Order is unbreakable strength
"Today I will take back what I own – that what I deserve, that what used to be mine, and that what will belong to me forever. Today, I am taking back control."
95% of people who want to improve want more control. They want to control the chaos in their life, to manage their impulses, and to accomplish their dreams. They need and deserve stability in life: working out, running a business, being a good parent, and eating healthy all require energy and constant effort.
This effort is quickly sacrificed to watch entertainment, to stay in bed, or to order food. The second law of thermodynamic entails that going from order to chaos frees up energy and going from chaos to order requires energy. This is why it’s easier to destroy than create. While countless gimmicks, tips, and alleged truths are advertised as solutions for creating control, one approach rises above all others: ruthless, persistent order.
Order is the shaping force of routine and regularity – a set of rules that create stability and continuity. Order is the discipline required to fulfill your motivations. Order has built kingdoms, created conquerors, supported families and made communities thrive. Order allows you to complete your obligations and fulfill your goals despite low motivation, bad mood, or other adversity.
Order gives and takes
Collective order is the strongest power humankind has harnessed. It is commonly accepted rules and adherence that allowed us to create laws, expand our civilizations, and discover scientific truth. Order created religions, armies, communities, and research – nearly everything that surrounds us. Our communities rely on the stability of order holding everything together.
Without order, humanity wouldn’t be developing revolutionary medicine, furthering technology, or pushing out into space to become a celestial species.
Order, a shared system of rules, has made massive-scale organizations like armed forces possible to exist. But the potential of order is even greater for individuals.
However, it has not always been this way. The intuitive form of organization has been the rule of the strongest (or alternatively “might makes right”). Why should the strongest warrior in the tribe care for the weak, if working alone gets him all the food, equipment, shelter, and mating rights?
The change from rule of the strongest to the rule of order has been extremely beneficial. The unprecedented stability and continuity of society that order creates allows our species to develop further, no matter how arbitrary and made up these rules actually are.
Think about it: If you do something against our common rules (such as laws, and thus order), you get punished because everyone respects and follows the system. There is no supreme or all-seeing power that controls everything. If you break someone’s window, for instance, a magical force does not strike you down. Instead, the crime is reported by onlookers, and a police investigation is carried out. Both good and bad consequences happen because we believe in order and make sure everyone in society respects it.
The raw power of order, offered to the individual
Now, imagine this abstract power harnessed on an individual level: Creating personal rules to determine a sleep schedule, to ensure you’re eating healthy, or to lead a more active lifestyle. Like in society, there is no universal power that would punish you for staying in bed, either.
Creating intrinsic order is a difficult task, but committing to it creates a tremendously powerful feedback loop – you have the potential to be a powerhouse, built on routine, performing your everyday obligations in an almost automatic manner. This frees up time previously spent on procrastinating or struggling to find motivation. In that sense, we are built for routine.
However, there is an upper limit to order: people who create too many rules are often scared and rigid individuals burdened by their inflexibility. But from a modest starting point, the more you embrace order, the more you improve as an individual. You become more stable, more persistent, and ultimately more satisfied.
Cleaning your desk and keeping it tidy is a basic but fundamental way to increase order. According to research, an organized desk results in better focus, as the limited capacity of the visual system can be focused on the task at hand.
The scientific reasoning behind order
While there is little research on order (habits, and routine), we can still draw crucial conclusions from the current available information. Establishing order is closely linked to controlling your willpower: It’s obviously much easier to eat chocolate and watch TV than to eat a salad and go on a jog, but this choice is the key to creating order.
In research related to weight loss, a proven approach to losing weight has been to reduce the number of meal decisions in a day as humans tend to gravitate towards the easier and unhealthier options. If you’ve made yourself a meal for work, you most likely order buy fast food for lunch.
Reducing daily choices is a proven approach to build order. You no longer need to choose between ordering fast food or making food at home, because you've set a routine to make tasty, quick, and healthy meals every evening that make you feel better than fast food.
Order is your best tool not only because it makes your life more regular, but because it makes your life more simple. You no longer need to choose between the easy but unhealthy and difficult but healthy. You are used to and prefer the latter. As an added bonus, as your attempts turn into routine, the effort to start and complete your tasks gets gradually smaller – at some point it becomes almost automatic.
