I hear and see this all of the time...
"Ben, I start off full of motivation when I try to lose weight and then after a few weeks I lose discipline and interest. I stop making the helpful choices I was doing and gradually the bad decisions start to creep back in again. After another couple of weeks, I've put weight back on and I give up. I know it's my fault that I'm eating too much and not doing enough but I just can't change"
If this sounds like you, you are not alone.
But before we start, let me be blunt and absolutely clear: It is your fault
Why you shouldn't rely on discipline
Ok... it's your fault but there's a reason for it that I'm going to explain...
When it comes to losing weight and getting healthier, you have a choice to make.
You have two tools at your disposal that can make life easier or harder for you.
Tool 1: Your discipline
Tool 2: Intentional planning
This means that you can rely on your own discipline and hope that you opt for the salad at the all-you-can-eat works buffet.
Or ... you can intentionally plan out and prepare your food choices for the day so your discipline is not called into action.
The same applies to exercise.
Using discipline means hoping that you'll still feel motivated after your all-day meeting to go to the gym.
Or ... you use intentional planning and pre-pack your gym-gear and arrange to meet your accountability partner for your workout.
Why quick-fixes kill your discipline
As I've mentioned in previous blog posts, everyone wants quick and visible results.
Marketers and entrepreneurs are making a fortune off of people who are desperately searching for that quick-fix.
I can see why;
1 - Seeing fast progress on the scales reinforces our discipline to keep going
2 - You want whatever diet you choose, which is invariably very restrictive, to be over as quickly as possible
Except, when it comes to weight loss and your health, there is no such thing as a quick-fix.
Because the minute the scales don't show what you want to see (the body has a great way of doing the opposite of what you expect), a tiny piece of your discipline dies with it.
And next time you're faced with the choice of that secret stash of Ferrero Rochers over fruit, the decision gets a little harder
Sod it. I'll get back on my diet Monday.
And this is why even when people initially succeed using a diet plan, old habits die hard and over time the weight creeps back on, and the cycle keeps repeating itself.
How to become more disciplined
Discipline is a skill.
And like any skill, it must be trained.
Discipline isn't something that you just have, you need to create it and then practice it to make it stronger.
To improve your self-discipline you have to be willing to intentionally plan out the actions you need to undertake to achieve your goals.
So, taking weight loss as an example:
One of the daily tasks I ask everyone to do is 10,000 steps.
However, if you rely on your discipline, particularly early on when it most likely has the strength of a pea-shooter, most people won't get very far.
Because ultimately, nothing has changed.
Mentally you are still the same person that 10 minutes before wasn't doing 10,000 steps a day.
So just by me asking you to do them and you thinking that you should do them - isn't enough.
We need to intentionally plan out how we are going to achieve your 10,000 daily steps.
That might mean doing the following;
- Arranging a 1-hour walk with a friend
- Buying a step tracker to record your progress
- Setting an alarm to remind you to walk for 10-minutes every hour
What about if we agreed that you were going to lose a stone over the next 8 weeks.
You'd probably decide to cut out take-aways, chocolate, wine and crisps from your diet straight away.
Implementing an exhaustive overhaul of our diets overnight, restricting the foods we love.
Expecting that our discipline will still be there on a cold, wet, Tuesday night.
Following a long, stressful day at work, when we get home to nothing in the cupboards except a packet of Monster Munch and a take-away menu that's come through the door.
Do you see where I'm going with this?
You build self-discipline the same as you would a house, one brick at a time, or like you build muscle - one rep at a time.
How to be disciplined to lose weight
If you're feeling that your lack of discipline is sabotaging your weight loss efforts, chances are that discipline isn't the real issue here.
A lack of intentional planning is more likely the problem.
If you know that the chances of you making the right food choices and exercising after 6 pm rely on you being disciplined enough to make that decision.
Why not flip your day around by exercising and preparing your evening meal first thing in the morning?
You could set out your gym clothes the night before, set your alarm for 30 minutes earlier and leave the meal ingredients out on the kitchen worktop, ready for you to put in the slow cooker.
To sum up
Lack of planning is a massive issue for anyone that struggles with their weight and health and wants to build self-discipline.
Stop relying on your discipline to change this and start becoming intentional with your actions.
Start asking yourself what you need to do to reach your goals and want actions do you need to add into your daily routine to make it easier for you to do them.
Once you build consistent, intentional actions, your discipline will build and over time you will become unstoppable.
Ben Yates is a personal trainer based at Places Gym Hinckley and Hinckley Leisure Centre in Leicestershire.
To book your free personal training consultation click here