Motivation vs. Discipline

Motivation is what gets you started, discipline is what keeps you going.

We’ve all heard this popular quote, right? It’s quite catchy and seems like the honorable thing to say. But how many of us actually apply it to our lives?

I didn’t fully understand this concept until several months ago, actually. It was something I’d always struggled with, but I wasn’t able to put a name to it. The initial motivation is always enough to get me started, but I never had the discipline to keep going when that motivation waned

If you’ve continually started and quit exercise programs or diets, you also struggle with discipline.

There are many people out there telling you that “Oh you quit because it’s not sustainable” or “Because you got bored.” That may be part of it, but honestly it could be the most perfect program in the whole world and people would still quit. I used to be one of those people. And chances are, you’re one of those people too.

I see it all the time, even on those TV shows where things are made so simple and so many things are just handed to them, people complain and want to quit. And several do. It isn’t a program issue – it’s a discipline issue.

If you want results, you have to be disciplined.

But the question is – how do you get there? Clearly discipline doesn’t come easy or else we wouldn’t have a nation of unhealthy people.

I’ll start by saying that I’m aware this isn’t easy. I’ve battled eating disorders, food addiction, and just the general “I don’t want to” stuff.

The majority of my family is overweight and unhealthy. I grew up eating the Standard American Diet (SAD – perfect acronym, huh?). Processed meats, Hamburger Helper, fast food. I didn’t like vegetables – the idea of eating things that were fresh didn’t really cross my mind. And if it did, it was only at a friends’ house and I would politely decline. I was genuinely terrified of trying anything new. I wanted to stick with the same 5 or 6 things I ate and that was that.

I tell you that so you know that I understand. I honestly do.

With that being said, you can’t use that as your crutch and expect your life to change. You have to take responsibility for your life and move forward.

No one said it was easy. If it were easy everyone would do it. But when kids are learning to walk, it isn’t easy. That’s a whole new skill that they haven’t ever experienced before. Their going from crawling on all fours to putting their weight on two feet. They fall. Kids fall all of the time. Even when they hurt themselves they get back up and keep going. It’s because children have the discipline and desire – they want to walk and they WILL walk. There’s no question.

That’s the exact thing you need to make it happen. Discipline and desire.

The first step is knowing why you’re doing it. “I don’t want to be fat” isn’t a strong enough why if you’ve given up two weeks into everything you start. Why don’t you want to be fat?

For me, I have a why that’s strong enough to keep me going on the hardest days. I deal with chronic pain and illness. I was allowing the pain to control me and I was on track to be bedridden within a few years. I have a five year old son. I have dreams and goals. I’m only 26 years old! I wasn’t about to give up on life when I was just starting to live it. What example was I being to my son if I just let life happen to me and throw away my goals? That’s not the life I want him live. So I woke up one day and decided that was that.

But that was the motivation – the initial feel of HECK YES I’M DOING THIS!

What about when that motivation wanes? What do I do then?

I’m a whiner. My Instagram stories are full of me talking about how much I don’t want to work out or eat right. But I still go do it. Because I know that if I don’t, I’ll regret it. My why is constantly swirling around in my brain. My son’s face telling me he’s proud of me is burned into the back of my eyelids.

Ok, Karleigh. That’s all fine and good. I understand the importance of my why – but what about when life gets hard?

Discipline is a muscle that you actively need to work in order for it to get stronger. To get stronger, bigger muscles, you have to work them consistently. You lift heavy and tear those muscle fibers apart. It hurts. You’re sore. But one day you wake up and look in the mirror and realize you’ve got some beautiful biceps. That’s how discipline works.

Getting up and going to the gym can really suck. You’re sore. You’re tired. Then your friend offers to buy you a donut and you say no. You want that dang donut but you’re committed. You wonder if it’s all worth it. But one day you’ll wake up to your alarm, lace up your shoes and get out the door without a second thought. Because it has become a habit. When you have a habit, it’s easier to be disciplined.

In order to make this happen, you need to be die-hard committed for a time. When I started I said 21 days. They say it takes 21 days to make a habit. I’m not sure if that’s true, but that’s the marker I gave myself. If I could do this for 21 days, all in, then I knew I could make this last.

The first 2 weeks were the most difficult. Trying to balance the gym, meal prep, my son’s appointments and work. I pulled out my planner and filled it with commitments. My gym time was an appointment that couldn’t be cancelled. I figured out childcare and made it happen, kicking and screaming the whole way.

But when Monday of week 3 came around, it all seemed to flow. My son knew that we would go to the gym and he’d get to play in the kids area. My family knew that I wasn’t backing down on my eating plan and had stopped offering me things. I knew that I was going to eat breakfast and head out the door. It was just my life.

That isn’t to say it’s entirely easy now. I still have difficulties. Outside of the gym I have a very busy life and it can be stressful. But it’s all become habit and I’ve developed the discipline to keep this up. Are there times I don’t want to go workout? Yes. Are there times I’ve eaten junk? Yes.

But did I let that derail me? No. Have I binged? No. Have I given up? No. Because I have developed the discipline to my focus on my goal.

Yes, you need to be realistic. Don’t tell yourself you’re going to dedicate 3 hours a day to exercise if that’s going to be impossible. But you don’t want to use realistic as an excuse not to push yourself and hold back, either. If you’re ready to go all in, then go all in. Stop talking yourself out of it before you start.

Think of an end goal that you can work towards. Mine is the stage. Yours may be an event, a marathon, or a family photoshoot you have coming up. Giving yourself something to work towards will help you develop that discipline. Not because you’re going to throw it all away as soon as you reach that goal. Oh heck no. But it will give you a project so that way even when you complete it you’ll have developed the discipline to keep going.

After all of this, discipline really comes down to how bad you want it. If you want something bad enough, you’ll do whatever you need to do in order to make it happen. But you have to put in the work to get there.

Do you struggle with discipline? Or is it the initial motivation that has you stuck?
Let’s start the conversation – drop a comment below!

One response to “Motivation vs. Discipline”

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