Mantra Monday: 5 Ways to Stay Disciplined When Motivation Fails You

Saying “F— Motivation” is the easy part…

In case you’re new to Mantra Monday here in Brandonia, let me break it down for you. This is the day that I use to remind my readers of our fitness mantra, which was stolen borrowed from the NerdFitness community. That mantra is this: F— motivation; cultivate discipline. The F can stand for whatever you want as long as it’s something like “forget.”

The idea is that motivation will fail you. It will. There are always going to be days when you just don’t feel like getting up and keeping your commitment to yourself when it comes to fitness. That’s where discipline comes in. Discipline doesn’t give a damn how you feel. Discipline is establishing guidelines and sticking to them and facing consequences if you don’t.

It’s easy for us to say F— motivation because forgetting to motivate yourself is like forgetting the quadratic formula if you’re an English major. Not too difficult, that feat.

The real trick is cultivating discipline.

Cultivation requires attention, nurturing, and occasional pruning

The word “cultivate” is so important to this process, because it implies and reminds us that discipline isn’t achieved overnight. To achieve true discipline you must enact some concrete steps, and you have to repeat them – whether you feel like it or not.

Here are five ways you can cultivate discipline in your life:S

1. Set Reasonable Expectations

Let’s examine a scenario and see what Ol’ Staff Sergeant Humphreys means by reasonable expectations. Say you have a lifestyle one might describe as “sedentary.” By that I mean you work an office job and only get enough steps to get you to and from your car to get to work. If that’s you, which of the following do you think is a reasonable way to start cultivating the discipline to get more activity?

  • Commit to walking one mile every day for the next month.
  • Commit to jogging a half-mile three times a week.
  • Commit to walking for five minutes every day at lunch time.
  • Commit to training for a marathon in three months.

Any of the first three may be reasonable for someone with that type of sedentary lifestyle, but I’d start with the five-minute walk every day at lunch-time. It’s super easy, and it’s a great way to ease into positive habits – which are at the heart of discipline. If it’s nice outside, just look at your watch and walk for five minutes. That’s it. If it’s crappy outside, do your walk as a few laps around the office. If people look at you funny tell them you’re doing it for charity and that they should feel like assholes for judging you before they know what’s really going on.

2. Start With Short-Term Timelines.

Sometimes you won’t know if a goal or an expectation is reasonable until you try it. As I mentioned above, any of those first three options might be good for someone with a sedentary, but I wouldn’t start with the hardest one first.

Understand that this is about cultivation, and that means growth – literally! Start with the five-minute walk and commit to do it for three weeks or a month. You may find after two days that five-minutes feels really good and you could probably actually commit to thirty minutes after work to clear your head at the end of the day. At that point, you’d say to yourself, “Okay, next week I’m going to walk for five minutes at lunch on Monday, then a half-hour after work, to see how it goes.” Then honor that commitment.

Maybe the half-hour turns out to be a bit much for every day, but you think you can do it three times a week. Set that goal for next week. If it works, then set it for three more weeks – then move to step three.

3. Reward Yourself for Keeping Your Commitment

Say you set a goal that you’re going to hit the gym three times a week for a month. If you do it, reward yourself! I’m again borrowing from Steve Kamb and NerdFitness here, but you need to make sure of two things when it comes to choosing rewards. First, the reward should ideally be something that positively helps you get to the next step of your goal. Second, it shouldn’t be something that’s counterproductive to any of your other goals. What I mean is, if your goal is to hit the gym three times a week for a month, buy yourself a new workout shirt (that one’s gonna be mine for April’s goal!), or a new set of headphones to use while working out.

Do not reward yourself with a million-calorie meal at Red Lobster. You don’t want to reward taking three steps forward with something that puts you two steps back.

I also want to mention that these rewards should be reasonable in cost and should be things you should afford. I’m working on applying these discipline principles to my own finances lately, and I don’t want to advocate that you should go into debt to reward yourself or buy things you can’t afford using “reward” as the justification.

4. Repetition Is Key

Just like with any exercise, repetition is the key to growth. Of course we know that about muscle growth. Benching 125 one time is totally different than benching 125 for three sets of ten. But repetition works in every other facet of our lives, too.

Ever talk to an older person whose been getting up at the same time every morning for their job for the past twenty years? Ask them what time they get up on the weekends. Their body is so used to waking up at that time, that after a certain period of time sleeping in becomes almost impossible.

The more you do a thing, the more habitual it becomes. This goes for good habits as well as bad. I can’t say for certain, but I’ve heard it said that it takes three weeks of repetition to develop a new habit. That may be bullshit or it may be sound, I’m not sure, but it seems to me it can’t hurt to set three weeks as a benchmark for new changes in your life.

The point here is, give it a chance to work, and you’ll see results.

5. Visualize Your Success and Track Your Progress

No. I’m not going to give you that line of crap from The Secret about the Law of Attraction and tell you that you can just imagine having a million dollars and it will magically attract itself to you. That’s bullshit and deep down you know it. What isn’t bullshit, though, is the idea of visualization helping focus.

What I’m talking about here is using visualization as a tool to help you get through the days when your motivation decides it’d rather stay in bed. If you have a solid vision of what you want yourself to be when you’ve reached your goals, sit with it for a few minutes. Really imagine it. And then get your ass to the gym so that you can become it.

Similarly, you need to track your progress. If you can’t see demonstrable results from your hard work then all the talk in the world about discipline isn’t going to do you any good. There’s no point in being disciplined at anything that doesn’t serve to make you a better version of yourself, and if you can’t see the progress you’re making toward that end, then you’re going to find yourself in a tough spot.

A Final Note…

I mentioned above that there have to be consequences to not keeping your commitments. One of my rules, as I’ve said on social media multiple times, is that if I skip a workout day, I have to go the next day. That’s my own rule. The other one is that if I don’t go three times a week for the whole month, I don’t get the reward. Make sure you stick to whatever rules you set for yourself.