Build Your Discipline Over Time

Running to improve is a discipline more than it is a sport. Discipline cannot be created over night nor should it be, so cut yourself some slack and build your discipline over time.

The idea for this blog came to me when I began my latest phase of training. A friend of mine commented on my level of discipline. I thought to myself, ‘yeah its pretty good now’ but at the same time I remember thinking, ‘it’s not a massive effort anymore’.

In 2017, I had more discipline than in 2016 and now in 2018, I have more discipline than I did in 2017. Discipline grows over time. Often, we view high levels of discipline as unattainable, marvel at those who seem to have it, berate ourselves for not having enough and use it as an excuse to not even start working on our higher-level goals – “I just don’t have the discipline, like they do.” At a sub-conscious level, I think there is even a fear, ‘what if I’m disciplined and I still fail?’.

Discipline as an End Product

At the moment, I set an alarm for 5:30am and I am out of bed by the latest 6:00am. This is to allow for 10-minutes with a coffee and 20-minutes of app guided yoga to start the day. I then go training. I have usually prepared my breakfast smoothie the night before as well as my lunch for that day. I am in bed by 21:30. On the weekends, I rise between 7 and 8am not to disrupt my sleep patterns too much. Relative to 5:30am, it still feels like a lie in. Sessions on the track usually involve about 8-km of work, it is not uncommon on a Saturday to do a 5-km tempo run, followed by 8-hill reps and a repeat of the tempo run. Sunday is built up to and held at a 15-mile long run.

Building Discipline

Was this the routine I had when I started my comeback in 2015 or when I ran my first PB in 2016? – nowhere near. It could be argued that physically I would not have been ready for that training load back then, which is true, but even more so my mind would not have been able to handle that level of discipline.

I needed more comfort breaks then. I needed to start somewhere. I used all the discipline I had to address the bottom line. Could I do the minimal level of training that would result in improvement but not result in injury. The key questions were, what would that training look like and could I repeat it for long enough? There were more easy days, treat foods and pints of beer as I negotiated my way to my first PB in 10-years. What mattered is I delivered a tempo run, a long run and one other medium run. The rest was rehab type training to enable the 3-key runs. Everything else was secondary to this process.

Discipline and Reward: A Powerful Relationship

The result of my modest entry into the world of discipline was a PB. Crucial to the growth of the disciplined mind however, was that I had exhibited a behaviour and received a reward. Humans are hardwired to repeat the behaviours that lead to rewards. This is essentially habit formation. I had received a reward which encouraged me in my next PB attempt to be a little more disciplined (i.e. could I attain an even bigger reward for even better behaviour?). In simple terms, I reduced the treat foods, kept the Friday pint and took less rest. I replaced the rest with an increase in cross-training. The result of these efforts, of course, was another PB.

And so for my latest PB attempt (despite an achilles set-back earlier in the year), I appear to possess an almost monastic level of discipline. The reality is, this PB attempt feels no more effortful than the first one in 2016. It is just that my discipline has grown over time.

Give it a Go

Agree a minimally acceptable level of discipline to you. Stick to it. Receive your reward for doing so. Move to the next goal. Over-time you might become more disciplined than you thought you could.

*headspace is key to building discipline, work and family life need to be in a good place to build discipline.