The definition of self-discipline is:
The ability to control one's feelings and overcome one's weaknesses; the ability to pursue what one thinks is right despite temptations to abandon it.
Self-discipline means acting in accordance with your thoughts, not your feelings. It's your ability to do something regardless of how you feel. Now, let's contrast that with motivation. Motivation is your desire to do something in the first place. And in fitness especially, both of these factors play key roles in practicing self-discipline.
At first glance, it seems like self-discipline should be easy. It’s a simple concept that yields great benefits for our well-being. But looks can be deceiving and what looks like a no-brainer decision can often require more effort than we are accustomed to.
I encounter people all the time who meet me and say things like "you must have it so easy" just because of the way I look. I’ve always been in shape, but I’ve also always had some sort of fitness routine.
I am 33 years old and I’ve spent my entire life honing my personal set of skills to maintain my own self-discipline. I look the way I do because I worked hard for it. It’s not just my genetics, it’s not just good luck. And the truth of the matter is, it’s not too late for anyone at any age to start exercising in some capacity in order to achieve a body they’re happy with.
A surprising fact is that the majority of the hard work we do in fitness is psychological. The psychological understanding of fitness training is why certifications like NASM require coaches like me to pass their courses on Client Relations and Coaching along with the Psychology of Exercise in order to be qualified to train a clients mind and body professionally. Many of the world's top coaches are incredibly astute empaths. Empaths tend to excel in industries that provide a service to others - fitness coaching requires an enhanced sense of intuition, sensitivity, and connection in order to effectively serve and coach other people.
All physical action starts with the mind. Master your mind and your thoughts, and you will master the development your body.
it’s important to change your perspective if your current state of mind is not providing the routine you desire.
Imagine you were a character in a video game, and you were controlling yourself. If you wanted to make your Video Game Self accomplish a goal, you’d simply click some buttons, and after a series of sequences your Video Game Self would reach whatever goal you commanded it to. However, for some reason in real life, getting yourself to do things is so much harder than pushing a few buttons on a game controller. But why is that the case?
The answer lies in the resistance you face within yourself. This resistance is self-inflicted but, this is something your Video Game Self doesn’t have to worry about.
Maybe next time you want to give into not staying disciplined, you can imagine you are playing a video game and you're the one controlling your actions and thus, your accomplishments.
This resistance to self-discipline comes in many forms, such as:
- Fear of failure
- Fear of the unknown
- Lack of energy
- Lack of confidence
Basically, you face resistance from the negative physical, mental, and emotional sensations that you go through when you attempt to accomplish something new.
These can be incredibly rough obstacles for some people and are a key element of why self-discipline is so challenging.
There is a well-studied phenomenon called Present Bias (you should click that link to learn more).
The simple breakdown of Present Bias states that most of the time you do things to benefit your Present Self while you discount the effects your actions have on your Future Self. You basically gaslight yourself in order to do what you want to do instead of what you need to do.
One of the reasons why self-discipline is so difficult for people, is because the things you want to do are often things where your Present Self has to do most of the work. But if your Future Self gets most of the benefits and your Present Self doesn’t like that deal, why do a ton of work just to benefit your Future Self?
One way around the problem of Present Bias is to learn to master the art of delayed gratification. That is, to train yourself (your mind/body) to resist short-term rewards in favor of long-term benefits.
I’ve worked with hundreds of clients over the years who needed help improving their self-discipline. I was trained to be a professional ballet dancer starting at the age of 6 and I understand that most people don’t grow up with the rigorous demands classical ballet training requires. With that being said, I believe anyone can make improvements to their routine, self care and overall life. All you have to do is make the decision to start a goal, and take action to achieve it.
Now, on to my Top 5 Excuses We Give Ourselves Not To Workout and some of my solutions to these common excuses.
1. "I’m too old, fat, uncoordinated or Embarrassed To Exercise"
Age ain’t nothin’ but a number, baby. Any physical movement can be modified to fit your physical abilities. Don’t let your perception of age or glossy images in magazines or movies convince you otherwise.
