Discipline and motivation; how mood can affect your progress
When I was researching to write this post, I was overwhelmed by how much has been written and discussed on the topic of discipline and motivation. There’s so many blog posts, vlogs, webinars, and articles offering tips and advice on staying disciplined and getting motivated. And it’s the usual two industries at the top of the list of things we want to be disciplined and motivated about - fitness and finance.
We know how to get fitter. Eat healthily and exercise more. We know how to improve our finances. Spend less and save more. But of course, it’s not that simple. If it were, we’d all be running marathons in record times and not panicking about our bank balance at the end of every month! We need the discipline to help us stick to the plan and motivation to help us consistently get results to achieve our goals.
There are tonnes of advice out there with tips and tricks to help you form good habits and stick to those well-intentioned plans to reach your goals. But why do we struggle to stay disciplined and motivated? And why am I writing about it!?
Well, I’m an executive coach, a fitness instructor and the Co-Founder of StepLadder, where our mission is to help people achieve their financial goals.
I could share tips and tricks on staying disciplined and motivated, but we all know there’s no one size fits all approach - everyone’s unique. Your situation, strengths, beliefs, challenges, or personality all play a part in staying on track, but I know that you have a brain, which is a superbly powerful tool.
When applied in the right way, it can help you achieve the most extraordinary things. And you’re in control of it. You can programme it to help you reach your goals, but you need to keep a close eye on it as it gets easily distracted and is prone to errors, especially when it’s tired or hungry!
You have the key to unlocking your recipe for success; with the right ingredients, you can achieve discipline and motivation. Understanding a little bit about how your brain works will help you harness its power to keep you on track with your goals.
How your brain works
Your brain is unique to you; it takes 25 years to develop fully, contains over 128 billion brain cells, and despite only weighing about 2% of your body, it consumes 20% of your energy. It’s responsible for everything you do and everything you don’t do; your actions, emotions and thoughts. This is why brain and gut health is so important; when you look after yourself, you perform better - and we both know how amazing you are when you’re on top form.
The latest neuroscience research shows we have more control over our brains than we thought. And this is exciting when you think about how you can build discipline and motivation into everyday tasks.
Traditional models of the brain talk about an ‘emotional’ brain and a ‘logical’ brain. And that the emotional part of our brain works more instinctively and faster than the logical part. This is where expressions and ideas such as ‘in the heat of the moment’, ‘impulse spending’, and ‘comfort eating’ come from.
Scientists believe that we have little control over our emotions for some time now, and when things happen to us, we use our logical brain to overcome the feelings. When it comes to reaching our goals and staying on track, this becomes exhausting as we’re constantly battling between emotions and logic. For example, here are two ways your brain approaches situations:
The emotional brain: “I love these trainers; I want them; they will make me happy and feel great.”
The logical brain: “I have lots of trainers, this is just another pair of trainers that I don’t need, and if I save the money, I will be able to reach my savings target faster.”
Sound familiar? Well that’s because most of us believe that the brain is a battleground of logic vs emotion. But it’s hard work to be constantly having this battle over head over heart, to constantly be using willpower to steer us in the right direction. The very latest research on the brain helps us think about the brain differently, and I believe it’s the key to unlocking better discipline and motivation.
How your body budget affects your financial budget
If you were to ask 100 people what the brain’s primary function is, the majority of us would say ‘thinking’. Well, that’s not true. The brain’s main job is to run a budget for your body.
Sorry, a body budget? Yes, but not a financial budget, a budget that tracks all the resources you need to stay alive like water, salt and glucose.
Everything you do requires energy, whether it’s standing up, running, learning, reading a book, working, doing life admin, etc. Imagine that your brain had a bank balance of £100. Every task you do costs £1, so, over time, you’re withdrawing energy from your body bank account, which affects your mood and ability to stay disciplined and motivated. And to replenish this body bank account, you need to eat well, drink water, sleep, meditate, spend time with loved ones, etc. This is like a payday for your brain, and it should be the biggest priority in your life because it affects everything you do.
Your mood is an indicator of what’s going on with your body budget. If you’re feeling negative, it’s a sign your body is in deficit. If you’re feeling positive, it’s a sign your body is in balance or surplus.
Now ask yourself; when are you more likely to stay disciplined and on track with your goals? When you’re in a positive mood or a negative mood?
It’s when you’re in a positive mood! You know full well that when you’re feeling great, good things happen, and when you’re low on energy, your mood drops, leading to breaking good habits.
Next time you feel anxious, sad, irritated, frustrated or any other negative emotion, stop and think about what’s going on in your body. It’s the same when you see a friend or a partner, and they’re grumpy, and you tell them, what’s got a bee in your bonnet? You must be tired or hungry.
These emotions tell you something is out of balance and that you need to sleep, hydrate, eat something, have a cuddle or chat with somebody you love.
When you understand that your brain is running a budget for your body, you can reframe what your body needs to feel better. Buying a new pair of trainers or a more expensive bottle of wine won’t help your body budget or financial budget!
I’m not saying don’t treat yourself because sometimes you need a little treat to help you stay motivated and reward yourself. But be mindful of this.
The lesson here is about being perceptive and managing self-care. Find ways to build structure in your life, like no phones an hour before bed so you can get a good nights sleep. Or meal prepping on the weekend for a few hours so you can maximise time elsewhere. This will help you replenish your body quickly so that you have the energy to stay on track with your goals. Want to know where I got my resources from? Check out:
Lisa Feldman Barrett: ‘7 ½ Lessons About the Brain’ and ‘How Emotions are Made.’
Lucy is Co-Founder and COO of StepLadder. She is passionate about health and fitness, and being a PANK (Professional Auntie No Kids!). She is a trained executive coach and loves cheerleading people towards their goals!