Good and bad habits, and discipline

I was busy cooking the other morning when it dawned on me: I must be a really boring person, because I always make the same breakfast (see photo above)!

It seemed, to my not quite fully awake mind, that a not so boring person would find all sorts of ways to make a healthy breakfast, whereas all I do is make the same healthy breakfast every morning. And I don’t need to be fully awake to do it.

Actually, when my mind started working a bit better, I realized that I have formed a breakfast habit: I make pretty much the same breakfast every morning, and it is a healthy breakfast. And since when I’m fully awake I’m pretty much always in “coaching mode,” it made me think of the need to talk about habits in relation to the oft-misunderstood concept of discipline. So here’s a post about that.

You see, when you have habits, you don’t need discipline.

Wait, no, let me re-phrase that a little:

When you have good habits, you don’t need very much discipline.

There, that’s better. But wait, don’t go yet; allow me to explain a little.

Habits

We all have them. There can be no doubt about that. Many, as a matter of fact.

Whether it is the side of the bed you sleep on, the time of day when you read your newspaper, how many hours per day you spend reading Facebook, the road you take to get to work every day, or what you eat on a typical day, these are only some of the habits you likely have.

I can almost hear you say “but, those are just routine things we do,” and you are correct. Because that is exactly what habits become: The routine, automatic things we do without really thinking about them.

It is true of things like breakfast, as I illustrated. Most of us eat the same thing day in, day out. It saves time, and it is efficient.

Many of you are probably tempted to respond that you don’t really have a choice in the matter, perhaps by providing the example of the route to get to work, which is what it is simply because of the origin and destination combination. I must, however, put a red light to that train of thought: If you think about it a little, except in some very specific situations, there is always a way to find alternate means and routes that, at some point, you decided against. Route choices were made at some point in time, and you’ve become comfortable with those decisions.

But you could choose to sleep on the other side of the bed, to not read Facebook at all, to read the newspaper at another moment of the day, to use a roundabout way to get to work. It might not be comfortable, and perhaps it would mean a longer transit time, and less recent information to discuss with colleagues at the water cooler (and in the case of Facebook, a lot more free time for other things), but it is possible.

Hence the inescapable conclusion that our lives are filled with habits that we accept. We simply could not function if we had to make every single decision about every action everyday. So we form habits.

The question is : Are they good habits, or bad habits? You see, the key to fitness and health becomes one of having more good habits than bad one.

Good or bad?

So, if you are still here, the idea is to have more good habits than bad ones.

Because I’m such a helpful kind of guy (that’s what good coaches are), I’m going to give you a few examples:

  • Good: To move regularly, frequently. Every day, if possible, even it it is not very strenuously.
  • Bad: To stay idle for too long, like sitting in a chair at the office.
  • Good: To eat real food; meals made from fresh ingredients without extensive processing by machines.
  • Bad: To drink calories, largely through pops, but also by consuming juices, milk, etc.
  • Good: To get off the couch and do physical work around (and outside) the house on weekends, or just to go outside to play with the kids.
  • Bad: To get on the couch and watch sports on TV on weekends, especially if accompanied by lots of liquid calories and NOT FOOD items.
  • Good: To cook your own meals.
  • Bad: To eat prepared meals, either bought in grocery stores (especially in the frozen aisles) or at restaurants (especially fast food restaurants).
  • Good: To read this blog on a regular basis.
  • Bad: To read Facebook for more than 30 minutes per day.

Ok, I think you are getting the point; even if I add a bit of humour around it, you know this is a serious matter.

But keep in mind that I’m talking about habits here. Once in a while, those “bad” behaviours are not a problem. They become a problem, however, when they are automatic, casual, and frequent actions. When that’s the case, something has to be done.

Discipline, what is it good for?

If you are like most folks, you are a little in awe of elite athletes. At the very least, you probably have some admiration for them, as well as for those who manage to train regularly.

You might be telling yourself something like “Wow! I wish I were that disciplined myself…”

At this point, you should begin to understand that training regularly is more a matter of having good habits than of having a strong self-discipline. With good habits, the behaviours that impress us the most are actually easy, because that are automatic!

But don’t get me wrong : This is not to say those athletes (and everyday athletes) we admire don’t have any discipline. They do. It is just that their discipline is used sparingly, and put to work where it works best.

