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Choose Discipline Over Motivation to Achieve Your Goals. Here’s How.

Motivation comes and goes, but developing discipline will help you make long-term changes.

Woman looking focused, developing the power of discipline

If you’re relying on motivation to keep consistent with exercise, you might want to rethink that strategy. Motivation ebbs and flows. We all have days when we’re excited to tackle our workouts and other days when we’d rather stay in bed. 

Consistency is key to getting the results you want, and in turn, developing discipline is key to overcoming a lack of motivation so you can be consistent, explains Tonal coach and certified personal trainer Joe Rodonis,

“Motivation is a feeling,” says Rodonis. “If you feel motivated, that’s amazing. But I want to be as consistent as possible with my training. I don’t want to make excuses for not [exercising] because I don’t feel like it.” 

Rodonis learned the importance of discipline when he started playing baseball as a child. His dad encouraged him to practice consistently, drilling skills over and over. “That’s what it takes to be great at something,” he says. 

Discipline doesn’t just apply to your workouts; it’s a skill you can use in other aspects of your life that support your fitness. To maximize your results in any exercise program, you need to dial in your sleep, nutrition, and hydration. It takes discipline to go to bed at a set time, even when you want to watch one more episode of the new show you’re streaming, or choose to cook a high-protein meal when it’d be easier to order takeout. 

Here are a few simple practices you can use to start building the discipline needed to achieve your fitness goals. 

1. Make a Promise to Yourself

“Discipline is the act of taking on a practice based on one’s commitment to one’s goals,” says psychoanalyst Dr. Briar Flicker-Grossman, PsyD. “It’s based on commitment regardless of motivation.” Discipline is about “being your word, not your feelings,” says Flicker-Grossman, stressing the importance of keeping these promises to ourselves, no matter how we feel in the moment. 

Just as we follow through on our commitments at work or to people we care about, making a promise to ourselves helps instill the discipline we need to get it done. Rodonis credits his success—in the gym and beyond—to his ability to uphold the commitments he makes to himself. “If I schedule my workouts, I need to honor that commitment,” he says. “If I don’t do that, it chips away at my self-confidence.”

2. Write it Down

Put your goals down on paper to create a concrete vision of where you want to be in the future and how you plan on getting there. It’s easier to stay disciplined when you know exactly what you’re working toward.

“I’m a big believer in writing your goals down and looking at them and going over them every day,” says Flicker-Grossman. She explains that frequently reviewing your goals will encourage you to take actions that’ll help you reach them—like working out if your goal is to get stronger. 

“You need a north star to guide you,” says Rodonis. “Write down in obsessive detail who you imagine yourself being. How do you spend your day? Who do you surround yourself with? And what do you need to do to become this person?” 

He explains that setting out this clear path to the person you want to become helps you develop the discipline to say no to things that deviate from that path—like sleeping in instead of working out.

3. Think Long Term—But Celebrate Today’s Wins

When you’re not aiming for a big goal in the future, it can be easy to blow off individual workouts. But if you have a challenge planned in the upcoming months or years, Rodonis says “a fire gets ignited” within you that helps you see the value of each session as steps toward your long-term goal. 

“Fuel the purpose and get excited about something,” he says. That could mean signing up for a 5K race or entering a bodybuilding competition a few months down the road. When you think about how you’ll feel on that day if you don’t put in the work now, you’ll likely have more discipline in your daily workouts. Flicker-Grossman agrees that it’s helpful to pick a set date by which you want to achieve your goals and outline the daily actions that will get you there. “If you take those basic steps, you should be on the road to developing discipline,” she says. 

Being disciplined means not worrying about where you are now in your journey or how far away your goals seem to be in the moment. As Rodonis says, “I know I will be great down the road when I continue to work on the task in front of me.” 

While you’re focusing on the future, don’t forget to celebrate the small ways you build toward your goal every day. Flicker-Grossman recommends thinking about the steps to help you reach your goal as “digestible bites,” or manageable chunks that don’t feel overwhelming. These checkpoints along the way could be completing a two-week workout program or hitting a new Strength PR. It’s the daily accumulation of practicing discipline that leads to impressive results. 

“In my mind, I see checkmarks on a calendar for every day I train and I can visualize those checkmarks building over the course of months and years,” says Rodonis. “If you can continue to knock these out every day, zoom out 10 or 20 years and you can get a sense for how much you’ll improve. Those small wins add up in big ways.”

4. Share Your Goals

If you’re struggling with staying disciplined, try getting others involved in your goal to help keep you accountable. “Be vocal about it,” says Rodonis. “Put it out there that you want to do this and you want to accomplish this.” He says that making his goals public has also helped attract other disciplined friends with similar goals from whom he’s been able to learn new skills and strategies.

5. Make it Fun

Flicker-Grossman stresses that discipline isn’t the same thing as suffering or punishment. “Effective discipline is a practice that supports and feeds motivation,” she says. If you’re enjoying the actions that support your goals—such as fun physical activities or delicious healthy meals that make you feel energized—you’ll be more likely to want to do those actions. 

One way to ensure your workouts don’t feel like punishment is to choose an engaging Tonal program. Led by expert and inspiring instructors, these workouts will put you on the path to success and get you closer to your goal with each rep.

If you’re just getting started, kick off your fitness journey with one of these beginner-friendly programs, or if you’re more experienced, try one of Coach Joe’s programs to help you become more disciplined as you get stronger:

Power Build
With five workouts per week for four weeks, this challenging program will definitely reinforce your exercise habit. You’ll combine heavy lifting with explosive plyometrics to build muscle and become more powerful. 

Drop Set Strength
High-volume lifting is key for stimulating hypertrophy, or muscle growth. In this program, you’ll use Tonal’s Burnout Mode, reducing resistance as you reach failure, to perform drop sets, a proven method for packing in volume.

20-in-20: Strength by Squats
Improve your squats and build a powerful lower body in this four-week program. In just 20 minutes per workout, you’ll challenge your glutes and quads with different squat variations and finish off with an upper-body pump.

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