Discipline is sometimes a scary notion when it comes to fitness. Simply mentioning the word itself is enough to drive many people out of the gym and to second-guess their diet programs. It’s a word that is cloaked in ideas of sacrifice and deprivation.
The fact of the matter is that we like to have our cake and eat it too. We don’t like entertaining the thought that big results must come with high costs. Telling someone that a fit and sexy body will only be had through disciplined habits can be like telling a store customer that everything in the store is wildly expensive the moment they walk in the door.
Ironically, discipline is one of the most empowering and liberating principles in a healthy lifestyle. When used skillfully, discipline can give you more freedom and enjoyment in life then you could ever have without it. The fact that it also empowers you to reach your highest levels of fitness is simply icing on the cake.
Let’s start right off with this notion that discipline is about sacrifice and deprivation. Disciplined habits do often require that you give up or abstain from doing something but that doesn’t always mean something negative. A disciplined mind is a mind that is focused and has forsaken those other things that serve as costly distractions. These distractions are what drain you of your quality and freedom of life as well as your potential to succeed.
Let’s take the example of building muscle. When we have a disciplined approach with building muscle, we have a few key habits and principles that we follow. We don’t get distracted with all of the latest fads or little tricks and gimmicks. Say for example, you want to build more muscle and strength in your legs. Someone who is disciplined about building strong legs will take a few exercises, like squats or lunges, and practice them with consistency and progression over a long period of time. Come hell or high water, they stay on their squat program and work hard to progress their skill at squatting.
Now let’s look at someone who is less disciplined. A less disciplined mind is one that is easily distracted. One week they are using the leg press and then the next week they are working on their plyometrics. The next week they are using an isometrics program and then it’s HIIT. It seems like every time you meet them they are working on some new fad or trend. Even their desire to have strong legs is something that becomes inconsistent and wavered. One day they are interested in building strong legs for running and then next week they don’t care about strong legs, instead they are worried about their heart rate.
As I mentioned before, the notion of discipline often conjures up ideas of chains and shackles. However, in this example we see that the disciplined squatter has the greatest amount of freedom. They have a set plan in place and they know that all they need to do is dedicate a certain amount of time and energy towards putting their plan into practice. They don’t have to concern themselves with doing loads of research or catching up on the latest trends. They simply have to focus on a few key variables (like progression and consistency) and ensure that they don’t get distracted from them.
While the person in the second example may have that “freedom” to do anything and everything, they lack the structure to actually hold onto that freedom and to conserve their energy. Ironically, the person who has the least amount of discipline is the one who is doing the most work.
Discipline may sometimes mean that we have to put in more effort initially but eventually it means that we don’t have to put in nearly as much work to achieve success. Discipline is like any other form of skill or strength. It grows over time with consistency and progressive practice. The undisciplined individual is constantly working and struggling to restart and maintain their exercise program. Their on and off habits drain their motivation and self-esteem while eroding their personal power.
The disciplined individual however has long made the habit of exercise second nature so sticking to a regular routine of exercise is in fact very easy for them. This frees up their time and energy even further so it can be applied towards progressing their results rather than constantly struggling to just stay on track.
So the real question is how do you use and practice discipline to both bring you greater results and to enhance your lifestyle freedom. The first step is to get a clear and basic focus on the things that are most important for your specific goals. If your goals are weight loss or fat level management then your calorie levels are the single most important thing. If building muscle is your concern then the frequency and the intensity of the tension within those muscles is the primary concern. If performance at a particular skill or activity is your focus then practicing and progressing that very skill and activity should be first and foremost on your mind.
Everything else outside of these three considerations is merely a distraction that can potentially rob you of your lifestyle resources like time and energy. The next step is to create yourself a basic and simple game plan on how you are going to go about focusing on these factors. If controlling calories is your primary concern then make a basic plan for having a consistent and reliable diet strategy. If building muscle is your main concern then select a few basic exercises and build a program on when you will practice them. The same can be said for improving your skills in a particular activity.
Once you have your basic game plan, the practice of discipline comes through not in just executing that plan but in executing that plan without getting distracted. You’re not avoiding other distractions because they may be harmful in and of themselves. Instead you are avoiding the distractions because they take time and energy away from the practices that you have already laid out that will get you to your goals.
The last lesson I must drive home is that discipline involves patience. It takes discipline to stay on a program for months or even years at a time. History has shown that much of the success in any endeavor comes from simply not giving up and sticking to the plan long enough. It takes discipline to keep pressing forward even if you hit a setback or a plateau. And most of all it takes discipline to not be distracted by every new and shiny trend that comes your way.
At the end of the day, distractions rob you of your ultimate potential to reach your goals and they steal your lifestyle freedom. Discipline is what gives you power to transform and maintain the changes that you want to see while also giving you the freedom to live on your own terms. Discipline is not something that you want to keep at arms length. Instead, discipline is like a suit of armor that protects your potential and your lifestyle freedom and it’s something you want to wrap yourself in and let it embrace every inch of yourself.