Why Discipline Doesn’t Mean “All or Nothing.”
“So, Brandon,” you say, doubt seeping out of your eyes like the rays that shoot from Cyclops’ eyes without his visor, “You say forget motivation, and cultivate discipline, well, how does one do that? Does it mean I have to spend four hours in the gym every day and go on a strict Paleo diet or go Vegan or give up Ultimate Cheeseburgers for life? What if I screw up?”
Okay, okay. Slow the train down a moment. Let’s talk about what discipline actually means, and why the NerdFitness rebels say we need to “cultivate it.” Discipline means summoning the willpower to do what you’ve committed to do whether you feel like it or not. It does not mean being the most hardcore, or being the best at every aspect of what you’re doing, or giving 100% effort 100% of the time.
Doing What You’ve Committed to Do
Let’s not kid ourselves, Brandonians. Getting fit and staying fit is a commitment. It’s a commitment to yourself, and it’s not a short-term one. You’re not going to see results right away. There’s no instant gratification here. It’s a grind, through and through. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t’ benefits along the road and rewards at different stages of the journey.
Like I said, fitness is a commitment to yourself. If you’re thinking about trying to get fit to please a certain person, that’s a hollow reason. What happens when that person pisses you off on workout day? Instead, think about making yourself the best you you can be. When you commit to that, then the people in your life who are behind you will identify themselves by their support of you and your goals. Those who are not really behind you will also identify themselves with self-serving comments and half-hearted support, or even outright scorn. This is useful information on your journey to a better you because it lets you know who you need to spend more time with and who you need to avoid.
Okay, Great! So I’ll Commit to 100 Push-Ups a Day and Find People to Support Me
Not so fast, there, Speedy. The quickest way to ensure your failure is by setting unrealistic goals. If you can’t really make it to the gym three days a week, then commit to two days a week and try to find an activity you can do at home on one other day. If you can’t commit to doing 30 minutes of cardio at a time, start with 20 minutes. If you can’t commit to running a mile, commit to walking a mile and running for as much of it as you can. YOUR FITNESS IS NOT A COMPETITION.
Remember, you’re doing this for you. You can go at your own pace. The important thing is consistency, not intensity. The reality is if you are really overweight and you commit to a fifteen-minute walk three days a week, and you do it for a month, that’s a freakin’ win! Give yourself a reward! But if you cheat… If you miss a day… no reward. That’s another part of discipline.
Discipline Demands Progress, Progress Demands Rewards
The key to growth by way of discipline is increments. Like I tell my writing students, Eric Clapton couldn’t play a single measure of Layla at four years old. That’s just another way of saying “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” right? Well, the saying became an idiom for a reason. Growth takes time. Especially healthy growth. And that means increments.
When I was in basic training and tech school, I could do 72 push-ups in one minute in my prime. In 2017, I was easily doing three sets of ten (alternating between arm positions – including diamonds). Now that I’ve been hitting the gym, I’ve been working on bench pressing instead of push-ups. When I started a few weeks ago, I could do 115lbs, but only sets of eight, six, then four. Now I can do three sets of ten without much difficulty.
Similar things are happening with my planks. I used to struggle with holding side planks for 30 seconds on each side. Now I can do front planks and both sides for at least a minute each. Neither of those gains would have happened without discipline.
The Cycle of Discipline and Gains
But the relationship is full duplex. Just as results demand discipline, discipline demands results. It comes down to repetition. Repetition works in our muscles much the same way that it works in our brains. You’ve heard of muscle memory, right? Well, that requires repetition. The only reason I’m typing this article as quickly as I am is that my fingers have typed on this particular keyboard pretty much every day for over ten years now. They know right where to go when my brain sends the signal because they’ve done it over and over and over again.
The same comes with exercises. The first time you try running after you’ve not done it since tenth-grade P.E, you’re going to wonder why you even got out of bed that morning, or why you’re even going to try to take the next labored breath. But if you get out there a day or two later and you do it again, you’ll find you can run just a little bit farther this time. You may still be wheezing, but you’ll have run farther. And if you do that every other day for a month, I’ll bet you can run a mile at the end of that month. But you have to commit to it and do it. That’s it. Commit to running as much as you can every other day for a month, and see if you don’t see your weight go down a little and your endurance go up a lot.
A Final Thought on Incremental Change
Two-and-a-half years ago, I was a pack-and-a-half a day tobacco smoker. I loved my Camel Wides, and it was a damned emergency if I ran out or was even running low. I’d go to ridiculous lengths to make sure I had smokes. Then I decided to quit.
Here’s how I did it. I talked to my doctor and asked about chemical help. She put me on Welbutrin for a couple of months. During that time, I made the commitment to myself to incrementally quit. Now, by that time, I had already cut back to around a half-pack a day, so ten cigarettes. I said to myself, “Okay, this week, I’ll have ten cigarettes a day, then next week I only get nine a day.” I followed the plan with discipline, and in ten weeks I had given up cigarettes for good. I haven’t had a cigarette or even had the urge to have one, in two-and-a-half years.
Cultivating discipline is about growth. You’re not going to be there when you’re first starting out. But if you commit to remaining disciplined, and keep to your commitments – whichever commitments are right for you at this stage in your life – you can’t help but see rewards. After all, discipline demands it.