Discipline: The 5 Practices – Practice 2

Exercise, Everyday, Discipline, Motivation, Purpose

Get moving, keep on moving, and celebrate your accomplishments. But curb your enthusiasm, or risk seeing it all come crashing down.

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.

Exercise, Everyday, Coaching,

Do more. But don’t do too much. If you want to keep on moving.

Pictures from Pixabay.

Discipline: The 5 Practices – Practice 1

Exercise, Discipline, Sleep

Sometimes you need a little discipline. But perhaps not the way you think.

As I wrote  earlier on this blog, discipline is not the way to get going or even keep exercising.

For that, you need a Purpose. Otherwise, you’ll fail, or be very miserable in the process (or make a lot of people around you miserable, which is worse).

Discipline has more to do with strict regimentation of activities. It is a control mechanism, an enforcer of behaviour, not a motivation mechanism. So it is often tiring to use, depleting of energy, and detrimental in the long term.

But discipline is useful in many ways to keep you on target.

When you have a Purpose, at times you need to make sure you are able to stick to an exercising routine. You need to ensure that you do not put obstacles in your own way as you head towards a specific event/objective, or as you work towards better health through fitness.

So discipline enters into it, although perhaps not in the way you might expect.

This series of posts will discuss and illustrate what discipline is all about, and in which aspects of your life it can help you to move towards your goals.

There are essentially 5 ways, or 5 practices, of discipline to consider, in my estimation. Today I’ll cover the first practice; it is one that you may never have thought of as having anything to do with “discipline.” But under my definition it is.

Discipline Practice 1: Sleep

Get enough sleep, every day (night), both in quantity and in quality.

In a society where sleep is vilified, derided as a waste of time, is it any surprise coffee shops are doing so much business?

We live in a time of denials: denial of our deep connection to all living creatures, which causes us to destroy our environment; denial of our own limited knowledge, which causes us to think we can feed ourselves highly processed nutrients and it will be just as good as natural foods; denial of our animal nature, which leads us to believe we can function outside of the natural cycles we have evolved with.

I want to focus on the third of these denials, because it is driving us crazy, and preventing us from being as fit and healthy as we can be. I’m talking about our conviction that we should only sleep a few hours per day.

How often do you hear someone say things like “I only need 5 or 6 hours of sleep per night”? Or make even more extreme claims of that nature? Yet science is pretty clear on the subject: we need 7.5 to 9 hours of sleep per night, on average, to be fully functional.

Sure, you can get by less than that for a night or two in a row, but when you start accumulating a sleep debt, you rapidly get in trouble. Some people, a very few, can get by with less than the average (that’s why it’s an average, but that also means some need more). Those of us not getting enough sleep are asking for (and often getting into) trouble.

Read the Signs

Our society is making it sound like sleep is useless. But just watch the daily habits of those “more than 6 hours of sleep per night is a waste of time” folks. I guarantee you’ll see more than one of the following behaviours:

  • Lot’s of coffee drinking in the morning
  • So-called “energy drinks” during the day
  • Pastries and muffins for breakfast
  • Sweets and high-calories snacks
  • Meals eaten “on the go” for breakfast and lunch
  • Working in the evening
  • Not much exercising; if any, typically short and intense workouts
  • TV watching late at night

It is a “go, go, go!” lifestyle fueled by lots of drugs (caffeine, mostly, I hope) and lots of stimulating food (i.e. sugary, fatty). And with a constant bombardment of false urgency coming from work and the media, and the occasional short burst of intense activity.

When they finally fall asleep, it is only because their bodies are so tired that they manage to overcome the stimulants. Then they wake up groggy and tired, but won’t admit it, and start the cycle all over again.

This is no way to live. It takes a toll on your body, in many ways: lack of energy, weight gain, trouble sleeping (paradoxically, but not unexpectedly).

So, what are we to do about it?

Let’s face it, a healthy lifestyle starts with good sleep.

That’s why the first practice of discipline consists in going to bed; having what some call “good sleep hygiene.”

So the first discipline you need to cultivate is to get to bed at a time that allows you to get enough sleep to fully recover from the hard labours (including exercising) of the day.

What does “get to bed” mean, exactly?

Getting to bed is not a milestone, a point in time: It is a process. It begins earlier in the evening, or even earlier in the day. It includes:

  • Not drinking coffee or tea, the caffeinated versions, in the evening or even the afternoon.
  • Choosing calming activities in the evening; if you need to exercise in the evening, do so earlier in the evening, preferably before dinner.
  • Establishing a routine (brushing teeth, perhaps a shower, some light stretching, etc.) that excludes watching TV or surfing Facebook before going to bed, or worse, while in bed.
  • Doing some light reading with yellow-neutral lighting for a few minutes before falling asleep. (And I do mean reading from one of those old-fashioned things called “books,” not from the screen of a computer or tablet…)

Until it becomes an ingrained routine, a habit, you may need to force yourself. You may need to discipline yourself to sleep better. It may feel strange at first, as if you are letting someone down. But in fact you are putting your health first, and that’s a good thing.