How order is created in practice
It’s easy to tell platitudes about order, but with no ability to control it, order becomes quickly useless. A simple but effective way to create order is to automate your life with routines and habits. Having a consistent sleep schedule thanks to strong morning and evening routines is a much bigger benefit than any temporary comfort of staying awake to watch Netflix or staying in bed to browse social media.
Many mistakenly think that order means living in cruel conditions and facing harsh punishments (or imposing those cruel conditions on yourself). That’s for prisons, military service, or other more or less consensual ideological communities. When you’re in prison, you must do as told or face the imminent danger of physical or mental punishment. You cannot have such an insane level of control in your own personal life, and neither should you.
Have you ever paid someone a surprise visit and noticed that their home looks something like this? People with very tidy homes adhere to intrinsic order through regular routines and habits – maintaining such a lifestyle is rewarding.
I used to despise washing the dishes. I would let the dishes pile up in the sink until I was confronted by this huge filthy dish monster, sometimes consisting of over two days of dishes. I hated doing the dishes because I linked it to these filthy dish monsters. I created a false image in my mind that washing the dishes is something that takes a lot of time.
When I moved to a new apartment, things had to change. I gradually tried to wash my dishes sooner after eating, and after a couple months the routine was completely automatic. If I saw dishes, I washed them (and still do!). If I’m in the middle of cooking a meal, I clean some of the pots and pans while the rest of my meal cooks.
Now, my dishes don’t sit in the sink for more than 2 hours after my meal, and I never leave dishes in the sink overnight. What used to be extremely tedious and annoying is now completely automatic – this level of almost robotic performance is very strange, because I don’t need to think about the process itself at all while doing it.
Start small and keep things simple
What does the dish washing story teach us? It indicates that order is built starting from the bottom. Making simple and small changes that progress gradually is the most effective way to create routine. You can't create long lasting order by switching from total chaos to tons of rules. No one can go from complete disorder to perfect balance. An unemployed alcoholic can’t just go from such a starting point to eating three healthy meals, going on a jog, quitting alcohol, waking up early and going to bed early all in one day. Not only is it completely unrealistic but harmful as well – it’s a good way to overwhelm yourself and only prove your initial prejudice that order is too harsh for you.
Instead, start small and build your way up. Think of the worst habit in your life right now. The first step to reduce it needs to be small: If you’re going to bed at 4 AM every night, it is ridiculous to try to go to bed at 10 PM. Aim for 2 AM instead, then for 12 AM after a few days, and then finally for 10 PM. This principle applies almost universally: Instead of trying to go on a 30-minute run, go on a 15-minute walk instead. Transition from walking to running, not from running to bed in a fit of rage and regret.
Seize the perfect day
What would be your most perfect day? Think about your biggest faults – maybe it’s going to sleep too late, or not eating enough (or alternatively eating too much) or staying in bed every morning browsing your phone or getting distracted. Where would you be in three months if you harnessed order to deal with those issues? What would “you in three months” look like? Would that person be healthier, happier, and generally more content about that change?
Now, what would that person look like in three years? It’s definitely enough time to start a business, to start working out, or to be a more attentive parent to your children. Once you realize that giving up the instant reward for a much bigger reward later is not only reasonable but the best decision for you, you will become much more than you’ve ever dreamed of becoming. You love your family, you care for your friends, and you take care of your pet, so be the same kind of loving, guiding, and above all disciplined influence on yourself, too.
Like with all things learning, revision is crucial to internalizing information. Here's a quick review of the main ideas presented in the article:
According to physics, creating order always requires energy. This is why it's easier to rest than to work out.
Human societies have developed thanks to a shared set of rules (order), followed by everyone, creating stability and continuity.
Individuals that create and commit to intrinsic, self-built order have more self-control and manage their obligations better, leading to more free time.
The effectiveness of order stems from the researched fact that reducing daily choices preserves willpower and effort that can then be used elsewhere, making daily life more simple and stable.
A great way to create order in practice is to create small but meaningful habits and routine that build up to more stability, such as a sleep schedule or a cleaning habit.
Addressing your biggest problems build order most efficiently: improving sleep, creating a studying routine, or starting a small exercise habit all make your life more healthy and stable.
Think about what would be best for you and then imagine where you would be in three years if you took care of yourself that way.
This was the first of twelve foundational articles created by The Rational Society in 2022. The Rational Society presents ideas related to rationality and empiricism, personal development, overcoming challenges, and fulfilling ambitions. It is a neutral and non-affiliated platform with the explicit goal of providing valuable educational content.