Running Motivation vs Discipline

So, let's address the elephant in the room...I haven't written an article in like, 2 months.

Now I could tell you that my real job has been absolutely nuts, family life has kept me busy, and trying to work out everyday has left me with no energy...all of that is true.

But that's not why I haven't been writing.

I haven't been writing because I've been

I can't quite pinpoint the problem, but I've been feeling overwhelmingly apathetic, if that's even possible.

The weird thing is...I want to write.

I really enjoy writing. I like the creativity, I like getting my thoughts out, I even like the editing process.

But every time I sit down to write I just can't do it. I always find something to distract me. Whether it be "research", or a book, or a video, or whatever, it's just something that steals my attention when I should be focusing on writing.

Then, of course, the next day I think to myself..."Why did I do that? Why didn't I just start writing the article like I said I was going to?!" And then, without fail, I do the same thing that night.

A few nights ago I sat down with a different goal. I decided I wasn't going to write. I was going to figure out what the hell was wrong with me.

I'll spare you the details of the conversation I had with myself, but the obvious answer was this...I was waiting for motivation.

I was waiting for the motivation to write. And guess what? It never showed up.

Ok. Well that sucks. I'm not motivated. I lack motivation. I'm unmotivated.

No matter how I said it, I felt horrible about myself. I felt lazy. I felt like a failure.

At this point I started looking for guidance. I started thinking about all the people who do such big, amazing things. People like David Goggins, Courtney Dauwalter, or Jocko Willink.

How did they do so much without losing motivation?

When I couldn't figure that out I took a step back and I thought about me. I wasn't always like this. I've achieved some pretty impressive things in my life. I've set big goals and accomplished them. Why did I have the motivation then, but not now?

That's what I needed to figure out.

So I thought. I thought about it until the early hours of the morning. When I went to bed I just lied there and thought some more. After a few more days of wracking my brain, I figured it out.

I didn't need motivation.

I needed discipline.

Thinking back on all of the good things that I was able to accomplish in my life, almost all of them were realized through my ability to stay disciplined and consistently work on achieving my goals.

It wasn't about the motivation that ebbed and flowed throughout the journey, it was about my ability to commit to that goal no matter what.

Sometimes that meant staying up until 1am every night writing. Sometimes that meant getting up at 4:30am to workout before my kids got up. Sometimes that meant saying no to parties or social events to stay home with my family.

The important thing was that I continued to chip away at my goals day in and day out...even when I didn't really feel like it.

So...maybe I don't need motivation.

After thinking about this for a while, I started to realize how I've already applied this to running.

When I run I don't think "Well, I'll go for a run today, but I'm just going to run while I feel motivated." I don't run that way because I would always stop running after I got tired, frustrated or annoyed. I would never progress.

When I go on a run, I decide what sort of workout I'm going to do and I don't even think about stopping until I've reached the end. If I'm running 5 miles, I don't think, "Maybe I'll just stop at 3 miles today." It never even crosses my mind. When I feel tired, or my muscles start aching, I find a way to keep going.

For me, when you really live a disciplined life, even if it's only in one aspect, your mindset really does change. You don't think about quitting or giving up on a goal, because it just doesn't seem like an option. You've been so consistent, and you've created such a strong habit that it becomes second nature to you. The idea of just stopping because you kind of feel like it doesn't compute.

With that being said, I'm a firm believer that grinding it out isn't for everyone and there are downsides to following a more disciplined schedule.

Let's talk about some of the benefits and drawbacks for waiting for motivation or grinding it out with discipline...

The benefits and drawbacks of motivation

When people are motivated, they tend to perform at a very high level. Think about it; if someone just came up with a great idea for a business, they found some investors and everyone is telling them that this is going to work...they are super motivated! They work their ass off, it's all they can think about, it's their sole focus! It's a pretty amazing feeling, while it lasts.

The drawback here is that it's almost impossible for that energy and passion to last forever. Everyone is different, but generally you're not going to be able to hold onto that motivation long enough to make a career out of it!

Another benefit of motivation is that people who rely on it tend to have a lower rate of burnout. I mean, if you only work when you feel like it then you're probably not going to get totally burned out by working crazy hours or working when you really don't want to.

Obviously, the drawback is that your work schedule and performance are going to be very inconsistent. If you just stop performing well (or at all) because you aren't feeling motivated your goals are going to suffer.

Another drawback that I've experienced is that motivation can be unpredictable. You might think you have some grasp of when it will come and go, but it doesn't always work that way. Sometimes you get motivated by competition, like signing up for a race! But I've found that when I'm specifically taking steps to seek motivation, it rarely works.

The benefits and drawbacks of discipline

To me, discipline is creating a set of rules or expectations, and following them. It's simple, but it's not easy. Now, you could set very easy rules and still be "disciplined", but that's fairly pointless. Generally, people try to be disciplined in order to achieve certain goals or maintain consistency in aspects of their lives that are challenging.

One of the most apparent benefits of discipline is the consistency. Because you are following rules, you are forced to be consistent with those behaviors.

