Ahh, resolutions. Those empty little promises of change that we make ourselves that feel so heavy in January and become like airy bubbles floating away into nothingness come February. For most of us, there is nothing that rings so hollow as a New Year’s resolution spoken aloud.
Oh, we mean well. We want to change so bad. We want this year to be different and we genuinely have a desire to change, but why do we fail at our resolutions so often? Why do we lose that motivation, when we really have this sincere desire to change something or adopt something? We get so excited and inspired and motivated and we swear it will be different this year, but within a few weeks, we are right back to our old, shitty shenanigans.
Why is this? It is because most of us rely on motivation to change and motivation is a bullshit way to maintain anything. It relies on you to constantly convince yourself to do something that you are not used to doing, and your mind and body doesn’t like doing things it is not used to doing; so it is going to try to talk you out of it any way it can. It is going to leverage every excuse it can think of to get you back into your usual grind and disrupt the change you want to make because change is hard and maintaining something hard is not what motivation is good for.
What motivation is good for is STARTING something. Motivation derived from inspiration helps to get you moving on that new healthy habit or goal, but to truly make a habit stick – to maintain the hard work it requires to seriously change something you have been doing for a long time – you need discipline, because that shiny sparkle of motivation is going to fade and eventually leave you staring at a polished turd of disappointment. When it does, discipline is right there to kick you in the ass and keep you moving forward!
What it boils down to is this:
Motivation is like a supplement. Discipline is like a muscle!
Motivation is a big pill you have to swallow every day to see results and discipline is something that, when worked out constantly, is always there to give you the strength to do the heavy lifting required to maintain change. You can improve your discipline; make it stronger, harder, more difficult to ignore, but motivation… You need to keep feeding it and you are going to build up a tolerance after a while and need more and more as you continue to add things to your life that you want to improve. Eventually, you just can’t get enough and you give up completely.
Think about it like this; If I have to rely on a sense of motivation every time I want to get my ass to the gym, then I am always going to have an inner motivational dialogue with myself about that and it usually goes something like this:
“Hey buddy, don’t forget you need to go to the gym today.” Says my gentle, motivational voice.
“Oh shit… That’s right… Ugh… I don’t know if I have time today, though.” Says my lazy, unmotivated self.
“Come on. You can make time. You said you wanted to lose some weight this year.”
“I know, I know, but, it’s just so cold outside, and then I have to drive to the gym and back and I wanted to get some laundry done and I need to make dinner for the kids. It’s just not a good day for it.”
“Yeah. That is a lot of shit to do. Well, maybe you could work out tomorrow?”
“Yeah! That is a good idea. I will work out extra hard tomorrow!”
“Good plan! Now, let’s go home and binge-watch Netflix and eat a whole fucking pizza. We totally deserve it!”
Rinse, repeat, every single day and before long you don’t even bother with that dialog, because motivation curls up in a corner and plays dead, just so he doesn’t have to talk to your lazy ass anymore and hear all your excuses.
That is what you have to do if you rely on motivation to keep moving on anything you want to change about your life. That shit is exhausting. Seriously. If I had to have that argument with myself every day I would get nothing done. I would spend all my energy on debating and weighing my options and none of my mental capacity would go towards just doing the things I should do. So, instead of relying on motivation you should rely on discipline.
Because discipline doesn’t go for your bullshit excuses!
Discipline is a drill sergeant and it knows what you have to do and it is going to scream at you until you get it done. Discipline doesn’t suggest; it demands, and it makes a plan and follows through. It doesn’t give you a choice, so you never get to weasel your way out of whatever it is you are trying to do to better yourself. You don’t get to make excuses. You just do what is necessary, no matter what.
So, how do we maximize the presence of discipline in our lives?
Make the number of steps TO do something less and the number of steps TO NOT do something more.
You want to create the habit of getting up in the morning and working out? Have your gym clothes already picked out and waiting by the bed. Sleep in them if you have to. Shit, drive to the gym the night before and sleep in your gym clothes outside the gym. Or, if you are really serious about working out, sneak into the gym the night before, sleep there in your gym clothes and just try to find a goddamn excuse not to work out in the morning! That’s right. There is none because you cut down the steps needed to do it.
The point is, if you make it easier to accomplish the change you want in your life and make it harder to not accomplish the change you want in life your motivation never has to be bothered with your excuses, because there are none. You are already so close to doing the thing you want to do, so you might as well just do it.
Instead of saying “I don’t have time for that” or “I can’t do that” say, “That is not a priority to me.”
I love this one. Say this out loud next time you are trying to make excuses for not doing something you really want to do. Going to the gym is not a priority to me. Quitting smoking is not a priority to me. Spending more time with family is not a priority to me. Getting my shit together and changing for the better is not a priority to me. That sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? What you wanted to change about yourself is a priority to you so stop making excuses and just be honest. If it is really not a priority, then screw it, don’t do it. I don’t care. The world doesn’t care. If it is a priority, then make it one and drop the bullshit. You decided you wanted to change that thing for a reason. Remind yourself of that reason often and remember it is a priority to you by saying it out loud.
Screw how you feel.
You need to forget all this shit about being in the mood to do stuff. Your moods are going to come and go and they will try to sabotage your new habits all the time. Changing takes effort and discomfort and you are not always going to be in the mood to feel uncomfortable. If you wait until you are “in the mood” or are “feeling it” then you are setting yourself up for failure because you are making your changes contingent on some arbitrary measure of your emotions at some particular moment in time. Most of the time you feel shitty because you DIDN’T do the things you wanted to do to change, so stop waiting until you feel like doing those things and just do them. I can almost guarantee that the confidence and strength you get from being disciplined enough to do those things will make you feel better anyway and that will get you to a place to make more changes.
Listen, change is hard. Sticking with something like a new gym regime or quitting smoking is fucking toil and strain until it’s not. I am not sitting here saying I have always succeeded in trying to change some bad habit or introduce something good into my life. I fail all the time and I will continue to fail, but I know that when I stop relying on that initial burst of motivation, and I start getting disciplined, that I succeed more often than not and that is the point.
Use your initial inspiration and motivation to set up a plan for discipline. If you do that you are relying on something that you can’t argue with. You are relying on a muscle that can be worked and strengthened and that will seldom fail you when exercised to the proper degree. What’s more, it will seep into other parts of your life and you will see the change you never expected and you will develop a strength, confidence, and courage that can make any change possible.