Written by Leigh Ettinger, MD, MS, Medical Advisor to Camp Shane

Motivation vs Discipline

Stick with me on this blog and I will eventually get to the actual foods that I recommend and the foods that I recommend limiting.  I am first sharing my philosophies about obesity and lifestyle changes so that you get into the right mindset to eventually implement my advice.

In medical school, we are taught how to motivate our patients to healthier behaviors.  Getting the patient to be self-motivated to stop smoking or to take medicine daily is thought to have lasting benefits because the doctor certainly can’t be with the patient every moment of the day.  By encouraging the patient’s internal motivation to gain health or to avoid disease compliance with the medical plan can be improved.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work.  The problem is that motivation is a fleeting human emotion.  How many New Year’s resolutions last past February?  So, I encourage my patients to be disciplined.  What is the difference between motivation and discipline?  When a person is motivated the good exciting feeling comes BEFORE the action.  For example, I am motivated to take this foul-tasting medicine because I would really like to treat this infection and regain my health.  When the person is disciplined the good exciting feeling comes AFTER the action.  I was disciplined to take that gross medicine as instructed and now I am happy my infection is gone.

Think about brushing your teeth.  Are you motivated to brush your teeth every day?  Do you look forward to it?  Probably not.  But, if you are disciplined and brush your teeth every day you will be happy into your old age with a healthy smile and minimal dental procedures and bills.  Has anyone ever suggested to you to take the stairs instead of the escalator?  I can’t imagine anyone is motivated while standing at the bottom of the staircase to walk up instead of taking the free smooth escalator ride.  But if you are disciplined to take the stairs instead of the escalator at every opportunity for one full year image your sense of pride AT THE END of such an achievement.  And your body may have changed for the better as a result of your discipline.

Being disciplined can also help with ‘perceived barriers.’  Those are the negative thoughts that sneak into your head and absolutely destroy motivation.  For example, a person may be highly internally motivated to go to the gym every day.  But who has the time?  Instead, imagine if that person is disciplined to just put on their sneakers briefly every day for one week.  That might happen in the middle of the day or even right before bed.  At the end of the week imagine the pride that person would feel about having achieved that goal.  More importantly, they may have actually learned about times in their busy day when they might be able to fit in some exercise.  Then I would encourage that person to be disciplined in the next week to put on their sneakers AND walk once around the block.  The motivation might not be there on a rainy day but if the discipline is there to do it anyway by the end of the week they will have achieved something extraordinary.  Having the discipline to build week by week on those achievements can lead to improved health.