#16 The Payoff of Discipline
You know where this is going. I’m going to talk about how folks are bad at committing to practice and maintaining discipline, and how that’s the downfall of our society. But you were already expecting that so I’m not giving it to you. That’s not good story telling anyways, so I’ll have to figure out how to do something different. Shake things up. Discipline doesn’t have to be boring.
The truth is that we have individualized definitions of discipline and yet it is used as a baseline standard for describing whether or not some person or group is able to maintain a set standard. So first, to understand discipline, we have to define discipline. The meaning of discipline (not the use of punishment to ensure rule following) runs somewhere between its sister concept of commitment and its step sibling, the popular definition of insanity — doing the same thing, over and over again and expecting a different result. Does that make us crazy then for being committed, without guarantee of anything in return? Sometimes yes. It just depends how you measure the end result.
The basis of game theory relies on the assumption that everyone calculates their decisions based on the perceived ultimate payoff of a particular action. So under the paradigm of game theory, to do something over and over again, without guarantee of a payoff typically means that there is some large payoff at the end of the decision tree. So, based on game theory, discipline means that individuals are choosing to repeat some action and conform with some arbitrary decision tree in order to win a large payoff at the end. This is why it’s so hard for individuals and teams to maintain discipline, delayed gratification. People are wired to prefer a dollar today over a dollar tomorrow (look up net present valuation, or NPV if you want an economists view on it). This creates a breakdown in incentives when you want folks to put in work when the payout is so far out of sight, sometimes to the point where they don’t even know it’s even possible.
You have to love the process in order to succeed in achieving discipline (or at the very least committed to the process). You have to respect the process and assign value to the decisions and actions itself. Whether it’s external or internal validation that drives you, you have to find it. Otherwise, you have to assign an outsized payoff to end of the decision tree. This is not an either/or decision for your life. It can vary depending on what you’re doing. For me, learning to program was always just a means to getting to the end and being able to realize some idea I had in my head. Over time I learned to love the process, but at the beginning it was brutal. I had no instructor and no youtube to spoon feed me how to accomplish something. I read the damn technical documentation as a kid because I wanted to get to the payoff so badly. After awhile, however, when you realize that it’s always just a process and you get used to the gains, that’s when you appreciate the process and get value from the process itself.
So what have we figured out. Discipline relies heavily on the net payout that folks assign to the end result. The fact of the matter is, discipline is a commitment to process based on the (potentially insane) assumption that there is a payoff in the end. All I’m saying is we need to take a step back and appreciate the process because that’ll make it a much more rewarding game over all.