This is a car’s ignition. You put the key in and turn the cylinder. This creates an electrical connection which sparks the engine into life. As you can see it’s a simple piece of engineering.
This is a combustion engine that’s on the other end of that ignition. It works by filling chambers with gas, which is set off in a controlled explosion to drive a piston. 4, 6, or 8 of these pistons are in an array, producing a steady source of power which turns the wheels.An engine has thousands of pieces, and is a complicated piece of engineering. It has many mechanical sub-sections devoted to all the functions it needs to do; delivering the gasoline, translating mechanical forces, maintaining seals, cooling the unit, and so on.
Motivation is like the ignition. It’s simple and momentary.
Discipline is like the engine. It has a lot of moving pieces. It’s a big machine with interlocking parts.
Let’s say you’re looking at a magazine or website and you come across a photo of someone in a swimsuit. You know all about how lighting and photoshop make people look fitter, but still, you feel something spark within you. You want to get a nice physique and look good in your own swimsuit. What you’re feeling is that key in the ignition, trying to get an engine started. That one photo is the motivation that could become something real.
With the motivation sparking, it’s now time to build the engine that is discipline. An engine is complex, but each small part is there for a reason. The same goes for your discipline. Let’s say that in the service of getting swimsuit-ready you want to go for a morning run every day. What could you do to help build a discipline engine for that goal?
Here are some ideas:
Set your morning alarm to a song that reminds you to run and pumps you up.
Lay out your running clothes so you don’t have to think in the morning, you can just get dressed and go.
Have your pre-run snack ready to go the night before. It could be as simple as a single banana on the counter, waiting for you.
Invest in items that make running more rewarding for you, be it sport headphones, a fitness tracker, or high quality running shoes.
Create a system that keeps you on track, such as a calendar where every day you run gets a circle that inspires you to continue the streak.
Find a running partner who you know will be waiting and disappointed if you don’t show up.
Each of these little pieces is small and seems barely worth mentioning, but by putting them together you’re making it much more likely that your goal of running each morning actually gets done. You’ve created an engine that can create something real from your motivation. And in just 5-10 days, this engine becomes self-reinforcing, and you’ve become a disciplined morning runner.
If you want good fitness results, you have to ride the relationship between motivation and discipline.
Here’s an overview of what this process looks like:
As you go about your day, be sure to capture and cherish those moments when you feel motivation strike. It could be positive motivation, like wanting to shape up for an upcoming birthday or vacation, or negative motivation, like feeling your clothes getting tighter or seeing a bad photo of yourself. Don’t just let these moments pass, really feel the motivation filling you up, write it down, bottle it, and start parlaying it into building your engine.
Building the Discipline Engine
Building the discipline engine is fun. Take some time and create systems that will propel you forward and set you up for success. Think through pitfalls which have tripped you up in the past and proactively prepare for them. For example, if snacks are your downfall, move the treats to the very back of the cupboard where they’re hard to get. If you tend to put off exercise, write your exercise time on your calendar each day, just as you would for an appointment like going to the dentist. The goal is to always remove as much friction and decision-making as you can from your healthy choices. Discipline is tough, but you can make it a tough-but-smooth process with planning and forethought. Get creative and go out of your way take REAL actions (such as laying your workout clothes out at night) over intangible actions (like promising yourself certain rewards if you stick to the plan).
Commit to Two Weeks
Once you’ve found your motivational spark and built your discipline engine, commit to a full two weeks following the plan. This will be easy in the first few days, then hard in the middle, and then get easier around day seven as discipline gives way to habit. But you’re not done yet!
Stalls are Expected
At some point your engine is bound to stall. Maybe a busy week at work, a party that derails your diet efforts, or an injury that makes exercise harder. When this happens, it’s time to engage with your motivation and turn the key again. Get back into the headspace you were in that got you inspired to start eating better and exercising in the first place. Remind yourself of your goal. Revisit that bad photo. Rekindle the spark that gets the engine roaring again!
Keep Improving the Engine
Once you’re feeling the motivational glow again, it’s time to fix up the discipline engine. Learn from what made you stall last time and add improvements to the system. Tweak your schedule so that a busy week doesn’t end your fitness routine. Preplan strategies to navigate a party without blowing up your diet. Go for another two week streak, feeling your discipline improving all the time. And if you stall again, that’s ok, just go back and turn that key of motivation again.
In this way you keep moving your attention between motivation and discipline, staying cheerful through the ups and downs because no matter what you’re making progress.
And the best news is that once you learn this ignition and engine combo, you can apply it to any goal you have, be it learning a foreign language, playing an instrument, or completing a big project. Motivation to spark the system, and an engine of discipline to keep it moving. It’s a combo that gets you where you want to go!
Patrick Reynolds // Kenzai Founder