob February 27, 2012 at 1:25 pm

As a violinist, I know this story all too well! Thanks for the inspiring message, reminding me to stay on track and practice.

19 Jeremy February 27, 2012 at 2:00 pm

Although this is inspiring, I still hate doing homework.

20 Aidan February 27, 2012 at 5:55 pm

Beautiful article. I just came across this comic and thought I would share it, as I know “The Man in the Arena” is a favourite here. Right as I read it I thought of the AoM. Here it is:

21 Wyndeborne February 27, 2012 at 6:26 pm

I think the reason why so many finds this having a perfect timing is that no matter what you do in life, discipline will always be important to succeeding. You can always relate to it if you are doing something worthwhile, as opposed to bumming it on the couch with cheese balls all day.

As a fighter and martial artist this subject is something we experience more clearly than most others I expect, as we have very clear consequences. If you are not disciplined enough to show up and do your best every day, when fight day comes around losing isn’t the worst thing that can happen: broken ribs, hands and feet, cuts, bruises, internal bleeding and major concussions are. Getting such a stark picture has actually helped me find the discipline to do other things in my life as well, as I know that discipline will pay off. University work, musical pursuits and learning new languages are all given a reason for occupying time I could otherwise spend eating cheese balls on the couch.

22 Victor February 27, 2012 at 10:01 pm


From my read I think the article is suggesting that discipline can lead to a happiness that you cannot currently even vision. The pianist who is naturally brilliant can’t find how good he can be until he is trained to improve his weak spots.

So essentially, the discipline is a means to find even greater happiness. The musician will now create even more inspirational, creative music and be less restricted due to an increase in skill.

Much the same as a teen who is already strong and athletic but starts to lift weights. He finds gains through training, but might find unexpected ability by lifting correctly, and in an efficient, disciplined manner. Thus greater happiness.

23 Victor February 27, 2012 at 10:39 pm

As a recent University graduate I fit into the “Perfect Timing!” category.

But what I specifically like is the suggestion that at first the discipline is terribly restricting and feels like it is maybe not the most valuable way to spend time.

I have a constant battle with myself on what is ‘the best” thing to do with my time. As suggested in the comments above, isnt happiness just doing what you enjoy in each moment? I do subscribe to the idea that I need to be “healthy” in general, a good (present) uncle, a knowledgeable citizen, a sound person that doenst rely on the “easy road”.

But I admit, I regularly get stuck in a situation when I have two options; one is to be disciplined (go to the gym, crack the accountng textbook, research stocks or start a company) and the other is to be more “present” and enjoy the moment (go out with friends, watch the hockey game, a new movie, go on a date). The dilemma, in my mind, is that it is hard to put a value on either one. Watching the game pays dividends in a variety of ways, like being able to discuss the team with a coworker, or spendnig time with a friend, or just feeling great afterwards. Its this balance that I struggle with regularly. Probably because I cannot decide what is truly important to me (and I’ve tried, have i tried).

I have tried the life blueprint and all but I always feel like its too much of what I “ought” to be with no space for “just going with it”. But now I work construction after turning down the opportunity to earn a finance designation that leads to some of the highest paying jobs in the country, and quit my job teaching at a college earning far too much money. And I’m totally ok with it. For now…

But I like the idea of an unknown destination earned by discipline. Maybe I’m afraid of becoming a social goon that’s ruined our politics/education/economy. Maybe I’m just afraid to start my life.

That comment was meant to be short. Instead I’ll just hope someone can relate. I think this article really hit a nerve.

24 Jasper February 28, 2012 at 7:49 am

Wow Victor. You have no idea how much I can relate. For a moment I felt it was me who wrote your comment (except for the part of working in construction, I don’t have any work). Not knowing wether to choose between future satisfaction or present joy is a big struggle I experience daily. You are not alone.

25 Phillip February 29, 2012 at 7:04 am

Jackpot.. Good day gents, first off, great article, I must say. One can never truly know the hidden gems wait to be uncovered in the world of literature.

I have recently started reading The Art of Manliness and have enjoyed it thoroughly. The first time I started reading I couldn’t stop for about two days. Here’s a Superspeed Virtual High Five to the team that slaves away to bring us such great content.

