Whatever happened to discipline? Did it die or is it just on holiday? Better yet what is discipline and can we revive it?


Former UCLA coach John Wooden sums it up for me:


“The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.”



Discipline is taking the initiative to define and control behavior. From a wellness perspective disciplined training positively supports vibrant body and mind functioning. In my opinion discipline is not about right or wrong, but about making choices that consistently support your intentions.


Why should you care about discipline? Without discipline one revolves between crisis and complacency. Life becomes dictated by the latest diet, newest exercise trend and unexpected family event. The roller coaster of health is in full force.


Your wellbeing is then manipulated by outside forces. Personally, I like being in charge of my own health. Certainly unknowns will occur but at least you have a stronger defense mechanism in place. Developing exercise and nutritional discipline provides the structure, which reinforces better choices.


I also believe discipline is something you can cultivate into your daily life. It takes practice and creativity. Discipline demands daily attention, adherence to rituals and investment in willpower management.


A small story in discovering discipline


A client came to me at age 65 with no prior regime of exercise. She had tried a variety of exercise regimes throughout her life but never one consistently due to lack of enjoyment, affinity and relevant structure.


At that time she suffered from fibromyalgia and diverse physical ailments. Her complaints ranged from lack of mobility in arms, could not raise them above the height of her shoulders, chronic pain from the arms causing insomnia. In addition, she had minimal muscle tone, extremely low stamina, often lost her balance, thus, extreme fear of falling. Visible signs of osteoporosis and potential dowager’s hump, summed up in what she stated as  “I’m terribly out of shape, in lots of pain and extremely worried about the future of my health, plus I’ve never committed to exercise.”


After some discussion we embarked on a journey. To make a long story short, we are 5 years down the road and she is now 70 years young. She has restored almost full range of motion in the arms, chronic pain is gone, balance is strong and the vibrancy she exudes is palpable.


How is this a story of discipline? This journey demanded a commitment to 2 times a week for 5 years, yes 5 years! We had a couple brief spells of time off but this was always followed by a return to the commitment. And she practiced on her own, without my supervision (just like Coach Wooden says).


You could say OK, she was motivated by the illness, probably yes? You can also say well what about the years before, I say so what! The point is no matter what the age or previous lifestyle choices, change is possible. Discipline is an art waiting to be cultivated.


7 tips for more structure aka discipline


1)   Remove as many saboteurs as humanly possible

2)   Practice small daily rituals to keep you on track

3)   You need to plan food and exercise

4)   Use your social network system to support your efforts

5)   Understand you are not weak but willpower muscles need training

6)   Start with rational fitness and sensible eating not extremes

7)   Excuses are omnipresent dare to stay the course


Remove saboteurs


Discipline is highly affected by our daily willpower allotment. By that I mean you have a certain amount of willpower at your disposal every day. How you choose to utilize it is up to you. The ability to manage your willpower can be acquired.


If you want to support a healthier lifestyle you have to avoid potential “willpower draining” events. Even small challenges can diminish your willpower.


Let’s say your morning starts off by deciding yes or no to the muffin at the coffee counter. Then there is birthday cake at work, which also needs a yes or no vote. Next you realize your workout gear is at home so you will have to pass by there first before heading to the gym. All those decisions deplete your willpower tank, independent of the actual choice to take action or not.


As the day transpires you have a limited amount left to spend on what might be the more important pieces of your health plans.  Your willpower resources are low which could undermine plans to exercise or cook a healthier meal.


If you are prone to eat sweets and junk food, constant temptations will drain your willpower. Removing as many of those temptations as humanly possible actively supports greater nutritional discipline.


  • Don’t buy sugary items for your house!
  • Avoid the work area or co-worker’s desk that has sweets or candy
  • Get out of your chair every time you see a commercial for junk food products
  • When buying coffee, buy just that, money saved goes in a special fund
  • Offer to bring anything but dessert for special parties and events
  • Find a friend who you can call when tempted
  • Replace sugar with an action; a squat, a wall push-up or moment of silence


Create rituals


Small rituals assist in keeping one on track. Simple tools like packing your workout bag the night before and leave it at the door. Plan food the day before and preferably pack a lunch, so last minute hunger is not a fast food or junk option. Finding a partner to exercise with can be helpful. It solidifies a committed time. If the exercise studio is in between work and home the ritual of driving by the location promotes use as a constant reminder.


From my own perspective every week I plan out which days I will workout. I also plan out my free days. This ritual lays a structure and promotes excitement about the days off, as well as the workout days, a win-win.


I also know my motivation to workout is highest in the morning. So my best options to “get it done” are in the am. I realize if I plan a workout in the afternoon it has a higher chance of not being completed as work starts to interfere. Put in on the morning schedule and my success rate goes up.


Start realistic


One also has to realize that your path will constantly be challenged and every time you get pushed off, it’s harder to resume. What do I mean by that?


I often see individuals, whether it concerns losing weight or trying to exercise, start off fanatical. They design a routine of numerous times a week to workout and religiously limiting food intake. This is not sustainable. The heavy load of routines has not been built up over time to warrant disciplined commitment.  Then every subsequent time is harder because the memory of earlier failures reoccurs.


Start small, one or two times a week. Then supplement it with more when those two routines are firmly established. Mix it up otherwise boredom sets in. In a previous post I talked about short mobility routines, these are a positive boon to a hectic schedule. Or maybe two times a week is the perfect solution for you!


Use your network to build support


At the end of the day there will always be events, work and general life that to pull you off your track. Surround yourself with as many folks who are going to keep you on track.  Real friends support change.


I’ve found social networks provide great support to individuals embarking on new exercise or nutrition regimes. In general, friends and family provide encouragement on your achievements and also support when motivation is lacking. It takes a little time investment but they can assist in a journey towards better health.


Create your own mini network and use whatever tools you feel comfortable with. I enjoy interactions on exercise and nutrition on Facebook and Twitter, but that is not for everyone. If you dislike those mediums find a circle of friends that you can chat with about your plans and designate a person to be your coach. Most often I’ve found individuals love to feel they are part of your success.


Closing thought


There will always be a reason to not stay committed. Life throws daily curve balls. And on the other hand tomorrow presents another opportunity to make a plan. Personally I think planning is everything, even if you change it!


Our Dad was an old school kind of guy, we grew up with a saying “Do something even if it’s wrong.” In our house, that specifically had to do with taking action before someone asked you to do it, like clean up a room, take the dog for a walk, go exercise or ask Mom if she needed help.


In other words make a move even if you aren’t sure it’s the right one. Perfection doesn’t exist when it comes to exercise and nutrition. That’s the beauty.



“If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have the time to do it over?”


John Wooden




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6 Comments  comments 

6 Responses

  1. Good stuff as always. Love the create rituals. And let’s face it, the disappearance of discipline from our daily discourse is troubling for sure but then as we see the cultural distinctions and other moral influences diminish, it is no wonder. Excellent treatment of the issue from its essential basis.

    • Krisna

      Thank you Jon for taking the time to offer your thoughts on the post, most appreciated. Maybe together we can help restore the art of rituals and thus ultimately revive a thirst for more discipline.


  2. Krisna,
    bovenstaand verhaal is me “uit het hart gegrepen”.
    De “gewoontes” ontwikkelen door de juiste gedragingen m.b.v
    wilskracht te oefenen; imprinting.
    De steun van sociale omgeving/netwerken zie ik niet zo.
    Groeten aan Robert.
    Het ga jullie goed.

  3. heather

    Great article, Krisna.

  4. Lauren

    Well put! Thanks for the good read! I can relate to “do something, even if it’s wrong.”

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