The biggest knock on living a disciplined lifestyle is that it is rigid and, in a sense, that's true. You are trying to meet pre-determined expectations. But being disciplined will allow you to still be flexible if you do it right.

The best example of this is a diet. With most diets you need to focus on calorie intake. So your diet plan might be as simple as "eat less than 2,000 calories per day". This is an example of discipline!

The rigid aspect of this diet is that you aren't going to eat over 2,000 in a day. The flexible aspect of this diet is that you can eat any food you want, as long as your calorie intake is under 2,000

If you set a goal to run everyday, you could run 10 miles or you could run 1 mile, but you're still meeting your goal.

Unlike relying on motivation, following a disciplined lifestyle may make you feel like you're constantly working when you feel like you just need a break. This can make it more likely for someone to burnout before ever reaching their end goal.

This feeling of grinding through a project can also lead to a subpar performance. If you are just trying to put in the work everyday even when you really don't want to, you're probably not going to be doing your best work.

With the benefits and drawbacks in mind, I've created a few of my own guidelines that I think will help me, and hopefully YOU, create a disciplined, but practical, lifestyle.

Guidelines for a more disciplined lifestyle

1. Set easy, attainable expectations in the beginning

The temptation is to start your new lifestyle with a bang! You're going to start waking up early, run 6 days a week, eat healthy, and read more books!

While the intent may be there, the discipline rarely makes it past the first week. Why? It's too damn much!

Just like with any goal setting process, you need to create small, attainable goals which will eventually lead to your big, scary goals!

Choose one thing and focus on that for a few weeks. If one of your goals is to run 6 days a week, start off by setting the expectation to run 3 days a week. Once you're comfortable with that you can ramp up the expectations to 4, 5, and eventually 6.

After running has become a habit, you can focus on waking up early, or eating healthy, or whatever your next goal is.

2. Evaluate your expectations on a regular basis

One of the biggest mistakes I've made in the past is trying to maintain expectations for too long, or not long enough!

If you've set expectations and are staying disciplined, how long should you adhere to them? A week? A year?

It's a problem I've run into many, many times. Too short and your plans seem to be constantly changing. Too long and you lose the flexibility to tweak things and make changes, ultimately causing burnout.

I think it's vitally important to set regular intervals to re-evaluate your expectations.

At first, it's a good idea to set them up more frequently. Maybe once a week. As you become more comfortable with your expectations you can start challenging yourself by creating longer intervals.

This is similar to training blocks in a training program. If you've ever had a coach or trainer, they might tell you "Try this for a week and let me know how you feel." At the end of the week you evaluate how you feel, how things could be better, what things are you enjoying, etc. This allows you to optimize your training, or whatever expectations you've set to meet your goal.

3. Schedule breaks

When you ask someone why they weren't able to maintain a diet, workout regimen, or job, the reason is often "It was just too hard, I needed a break", or something along those lines.

Well...of course you need a break! When you're trying to follow a more disciplined lifestyle it's usually because you're trying to improve yourself. Improving yourself is not easy, and you're going to need a break every once in a while, it's foolish to think otherwise.

A scheduled break will allow your body and, more importantly, your mind to take a load off and relax.

The important thing here is scheduling a break, not just taking one when you feel like it. When you just decide to take a break one day, you feel like you failed, like you couldn't handle it and you broke a promise to yourself. When you schedule a break, it is a calculated decision that has been made in advance; it becomes part of your plan, not a hiccup in them.

4. Don't make decisions in the heat of the moment

This is the guideline that I feel has made the biggest impact on my life. I'm much better at following black and white rules, which should have taught me that I needed to follow more disciplined plans!

When I am trying to eat better I always find more success when I lay out a set a rules, or expectations and stick to them. If I tell myself "Just try to eat better" or "Make smarter food choices" I almost always fail. That's because in my head, everything is subjective. I don't have a hard rule that essentially makes the decision for me and it forces my brain to weigh each option before making a decision.

A good example is waking up in the morning. If you want to wake up at 5am which plan do you think works better...

A) Lay out all your clothes the night before, set your alarms, tell yourself that nothing is going to keep you from waking up at 5am.

B) Set your alarm for 5am and then decide if you'll get up based on how you feel.

Obviously plan A) is going to work more often than plan B). That's because when you allow yourself to make decisions in the moment, you'll almost always create a reason to choose the path of least resistance.

You stay in bed because you need more sleep if you want to perform your best. You need to eat this candy bar because you want your diet to be "sustainable". You're taking the night off from writing because you need to focus on a more important project.

I can't count the number of times I've said something like this to excuse my poor decisions.

When you create a set of expectations they eventually make those decisions for you. Instead of saying "Should I eat that candy bar?" you say, "I can't eat that candy bar because I don't eat candy." Boom, decision made.

Of course, that doesn't happen right away. It takes time to turn a new behavior into a habit, but once it does it's like decision auto-pilot.

Waiting on motivation didn't work for me, but I'm confident that by sticking to these guidelines and setting some new expectations for myself I'll be able to make the most of this winter and come out the other side better prepared to take on the challenges of the new year.

The big question is...what will you do next?

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