If you try to apply discipline to make yourself do your training sessions, or eat better, you will run out of steam before very long. And you will fail. The good habits you seek will not be created.

You must first set your lifestyle, your daily and weekly routine, so as to make the good habits possible, instead of trying to wedge good behaviours into a routine that is not built to accommodate them. You must have a Purpose, and align your activities accordingly. Discipline comes a distant second, or even third if you include a good dose of motivation, towards building good habits that will serve your purpose.

Then, and only then, do you use discipline to eliminate bad habits. And to make sure you don’t go overboard in your training, like doing too much, too soon.

What does discipline at work look like?

You are tempted to read Facebook? Get up and go for a short walk. You feel like having yet another large coffee with lots of sugar and cream? Take a tall glass of water instead (and for crying out loud, don’t take it out of a plastic bottle!).

Simply put: Say “no” to the bad habit. You know how to recognize it when you see it…

If you use discipline to limit the behaviours you wish to do away with anyway, while you have set the stage for good habits to form, you stand a better chance of succeeding. At least, according to my life, and coaching, experience.

Saying “no” to the “free” pop with a meal or during a meeting at work, not picking up a fast food meal on your way home after work, or refraining from doing “just a few more kilometres” when in fact your training session is completed, that’s what discipline is good for.

The heavy lifting is done by establishing good habits, by being mindful of what your Purpose is, and setting the stage correctly. That Purpose might be something like “To be healthy and fit so as to live a long, active life” or it could be something else; what matters is that it must be explicit.

Choose your own, and be clear about it. Then set the stage for the good habits that will support your Purpose. And only then, when you really need it (and not all that often), use discipline to stay on course…

Photo credits: Sacha Veillette

Don’t let “the future” turn into “too late”

Exercise, Brain, Daily, Purpose, Future You

The forward march of evolution? Perhaps we missed a fork in the road…

Yes, we’ve come a long way. And despite the difficulty to perceive it, we are still evolving as a species. Though perhaps not as fast as our capabilities to harvest (exploit) the natural world around us. Or the structure of our society.

But it is not all bad, because our brains are also quite capable of adapting when our bodies have not yet done so. It is not all gloom and doom. Really.

Which is not to say our brains don’t need all the help they can get. Signposts, so to speak, on the evolutionary road.

A short while ago, I talked about how a big part of what’s holding a lot of us back from exercising regularly is that, despite all the evidence we have, we tend to discount the future too much for our own good.

In that post, I ended up suggesting a strategy for reducing the strength of that effect, to help our brains deal with it: Having frequent good looks at ourselves. Not in a mirror, because it is not about how we look today; instead, we need to look at what some refer to as the “Future Self,” the person you want to be when you get old(er).

Even that, however, does not always suffice. Because there are strong forces aligned against our regular exercising.

No, there is no great conspiracy or big money interests in fattening us up. Just plain human nature: Mainly, a tendency to want to make money (a proxy for controlling reproductive resources), which drives most business activities, including the food industry; also, a propensity to not understand just how optimistic we tend to be about the future.

It is this latter part that I want to talk about today.

The Lure of the Future

Perhaps you’ve had a chance to watch the talk I mentioned in that previous post. If so, then what I’m about to say will already be familiar. If not, I still urge you to watch it, even though I’m about to give you another big chunk of knowledge I gleaned from it.

At the same time as we discount the future benefits of being active and healthy, we tend to overestimate how much more willing to exercise we will be tomorrow. Like last time, I have a few pictures, also shamelessly lifted from the excellent talk by Dr. Whatshername, to bring the point home…

Exercise, Daily, Everyday

The present eventually turns into the future. But is it the future we had anticipated?

In a nutshell, today you might say “I’m tired, and I have a lot to do, so I’ll rest today and exercise tomorrow.” (Note: This can be quite alright, given that it is the exception, and that you do, in fact, regularly exercise. Rest is often a good idea, and listening to your body when it asks for it is always in good order.)

But what happens the next day? And the day after that? Without a strong commitment device (a Purpose, ideally, or perhaps some other mechanisms to help us in the short term), many of us simply overestimate how willing they will be to exercise in the future, and mainly fail to do it in the present.

It is called the “Present Bias,” but it could also be called “Procrastination.” I like to think of it as boundless optimism about the future, because what it comes down to is precisely that: An optimism about how much more willing and capable to exercise we will be tomorrow.

