I recently read a scripture that said, “by small and simple things are great things brought to pass”. Essentially the verse states that big changes are made by doing the little things consistently over time. A profound example of this principle is the Grand Canyon- carved ever so slowly over millions of years by a simple trickle of water.
That water, minuscule in comparison to the vast rock and sand of the Arizona desert, was consistent over time and carved one of the greatest wonders of the natural world. As I contemplated this principle in relation to life in general, naturally my thoughts turned to training, competition, health, and physical fitness, and how small and simple changes can yield big results.
However, I see people consistently fail to make those small decisions that make a big difference; they struggle to get to enough sleep, make the time to workout, cut out the sweets, limit the alcohol, or reduce the stress. In conversations with clients, I often hear that they “struggle to stay motivated” to do those little things. As I’ve pondered this for several months, It’s become clear to me that the challenge isn’t a problem with motivation, it’s a problem with discipline.
Instead of the discipline required to make consistent, small, life-changing decisions, often we look for motivation to help generate the necessary changes that yield long-term results. Many will wait to feel motivated (by guilt, fear, excitement, etc.) to get off the couch and get outside for a run, or cook something healthy instead of ordering pizza, or head to the gym. The problem with this way of thinking is it requires an external force -feeling motivated- prior to someone taking action.
Unfortunately, motivation is a feeling and we simply have no control over feelings. It’s very difficult to conjure motivation out of thin air. Feelings come and go. Motivation waxes and wanes. Motivation is fickle. Sometimes we ‘feel motivated’; sometimes we don’t. However, what DOESN’T come and go is discipline. Discipline is internal- we are in control of how much discipline we exercise in any given situation. Once we make a decision- truly decide, the rest falls into place. It’s not necessarily easy, but it becomes sequential. Discipline (in particular self-discipline) involves decisions we control that lead to outcomes. The question is ‘what outcome do we want to have’? That depends on who we are and who we want to become.
Making identity-based decisions simply means making decisions based on who we want to be. We then take the steps necessary to become that person. For example, successful runners (notice I didn’t say FAST runners) go out and run. They follow their training plans, running the runs as prescribed, running slow on the slow days, and fast on the fast days. Those with healthy body weight* consistently make good decisions around what, when, and how much they eat. They watch their portion sizes and are careful to keep indulgences to a minimum. Smart Ironman triathletes put in long hours on the bike over and over again. They get up early on the weekends to log 4,5, and 6 hour bike rides for months on end.
So the question is NOT necessarily “What motivates you?”, because that can vary. That can change. And even if the ‘reason’ for your motivation doesn’t change, the FEELING of staying motivated definitely will. The real question is “Who do you want to become?” Then, all it takes is making the decision- once- on what you are willing to do to get there. Daily discipline then replaces motivation as you constantly ask the question, “What would an Ironman do?” , “What would a fit person do?”, “What would an experienced runner do?” and then simply acting accordingly.
To complete this thought full circle, I’ll use one last example: Many faithful Christian believers wear a bracelet with the inscription “WWJD”, which means “What would Jesus do?”. This is a simple reminder to make right and good choices when faced with difficult circumstances. It does not MOTIVATE believers, instead reminds them of the type of person they wish to become. Then they simply make small, simple decisions consistently over time consistent with that.
So, as we go forward in our quest to be more fit, to become a faster athlete, or just to be a better person, we need to be disciplined- not to simply ‘stay motivated’. Focus on who we wish to become, and then make our decisions accordingly, starting with those small, daily choices that will lead us to achieve our goals. It’s definitely not easy, but it is the way we can stay consistent in our quest to become better.