When people tell me their fitness woes, one of the most common challenges around has little to do with overeating, or money, or time.
Far too often, it’s a lack of discipline at play.
That thing that makes it easy to follow through on the plan you created for yourself? It’s missing. Things that have never appeared to be difficult to you before, are all-of-a-sudden seemingly impossible, and it sucks. Knowing that you’ve got this easy, simple, uncomplicated task that you simply cannot complete with any regularity is enough to make anyone feel a sense of shame and self-judgment. I understand. I’ve been there.
Self-discipline is not easy. To understand why it’s not, in fact, easy is to understand habits and how they are formed.
A habit originates when someone is repeatedly promised incentive for completing a task, and then repeatedly receives that incentive upon completion – an incentive that is greater than whatever benefit one would receive for not skipping the task at hand – to the point where the entire process becomes reliable and learned by rote, completed without thinking.
Evolution has taught us that learning as much by rote as possible is ideal – it aids us in avoiding exhaustion from having to analyze every step of every single day of our lives. And, that’s great… until it comes time to change one of those steps. We’re so used to operating on auto pilot that we eventually forget exactly how many steps are a part of completing a particular task, fail to address every step along the way, and then wonder why we struggle with discipline when it comes to change and consistency.
But how do you stop the struggle?
Take your “excuses” seriously. An excuse is usually a sign of a larger problem. You never have your workout clothes? Do you need to buy yourself a gym bag to help you sort it all through? You can’t mess up our hair? Do you need a tutorial on non-bone-straight hair styles?
The most important part of excuses arising, is being sure to ask yourself why you’re giving yourself an excuse instead of simply doing the work. Remind yourself, “Okay, so do I really want to not work out? Or do I really want to go work out, but I’m just tired?”
Maybe you go, and you do a lighter workout. Maybe, even better, you go and realize ou were fine to do your original workouts. Either way, you went.
Don’t wait for a magical cloud to sweep you up out of bed. In other words, “nothing’s gonna get you up off the couch but you,” and no dream sequence with Lil’ Jon music is gonna play in the background as you jump up shouting about how you “ain’t neva scared.” That may happen some days – it’s certainly happened for me, though my song is “Special Delivery” – but on other days, it won’t. And, oftentimes, those days are the ones where you need that discipline the most. If it’s a day that you’re supposed to train, then make sure you’re making it happen.
On the days where you do get it done, pat yourself on the back. Job well done. Sometimes, the habits that are the hardest to maintain are the ones most devoid of opportunity to receive praise for your work. You will scarcely receive praise for being consistent in your habits, but that doesn’t matter – the most important person in this journey is cheering right now as you drag yourself to the showers: you. And, before you know it, boom – pow – self discipline is formed.
Stay the path! Pay close attention to the methods of self-sabotage and strike them down as they become visible. And, most importantly, don’t psych yourself out of it by believing you can only complete your task if you’re psyched up for it. As I always say, your body will thank you for it!
Erika Nicole Kendall is the writer behind the award-winning blog, A Black Girl’s Guide to Weight Loss, where she chronicles her journey of going from 330lb couch potato to certified personal trainer, nutritionist, and all-around fitness dynamo. Ask her your health and fitness-related questions on twitter at @bgg2wl.