World renowned Cuban prima ballerina absoluta Alicia Alonso was 19 when she was diagnosed as partially blind. This didn’t stop her from making the necessary adjustments to her training and performing in order to dance like no other ballerina was dancing at the time. She became a legitimate ballet legend and she couldn’t even see her partners or the stage when she performed.
With her drive and determination, Alicia rehearsed extra hours with her ballet partners to perfect the details of their pas de deux. They had to work together to make sure her partner was consistently on his stage mark so she could find him. She was so blind at one point in her career she used special colored lights in different parts of the stage to guide herself during a performance.
Catch yourself starting to make up excuses to be lazy and interrupt that thought process. Try to do what Alicia did and persevere.
When anything we add to our lives is foreign or uncomfortable, it’s a natural response to avoid it. You cannot control the opinions of other people, you can only control yourself. So get over any behaviors driven by vanity and insecurity and get yourself into a winning mindset. At the end of the day, you only have one body so own it. Do not let your insecurities about age, or your narcissistic tendencies fueled by vanity hold you back from making healthy choices.
Historical research tells us that the “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” aphorism was coined in 1913.
This fun little saying was something my first ballet teacher would repeat during our classes every day from the time I was 6 to about 12/13. And it’s probably my first recollection of how an idea - or in this case a belief shaped into a physical act (a clever spoken word) - can influence a person's behavior in a positive way.
So let's edit that a bit for the sake of this blog and say "a workout a day keeps the doctor away."
Whether you feel too old, too overweight, too ridiculous in workout clothes, or too inexperienced - there is a simple solution:
Solution: Control yourself to start with a small change, perhaps an apple a day for example. Whatever the change may be, you should absolutely start with something.
2. "I'm Too Tired To Exercise"
Exercise is a mythical little paradox – it can make your muscles physically tired, but according to science you’ll actually feel more energized from doing it. Exercise literally increases your blood flow which means that your heart is pumping fresh oxygen to your brain, muscles, and tissues at a much faster rate than when you're still or at rest. Working out also promotes the release of neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin and natural endorphins that will make you feel better and more energized. Even moderate exercise can improve your energy levels.
- Solution #1: Assuming you are well rested and have eaten properly but are still “too tired” to workout, the solution is to shut down the excuse you give yourself and do a low impact workout. Begin with low to moderate intensity exercise. Try 30 minutes of cardio, walking, biking or yoga. Over time, move into more moderate or high-intensity exercise like weight training or a fitness class. Be aware of how your body reacts to working out and plan your next workout accordingly.
- Solution #2: Exercising with a friend can motivate you to keep your commitment to exercise even when you are tired. Peer pressure 101.
- Solution #3: Exercise during your most energetic time of the day. It may help to work out first thing in the morning before your day gets away from you. Can you wake up 30 minutes earlier or go into work 30 minutes later? Can you extend your lunch break in the middle of the day to allow for a brisk walk? Exercising after work might sound exhausting, but it will actually calm and invigorate you for a better evening and overall more restful sleep.
- NOTE: Exercise cannot make up for either not enough or poor quality sleep. Sleep apnea, mental disorders like anxiety or depression and other sleep disorders can disrupt your sleep cycles, leaving you tired all day. Talk with your doctor if you or your spouse feels your sleep is unusually compromised outside your scope of effort. Give it a shot, and see for yourself what can happen when you push yourself to be a little more active.
3. "I Can’t Afford A Gym"
The average cost of gym membership in the US is $58 (Moneycrashers). Among American gym members who actively use their membership, 55.4 million or 63.3% go to the gym at least twice a week, while 14.3 million or 16.34% go to the gym at least once a week (Finder). Annual fees for gym membership depend on location and the type of gym you want, but in general, you can expect to shell out anywhere between $500 and $700 for an annual membership (The Trusty Spotter, 2019).
Did you know the average gym member “underutilized” two-thirds of their gym dues—roughly $39 per month, or $468 per year (The Hustle 2019)?
You can trust me when I say I understand that gyms aren't always cheap. I worked in luxury fitness for 7 years; 5 at Equinox and 2 at an LA startup called THE WALL. The focus on sales for membership and personal training is key to keeping operations and profits flowing.
