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Motivation vs Discipline: What’s More Important for Fitness?

What’s more important for fitness success? I get asked all the time about my tips for motivation. My advice is that motivation is unpredictable. On the good days you feel your best and are ready to climb the highest mountains, but there are always those days when you are not motivated to do anything. It is easy to come up with dozens of reasons why you can’t work out. But when you have self-discipline, even if your motivation levels are close to zero, you can still accomplish a lot.

I love the quote Zig Ziglar said about motivation: “Motivation is fleeting; discipline is permanent.”

You can’t count on motivation when it comes to working out. The goal should be to work on self-discipline and learn not to let feelings and emotions impede your goals.

Here are my tips on how to acquire self-discipline: 

  1. Schedule your workouts into your daily routines.

Make sure your workouts are written in your calendar and become an obligation to yourself. Almost everyone has the self-discipline to go to their job every day because it’s a structured commitment. When you were hired, you agreed to work so many hours per week. You also realize that unless you follow through, you might not have the money to put food on the table. There are consequences to not following through. Remind yourself that there are consequences if you are not working out: you gain weight, you risk developing health issue, you won’t feel as good.

  1. Take it Slow.

Don’t expect miracles within weeks; just like you can’t build strength overnight, you won’t become self-disciplined right away. Keep your fitness goals manageable at the beginning. Don’t start with the heaviest weights and don’t run a 5K the first week. Create small successes and build on them. Achieving small goals builds the confidence and discipline to take on larger ones.

  1. Remove Barriers.

The fewer steps you need to take to get a workout, the easier it is to do it. That’s why exercising first thing in the morning is easier. If you have an opportunity to work out closer to home, it would be easier sticking to a routine.

  1. Follow a Training Plan

Having a plan gives you direction and motivation for your workouts. When you are following a training plan, you don’t have to aimlessly wander around the gym.

  1. Track the Changes

Keeping an exercise journal, recording your weight loss, inches lost or gained, and other markers of improvement can be a great tool especially when you are lacking motivation. When you see the numbers change, you will realize your hard work is paying off.

Just so you know, we ALL struggle at times with self-discipline.  Training for many years has its hills and valleys, or you could say, an ebb and flow.  We go super hard and intense for a period, then we lose steam, and coast for a while.  You won’t set the world on fire every time you step into the gym.  The most important thing is consistency.  Having the discipline to be consistent, whether things are perfect or not.

I also tell my clients that the mind can truly be a terrible thing. Overthinking about if and when you are going to work out usually ends up leaving you with a big nope, nah, nada!

I find myself, especially when it comes to cardio (which I hate), listening to the drunken monkey on my shoulder whispering in my ear telling me to put it off till tomorrow… or do 20 minutes instead of 40… or you get the picture. That is where I really have to set a goal and the discipline comes in.  

When I’m trying to tighten it all up a bit, I set a goal to stay on the cardio until I hit a certain number of calories, even though I know those readings are not accurate.  If I’m bored and want to hit the calorie level faster, I pick up the pace and work harder.  If I’m just not feeling it at all, I go at an easier pace, but stick with it till I hit the calorie goal.  Either way, I’ve done the work I need to do, and stuck with the plan. And of course, I’m always glad when it is over, and feel a sense of accomplishment. These little battles we overcome every day is what ultimately brings us success. 

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