Inspiration, motivation, and discipline

I’m kind of an inspiration junkie when it comes to working out. I work out in the morning and I work out after work, then tired and sore I’ll come home to take a hot bath with my YouTube subscriptions playing and fitness videos videos. On running, swimming, lifting, kettle bells, etc. After 20 minutes or so I’m jazzed to work out again because I’ve seen an exercise that looks good or I’ve learned something new.

People would mistakenly call that motivation. This is wrong and it arouses contempt in the linguist heart.

Motivation has a beginning, middle, and end whereas inspiration is a single point. In music you can hear a chord and be inspired to write a song. Wanting the song to get done because someone is going to like it or it’s going to add an important chapter to your body of work is motivation.

Inspiration can be quite fickle, motivation a little less so. You can be inspired to work out by seeing someone else work out but when you don’t look or feel like them when you actually get in the gym that inspiration is gone.

That’s when you need motivation. Something that pulls you from here to there. You have to want something on the other side. Just like having an idea for song and wanting a song to be done are two different things so it is with exercise and everything else.

As I said a few posts ago you have to have a primary motivation. Even if it’s something silly like I want my female coworkers to coo over me when I get changed like they did over Luke Oliver. Yeah it’s vain but every time I see myself in a mirror I feel a positive jolt that it’s coming together and I look forward to the next work out and the next healthy meal. Metaphorically, the dishes are getting done one scrub at a time and it feels good.

Then there’s discipline. Which I suck at. When I work out I do whatever I feel like which is why I’m always tweaked somewhere. I push myself in one area one day then hit it the next two days in a row until my body gives me the nope signal. I’m getting better at it now that I know enough exercises to space things and keep things interesting and I’ve organized something like a split. (core, lower, upper, core, lower, upper, then rest on Sunday.)

But even though I have none I know what discipline is. Discipline is listening to your past self. Motivation is sort of like setting up your future self and discipline is fallowing through for, and trusting, your past self even when the light at the end of the tunnel doesn’t move you anymore.

So… inspiration is for the present self, motivation is for the future self, and discipline is for the past self. That’s why I and so many people lack it is because we’re not that person anymore, we feel like we’ve changed and have new insight so we don’t owe our past selves anything. Which is fine, I genuinely feel that obligation to the past self is overrated but when you want to get through something tough remembering why you started and not breaking a promise to yourself is a solid last resort.

To get through those times when motivation has failed I treat things like an experiment. I record as much emotional data as I can. When I run 10k I just catalog all the sensations of my body and mind every 10 minutes. I don’t run on discipline, I run on curiosity. Even just being amazed, literally amazed, at how crappy you can feel is something to explore and let that exploration keep you going.

Be an observer of your body and mind and seek to find out all you can, push yourself into new territory just to see how you react there.

I started my exercise career with planks. Because I like tests. Every time you hit a point where you think you have to quit and you don’t is fascinating. Planks were a great way to meditatively explore my body’s capabilities privately and with dignity. I had no urge to fail around in public when I started.

That was the inspiration, I learned what a plank was by accident from a men’s fashion magazine and thought I can do that every morning. A year later I was motivated to start running because building up muscles doesn’t matter if you don’t burn off the surrounding fat. And then the dam broke wide open and I’ve never felt like I don’t want to work out.

I suspect I love it because it’s not about end results. Writing songs feels like starting from scratch every time. Idea, work, song, performance, recording, and then it feels like you have to rebuild the wheel for the next song and the idea might never come. Same thing with playing shows – two after the best show ever I’d feel like it meant nothing and there was nothing coming up next. I never got the sense that I was building something solid, it was always a castle made of sand.

Working out though I can see everyday the effects of the day before. Every work out, every meal, every time I look in the mirror, I see the foundation of the future.

And by writing about it like this I’m learning how to apply inspiration, motivation, and discipline to other areas of my life.


Singer/songwriter, jerk.

Posted in Depression & Suicide
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