Here is a little insider tip: there are usually bigger or unadvertised deals given towards new member sign ups towards the end of each month. Read my blog here, for more on negotiating to sign up for a lower monthly membership rate.
Ok, I digress. Let's say even with some insane deal on membership costs you still can't find it in your budget to join a gym or buy a Peloton. Well it’s your lucky day because lack of money doesn't prevent you from exercising, the lack of knowledge does.
- Solution #1: Trade spending money on a gym membership and worrying about whether or not it'll be worth the commute or the investment, look for more affordable solutions like creating a simple home gym or taking a brisk 30 minute walk in your neighborhood to start. My belief is if you can get yourself into a simple routine for free, the motivation to invest long term in your fitness will increase exponentially.
Solution #2: There are free options on the internet with outlets like YouTube and Instagram that provide tons of great free or low low cost virtual classes you can do in your living room. I offer select free or very affordable exercise videos available from me via my private virtual coaching program BEN FRIEND BODY.
Click the link to apply today.
- Solution #3: There are tons of free fitness, yoga or other kinesiology related books you can discover at your public Library. For some people reading is a better way to process information and it can be incredibly calming and therapeutic. Friend, where there is a will, there is a way!
4. "I'm Not Motivated To Exercise"
If the prospect of losing weight or taking proper care of your general health isn’t enough of a reason to exercise and you need extra incentives, look for ways to find what will work to motivate you to get moving.
For most healthy adults, the US Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week, or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity. And in my professional opinion, this is a conservative suggestion for what we actually need to be healthy, fit adults.
Research has found that sitting for long periods of time may negatively affect your health, even if you otherwise get the recommended amount of weekly activity. If you sit for several hours a day at work, aim to take regular breaks during the day to move, such as walking to get a drink of water or standing during phone conversations or video meetings.
- Solution #1: Make a chart or keep a diary documenting your workouts and what you feel you gained and could improve on from each workout. The physical act of logging this information can be motivating and inspiring. By keeping a diary, you will learn to understand yourself and your strengths by documenting your mindset, your behavior and thoughts that can later be referenced. The process of writing/documenting your plans, progress, failures and successes trains your brain to embrace new habits or behaviors much more easily.
- Solution #2: Reward yourself for meeting your goal of working out – and make it a reward that you really want. If you love massages, book a massage at the end of every month when you complete your target number of workouts. If you like donuts, eat your favorite one as a treat or as part of your cheat meal. Rewarding your hard work wires your brain to accept challenges by associating the difficulty of a task with the positive effect created by our brain's own natural chemical reward system. So all you have to do is literally use your brain.
- Solution #3: If you are suffering from clinically diagnosed depression, speaking with your doctor about what treatments are available is key to ensure you are making the right choices about your body. One theory is that physical activity triggers a release of dopamine and serotonin, which can improve mood. But there are other reasons exercise plays a crucial role in mental well-being. For example, exercise can be particularly helpful for people who deal with anxiety and panic attacks. Look at your situation and examine all the options available to you. And remember: you're not alone. Many fitness pros have suffered from past struggles with addiction or other mental health issues and those experiences are what introduced many of them to fitness in the first place.
5. "I’ve Tried Before And I Can’t Stick With A Program"
If you set goals that are small and realistic, I guarantee you will be more likely to feel like a success instead of a failure. Learning to commit to your well-being by following a consistent and engaging exercise routine, is a choice you and only you can make. So why not make it?
When I was working in corporate structured luxury fitness, I would tell new potential clients that no matter how unsure you feel about a new routine, stick with it for 3-6 months before giving up or quitting.
I've worked with hundreds of clients and the ones that quit early, we’re either never seen again OR I would hear a progress report months down the line where they'd express the feeling of still being in a sort of "limbo" when trying to find a routine that works for them.
