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Motivation vs Discipline

Sticking with a fitness routine isn’t easy. In this busy world, we have some many things that compete for our attention, from family issues to work-related obligations. When you’re pulled in too many directions, staying fit and healthy takes a back seat to more pressing obligations.

Because of time constraints, it’s not surprising that so many people are less active than they should be, and that lack of activity is contributing to chronic health problems, particularly obesity and type 2 diabetes.

Why is it so hard for people to follow through with a fitness program? Some people say it’s a lack of motivation, that motivation is what makes a person wake up in the morning and lace up their exercise shoes, but is being motivated really the most important factor of fitness success?

What is motivation? It’s the desire to make behavior changes and the willingness to do so. Yes, you must have the desire and willingness to change, but motivation won’t always help you keep going when you encounter obstacles like not enough time to train.

Another trait that people who make behavioral changes possess is self-discipline. What is self-discipline? It’s the ability to direct yourself toward achieving a goal. It’s also the capacity to take the proper steps needed to get from point A to point B.

Motivation vs. Self-Discipline

Motivation vs. self-discipline: which is most important for fitness success? Self-discipline is. Self-discipline makes you get up early in the morning to fit in a workout before work when you rather snooze an extra 30 minutes. Self-discipline is also what makes you follow through even on days when you lack the desire or motivation to work out.

In contrast, motivation is unpredictable. On days you’re well-rested and feel your best, your motivation switch might be on, but other days, your motivation may be weak. So, you think of a thousand reasons you can’t work out. But if you have self-discipline, you can act even on days when your motivation level is close to zero.



You can’t count on motivation alone to fire up your workouts! On a given day, you may have little or no desire to work out and without self-discipline, you won’t follow through. How many people listen to a motivational speaker and feel a surge in motivation due to the emotionally charged environment the speaker creates?

But how many people still feel that motivation two days later? Motivation comes and goes, and you can’t depend on it for long-term success. It may be the initial spark that gets you going, but motivation won’t sustain you. For that, you need self-discipline.

The Benefits of Being Self-Disciplined

Is self-discipline something you’re born with? No. Self-discipline is something you can acquire. The key is to learn not to let feelings and emotions impact your goals. One way to do that is to schedule your workouts into your daily routine. 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.

Why not apply the same principles to fitness training and getting fit? Remind yourself of the consequences of not working out. Over time, you’ll gain weight, your body composition will change for the worse, your risk of developing health problems will be higher, and you won’t feel as good. Plus, once you pencil your workouts into your schedule, you’ll feel a stronger obligation to follow up than if you exercise that day when you “have time.” Such an open-ended approach rarely works because other obligations intervene.

The good news is self-discipline becomes easier. The more you follow through and not let your emotions decide whether you will work out that day, the easier it becomes to do so. Just as weight training strengthens your skeletal muscles, follow through makes your self-discipline muscle stronger.

Take It Slow

You can’t build strength overnight and you won’t become self-disciplined that fast either. So, make it easy to follow through. Keep your fitness goals small and manageable in the beginning. Don’t do an hour workout when you first start out or lift the heaviest weight you can. Create small goals by keeping your workouts short and manageable. Increase the intensity and time over several weeks or even months. Achieving small goals builds the confidence and discipline you need to take on larger ones.

Remove as many barriers as you can that keep you from achieving your fitness goals. The fewer steps you need to take to get a workout, the easier it is to do it. That’s why exercising at home and doing it first thing in the morning offers advantages. You don’t have to drive anywhere to work out, and you don’t have to think about when to exercise. Do it as soon as the alarm clock goes off! With home workouts, you don’t have to worry as much about what to wear either. It’s your private workout time and you’re doing it for your health. But if you are one that wants to work out in a gym then pack your bag with gym clothes & go straight to the gym after work or get up really early in the morning and go right to the gym! Put out your fitness clothes the night before to commit to it. It's totally doable!

The Bottom Line

Motivation is will not always be there but self-discipline is lasting. Work on developing self-discipline, so you’ll push through on days you lack motivation. Have the right system in place to ensure that you follow through with your goals—schedule your workouts and reduce obstacles that keep you from acting. Take small steps in the beginning too. It becomes easier, and studies show that people who work out develop better self-control. So, you’ll be rewarded with a greater sense of self-discipline and control over your life if you follow through. The benefits will carry over to all aspects of your life.

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