Motivation vs Discipline

I’m collecting donations of gently used running shoes, clothing, and gear for the track and field athletes at Rhodes Hall High School in Hanover, Jamaica. Donations can be mailed to: Danielle Cemprola, PO Box 26101, Greenville, SC 29616. If you would prefer to donate online, please visit my GoFundMe page! All funds raised will go directly to the team. You can read more about the kids and their incredible stories here.

Ahh, early January. If you’re like me, your pants are probably a little tighter than they were in early December. Your house is maybe a little more messy, your routine a little disheveled, and your dog somehow has less manners. I’m right there with you. The holidays are a busy time, but they’re also a time for relaxing and enjoying time – and food! – with family and friends. But now it’s January and everything sucks.

tumblr_nhk6q2ksk71ql5yr7o1_500-1 I actually hate donuts, but you know what I’m getting at.

Each year, tons of people make New Year’s resolutions to lose weight, start exercising more, or actually train the dog. These resolutions are made with the best of intentions and many people truly believe that this will be the year the new behavior sticks. Maybe it will. But statistically, it won’t – something like 9% of resolutions are kept until the following December! Many of the people who quit their resolutions will end up saying something like “I know I should go to the gym more, I’m just not that motivated.” I’m not here to tell you not to make resolutions, though, or to tell you that I don’t think they’re valuable; after all, I love New Year’s resolutions. Instead, I’m here to speak to you through the wisdom and humor of the Real Housewives about the difference between motivation and discipline and how to use them to secure success in your resolutions this year. These are women who clearly have their shit together and are therefore qualified to extend advice, amiright?

tumblr_nliyb0ufr11ql5yr7o1_500 Prayer can’t hurt either, but just in case that’s not enough.

This idea of “motivation” is, in my mind, one of the most poisonous concepts in the western world. No, seriously, stick with me. When we think about “motivation,” we think of it as this inner drive to succeed that comes from… somewhere. No one knows where, exactly. Motivation just suddenly appears in the form of a picture taken at a bad angle, the tenth time you’ve overdrafted your account this month, or the most recent time your dog stole your food off your plate before you could eat it. And there it is! The will to change and succeed! Hooray, motivation!

tumblr_mj7xjobkpd1ql5yr7o1_400 I drank a smoothie once. That was a bad day.

The problem with motivation is that it is fleeting. It is hard to change our behavior, especially when it involves something like eating less, working out more, spending less, or consistently telling the dog “no” – things we don’t really want to do and that are hard to maintain. There will be days when we just want to eat the cake or buy the yoga pants – it’s inevitable. And when that day comes and we fall off the wagon, we tell ourselves “I’m just not that motivated” and then maybe give up on the change entirely.

tumblr_mddx7frqia1ql5yr7o1_400 Poor effort, NeNe.

We look at the person in our lives who we hope to be more like – that person who eats a diet mostly free of processed foods, runs five times a week, or manages their finances responsibly. “I wish I had your motivation!” we say to them. If I had a nickel for every time someone has said “I wish I had your motivation!” to me, be it about running, eating, how much I work, or whatever, I could buy a ticket to Nepal right now. And that’s why I think this notion is so dangerous.

I don’t have anything you don’t have. I am not more motivated than you. In fact, based on my behavior in early childhood (I quit my soccer team at age 7 because they made us run one lap around the field), there is a strong possibility that I was born with far less motivation than you. With very few exceptions, no one is consistently any more motivated than anyone else. We all have our highs and lows, but motivation is fleeting. It is out of our control, and it comes and goes as it pleases. That’s why it is so unreliable.

When motivation goes away – normally about 6 days into any type of diet or new exercise regimen, for me – that’s where discipline comes in. Discipline is what we mistake for motivation in people who are doing the things we think we can’t do. Discipline is what must take over at 5 am when it’s snowing and we really, really don’t want to get out of our warm bed to run. Unlike motivation, some people are more consistently disciplined than others, and that is because discipline lies entirely within our control.

tumblr_n1z95bfvka1ql5yr7o1_r1_400 Kelly is apparently so dedicated to her workout that she runs in the middle of the street in NYC.