What fascinates me is where this conversation is going. Now, I am sure most people reading this post had to be really disciplined to not read all of the comments, but hey, we all have our guilty pleasures.. :) I have become fascinated with the evolution of this particular comment section. Funny story, starting to write this comment just made me stop smoking. Ha! Inspirational. But the thing is, there are tons of reasons I can name for quitting, but for some reason I didn’t have the self-discipline to make the final call. Truth be told, there are a lot of areas in my life that demand attention, I personally, try to go with the flow and take an easy approach to life, however, my personal life, my career, my love and all the little things in between have been approaching what Jonathan Fields describes as the Conversations at the crossroads of work, play, entrepeneurship & life..

Wow.. Mind=Blown

As I have seen there are a number of topics that creep up from this article. But the one thing that is lingering on my mind is the word Discipline. I believe discipline has become a badly twisted echo of what Basil William Maturin beautifully descibes. We are disciplined in any given way from childbirth.

“You may not have dessert until you have finished your supper.” A phrase I am sure most of us are all too familiar with. In essence we are raised to await some kind of reward for obtaining self-discipline. Unfortunately, I think the rewarding structures have slowly eroded away through the ages, to a watered down memory of what it was. Reward is good but we are conditioned to strive for it, and competition is intense.

We are all striving to achieve that ultimate reward, some have a strong spiritual inclination and build their values one what they believe is to be true, organised religion is the ultimate example of reward. But then you have the monetary system, professional image, love life, worldly gain, all falling into that same concept of reward. I could really write a thesis about this, but what I am getting at is to propose a question..

Have been losing touch with the art of living? We talk of balance, but it is a very loose topic. A cat has more balance than a man because it walk on four legs. Arbitrary statement. A dog has four legs, not nearly the balance that a cat has, but yet, it finds pleasure by simply being on the ground.

Anyway, I’m going to stop ranting about. Will be avidly following the comments on this one. Keep up the good work.

26 George March 1, 2012 at 4:31 am

This is so inspiring, I make music myself and I had to teach and still teach everything myself. And I totally agree with the scenario you sketch here. Thank you for this read.

Excuse me for my english/american im dutch

27 tinker March 3, 2012 at 12:25 am


I believe the act of prioritizing and having trade off’s is in itself Discipline no?

For me, I tell myself that I’ll enjoy Saturday’s night out so much more if I stay in Friday night and focus on my startup.

Otherwise I’d feel guilty of going out both nights.

Of course you could work both nights, but I believe having a work/life balance will maximize your happiness. Plus prevent burn out.

28 TR March 6, 2012 at 11:58 pm

“The character that takes command in moments of crucial choices has already been determined by a thousand other choices made earlier in seemingly unimportant moments. It has been determined by all the ‘little’ choices of the past — by all those times when the voice of conscience was at war with the voice of temptation, whispering the lie that ‘it really doesn’t matter.’ It has been determined by all the day-to-day decisions made when life seemed easy and crises seemed far away — the decisions that, piece by piece, bit by bit, developed habits of discipline or of laziness; habits of self-sacrifice or self-indulgence; habits of duty and honor and integrity — or dishonor and shame.”
~ Ronald Reagan

29 J. March 9, 2012 at 5:22 pm

As I prepare for my Series 7. This has inspired me to keep certain things at bay while I study. Thanks AOM.

30 Fritz March 17, 2012 at 3:53 pm

Pondering such thoughts and comments was very rewarding. As men,we continue to grow ourselves. Thank you for a great article.

31 Thomas March 4, 2013 at 7:53 am

Thought provoking. Really enjoyed the comments & thought processes displayed. I face daily challenges and subscribe to motivation being internal and driven by personal desires/ aspirations/ goals etc. We are all 100% disciplined – some in good habits that make us successful others in habits that have us where we are. The choice is ours and as we discipline ourselves to achieve happiness and a life of significance. Thank you for the article.

32 Marc January 7, 2014 at 12:05 pm

I downloaded this last night on my Nook. I started to read it, but will finish it later this week. So far, I think it is a very good read that holds many truths.

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