Discipline vs motivation is everywhere these days. I don’t know about you, but I read about discipline vs. motivation all the time. Rely on discipline, not motivation, they say. Develop your discipline because the motivation will not always be there, they say.
Jocko is saying it: Discipline equals freedom. David Goggins lives it, a mile at a time. Nearly every trending motivational reel in the fitness space highlights the importance of discipline over motivation.
They’re not wrong, and it’s not a new concept, but I’d like to give real life examples for what that looks like. I am blessed to be able to see this is action across the board, from my clients as they navigate fitting in fitness in their life.
Motivation vs Discipline
Motivation is so fun! It hypes you up, it amps you to go get it, to go do what you need to do. Motivation makes you WANT to do what you need to do. That’s the joy of motivation: it drives you, it pulls you! It makes it easy to go to the gym and get your training done.
When things are going great, motivation is easy; it comes naturally. If you’ve been training your abs hard and you start to see the progress, you want to go to the gym. You want to continue. It drives you!
Discipline, on the other hand, is steady and consistent. Discipline is orderly and measured. If you are disciplined in your approach to training, you’ll do it because you committed. If you are disciplined, you’ll get your training in when you aren’t highly motivated.
The problem with motivation, however, is that it can be fleeting. You won’t be motivated every day, and that’s fact. Motivation changes with your mood, the weather, how busy you are and how you slept.
Discipline gets you to the gym when you don’t want to go. Discipline helps you get your protein when you’d rather go for a tub of ice cream.
Discipline Over Motivation
Discipline and motivation certainly aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, in many cases, they make an upward cycle of success. If you are disciplined in the tasks that drive you toward your goals, you’ll likely see more success in reaching them. Success is fun! That leads to motivation, which makes carrying out your discipline easier.
Life always has a way of changing though, sometimes for better and sometimes for worse. When it changes for worse, motivation is tough. It’s HARD to go to the gym when you are so so busy. It’s ROUGH to muster up the energy for exertion when you aren’t sleeping well.
Discipline allows you to commit to a training schedule, so you push through those challenges and get your tasks done. Remember, exercise is rate limited; you can’t exercise a year’s worth of work in a month. You have to do it consistently throughout your life. This is the way to see success.
How My Clients Use Discipline
My clients have often been my biggest inspirations, as I’ve seen them use discipline to commit to their training through a variety of challenging life situations. I’ve seen parents who are absolutely slammed busy make time for their exercise, people who have had physical setbacks approach their training with the most can-do attitude imaginable. And impressively, I’ve seen people who have been consistent and disciplined for decades.
My client Paul moved last summer from one house, to a temporary house for a month, and finally to his family’s new home. He trains with bands and dumbbells, and exercises outdoors. Did I mention that it is hot here in the Central Texas heat? Hot!
He kept his training consistent through the time, weather and schedule challenges. I am always interested to know how successful people find their way so I asked him how he maintained his consistency.
He reminded me that he has been doing some sort of exercise since he was 16. It has become part of his life to that point that he will make sure to include it. He said it feels off if he doesn’t exercise.
Remember, discipline turns into long term success.
A Working Mother Employs Discipline in Her Training
Most of my clients have jobs and families and find really great and creative ways to get their training in. One of my clients in particular impresses me with how she manages it all. She is self employed and runs a service based business. She has two adorable kids who are fun and healthy and active (read: busy!). Her husband works as well and they are a great team.
Through the years of training together, she has put it on her calendar to get her training in despite being busy. Here are some creative ways she has made her training happen when it would have been easier to skip or cancel:
- Lifted at home with dumbbells, including the children when they were home during summer.
- Walked in her neighborhood, including walking the kids to school.
- Pivoted to pool sessions during covid. Great use of outside and distance.
- Increased the intensity of sessions when the time was cut short (hard 30-45 minute sessions instead of an hour). Thanks, Austin traffic.
- Trained while keeping an ear bud in to listen to a call that she wanted to learn from.
I’m so impressed by how she gets work done, even when it’s not a perfectly planned 60 minute session. This has allowed her to maintain her strength and build her health over the years.
There are many social benefits to exercise too!
Working Through Injuries
Another client I am working with now is also trainer, and friend of mine. He tore his pec doing jiu jitsu, and we are structuring his rehab and return to training. He’s a strongman competitor and trainer and has been active for many years. He has done strongman, jiu jitsu, hypertrophy training and is now working with a new goal: get back to 100% intensity training.
It’s hard to see your ability change, and it takes patience, commitment and yes, discipline to work through an injury. He impresses me, because I know he will get it done and return stronger than before.
It’s What I Do
As someone who has had a love-hate relationship with exercise, I have experience elation, burnout, contentment and sheer fatigue surrounding my training. This is why I was so intrigued and impressed with Paul’s explanation.
“It’s what I do.”
No tortured lamenting about lack of time or energy or desire, just a matter of fact statement that it’s what he does.
No relying on fleeting motivation.
And you know what? It works, when we just do what we know we need to do.
Hope you have a wonderful week, and find the motivation and discipline to do what you need to do! If I can help you in any way, please let me know!
Related: Here’s how to modify a session if it needs to run quicker
About the author
Kathryn Alexander is a strength coach and personal trainer in Austin, Texas. She loves hiking, college football, and the feel of a perfectly knurled barbell. Read more about Kathryn here.