I think of discipline like a muscle – it has to be worked to grow stronger. Just like you wouldn’t start out trying to deadlift 300 pounds if you’ve never worked out before, it helps to start small with discipline, too. So much of our behavior and our habits are framed by our own perceptions of our ability to actually achieve our goal. If you’re like me and struggle majorly with self-doubt, there’s often a feeling of “Why bother? I’m just going to give up eventually anyway.” That’s why I’m a big believer in starting small – REALLY small – and building momentum from there.

The most recent time I’ve used this strategy was this past summer. I came off the Casper Marathon feeling frustrated and burnt out with running. I wanted to get my love for running back and take all the pressure off myself, so I decided to run only as far and as fast as I felt like on each day. My only goal was to get out there and run – even if it was just a run/walk down the block. For me, setting such a low bar helped me to build my confidence and believe that not only could I enjoy running again, I would eventually want to run faster and farther than just a couple of miles, and you know what? It worked. I eventually completed a whole marathon training cycle, enjoyed every second of it, and ran the Spinx Marathon and the Route 66 Marathon.

I tried to explain the difference between motivation and discipline to A.J. a few weeks ago when we were on vacation in Arizona. As you know, he’s training for a half marathon, but getting him out the door is a struggle sometimes. We had been gorging ourselves on food, drinking plenty of alcohol, staying up late, and generally just not taking great care of ourselves for a few days while we hung out with my best friend and her fiance. We had each brought one running outfit with us, so when we had a spare hour of time, I announced it was time to run and threw on my clothes. He just glared at me. “I don’t feel like running,” he said. “So?” I said. “Me either, but we haven’t run in a few days and this is probably our only chance.” “No,” he said. “I’m not that motivated.”

tumblr_ns5obbw9q01ql5yr7o1_500 This accurately sums up AJ’s feelings about running about 60% of the time. The other 40% of the time, he tolerates it.

I think the reason that sentence bothers me so much is because it implies that I have some magical powers that AJ does not have. I don’t. I didn’t want to run either, but running and training are a habit for me. I know I need to get my runs in, so I just do – whether I want to or not, unless I’m injured. Half the time, I don’t want to go, but experience has taught me that more likely than not, I’m going to be glad I went, so I go. I’m not perfect and maybe I don’t get in quite as many miles as I thought I would or run quite as fast as I expected, but if I made a promise to myself to get out the door, then I do. That’s discipline coming in to play, not motivation. There is nothing I am less motivated to do after a few days of gluttony than run, quite frankly. If I relied on motivation to get myself out the door, I’d run about once a month.

I don’t say this to say that I’m better than you, or AJ, or anyone else. I say this only to let you know that your power to keep your New Year’s resolutions or any other goals this year is totally up to you. Next time you find yourself saying “I’m not that motivated,” say instead, “I’m not that disciplined.” Ouch, right?! If that doesn’t light a fire under your ass, I don’t know what will. It works because it takes the blame off some nebulous external factor – “motivation” – and places it on something we can control – ourselves. All of a sudden, you’re in charge. You don’t have to be motivated at all. If you are motivated – great! But know that when that motivation fades, you still have the power to make the decisions that will propel you forward. I think there is something so empowering about that – WE are in control, not “motivation.” You don’t have to wait until you’re motivated. You don’t have to rely on motivation to keep you going. If you work on your discipline, you won’t need motivation, because you’ll be able to count on yourself. How awesome is that?! What better resolution could there possibly be?

tumblr_nxk9bk5k5b1ql5yr7o1_500 I’m not 100% sure what this means but it sounds good so ¯_(ツ)_/¯

So I guess that’s the difference between motivation and discipline: motivation comes from without, and discipline from within; motivation is fleeting, discipline is habitual; motivation is situational, discipline is consistent. Motivation is a New Year’s resolution, discipline is a lifelong change. Which will define your 2016?