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These words are used so often in the field that either myths about their meaning have arisen or the images associated with their use creates a sense of frustration in those who are trying to live a healthier lifestyle. But when we dig down into their origins and true meanings, we’ll see that the words themselves can provide a renewed sense of meaning to our journey towards eating better and being physically active.
Today’s word: Discipline
This word evokes images of drill sergeants yelling commands or teachers with rulers looking over your shoulder every time you think of skipping a workout or eating a piece of cake. Despite these visions, the Merriam Webster dictionary provides an alternative, and less scary, interpretation:
A rule or system of rules governing conduct or activity.
In other words, discipline is not about being berated or guilted into making healthy decisions, but instead creating situations or systems that allow us to perform a particular action (i.e. eating less fried foods or exercising/moving more)…consistently.
From my experiences working with clients, the key to long-term success with improving health, fitness or weight is to create a strong system of motivation and accountability around you while your new, healthy actions develop and mature into permanent habits. It can take anywhere from three or four to as many as eight weeks for a new, consistently performed action (i.e. drinking one less soda per day, eating one more serving of vegetables or adding a mid-day snack) to become a habit. And as you develop a new habit, odds are you are replacing an existing, less-healthy habit that requires conscious effort and “discipline” to break.
So how do we develop motivation and accountability? First, let’s define them:
Motivation: A positive drive to make healthy choices (i.e. turn down those free cookies or going to the gym). Motivation can be internal (desire to set a good example for your family) or external (encouragement from others).
Accountability: Self-created responsibility to make sure you are making the best decisions for you and your health and being willing to take responsibility for (and learn from) the times when you have not made those decisions. Accountability can also be internal (willpower) or external (a trainer or Weight Watchers support group). Even external accountability requires you to put in the effort to ask for that help or guidance.
A quote from the One Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson sums it up well: “We are not just our behavior, we are the person managing our behavior.”
Based on this new perspective, consider how you can start managing your “discipline” either through motivation or accountability. Here are some examples:
Write down why you want to make positive changes to your eating and physical activity habits. Take pictures or use images whenever possible. Keep these things with you as a source of motivation.
Tell others about the positive changes you are making to your eating or activity habits. They will support you along the way.
Create your own healthy eating or activity rules, checklists or targets rooted in Moderation that will provide you with go-to advice and guidance when times get tough or you’re stressed out and lacking focus.
Buddy up with others to keep you on task and accountable with your target workouts or eating habits. You can either partner with those who have similar goals to you or those who are already doing the actions and habits you want to be performing.
Discipline doesn’t come from being yelled at (by others or ourselves)…it comes from creating a strong internal drive to succeed and the willingness to reach out to others for support. When the going gets tough, the tough get disciplined.