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An operating system to help you align actions and intent: the ICED framework

Discipline is often thought of as the magic missing ingredients between our lofty goals and the distracting reality. If only I were disciplined I would not play bullet and go through my endgame studies. If only I were disciplined I would eat soup and not eat the donut. Influencers like David Goggins have made a career of explaining their way of going through gruelling workouts. In this blog post, I create a framework for discipline inspired by the book “Still Running”, written by Zen teacher Vanessa Zuisei Goddard.

Vanessa Zuisei Goddard.

The ICED framework: Intent Commitment Effort Discipline

Intent: the deliberate and clearly formulated resolve or aim
Commitment: the wish and desire to achieve that aim
Effort: the appropriate mindset and energy to do the actions.
Discipline: the actual actions we take to do things


“Uncover the deep truth of why you do what you do, and allow yourself to meet each activity wholeheartedly”

Intent is the expression of your deep desire. Why do you want to play chess? Why do you want to exercise or lose weight? Take time to really understand and clearly formulate your intent, with a key principle: align the intent with your deep identity. If you focus on a shiny goal (a chess title, a rating goal, or any material target) you will find deep dissatisfaction. Reaching a goal cannot make you happy. Think about it this way: all throughout your life you may have chased goals for happiness. Yet they have been replaced by further goals and further targets for happiness. One way to stumble through life is to live in a state of perpetual dissatisfaction, constantly chasing a moving target: this is clearly horrendous. So what is the solution - if we want to make progress - and yet not continually suffer? Look deep into your identity and find the part that thrives with mastery. If the pursuit of improvement is who you are and not just what you do, it will be easy to formulate a clear intent. It will be easy to work out when you don’t feel like it. It will be easy to overcome a series of bad results. Align your goals with your deep identity. This is the way to sustainable happiness - compatible with a lifelong pursuit of mastery and competition.
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“There are various ways to think about Commitment: as a vow, resolution, promise, duty, or tie. As it relates to practice and intent, Commitment is a firm decision to do what we say we want to do. It is the glue that binds together intent and discipline”

Commitment requires us to believe deeply in our Intent, even if we don't know if we will succeed or not. As Churchill said: “'success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm”. And indeed there will be very difficult moments challenging your commitment. In chess the lows of defeat are very low: we put so much effort into training, we build up social identities as chess players, we tie our worth in our accrued rating, that bad results feel awful. Commitment is closely linked to courage. It all works because intent is linked to the path to mastery itself and not the short term goals.


What should you bring to the table? Let’s hear it from Siddharta Gautama himself:

“When your harp’s strings were tuned too tight, was it resonant and playable?”
“No, sir.”
“When your harp’s strings were tuned too slack, was it resonant and playable?”
“No, sir.”
“But when your harp’s strings were tuned neither too tight nor too slack, but fixed at an even tension, was it resonant and playable?”
“Yes, sir.”
“In the same way, Soṇa, when energy is too forceful it leads to restlessness. When energy is too slack it leads to laziness. So, Soṇa, you should apply yourself to energy and serenity, find a balance of the faculties, and learn the pattern of this situation.”
AN 6.55

Your daily training should match your ‘energy and serenity’. So days we are short of these two quantities and that’s a great time to take it easy. It is a good idea to have plans and structure and schedules, and an even better idea to have the mental flexibility to adjust these plans on the fly to adapt to the current circumstances. Listen to your body.


The Goggins method: “stay hard” is based on self-hatred. “Schedule suffering into your day every day”. Instead we can see discipline as self-empowerment: wanting to do what we have to do.

“Being disciplined means forcing ourselves to do what we have to do. But this kind of discipline is externally compelled and thus precarious. There is another way to think about discipline, however, and that is as self-empowerment. As wanting to do what we have to do. In this case, being disciplined means exercising full power within our lives. It means choosing our actions according to a deep desire and a carefully thought-out motivation, instead of a sense of obligation or a fear of consequences. When we act in a disciplined way we are expressing our wish for our actions to be in harmony with both our intent and commitment. We are saying we want to par what we say with what we do”

Choose to do what you have to do

It is a reverse David Goggins: resting on the observation that if you don’t have the discipline to do what you want to do, you don’t really want it, you revisit what you want to do, instead of disciplining yourself. If a thing is so important to you, go back to step one and strengthen your Intent. Make yourself want to do what you have to do! People with weak intent typically do things for the wrong reason. They heard on a podcast that it would be nice to try this or that health intervention, but they quickly fall off the bandwagon. If you abandon your healthy habit, go back to the desire for health and make it more salient and more important. Or maybe drop it! Maybe you don’t want to exercise every single day and you want to write a novel. Discipline is an act of power. Our lives are short and we can’t possibly do everything we want. We sometimes need to pause and reflect on the most important things we want to do. Find your intent! For chess players discipline is often not giving in to distractions and staying focused on what really moves the needle for chess improvement.

“Discipline: the practice of training yourself to identify what is most important to you, and the careful and persistent work of choosing actions that support that aim”.

Running the ICED Operating System: a concrete example

ICED is an operating system to think about the various areas of your life related to discipline and doing. An operating system runs programs which are the actual implementation of action and training plans. Many such training plans are fashionable and chess players are often overwhelmed with planning, but short on structure. What would using the ICED principle look like for a chess player?


Your pursuit of chess mastery. Write it for yourself: your deepest, most important aspirations. Why do you play chess and compete? Why do you love the game? Separate the expression of your inner love from the usual rating goals and improvement targets.


The strength of intent and follow through. You act with courage and are not swayed by short-term results. Short-term results are not the objective.


Apply the ‘not too loose, not too tight’ effort to your tactical training plan.


Do the work. It is easy because you have chosen to do what you want to do! You would rather train chess and have a healthy lifestyle because that aligns with your pursuit of chess mastery. If your intent is too weak, strengthen it by going back to step one.