As I’ve explained before, discipline is what most folks erroneously think of as the means to stick to an exercise routine (and/or dieting plan). That’s the militaristic, stick-in-the-mud view of what it takes to be fit and healthy.
What you require, in fact, to get fit and remain healthy for a long, long time, is a clear sense of purpose. You should never have to use discipline to keep moving; it must be part of who you are, of how you exist on this Earth.
Purpose goes well beyond motivation, though motivation can do you for a spell. Without a clear purpose, however, even motivation will wane and your exercise habit will go the way of so many other good ideas that just end up sitting on a shelf in your head.
Does that mean discipline is useless? Far from it. But in this series of short posts, I’m trying to explain the ways in which discipline is an essential component of your lifestyle.
Those ways are what I call The 5 Practices. Because there are 5. Only 5. Well, 5 main ones that I could think of when I planned this series. Maybe there are more, but these 5 strike me as the main ones. Oh, just read the post, and let me know if you can think of any more…
So what is Practice 2?
Simply put: Curb your enthusiasm.
It is the discipline of not acting rashly even when we feel capable and eager to do more (i.e. too much), or things that we are not yet ready for.
I could have called it “Stick to the Plan,” but often the problem comes precisely from making plans that are overly ambitious or enthusiastic. Especially if you don’t have a coach.
And even if you have a coach, it is too easy to convince the coach that you are ready for the next bigger thing (or too much work for the coach to constantly talk reason to you, not to mention too risky that you’ll seek another coach if that’s the case).
So the second practice of discipline is something you must impose on yourself. Primarily about your own eagerness.
Let me be very clear, just in case: What gets you to exercise regularly is your purpose, sometimes assisted by the motivation to reach a specific goal. Discipline serves to constrain your enthusiasm so that you stick to the plan, doing no more than what you are supposed to, so as to avoid burning out or getting hurt. Basically, discipline is not what gets you to exercise, or gets you to exercise more: It is what gets you to do exactly what you are supposed to.
How does the need for this practice come about?
The positive effects of exercise on the human body (and mind) are undeniable. Physiologically, we are meant to move a lot, and our animal bodies are at their best when we do. Everyday.
This results, in the long term, in better fitness and better health overall. Provided it is done the right way, without excessive stress leading to injury, this is the way to maximize the odds of living a long and active life.
In the short term, the physiological effects of exercise are also very positive; finishing a tough (but fair) workout results in a kind of euphoria that is regularly compared to a drug high. Or at least a very real sense of accomplishment. That is followed by a pleasant feeling of quiet fatigue often attributed to endorphins.
While beginning an exercise regimen is tough, when the enthusiasm of “getting back in shape” is combined with the excitement of the high and the subsequent relaxing low, the effect is one of wanting to do more, as soon as possible. It is quite addictive.
The process of going from sedentary to getting back in shape, the progress of the very beginning, with all its positive reinforcements, leads many to do way too much, too soon, and end up getting hurt. And stopping altogether.
For some, perhaps because they are younger or they manage to avoid an early injury, the phenomenon takes place after a first race or some other major event: They get hooked, so to speak, and want to do more, go faster, register for lots of races, etc. And then they get hurt. They can end up sidelined for months without being able to do much; in some cases they stop exercising altogether.
Either way, the problem is one of too much enthusiasm leading to not following a sound plan that is tailored to develop long-term fitness. The kind of fitness that leads to health. Fitness to race, to compete, even if it is “only” against oneself, is not fitness optimized for a long, healthy and active life. It is too short-term. And often counter-productive.
What’s someone to do?
So as you embark upon a new fitness program, or as you prepare for a new season of training in your chosen sport, curb your enthusiasm. Have that kind of discipline to tell yourself to not do too much.
Exercise and develop your ability to do more at a safe, reasonable pace. You’ll still get there, wherever “there” is for you. In fact, you may end up there faster, overall, as some have suggested (put that part has not been proven scientifically).
By all means, do more than you currently are. And celebrate your successes as you keep on moving (that’s really important, no matter how small they may appear to you, or insignificant to others). If you are into that sort of thing, do register for more events because that can help keep you focused on your purpose and keep track of your progress. But do so in a reasonable way, and for the right reasons.
Call it maturity, or wisdom. Call it “what the coach ordered” if it helps. It is certainly what our knowledge of exercise science, and my experience as a coach, indicate is best.
Ideally, get a coach to build you a program that is suitable for long-term fitness, and follow the plan. Even if you think you can do more.
The simple truth is that we are not the best judges of what is enough or sufficient when it comes to ourselves. But by being aware of this blind spot and/or asking for help to deal with it, you’ll do much better in the long term.
And that is why we need the second practice of discipline.
Pictures from Pixabay.