I am the least disciplined person I know! At least in the way people use this term in the fitness community. People often refer to discipline as - the ability to avoid temptation…while acting in a manner that is in sync with their goals. AKA not doing what you really want to do. These same people often praise me by admiring my “discipline”. Well, I am here to tell you that I possess little to none of this definition of discipline and I believe I can help you find an easier way to succeed.
Thought - If you need to be disciplined to stick to your fitness and diet plan, maybe you just need to fix your environment.
If relying on your discipline was necessary for success, success would be reserved only for those who possess strong discipline. If discipline is something you struggle with, you’re not alone and I don’t think you have to accept this as a reason to fail to achieve your goals. I struggle with discipline myself, but I am going to share with you why I don’t let it hold me back.
WARNING!!! This is going to take an uncomfortable level of honesty with yourself. But if you can manage that you may just live a bit more peacefully after we do our little experiment.
Let’s start with what we know to be unchangeable truths.
Human beings are wired to:
- Do things that result in instant gratification
- Want things in which we cannot have
- Seek out comfort wherever possible
Each time we fight one of these urges we start using up our finite discipline points.
If we were to play a game where we only had 10 discipline points per day, watch how tough an ordinary day could be.
6:00 AM - Your alarm goes off and you still feel a bit tired. Instead of snoozing 3 times you stay disciplined and get out of bed right away. There goes 1 point.
6:30 AM - While packing the kids’ lunches you realize you have nothing for yourself and there is no time to fix that. You consider stealing a Little Debbie snack from the kids’ snack cabinet, but you refrain. 2 points down the drain.
7:00 AM - You stop at the coffee shop on the way to work and you are tempted by their menu to get a sugar-filled coffee, and it's only .99 cents more for breakfast hash browns! Assuming you survive this boobytrap and get a black coffee and no food, avoiding those 2 tempting options just burned discipline points 3 & 4.
8:00 AM - You get to the office, and someone brings in your favorite donuts to celebrate a birthday. “No thank your delicious doughnut!” You say as you sadly watch discipline point 5 disappear.
12:00 PM - Lunchtime rolls around and everyone is ordering from a local restaurant. Since you’ve been so busy making the kids’ lunches you neglected to be prepared for your own and order the salad instead of the less healthy options for your coworkers indulge in every day. 6 points gone by lunch!
1:30 PM - You’re being pressured by deadlines, but you hold yourself back from unloading about how impossible your workload is and bringing down the whole office. Great self-restraint, but that's “discipline” as well. Bye-bye discipline point #7
2:00 PM - You dial into your work like a college kid on Adderall. You have no choice, if you get stuck late at work you don't have time to get to the gym before you need to taxi the kids around to their sports. Getting out of work and to the gym took a major effort but we will only take 1 point for that accomplishment. 8 down, 2 to go.
6:30 PM - Dinner time is here before you know it and ordering out would give you a moment to relax, but you stay true to your goals and cook for the fam! Cutting it close, only 1 point left.
6:45 PM - You remember how picky your youngest is and make some mac & cheese to avoid the fight. She eats 1 bite and you're left with the rest getting cold on the counter. It pains you to scrape it into the garbage, but you’re serious about your health and you got to do what you got to do. As this ordinary day winds down, you are all out of your defenses. You fought a great fight and dodged so many traps, but no one is there to celebrate your victories, no one knows the struggle it took to get through dinner without abandoning your fitness goals.
8:00 PM - With no energy or discipline points left it can be very easy to eat a comforting dessert, sink into the couch like a zombie watching hours of reality TV, or put off preparing your lunch for the next day. No way you have the energy remaining to lay out your clothes for the next day, create a to-do list of all your responsibilities so they don't keep you up all night, get the kids showered and to bed. And if you can’t get all that done, how the heck are you supposed to get to bed in time to get a full 8 hours. If you’re not able to get that full night of sleep you’re destined to wake up groggy with a depleted discipline tank the next day and the cycle repeats itself.
If you’re like me and my clients, then you can relate to the end of the day battle. Avoiding snacks, not sinking into the couch, getting prepared for the next day, getting to bed on time. With poor planning, most people are left exhausted and frazzled like this at the end of each day.
Let’s talk about what to do about it.
STEP 1: Identify the Issues - Make a list of every temptation throughout the day
STEP 2: Suspend Judgement - Telling yourself that your situation is special helps no one
STEP 3: Implement 1 Thing at a Time - Start from the beginning of your day and go from there
STEP 4: Be Patient - Change is tough, be tougher
STEP 5: Be Understanding - Some days no matter what you do life will still get you! Forgive yourself and move on.
