Now that I have shaken off the last after effects of last year’s injury it is great to be able to start pushing my body again, as I start to regain my fitness.
Took myself for a pretty gruelling cycling/running session before breakfast. Many people would probably have chosen to spend their time differently (which half way through the run seemed pretty appealing to me too). Does this mean I have more self-discipline than them?
“No,” is the correct answer to that question. But a common mistake people have made about me is that I have a high level of self-discipline.
Admittedly, if you see me struggling through a training session, you could be tempted to assume this, but sit me next to a bowl of chips or lollies and watch what happens. There are actually a number of areas of life over the last few decades that I wish I could have applied far greater discipline to, including study habits, eating patterns and healthy routines like sun safety. In many cases I have even identified target behaviours I need to change and repeatedly set myself to improve, but often relapsed to my old habits. Considering I seem to have pretty significant supply of self-discipline of other areas of my life, why can’t I tap into it to make these changes?
I would actually like to challenge the idea that self-discipline is some kind of innate, almost measurable, quality in each of us that determines how well we can stick to goals when they get hard, boring or inconvenient. It is also assumed that it is transferrable throughout different aspects of our lives.
What it is really being confused for is motivation and motivation is a reflection of several factors. It isn’t just a reflection of how important a goal is to someone, but also relates to their perceived efficacy in reaching the goal, as well as the perceived importance of the required behaviour to reach it. Put another way, those people who think their behaviour is important in reaching a goal and who believe they are capable of reaching said goal are obviously much more likely to continue a difficult or tedious routine behaviour.
So the next time someone says, “I wish I could do X, but I just haven’t got the self-discipline,” what they are really saying is, “I don’t have the required motivation.”
If that is true what is self-discipline? I think self-discipline is a transitory property that is linked directly to a person’s level of motivation towards a particular goal. I will agree that some people are more skilled at motivating themselves, through effective goal-setting behaviour and a learned confidence in their ability to actually see things through and achieve what they set out to. These are skills I think personal trainers should develop just as much as physical fitness in their clients.
This is why it always grates with me when someone achieves something they are really proud of and the first thing they do is give all the credit to someone else who played a minor part. A common example I see on social media is someone completing their first distance run (could be 5k or a marathon, just has to be significant to the runner) and telling everyone they couldn’t have done it without their trainer or training partner. Not only is this patently ridiculous- clearly they could have done all the training on their own if they had the motivation- it also robs them of the chance to feel fully responsible for their achievement and to take that confidence and feeling of self-efficacy into other areas of their life where it can bolster their motivation.