Discipline and freedom may appear to be opposites. If you embrace discipline in an area, there will be things you’ll have to give up. You’ll no longer be “free” to do them.

Say you’re an athlete. Being disciplined in your training and diet will cause you to forego some things. There may be times where you won’t be able to go out with friends because you need to practice or rest. You may need to cut out sodas or alcohol because they’re not helping you with your performance. You’ll have to say no, even to things that you may otherwise enjoy. Now the question is: Is that real freedom?

Before answering, let’s first define “freedom.” Freedom is the ability to act or speak or think as you want without hindrance or restraint. The key idea here is “ability.” If you want to do something, but lack the ability to do it, you do not have the “freedom” to do as you wish. By looking at freedom from this vantage point, we discover something significant: Discipline is not only not opposed to freedom, it’s a powerful means of increasing it.

So does the disciplined athlete who willingly gives up things he may enjoy have freedom? The answer is yes. He still has the “ability” to do these other things. But by staying disciplined he is also opening up additional areas in which he can perform as he desires. He’s increasing his ability, not diminishing it. Which means he’s increasing the number of things he now is “free” to do.

If I had a sudden desire to run an ultra-marathon or bench 300 lbs, that doesn’t mean I’d also have the ability to do so. And if I lack the ability to do what I desire, I’m also not free in that regard. Having a desire for something does not guarantee the ability to do what you wish. Desire may inspire me to practice or train, but in itself, it’s no replacement for discipline.

The realm of athletics provides vivid examples of the relationship between discipline and freedom. But this same connection exists throughout life. Being disciplined in your choices or training may not always be easy. Saying no to things you may want to do, or yes to things that are hard, can be difficult. But whatever the arena, remember that discipline does not restrict freedom. It’s actually a means of increasing it. It can make what was once out of reach, doable. And ultimately, it can provide you with the freedom to do the things you now can only dream about.