Motivation is a fickle beast.  It comes on suddenly, sometimes when you least expect it, and you let the burning need for progress wash over you as you promise yourself that things will change starting tomorrow.  Then, after a good night’s rest, morning comes and as you rise up from your bed, those feelings of power and passion long subsided, you start to wonder just how important getting into shape really is anyway.

Motivation is like a high school girlfriend; you promise each other it’ll last forever, you make plans for your future together, you can’t imagine life any other way… and then one day you wake up, and it’s gone.  The passion has vanished and left only the promises – and without that passion, those promises soon fall by the wayside too.

As we’ve discussed in the past, the fitness game is a long con.  You’ve got to trick yourself into keeping up with it for months before you see progress and likely years before you start to feel like it’s a part of you, rather than a punishment for your love of carbohydrates.  In that time, your motivation will come and go, sometimes multiple times in the same day, and it can be easy to find yourself right back there with your high school ex, taking back promises, parting ways with the version of yourself you were once so sure you were.

The difference between your fitness and your exes, however, is that you’re better off with one and not the other.

I’ll leave it up to you to guess which one is which.

I’ve been married for some 11 years now, which makes me a seasoned husband but far from an expert.  We’ve had our ups and downs, good times and bad, but unlike the failed relationships of my past, there’s been one thing I think I can credit for our continued success: I don’t break my promises.  My wife is important enough to me that, even when I’m cold, tired, frustrated, or angry – I keep my word.  That’s really all there is to it.

So if motivation is your high school ex, what’s the fitness equivalent of a successful marriage?  You probably guessed it: it’s discipline.

The word discipline gets a bad rap.  It doesn’t evoke images of fun or passion, it sounds like work – and let’s be clear- sometimes it is, but we tend to forget that discipline almost always leads to good things.  We use discipline to help us do what needs doing, because it’s important, because it’s necessary, because some things are bigger than what feels easiest or most comfortable right now.  Motivation is fleeting, because the moment it butts heads with discomfort, it backs down.  Discipline looks discomfort square in the eye and tells it to shut its mouth.

That isn’t to say motivation doesn’t have a place in your fitness game.  Just like passion is an important part of a long and happy marriage, motivation will return with gusto, time and time again along your fitness journey.  The secret is letting discipline carry you through between those bouts of energetic passion.  Not every day of your marriage is going to feel like your wedding day, and not every workout is going to bless you with new PRs.  Just remember that those moments of passion, with your loved one and in the gym, are worth the tough times, the cold mornings, the days when all there is to do is keep your word.

At least three times a week, I get up and say, “I don’t feel like working out today,” and mean it.  As far as I’m concerned, those are the days that make the REAL difference in my fitness game.  Sometimes, lifting is just like cleaning the house and taking out the trash – I’m not doing it out of passionate love for my wife, I’m doing it because I said I would.  I made a commitment, and I keep my word.  The thing is, you string enough of those days together, and before you know it, you’ve got a wife that trusts you, and a gut that’s shrinking.

I love my wife so much it hurts, but I can’t rely on that passion to be ever-present as I work through my daily tasks.  It’s not a rush of emotion that makes me grab her favorite ice cream when I stop at the store on my way home, it’s the promise I made to myself and to her, long ago, that I’d do my best to deserve her.  When my thoughts are clouded by stress from work, anxiety from life, frustrations from traffic, it’s commitment, it’s discipline, that reminds me of what truly matters.  Likewise, it’s not motivation that gets me under the weights each day.  Most days, it’s that same type of promise: that no matter what, I’ll do my best.

When motivation strikes, embrace it and bust your ass twice as hard, but when it’s waning, and you find yourself making excuses about why it’s all right to skip today, let discipline remind you to keep your word.

Because anything worth having requires work.

If you find yourself hurting for some motivation in the meantime, here are some YouTube videos that get my blood pumping.  Hopefully they’ll do the same for you.  The first is a new advertisement for… who gives a shit.  It’s a great commercial:

And then there’s Rise and Shine, a classic, and mandatory viewing for the fitness minded.

Old Man Fitness: Addressing 4 of the most pervasive fitness myths

Read Next: Old Man Fitness: Addressing 4 of the most pervasive fitness myths


Images courtesy of the author