Admit it, you’ve felt that way. I sure have, all too often.

What’s wrong with that?

Exercise, Fitness, Health, Everyday

Today is the day. Everyday.

Well, when tomorrow comes, it is no longer “tomorrow,” but again “today.” And guess what? “Today” we feel just like we did on the “today” which was “yesterday.”

Confused yet?

Don’t think about it too much. Just keep this in mind: Today is the only time you have to make the right choices.

And there is a strategy to help your brain with that as well.

No-brainer Decisions

Yup, you guessed it (probably): The trick is to not think about making that decision, and just do what you know you need to do.

Don’t consider what you feel like doing tomorrow. Consider that exercising is the right thing to do today.

That’s a big part of the reason why I chose “No-brainer Fitness” as the name for this blog. I recognized a long time ago that many of the decisions we agonize over should not be agonized over. They need to become automatic. No-brainers. Because that is a good way to follow one’s Purpose on a daily basis.

By the way, the same applies to food as well. In everything I wrote about exercise, in this post and the previous one, you can substitute “eating right” and get the same result:

Diet, Exercise, Daily, Everyday, Health, Fitness

Exercise and diet, diet and exercise; two parts of the same future discounting and present bias.

It all comes down to the choices we make on a daily basis.

Those choices are the signposts of your own personal evolution towards fitness and a long, active life.

Being able to imagine the future, thinking about Future You, is a powerful tool. But too much optimism about the future, only just a day away, is also a dangerous procrastination device. It is not called a “double-edged” sword for nothing.

Hence my recommendation: Keep Future You in mind as you go through each day, and don’t consider what you might do tomorrow. Decide, each day, to work towards that Future You.

Perhaps more importantly, don’t even make the decision. Just exercise. It’s a no-brainer! Or it has to become one…

_____________

Image credits: All images in this post were shamelessly lifted from an excellent lecture given by Michele Belot, Professor of Economics and Director of the Behavioural Laboratory at the University of Edinburgh (BLUE), as the third lecture in the 2014 Our Changing World series, entitled “Behavioural Economics and Health Behaviours“. It is a really good lecture, about which I have spoken in a previous post.

Take a good look at Future You

Exercise, Future You, Sedentary, Movement, Daily

When something is done well, you might as well use it. But make sure to credit the source.

Why don’t we exercise enough?

Is it because we are too lazy? Not disciplined enough? Unable to stay motivated?

If you’ve read my most recent post, you know those are essentially the questions we were left with at the end. Because we have all the evidence we need about why we should exercise.

If you’ve read anything else on this blog in the past, you know the answer is not in motivation or discipline, two strategies that will fail you eventually, or drive you (and many around you) nuts.

It is pretty clear that only the strongest Purpose can keep us going in the long term. Yet for most this sense of Purpose remains elusive.

So while it seems we have tendency to be lazy, the truth is slightly different. You could say we are “wired” to be lazy, to economize our efforts, and only the strongest of wills can hold firm on their self-commitments.

By the way, this is not a figment of my imagination, or some wild theory I just came up with. It comes from research in behavioural economics, which others could probably explain better than I can.

But I’m going to explain it to you in my own words. With the help of visuals from a really good talk I recently watched on YouTube. (Even if you think you don’t have time, if you are serious about understanding fitness and long-term health, you should be watching that talk. After reading this post.)

The Truth

Most of us have a strong discounting rate when it comes to our “Future Selves”. (That’s a term borrowed from economics, and it is highly accurate in meaning. However, most of us are not bankers and economists, thankfully. So…) To put it more simply, I hope, the problem is as follows: when you think about the way Future You will be, the possibility of a healthy and active Future You is not seen as important enough because it is too far into the future.

Even though you want to be healthy and fit (who doesn’t?), the Future You is too remote, too distant, too hard to see clearly. The present, and very near future, occupy all that your mind can really consider and act upon. No, I’m not saying we live only for the present, but we have a strong bias in favour of the short-term instead of the long-term.

Those of us who have a much stronger Purpose typically enjoy a stronger sense of that Future Self. In essence, to them it is easier to keep their eyes on the prize. (Back to our economics/finance terminology, a stronger sense of the Future You comes from having a much smaller discounting rate). In other words, a strong Purpose can be understood as considering the distant future as equally important, or even more important, than the present or near-future.