And what about the clients who stuck with their routine for at least 3-6 months? Well, the ones that loved their routine either renewed their memberships/increased their exercise frequency OR they tried something long enough to realize they wanted to go in a different direction and felt more confident about their choice. Due to the experience of actually sticking to a program, clients who still wanted to make a change in their fitness choices were able to make a more informed decision on what a workable routine looked like for them. Knowledge is power and they increased their knowledge as a result of committing to a fitness experience.
So what are some things you can try if you can’t stick to exercising regularly?
- Solution #1: Workout with a bestie. Having an exercise buddy keeps you accountable. You are more likely to show up to exercise if you know someone is expecting you to be there. And it's always nice to have the support of someone you trust and are comfortable around anytime you do something that might tap into our natural set of insecurities.
- Solution #2 : Log and post your gym sesh, hike or workout in a public space. You know those people we see at the gym taking selfies? There's a reason many of them do this: it's their step in taking personal accountability for working out. If you're not the selfie-taking type, you can easily post your workout schedule/plans on your refrigerator, your bathroom mirror or even on social media platforms like Instagram or Facebook. Your friends and family can offer words of encouragement and this type of healthy visibility will keep you accountable. A log also helps you see if you’re starting to slack off.
- Solution #3: Remember the importance of you, the individual. Forget the flashy gym or the “cool” Peloton. Forget not looking perfect or fitting a societal beauty mold. When you’re alone with yourself in front of a mirror, look into that reflection and ask yourself how ok are you with never making a change? If you were to look and feel the way you are in this moment forever, would you be happy? Would you be healthy? Would you be proud?
Lack of commitment serves no positive purpose - even in cases of perceived benefits for your present self. The choice to commit is both a personal thing and something that affects the relationships in your life including: friendships, romantic interests and work relationships.
Commitment is a strong indicator of self-discipline, resilience and persistence. It is a value that differentiates the stout-hearted from the weak. People who are committed, do their very best even outside their comfort zones. People who are committed have learned the strength in taking accountability for making their own choices and not making up excuses to be noncommital.
Making a commitment entails sacrifice. It involves binding one’s self to a course of action, a promise, a pledge, or a firm agreement. To make a commitment, therefore, involves a seriousness of disposition, sincerity of decision and steadfastness towards its completion. Breaking a it can easily damage integrity or reputation and can negatively impact your self-esteem. No wonder, commitment, like honesty, is a lonely word (as a song goes).
Life in our so-called modern era has conditioned us to desire a life of ease, of quick gratifications and of less discomfort. There’s really nothing wrong with desiring an easier life, but what is troubling is that many of this generation now expect to receive abundant rewards with minimal effort. It’s so easy to give up on something that requires extra effort, sacrifice of time, and sharing of vulnerability. And to make it worse, there are those who believe that legitimate goals may be sought through illegitimate means provided that those means offer a short-cut to the goal in mind.
People who are not committed lack focus and usually end up making many damaging life choices. They struggle in sacrificially working towards their dreams and in holding on to them long enough to reach their end goals. They lack competence in self-management, especially in the areas of: integrity, achievement, drive, realistic optimism, resilience and integrity.
Because commitments ultimately shape and define the identity of who we are as a person, we become what we are committed to.
Many people who are afraid to commit to anything, often just drift through life aimlessly. They may find it more difficult to reap a harvest of good fortune and they often find themselves feeling unfulfilled and insignificant. But those who make commitments and make choices to honor them, will gain favor and a good reputation in their social circle, accomplish their goals, and reap a generous harvest rich with rewards.
The choices you make in one part of your life will inevitably spill over into others. Ask yourself if you are truly satisfied with where you currently or if there is room for improvement.
Now that you've hopefully been inspired to workout, get to moving! Set your goals, make it fun and don’t forget to pat yourself on the back from time to time.
Remember, the relationship you have with physical activity is personal and it is life-long.
Review these tips whenever you feel like your motivation to stay committed is slipping. And reach out to me if you’d like to work together 1-on-1 to look and feel your best.
Hey Ben! I love your instagram and your website! I hope you blog more because I really enjoy your perspective and delivery of expert tips. Your insight is very deep and I love to read about your history as a dancer and trainer. You really are a unique human being!