How to Motivate Yourself and Cultivate Discipline

discpline versus motivationWhat is motivation?

I’m going to talk a little bit about motivation, and why you can’t rely on it. Let’s take a look at the official definition as it applies to fitness:

the condition of being eager to act or work : the condition of being motivated

When people talk about motivation in the same sentence with fitness or diet, they usually mean they need an impetus to get started. A reason to make changes. A justification to start doing things differently. And all of those reasons are great.

But they don’t last.

Motivation fades away. That urge to do something often crumbles under the weight of a busy and stressful life. Motivation might get you going, but it rarely keeps you going.

For that you need discipline so that you become disciplined.

What does it meant to be disciplined?

Disciplined is a form of the word discipline and means:

showing a controlled form of behavior or way of working

What does that mean when it comes to exercise and diet? Simple – it means doing what you are supposed to do whether you want to do it or not.

Why motivation won’t work, but discipline will

When you hear people talking about making changes, you often hear them talking about how they need to get motivated. While motivation is one way to get yourself to do something, it’s ultimately the wrong choice. If you want to make changes, long lasting changes, then push motivation to the side and develop discipline.

What motivation assumes is that a special emotional state is required to do something. That you have to feel like doing it. But discipline separates the task from the emotions. Discipline doesn’t care how you feel. It doesn’t care what you think. It doesn’t care what state of mind you’re in. it doesn’t care whether you want to do the thing or not. Discipline says this needs to be done so do it. And when you develop discipline and start getting things done, you end up feeling the same positive emotions that are required for motivation!

If you let taking action be conditional on mood, you often end up waiting for the right mood, or using the excuse that you’re in the wrong mood. How often have you said, or heard someone say, I don’t feel like doing it today. So what you’re saying is you aren’t going to do it because you don’t feel like it. How immature is that?

How many things a day do you do because they need to be done, whether you feel like doing them or not? How many times have you driven close to the speed limit even though you wanted to go faster? Stopped to get groceries on the way home even though you were tired? Cut the grass on your day off? Vacuumed your floor? You did these things not because you wanted to, but because they had to be done.

Instead of asking yourself, how do I make myself feel like doing this, instead start telling yourself, go do it. Stop trying to feel good about doing a thing before you do it and start feeling good about a thing after it’s done.

We fool ourselves into thinking that motivation can inspire enthusiasm for things we aren’t excited about. But it doesn’t. Trying to drum up excitement for dull and boring activities or things we don’t want to do is an impossible task.

Motivation works like a a wind up toy. You crank it up, set it free, and it toddles along, gradually slowing down until it runs out and stops. But discipline is like an engine that has a never-ending fuel source. Once you get it started and running, it keeps on going and going and going. It’s self-perpetuating and constant, whereas motivation is a burst that soon fades.

Developing discipline

So how do you develop discipline? The same way the ocean wear rocks down into grains of sand: a little bit at a time. Start small, gather momentum, and build a routine. Your brain resists change, it likes things the way they are. Big and sudden doesn’t work, but slow and steady does. You’ve probably heard the saying, each journey begins with a single step.

Start with a small change and let your brain accept it. Once this change has taken hold, make the next change. Now keep going until you’ve reached your goal. Big things are made up of small things. Small changes that you stick to and follow add up big results. Here are a few examples.

Let’s say you work on the third floor of a building. Instead of taking the elevator, take the stairs. Up when you arrive, down for lunch, back up again and then down when the day is over. Not much daily, maybe burning an extra 20 – 25 calories, but that adds up to 100 – 125 a week, or 400 – 500 a month, which rolls into a whopping 4,800 – 6,000 a year!

Yes, your brain resists change, but gradual changes let you bypass that resistance.

This is the principle of Granularity

So how do you make big changes? By breaking them up into small changes.

Want to start exercising more? Take a walk. A short walk. Make that short 5 minute walk a requirement of your day. Never miss it. Then add a minute. Then another. Before you know it, you’ll be doing 20 minutes a day and reaping the benefits.

Want to fix you diet? Don’t do it all at once. Start by cutting out the small things. No more sweetened drinks. Drink diet soda, black coffee, or sparkling water. Start with one pack less sugar in your coffee, a little less cream. Replace the candy bar with an orange or other piece of fruit. Replace white bread with whole grain. One little thing at a time….

Discipline kick motivation’s ass

Discipline is about restoring the balance of power between your rational adult mind and your inner child who’s currently making too many of your decisions. Human personality is like an onion. As it grows, it adds layers, but the core never goes away. The child is still there, wanting ice cream and fun and not to do hard things.

Let that child have his or her voice, but in the end, realize that you’re driving the car and that tiny voice that wants to sit around and eat tacos and play video games all day is just along for the ride.

So you want to lose weight? You want to get into shape? Look better? Stop thinking about. Stop waiting until you feel like doing it.

Like Nike says and it’s true – just do it!


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