Let’s see how this works

Look again at the image at the top of this post.

You have two pictures of Future You: one that is healthy and fit, and one that is frail and, probably, suffering from some illness(es). The road to each Future You is a series of short-term actions, choices that happen everyday, with their specific consequences:

Exercise, Daily, Health, Fitness

Two images of Future You…

Although there is no absolute certainly about the outcome, we know for sure what the odds are:

Exercise, Fitness, Health

Feeling lucky, punk? It is all about playing the odds… I know what my money is on.

Take a good, hard look at those two Future You. Can you see them well? Which do you want to really be Future You? I bet I know.

So what happens? Why is it still not a complete no-brainer to exercise regularly?

Well, each of us considers those futures against the present. It is a decision process in which you pit Present You against Future You. At least in terms of enjoyment:

Health, Fitness, Exercise, Daily

If the future appears not important enough, you are likely to pick doing nothing.

Conversely, if the Future You is clear enough, and important enough, your choice would be otherwise:

Health, Fitness, Exercise, Daily

If Future You is “important” enough in your mind, you will act accordingly. Most of the time. Well, often enough.

That’s basically it. How well you can see Future You, and how you manage to keep Future You in mind on a daily basis, influences how you behave. How much you are eager to exercise regularly.

This works whether Future You is simply a healthy and active Old You, or an incredibly fit and muscular Two Years From Now You, or Winning A Race in 6 Months You. Future You is what you envision yourself to be like at some point in the future. Personally, the only Future You I think is truly worth having in mind, having as a Purpose, is Healthy And Active Old You. Which should make You exercise regularly, and in a reasonable way…

Future You, which becomes the source of your Purpose, is not the only contributing factor to exercising regularly, as we’ll see next time. But it is a necessary beginning. Without it, you must fall back on motivation, or worse, on discipline.

The good news is that you can improve how Future You influences Present You. You need to look at Future You regularly.

So keep a picture of Future You where you can take a good look at it everyday, just as you head out to exercise…

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Image credits: All images in this post were shamelessly lifted from an excellent lecture given by Michele Belot, Professor of Economics and Director of the Behavioural Laboratory at the University of Edinburgh (BLUE), as the third lecture in the 2014 Our Changing World series, entitled “Behavioural Economics and Health Behaviours“. It is a really good lecture, about which I will talk again in my next post. And from which I will shamelessly lift more images.

The only thing that matters

Movement, Exercise, Daily

It does not matter how fast.

Get moving again.

There. End of post. Shortest ever!

What, you don’t quite get it?

OK, I’ll elaborate a little. But just a little. (I still want this to be the shortest post ever from me.)

Take this post, for instance. It has been a while since I’ve written one. I’ve been busy, you know, with stuff: Selling a home, buying a new one, preparing two moves, planning a new life in a new town, doing a bit of money-earning work. Oh, and trying to get pregnant. (Not me: My wife. But apparently I have a contribution to make.)

It adds up. And whether it is the time it takes, or the mental energy it requires, it ends up leaving too little of either for me to muster what it takes to write.

And so you don’t get to read anything from me for a while.

It is just like when “Life gets in the way” and prevents us from exercising like we know we should. (Or must.)

First, you take a short breather, just to get over the urgent things. Then it gets a bit longer, because it always takes longer than expected. Then the habit appears broken, and it gets hard to find the time or muster the energy.

Next thing you know, you’ve not exercised in a while. Just like I’ve not written a post in a while.

So, what are we to do in such situations?

Get moving again.

That is the only thing that matters.

It does not have to be moving a lot. It does not have to be performing at our top level. It does not even have to be a good post.

Just get out there and move. Just find a bit of time.

You know why. You know it is the right thing to do. For yourself. For your Purpose.

So that’s it. Today, I’ve done my part (writing this post); now it’s your turn to do yours.

Get out there and move!

Picture by Sacha Veillette

P.S.: It is still pretty much my shortest post ever.

I’ll do it tomorrow…

Everyday, Exercise, Psychology, Purpose, Motivation, Training

So much to do, so little time. No wonder some things get pushed to the next day.

We’ve all been there…

I get home after a long day at work, not to mention a breakdown-inducing commute, only to face a list of chores which includes making dinner, cleaning the kitchen, paying a bill, assisting with kids’ homework, bath, story time, etc., and, of course, exercising.

