Have you ever had that friend?
The one who’s the life of the party. They’re the weekend wingman (or woman) who never fails to bring the laughs and shenanigans. Some of your best memories (and bad decisions) are from the countless nights you spent with this particular partner in crime. But while you could always call them for a good time, you could also count on them to ghost you in the moments when you didn’t need a drinking buddy but a helping hand.
As soon as life gets inconvenient — a loved one rushed to the hospital, your car breaks down, you need help moving — suddenly, it’s crickets. Always there for a good time but nowhere to be found when it really counts. A true fair-weather friend.
Conversely, we all seem to have the other friend who isn’t the life of the party. They’re not even at the party. But they’re the ones you call at 2 a.m. when you’ve had a few too many at said party. And they always answer.
They’re in the waiting room with you at the hospital. They bring the spare tire. And they will help you move the couch up three flights of stairs.
In fitness, a very similar dynamic exists. Ask anyone who struggles in their quest to get in shape, and nine out of ten times, they’ll tell you they struggle due to a lack of motivation. They want to work out, but they also want to sit on the couch. They want the salad, but the cheeseburger looks so good. So, they choose the thing they feel like having in the moment only to feel guilty about it later. The thinking goes: If I could just get motivated, I’d feel like doing the thing I’m supposed to do.
So motivation becomes the holy grail they and many others seek as the key to attaining their fitness goals. They chase this peak mental state as a necessary precondition for doing the actions required to get fit and healthy. But motivation is the fair-weather friend of health and fitness. It’s a feeling you have little control over and can’t count on to show up.
We might be able to summon some hoo-rah by watching Rocky or listening to some carefully curated workout playlist, but let’s face it, some days the amped-up feelings just don’t come.
Fortunately, motivation is not necessary to achieve your goals. It’s completely overrated, and the flawed belief that you need it is a huge handicap holding most people back.
You don’t need motivation; what you need is something much more powerful: discipline.
Motivation is fleeting. It comes and goes. Discipline is always there. And while the emotion of motivation is something you have little control over, discipline is a muscle that, over time, you can develop. And when you’ve developed discipline, you can bypass motivation entirely. So the question is, how do you become more disciplined?
Change your expectations. The first step to becoming more disciplined is to understand you do not need to feel like doing something before doing it. Make peace with the fact that you will not feel like doing it most of the time. Do it anyway. Expect the ebb and flow of feelings but do not be swayed by them.
Practice discomfort. Make friends with inconvenience. Look for opportunities to do difficult, uncomfortable, and inconvenient things. Don’t use the elevator, take a cold shower, or read a difficult book. Start small but make it a habit. The more you park yourself into a state of discomfort, the more comfortable you will be with it. Over time you will get accustomed to doing things even when you don’t want to do them and, in turn, become more disciplined.
Embrace failures and setbacks. A muscle only grows when it’s trained to or near failure. To grow in discipline, you must fail. You’re going to hit snooze. You’re going to eat the cheeseburger. You’re going to drop the ball over and over again. Acknowledge this fact ahead of time and save yourself the pity party. Welcome setbacks as a necessary progression towards self-discipline and make the commitment that you will laugh it off and try again.
There you have it, do the thing before you feel like doing the thing, and good things will happen. spt