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Motivation vs. Discipline: Learn Why Our Motivation Fails and How We Can Improve Our Discipline

By Cheryl Coppa

Oh, the books you can read on each of these topics! Both are important too. So, which is it? Which one do you need to succeed in your fitness journey?

Let’s take a look at both and see where we fall. 

First Off, What is Motivation?

Multiple brain regions are involved when it comes to motivation, one in particular is the reward center of the brain, the ventral striatum. This area of the brain is located deep within the brain’s cerebral hemispheres. It is an area associated with movement and mediating rewarding experiences, and motivation. Engaging in enjoyable activities triggers the release of dopamine, often referred to as the "pleasure molecule.". Dopamine plays a key role in the sensations of pleasure and reward, so anything you find enjoyable is likely due to its release. Different things release different levels of dopamine. It could be food, loved ones, music, images, and activities. And even just THINKING about those things releases dopamine. 

So based on this information, we can say that motivation is a feeling. 

Motivation comes and goes, and has highs and lows. Not something we can rely on 24/7. But, when it is on, it is on! 

What is Discipline?

Discipline is the ability to resist and the ability to control. The prefrontal cortex (the section of the brain right behind your forehead) is what helps us with discipline, decision-making, and behavior. The best way to feed this part of the brain is good nutrition and sleep. This will give you the proper playing field to put discipline into practice. Discipline is like a muscle. It does get stronger and more reliable as you put it into practice. 

Now, based on this information, I can say that discipline is a practice, even a skill.

It does not come naturally and we need to practice it for it to get stronger, and we need to nourish it. 

Why Does Motivation Fail?

Many reasons motivation can fail, since it is an emotion that comes and goes. 

Top Reasons:

  1. You don’t believe you can do something 

  2. You don't believe it works

  3. You don't believe you are progressing

  4. You don't believe it matters

You are dealing with an emotion here, so you will always start to have this inner dialogue - Self-doubt, you can’t do this, it is too hard. Telling yourself it will not work for you. You are not seeing a change, does this even matter anymore? I can live with my ailments and my weaknesses. 

If we rely completely on Discipline, we will be robotic and lacking emotion. This is no fun. We are not machines. We want the motivation to keep our WHY alive with feelings and emotions because we are complicated humans and that's just what makes us human. We also want discipline to bring and keep all these motivations a reality. We need BOTH! It’s not just one or the other. Let’s see how we can harness and improve both Motivation and Discipline. 

From a scientific standpoint, here is how you can make motivation work for you.
Moreover, as outlined in Susan Fowler’s book “Why Motivating People Doesn't Work and What Does”, what motivates us and keeps us motivated is by having these three categories met:




This goes for any place where you need motivation. But for today, I am speaking about your health and fitness journey.  

From a human need perspective and to feel fulfilled, these three C’s need to be met: 
CHOICE - You need to feel you have a choice in the matter. Now here at Ola Ka Ola, when I give a woman a fitness plan, or she creates her own using our training selections, she has choices. It is not just a cut-and-dry plan. She has a choice of WHEN, WITH WHOM, and HOW often. 

CONNECTION - A human need for sure. We need to feel connected. Of course, here at Ola Ka Ola, this is a MAJOR component. Our community is everything, the glue that makes all this work! You are never alone. We work out together in real-time, and we make connections with the other women in the class. You have your trainers who are always just a message away. Even when you choose to do your routines on-demand and not live with the community, you have the support and the connection in our Facebook group

COMPETENCE- The ability to do something correctly. Fitness is a journey and I aim to teach you new things about your body and give you movement prescriptions, so you are equipped for life on how to improve and heal those ailments. For example, when a woman comes to Ola Ka Ola's Core and Pelvic Floor Program because she is suffering from a leaky bladder, she is given the tools on how to reverse this and taught them in a way where she will be able to carry them with her life long. Or if someone comes to me with knee issues, we can give exercises to improve the knee condition as well as other movement patterns that keep you moving and progressing and not on the sidelines. This gives you such a sense of competence when it comes to your fitness. You are in control and know what to do.  

How Can We Improve Our Discipline?

First and foremost, fuel your body with good real food as often as you can. Get rest! This sets us upright and will make it much easier to improve our discipline muscles. 

1- Identify your WHY. 

Not just, I want to lose 20 lbs, 30 lbs, and 40 lbs. Why do you want to lose pounds? So you can have less pain? No pain? Be more active in your family. Not wanting to have to rely on your family to do things for you? Do you want to care for a loved one? Do you want to be able to do a particular activity? Nail down exactly WHY. 

2- Identify the Goal. 

Is it the weight? Is it the energy level?

3-  Write Down the Steps.

It will take to reach that goal. If you are not sure what the steps are (I would not expect you to know, this is what we dedicate our lives to learning as trainers), this is where working with an Ola Ka Ola trainer will help you identify and create. 

4- Work With a Trainer, Coach, or Group. 

This helps keep you accountable. The more you show up, the stronger that discipline muscle gets. 

5- Eliminate Excuses. 

You know what they are, whatever gets in the way personally for you. Maybe it is your phone. Put in a drawer for a designated amount of time, or limit your scrolling time to a certain time of day. Wake up earlier if you know the distractions in your day are too many. Don’t even buy potato chips because you know you will reach for them when you are stressed. These are just examples to help you identify what your excuses are, even though we all know what our excuses are.

6- Be Realistic.

Come New Year's time, so many will say “I’m going to work out every day”. Now, in reality, this is not going to happen for most. Start small and as your discipline muscle grows, so can your goal! Start small, but START! 

So, when it comes down to it, you have the best chance at success in your fitness journey when you utilize both MOTIVATION and DISCIPLINE. They balance each other out! When one is lacking the other will pick up the slack. 

Something else I want to note as well - When others are seeking help with motivation and discipline in different life goals like building a business or excelling in a certain field, you know what one of the biggest suggestions for them to do it? 
Add a fitness routine to their life! So knowing this, if you can get this fitness thing down, know that its benefits will spill over into parts of your life that you may never have expected. It’s that powerful! 

What you learn in your fitness journey is so much more than physical. Of course, you will have built that discipline muscle that can be used in just about all areas of your life. 

One other thing you can tell yourself, it only has to be 30 minutes of your day. Even less actually! I teach an express class (LIVE every Tuesday at 9:30 am EST) that is only 20 minutes. In the grand scheme of things, it’s just a drop in the bucket of time in your day. And as you will realize, it ends up giving you so much more life in your days, months, and years. 

I’ll see you in class! 

About Cheryl Coppa

✔️ A certified Core Confidence Specialist (Core and Pelvic Floor retraining)
✔️ A certified Personal Trainer specializing in women's fitness over 40
✔️ Low-Pressure Fitness / Hypopressive certified by creator Dr. Tamara Rial
✔️ Pre/postnatal corrective exercise specialist
✔️Instructor of the Pelvic Floor Health program, Ola Ka Ola    
✔️ 40 years young, wife & mother of 3


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