After a short internal debate (very short, because there simply is not much time to debate), I come to the obvious conclusion: “I’m too tired, and there’s too much to do, so I’ll exercise tomorrow instead.”

The details vary, but the scenario is similar, whether it’s you, me, or our neighbours living through such a story. More often than not, the decision is to postpone the workout.

It is not a flaw of character: It is simply human nature. It is a form of procrastination, but it is mostly due to our tendency to view the future more optimistically than we have reason to: Although we feel tired now, we still feel we won’t be as tired next time.

Because, of course, what happens the next day, is pretty much the same story… And so days go by that we don’t exercise.

It gets worse: After a couple of days missed, OK maybe three, the brain switches to thinking: “Well, this week is screwed, so I’ll start fresh next week.” It’s the ultimate version of “I’ll do it tomorrow…”

Skipping one workout because something else comes up, or being sick, or really, really needing the time for something else, can happen. It is no big deal. The problem arises when it is not the exception anymore. The real problem is when exercising becomes the exception, not the regular occurrence. When “I’ll do it tomorrow…” is everyday, instead of exercise being everyday.

Let’s face it, very few of us are able to maintain an exercise regimen day in, day out. It is not easy. Heck, I do a few marathons and one iron distance triathlon each year, and I have a hard time keeping a steady exercise regimen.

But some people are capable of doing it.

Those who do are either exercise nuts who don’t really do anything else (you’ve met some, admit it), or have a very clear purpose for training (like elite athletes, which you also think are nuts, but you respect that kind of nuts), or are extremely motivated (for a while, but it does not last), or… are nearly unnoticeable because they operate on auto-pilot.

That’s right: Auto-pilot.

Making decisions is hard

Exercise, Everyday, Training

Just push the button, and let it go.

Why do I say they are on auto-pilot?

Because many who manage to exercise have understood something critical to maintaining a regimen: Mental energy is often in low supply, so if you rely on making the decision to exercise, more often than not you won’t.

So exercise, for those people, is the default behaviour. There is no question, there is no debate. You might be surprised that you don’t see them all that much because they tend to be quieter than the highly motivated or the exercise nuts. They don’t fuss; they just move.

There are two ways this can be achieved, and there is one very important trick you can use to increase the odds of success.

Auto-pilot mode

The first way is to turn your own, internal, auto-pilot mode to ON. It is not easy, and it takes a bit of time to stick (is it 21 days, or more?).

An auto-pilot mode is like a switch that you must program, a mental shortcut that just gets triggered whenever needed.

When you catch yourself asking the question “do I want to exercise” you must immediately answer “yes, of course” and then just do it. (Not trying to infringe on Nike’s trademark, but those are three really good words to tell yourself.)

The sooner you catch yourself and switch to automatically respond in the affirmative, the easier it is. For instance, if you wait until you’ve already told yourself “I’ll do it tomorrow…”, it is much more difficult to tell yourself “No, I’m doing it today.”

But that’s exactly what you must do.

Everyday. Until it becomes automatic.

A trick that helps a great deal is to put exercise on your daily agenda first thing in the morning. Even if it means having to get up earlier. That way, when evening comes, you’ll actually have more energy, and the chores will still be doable.

Let someone else be your pilot

The second way to have an auto-pilot is to actually let someone else be your pilot. Perhaps only for a while, to get over the hump of starting a good habit and jump-starting your own auto-pilot programming.

How does that work?

Get a coach.

And then do what the coach tells you to do.

As you follow the instructions of the coach, notice how things are simpler. Enjoy the free time from having to make decisions. All the decisions are made for you. All you have to do is, well, “do”.

But pick a good coach, one that understands what you are trying to do, and has your interests at heart. That way he or she will have you do things that make sense, in the right intensity, to get you fitter and healthier.

Getting that sort of help is not a sign of weakness. Quite the contrary: It shows resolve for doing the right thing for your body. A commitment to what is important.

After all, top athletes all have coaches. (Many even have more than one, by the way.)

Isn’t it time you consider yourself also an athlete? Albeit, an everyday athlete?

That time is today. No more “I’ll do it tomorrow…”!

Exercise, Everyday, Athlete, Everyday Athlete

You need to make your habit of exercising an automatic behaviour.

Images from Pixabay

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.