It may feel as if you are not getting as much done, but you’ll soon realize that a lot of what we do is not that urgent. And you’ll learn to prioritize better (because it is amazing how much time we waste in a day).

So, starting now, use Discipline Practice 1. Set a trigger time by which to begin your pre-bed routine, and hit the sack at the time you’ve chosen, no matter what.

You’ll feel better in the morning, and you’ll be more capable of doing all the things you might have postponed the night before…

Sleep, Health, Fitness, Everyday, Exercise, Discipline

Some understand the importance of sleep. And let’s face it: Cats are cute.

Pictures from Pixabay.

Discipline, Motivation, and Purpose

How are we to be everyday athletes, to move and exercise regularly, and eat well?

If you think it is all a matter of discipline, you are not alone. If you think it is about motivation, you are in good company. And, like most people, you are wrong in either case.

There is a lot of confusion about discipline and motivation. And little is usually said about purpose. For a long time, I was not clear on those concepts either. People would tell me I must have a lot of self-discipline, and in fact I possess a good amount, but it was not what would get me up in the morning to train. I was simply very motivated. And like all things that come from motivation, eventually it died down, and I was left empty.

Until I found my purpose.

It all makes sense now, because a good friend recently explained it to me. So I’ll try to explain it as I understand it; maybe it will make sense to you as well.

Imagine you are working out and feeling the urge of going harder or longer than the plan called for, just because it feels so good. Discipline is stopping yourself from going off the plan. Discipline is necessary to make sure we do what we are supposed to do, no more, no less, and thus avoid undermining our health and future training sessions. Discipline is what keeps you from turning an easy session with a friend into a race against your friend. Poor discipline combined with high motivation is a recipe for burnouts and injury.

If you use discipline as the way to get yourself to exercise, to keep yourself going, then you are in an authoritarian regime where the stick is all you know. It is a harsh way of doing things, and not healthy in the long run because it lacks the balance that comes from other aspects of life, like listening to your body, and just letting go at times.

Motivation is related to our very natural tendency to want, the reward center of our brains. It is what gets you to sign up for a fun cardio-zumba-yoga-boxing class, to join a gym with cool instructors and funky new ways of working out, or to launch yourself passionately into a new sport. It is at times what keeps you going when going through a rough patch, like a divorce; it is the desire to make a change in your life. It is pleasure; a shiny carrot, in comparison to discipline’s stick.

But motivation is fleeting; wanting is the true constant. The fun new class eventually becomes just one more thing on your busy schedule, before being dropped altogether. It is why once you’ve overcome the rough patch, or been around the block of the new sport a little, it loses its appeal, and motivation is gone. Motivation leads to lack of motivation, and it is only natural, because we tend to want the next shiny new carrot…

Purpose, then, is what drives you. It is effortless, because it comes from within; neither a stick nor a carrot; it is simply who you are. The problem is that we seldom know what our purpose truly is, in life in general, but particularly when it comes to fitness.

How do you find your purpose in a sense that will guide you to fitness? You must first ask yourself, frankly, honestly, how you want your life to be in the long term. We could spend a lot of time figuring it out, and some day we might, but for now I can offer some tricks to make it take shape.

Exercise, Everyday, Movement

Living a long, active, and healthy life.

To some, it may be the realization of wanting to live a long, healthy life with a partner. Perhaps the vision of growing old and active with kids and grand-kids around. To others, it may truly be to become cardio-zumba-yoga-boxing champion, when it is finally included in the Olympics.

It may be tempting to define it in terms of what you don’t want your life to become (overweight, sick, dependent on others, etc.) but it is far more powerful to envision your purpose in positive terms, whatever you choose it to be. Fear can kick-start better habits, but it is purpose that will keep you going.

Beware of framing something too short-term, even if it is a major life event like doing an Ironman, or crossing the US on your bike. Such goals might do you for a spell, but once realized, the motivation (because that’s really what they are) will fade. Aim for how you want your life to be, not just for the things you want to do.

Imagine your life’s end-goal, voiced and pictured in enough details that it becomes part of you. And once you’ve done that, once you’ve found your purpose, and you can remind yourself of it easily, the daily decisions are easy. Being active and making the right choices becomes a no-brainer.

Through your purpose in fitness, whatever it turns out to be, you can keep yourself doing the right thing forever. Well, for a really long time.

Just keep a dash of discipline handy, to avoid doing too much at times…

Purpose

Your purpose is what will get you to fitness.

Photos from Pixabay.