If you spend any time browsing the interwebs for fitness information, you’ve probably seen numerous memes about discipline vs. motivation. In every case, motivation is bullshit, and discipline is where it’s at. I’ve written about this a little bit before, but let’s review. Motivation is an emotion; it’s fleeting, and it cannot be trusted. If you rely on motivation to help you train, or stick to your nutrition plan, it’s not going to work. Discipline, on the other hand, can work. Discipline means acting in accordance with rules. So, how do we make discipline work for us? WE need to establish the rules.
The people who seem to have the most self-discipline set themselves up to be disciplined. This starts with 2 big things. First is mindset. When it comes to training and diet, most of us adopt and “all or nothing” mindset. We expect perfection. If we treat ourselves to breakfast and have Cinnabon or a McGriddle instead of our planned breakfast, then the whole day is ruined, and we stop making good nutritional choices for the rest of the day. Similarly, if we miss workout or too, we feel the need to punish ourselves for it by overdoing it the next day. Step 1 to being successfully disciplined is to accept that perfection DOES. NOT. EXIST. So, we need to stop punishing ourselves if we do something that is less than optimal.
The second big thing we need to set ourselves up to be disciplined is an environment that supports success. Most people that have “awesome willpower” set themselves up to look that way. I’m sure many of us have heard something to the tune of “I’d love to lose weight, but I just can’t give up sweets.” Or “cookies are so good; I don’t know how anyone stops at just one.” So how do we set ourselves up for success?
When it comes to nutrition, planning ahead can go a long way. I’m sure that everyone has heard “failing to plan is planning to fail.” If you’re following a macro or highly specific diet plan, then meal planning is key. You need to establish a weekly day or two to shop and then prep (for recipes and tips, make sure you follow @viking.nutrition on Instagram!) For the rest of us, the key is to limit our circumstances that lead to poor decisions. Can’t stop at one cookie? Don’t buy cookies. Get them out of the house, and then there’s no temptation. Obsessed with Chik-fil-A? Can’t say no when you drive by it? Take a different route home. Obsessed with food delivery? Uninstall Grubhub, Uber Eats, and everything other delivery app you have. Oscar Wilde once said “the only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it. Resist it, and your soul grows sick with longing for the things it has forbidden to itself, with desire for what its monstrous laws have made monstrous and unlawful.” I would argue that this is only true if you’re trying to resist temptation to make it go away. REMOVE the temptation completely, and then you don’t need to resist it.
From a training perspective, we can set up our environment for success by doing a couple things. Number 1, schedule your training into your day. In a Covid world, many of us gain more flexibility with work schedules. And, this results in less structure, which, contrary to popular belief, makes it harder for many of us to train. As much as many of us complain about having long days, they can force us to make our training happen out of necessity. So, we can recreate that by scheduling our training in. And, to make Number 1 stick, Number 2 is to pack your stuff ahead of time. Training first thing in the morning? Lay out your stuff the night before. Training after work? Pack your gym bag the night before and put it in your car. Eliminate possible excuses before they happen.
The last thing to note when it comes to discipline and motivation, is that if you’re disciplined enough to act, motivation will follow. Many of us assume that motivation will lead to action, when in fact, the converse is true. I’m sure we all have anecdotal evidence here. How many times have you felt like skipping a training session, only to show up to class, and once you warm up, you have a great session? Case in point. It really is true that showing up is half the battle. Bottom line: change your mindset to accept that perfection is impossible. Then, set up your environment to maximize your success. Discipline and motivation will follow. See you in the gym.