One Year Of Discipline, Day 23: What Ants Told Me About Freedom


There is a short parable written by Alexander Solschenizyn, called “The Bonfire and the Ants”. I remember discussing it in high school (!), 20 years back, and it stuck with me until now – luckily, I just found an english translation:

I threw a rotten log onto the fire without noticing that it was alive with ants. 

The log began to crackle, the ants came tumbling out and scurried around in desperation. They ran along the top and writhed as they were scorched by the flames. I gripped the log and rolled it to one side. Many of the ants then managed to escape onto the sand or the pine needles. 

But, strangely enough, they did not run away from the fire. 

They had no sooner overcome their terror than they turned, circled, and some kind of force drew them back to their forsaken homeland. There were many who climbed back onto the burning log, ran about on it, and perished there. 

This parable always fascinated me. It is about an important choice. The ants can either abandon their wooden home and live free – or go back into the log and perish.


The ants are very clear about it: they go back to their “homeland”, even though it was already “rotten” and now clearly doomed to burn. What drives them there? A familiar environment? Shelter? Fear of the unknown?

Most people behave very similar to the ants. For them, structure and a familiar environment trump new frontiers and the freedom to do whatever they want. They are scared by the absence of any guidance “out in the wilderness”. So they go back to their old ways, even if they don’t work. They stay on the ship, even if it is going down.

#1 – They bang their head against a wall, but repeat what they did before. Again and again and again – in the hope it might work this time.

#2 – They start a new business, but just copy existing ideas. They hide their true identity because they are scared to reveal themselves and stand alone, completely vulnerable. They retreat into their comfort zone, even if this zone is rotten and on a downward spiral of destruction.

Are they still hoping it works? I don’t even think they do. They are just used to doing it a certain way and then hope that somehow from somewhere, good luck starts raining down on them and relieve them from their problems all of a sudden.

I have been a biologist since 20 years, 15 years of which I permanently spent in research labs. After all these years, I have realized that this lifestyle is not for me. So I am starting this blog as the first step into an entrepreneurial life. Going back to research ultimately means building my career on a weak foundation.

Instead, I am slowly leaving my career and starting over.

I regard working for a corporation or the government as less free than starting an own website, own business etc. But is that really the case?

As an employee, I can go home and even though I have to go back to work the next day, just goofing off after a workday is not a problem. I will get paid anyway.

Instead, I am now working on this blog post. It is 1:15 am. I am f-ing tired, but I want to write this post. Painful. But I am doing it.

And in the end, I will have built up something new because I was free to do so. That’s what freedom means to me. Not the absence of pain. Rather the presence and cultivation of the creative  forces inside of me.

It is said that at the end of our lives, we look at the person we could have become. I don’t ever want to say “I chose to play it the easy way.” On the last day of my life, will I be happy that most of that life was easy and reasonably nice? Do I want to say “Oh Jeez, this is the person I could have been, but this is what I have become. At least I had it easy.”?



How can we make sense of that parable for ourselves?

The past is over, the future starts. Every time. Every day I am born, every day I die.
Do I really look back upon yesterday and am happy I took it easy? No, because it does not mean anything for myself now, in this very moment.
What I do look back upon are the happiest moments in my life. The few seconds when I truly were at the pinnacle of my happiness.
#1 – Being reelected into the leadership council for my youth orchestra.
#2 – Traveling every summer with the orchestra to great places (mostly in the South of Europe).
#3 – Watching Simpsons and Futurama for a whole weekend with my best friend.
#4 – Lunches with my Grandma.
#5 – Hanging around after Christmas and trying out my new computer.
It becomes pretty obvious to me that I truly enjoy moments I am accepted by my friends. I also like a great atmosphere (see point #5 above).
And really, if money was not an issue, I would probably retire, play all my computer games for four weeks… then get bored, call my friends and start visiting them.
I think everyone needs structure in their lives. Pure freedom can be scary. But you can define your structure.
Think about who you are and what the happiest moments in your life were. Orient yourself along those moments. You want to recreate them. They will become your “log” and give you something to hold onto.
And now the log will not burn you anymore. Instead, if you’ve found something you’re passionate about, it will burn inside you and drive you forward.

Good luck on your path!


Summary of Day 23

Below you will find

(a) a quick description how I fared on my main goals – losing body fat, working on my blog, installing good habits;

(b) my thoughts for the day;

(c) how the rest of the program went and whether there were any irregularities or other noteworthy points.

Day 23

Losing body fat

Body fat down again: 22.5%.

Breakfast: Coffee.

Nothing for lunch, chicken salad for dinner.

Today’s juice: V8, actually bought – no time to make some on my own because of the blizzard. For more self-mad juicing recipes, check Juicing for Power. (*)

Calisthenics routine:

120 push-ups – but it was fucking hard to do them in proper form. I finished, though. 10 push-ups at a time.

120 squats – was also taking several breaks.

120 sit-ups – those I finished in one go.

Working on my blog

I wrote this blog post here.


(a) Emotional Health: Went to Happy Hour – I am slowly getting my social life better under control.

(b) Spiritual Health: I continued the Happiness Habit. What was I grateful for?

1. One day closer to submitting the manuscript.
2. Living close to New York City.
3. Cold showers.

(c) Mental Health.

10 ways to provide an older brother to people.
1. Be that big brother.
2. Connect them with a brother-sister company.
3. Connect them to an old folks home.
4. Write up what you learnt in life, then give the list to people that look for an older brother.
5. Take in a homeless person.
6. Befriend a random stranger.
7. Feed the pigeons and get into chatting with other people that feed.
8. Get a puppy and make a friend at the dog run.
9. Have people wear clothing that indicates if they are looking for a smaller sibling -> that’s your big brother.
10. Cold-call people to see who would be willing to be a big brother.

Thoughts for the day

What did I do well?
I focused well on our manuscript.

What do I want to improve?
Writing these diary post takes surprisingly long – especially in the evening.

How will I improve?
Take all notes during the day, when they occur to you.

30-Day of Discipline items

Here is a list and how I fared:

1. Eat three meals or less: ate two.

2. Get up between 5 and 7 am: got up at 7 am.

3. Cold shower: yes

4. No Porn and Masturbation: check

5. 100 push-ups/squats/sit-ups minimum: each 120.

6. Dress to impress, dress for success: check.

7. Make a to-do list: check

8. Stand tall and proud: check

9. No excuses/explanations/BS: check

10. Keep those ideas written down: check

11. My purpose: lab and blog. check.

To check the description of the “One Year of Discipline” challenge, click here.

To see yesterday’s post, click here.

To get back to the homepage, click here.

(*) I earn a small commission at no additional cost to you.