Motivation or discipline?

I’ve been doing well with being disciplined each day and getting most of my training sessions completed. Over the weekend I realized that to achieve big goals, my motivation, no matter how intense, must be underpinned with discipline.  Motivation is wonderful, however, like any other emotion, it is fleeting. Relying on it to get something accomplished is like relying solely on a breeze to get across the ocean. Some days it will blow in the direction you are going, other times it doesn’t blow at all. You may get where you want to go, but it will likely be a protracted experience. Emotions are almost external experiences. We feel them, sometimes try to control them, but they don’t seem to emerge by conscious choice, and they come and go like the wind. 

Discipline, on the other hand, is a conscious choice we make daily. I’m generally motivated to achieve my goals, but when the volume of exercises is high for several consecutive weeks, the motivation tends dip or even slip away.  I’ve experienced this many times over the past year and learned that giving in to the emotion rather than choosing to be disciplined can have long-lasting effects. Primarily, the loss of momentum. With the addition of discipline, the work continues to get done regardless of the emotion of the moment. When the motivation is there, the activity is extra-savory and delightful. With an ambitious goal like preparing to complete an Ironman triathlon, motivation is needed but simply not sufficient.

Getting through the motivational lull 

Today became a test of my ability to maintain discipline. I wasn’t really motivated, nor was I completely committed to completing the scheduled workouts. Fortunately, at this point, I know that this occurs and the trick is to just get up and get moving.  In the absence of motivation, starting an activity is usually the most difficult part. The easy part is coming up with reasons why I should skip the workout…I’m too busy, poor diet, lack of sleep, over-commitment, short day (winter hours), etc, etc. In the end, they are all bullshit excuses. 

Johnny scheduled a one hour swim and one hour on the bike. Nothing high intensity or too long. At this point, one hour is a short workout.. they can be as long as 7 hours on the bike and 4 hours running. Nevertheless, I didn’t feel like doing shit. I rarely go to the lake for an open water swim in the morning, so I was able to collect excuses all day. By the time I was due to head out to the lake (3:30 pm), I was telling myself that I could just sit on the dock and get a video of anyone else that was there swimming. Getting the video would be valuable to the other athletes, blah, blah… I knew that If I didn’t get in the car soon, I’d find a viable excuse that I could get behind and skip the swim. Time was ticking…

Accountability partner 

Fortunately, I had a built-in safety net, I had agreed to meet Raymond, another PTRC member at the lake. I never want to be perceived as being unreliable, so at the very least I had to show up. He was there up right on time too. I had gotten there about 20 minutes early and was getting my gear together very slowly. But, not Raymond. He walked in wearing his swim skins/wetsuit, put his bag down, goggles on and before I knew it he was headed to the dock. 

Shit! He didn’t come to fuck around. 


I decided to feed off of his determination and get my ass in gear. I figured that I would do one lap around the lake, then consider a second when I finished the first one. I got in shortly after he did, turned on my music (Aftershokz Xtrainerz), and got to work. I don’t focus on speed, rather I worked to refine my technique. Becoming as efficient as possible is my goal. So, the music sets a nice tempo and I work to pay attention to my stroke and body position the entire time. If I’m lucky, I get into a nice rhythm and the time seems to disappear. In those moments, I feel like I’m gliding effortlessly through the water with endless energy. However, those moments are fleeting. They serve to let me know what I can become with consistent practice. 

Keep Pushing

As I came back around to the dock where we started, I really wanted to quit. I was still feeling uncommitted. So, I had a conversation with my lazy-ass self. I reminded myself that a half-ironman was happening in less than 2 months. The swim portion is the equivalent of two laps. If I won’t do it now, then when? Do I want to question my ability when I’m on the starting line? Or do I want to know what pace I can sustain and how long it will take to conquer the swim on race day??? 

Rather than give myself the opportunity to get on the dock and wuss out. I stayed about 50 yards from the shore so that I would either have to tread water or just do the second lap. I chose to keep swimming. During the first half of the send lap, to my surprise, I felt like I found my rhythm. My body seemed to have warmed up, found a groove, and the swim felt easy. I wasn’t breathing hard, I could feel the momentum of each stroke, and it was almost an effortless feeling. Surprisingly easy, actually. 

I didn’t make the mistake of going for broke and trying to swim faster, I knew that the effortless feeling would go away. It always does. So, I stayed in that zone for as long as I could and paid attention to how my body was moving. Thinking about how I could more rapidly and consistently reproduce that moment during any swim session. Before I knew it, I had completed my second lap. In the end, I swam 1.2 miles…a half-ironman distance with a sub-two minute pace.




I was so happy to have pushed myself rather than given in to my inclination to be lazy.