It’s easiest to bulletproof our day starting at the beginning. You may think the beginning is in the morning, but by then it’s already too late. Let’s start by getting you to bed on time.
Bedtime = Wake up time - 9 hours (this gives you 1 hour to settle in and fall asleep)
Start by holding yourself true to this 1 detail, for now, nothing else matters. How can you fix your day if you can’t get out of bed without a fight? You may already be defeated knowing you haven't had 8 hours of sleep in 10 years, but let’s keep playing the hypothetical game. If it was a non-negotiable, if you had to etch out 9 hours of your day for your sleep routine, what are some ways you could do it?
Once you solve this Rubik's Cube it’s time to start tackling each obstacle 1 at a time. On day 1 take a note of every bit of temptation you encounter, both the ones you avoided and the ones you fell victim to. For me, the first is my morning coffee. I kick this obstacle’s ass every day by only drinking cold black coffee. May not sound exciting, but damn is it easy to wake up and grab a coffee that is already prepared and waiting for me in my fridge. No discipline there, there is no obstacle to my good decision and no temptation to be found. Seriously, check my cabinets, no sugar in sight. Real sugar or the fake stuff, I'm not playing that game. I will lose every time.
The goal is to identify every pitfall that could tempt you and create a permanent plan to fix it. If we require decision-making on a daily basis we are going to fail. The average human is capable of making 15 good decisions a day, don’t squander them on trifles. I entirely made that statistic up, but if we agree to accept it as truth, I bet we can make living a healthy and fulfilling life easier! Things that are of truly little importance in the big picture of your life and happiness should be automated and mindless. We do not have enough bandwidth to battle a decision with our coffee first thing every morning.
Just like playing a video game, you get to wake up each day and give that level another try. How far through the level can you get without using up all your lives AKA discipline points. This video game is hard as F*@k because our world is designed to tempt us. Advertising pulls our attention and tries to influence us everywhere we look. Our cell phones are pinging us every few seconds pulling our eyes off our mission. Be forgiving with yourself that you’re not perfect from day 1, but just because change is hard do not fool yourself into relying on discipline.
For me, I know that I possess no discipline. For this reason, here is my routine.
1 - Each night I make my “power list” - 5 critical tasks that I must accomplish the next day. Thank you, Andy Frisella! I also prepare my coffee and put it in the fridge. (I hate hot coffee; I want the caffeine and I want it over with.) I also put my clothes out and pack my bag just like it's the night before my first day of middle school. It is rare for me not to have all of this done and be showered in bed before 9 pm…very rare!
2 - I wake up and make no decisions. Clothes, bag, coffee all ready. I head off to work and don’t even think about food until at least 12 o’clock.
3 - My first meal is usually a feast of meat and a potato, there will be the occasional fish, egg, or vegetable in there. It’s boring, but I always have it on deck, it does the trick, and it is easy to prepare.
4 - By 2 PM I am full of my feast, and I know I am only eating 1 more meal that day, probably something similar because that's about all you can find in my kitchen.
5 - I’m a little more laid back about my workouts because I am very active at work and go for a walk with my wife and dog every night.
I understand that my life is simpler than most and you might be saying “All of that is impossible with all of my responsibilities.” I hear you; I understand you, and I totally get it. But answer me this, your life is too busy to drink black coffee and skip breakfast?
Trying to tackle your whole life all at once is overwhelming. Start 1 day at a time with 1 thing at a time. You know YOUR struggles and YOUR obstacles better than me so believe me; I am not saying that this is simple for everyone. But I am saying you can probably do a heck of a lot better than you’re doing now if you give it a shot.
When I first started writing this piece my plan was to disprove the existence of discipline. I can’t say that discipline isn’t a real thing, but I hope that I have shown you how poor of a strategy relying on it can be. My hope is that the fitness industry will stop celebrating discipline because it is glorifying the wrong things. I stay fit and healthy because I simplify all that does not serve my life, not because I am disciplined.
At every moment of every day, I do what I want to do. It just so happens that I manipulated my environment and my mindset to want for things that serve me well. 7 days a week I live the same pattern and I love it! When I am found outside of this pattern, I am like a dog who escaped the backyard, I don’t hold back… I indulge. I feel that I have accumulated so many excess health points from simplifying my usual life that I have more than enough room to get away with this on the rare occasion that I leave my safe space.
I hope I have encouraged you to do an audit of your safe space! If you’re inspired by this message, please share. If you know anyone who may wake up to see the reality, send it over to them. And if you believe in my message but are struggling to implement it just reach out to me! I got your back!