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“Not feeling it today”

Updated: Apr 8

I woke up this morning at my usual time. My shoulders and legs were so sore from yesterday’s swim practice. I didn’t sleep great because I had a lot on my mind, and I was feeling sluggish. The warm bed and sleep were calling. So, what did I do?

Every morning, I do a dozen or so light stretches, twists, arm, and leg circles while my coffee is brewing to get my body and brain moving. This wasn’t even helping. When I was done, I still felt stiff and half-asleep. I was not feeling it at all. I was not motivated at all to go to the gym.

I went to the gym despite myself. I knew exactly what exercise I had planned for the day before I got there. I write my workouts down in my notebook at least a week ahead a time so that I don’t have to think about it. I have a rule that once its written down, it needs to get done. No if’s, and’s, or but’s about it. This system has been incredibly helpful to me for mornings such as this one. Despite being not motivated, I hit a personal best on my pull-up exercise. I had a great training session, and a great swim afterwards. The soreness that I woke up with worked itself out through the course of the morning. Not bad for not feeling it.

Motivation is a funny thing. I have never responded to external motivation like winning a contest or getting recognition for an achievement. My motivation has always come from inside of me. I have always enjoyed competing with myself no matter what it is. I would lift weights when I was younger, and I always had to do better than last time. I would challenge myself and push myself. I didn’t need a workout partner to yell at me or encourage me. I was in competition with my inner self. I never needed some coach telling me to push harder because I always found that I could push myself harder than anyone else could. I only needed my alarm clock to wake me up early to go run or swim,

When I was learning to cook in my chef career, I would do the same thing. I had a notecard on the dashboard of my truck that said, “Do today better than yesterday.” I would try to do one thing better than the day before. I would critique my knife skills or my technique and always fine tune it. If I made a mistake, I would crucify myself worse than any of my chefs could, so, I became impervious to their angry tirades because the storm was already brewing inside of me, and their anger was just noise. Working in stressful kitchens for decades was great for me because it hardened my mind and forced me to build discipline. I saw what happened to others if they didn’t develop these skills. They would get ground up and spit out by the work and the routine. Motivated or not, that wave of hungry guests was coming for me. Ready or not, here they come!

What I have come to realize about motivation is that it can be fickle. It comes and goes, and sometimes leaves me when I need it most. Sometimes, no matter what, motivation is not coming but that doesn’t change the fact that there are things that must be done.

Something that I have come to discover in my training and my professional career is that there is something more important than motivation: The discipline of the routine. Self-discipline has gotten me further than motivation ever could, and it was more consistent and stable.

Self-discipline is something that has always come easy for me. I learned early on in my life that routines and habits made my daily life much easier. I made lists and knocked things off my list. I woke up around the same time, cleaned my room, made my bed, showered, and did my chores. I did my homework the same time everyday after school. Growing up, my military dad instilled this in my brother and I. Routines were just a normal part of life for us. Even if I didn’t want to do something that day, having that routine, got things done despite my lack of energy or motivation.

This has carried with me throughout my life. When I was working in kitchens, I developed very similar daily routines that I practiced each day. I knew that whether I was feeling it or not, guests were sitting down at a certain time every day, feeling it or not. My personal systems that I had developed saved me on multiple occasions. As I practiced the same routines day in and day out, I was constantly fine tuning my routine to where I was a well oil-machine, and I could absorb anything that was thrown at me that day

My training today is no different. I wake up at 4 am every morning. I do my dozen light exercises to get me warmed up for the day. I am at the gym by a certain time with my journal in hand, knowing what I have planned for that day ahead of time, so even if I am not mentally engaged, all the thinking has been done in advance. I have found that as I get going, anything such as stress or soreness or fatigue, that had me unmotivated works itself out. I have a to-do list written down for what I need to get done that day, and I knock it out.

It's much easier to just do what I say that I am going to do. I don’t want to lie to myself or make up excuses as to why I haven’t been able to get things done. Lying to myself takes an incredible amount of energy. I have found it’s much easier to do the thing that I say I am going to do when I say that I am going to do it. The energy is the same. The difference is that one path is productive and the other one just wastes the energy.

It's also much easier for me if I don’t give myself any slack. For example, I don’t eat processed sugar, overly processed foods, or drink alcohol. I don’t occasionally cheat. I have given myself “cheat days” in the past, and they don’t work for me. One cheat day becomes two and so on. Not cheating and remaining rigid keeps it simpler for me.

I do some form or physical activity every day, even if it’s a few minutes of stretching, my dozen morning exercises, or a walk. It’s easier for me no to take a day off. A body in motion, stays in motion. Keeping things black and white protects me from myself and my overthinking brain. Bargaining with themselves may work for some people, but I know from my own experience that if I give myself an inch, I will take a mile.

Its part of the routine or the habit. I feel like my routine and habits have carried me much farther than a good dose of motivation. Motivation may have gotten me up off the couch at first, but my routine and self-discipline have carried me through each day. Gradually that daily routine became my lifestyle, and its much easier.

Motivation comes and goes but the self-discipline and the routine will always remain steadfast.

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