It’s 6 am. You’re alarm goes off. It’s dark outside and you can hear the rain pelting against the window. Time for your exercise.

How many times has this happened and you’ve laid in bed debating whether to get up and go for that run or bike ride? Or even whether to brave the short trip to your car to head to the gym?

I’ve been there. Plenty of times. The bed feels warm and a few more minutes of rest would be welcome. During those dark winter mornings, I’m not motivated to get out and exercise, it’s discipline that gets me out.

Whenever we hear or read something about changing behaviour whether it’s exercising, stopping smoking or even saving for retirement, there’s plenty of discussion on motivation. You need to be motivated to be active, to eat less sugar, etc. Motivation is definitely important and it usually comes in the form of having a goal or something to work towards, but it isn’t the only thing.

There are always going to be challenges to any exercise program, just like every aspect of life, and having that goal will keep you mindful of where you want to be. However, discipline is needed to get you doing what you need to do to get to your goal.

I usually exercise first thing in the morning. It helps me energize for the day but also because I don’t give myself the time to get into a mental debate whether I feel like doing it. I get up, get ready and get out before I can even say ‘no’.

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So how do we develop that discipline?

Planning. To achieve a goal you need to plan for it. Your plan is the foundation on which everything else is built. With the right plan, having discipline should flow relatively easy. It’s like the foundation of a house; it takes time, and needs to be solid in the ground before the frame can be built on it. Same thing with your plan.

One activity you can try is weekly planning. Different variations of this can be found in many self-help books and articles, and applies to a whole range of activities, not just exercise. Weekly planning works because we live in weekly cycles. Day-to-day planning isn’t as good as there’s too much that changes from day to day and the weekends are different from the weekdays.

If you’re at the start of your exercise program, or want to increase your current program, this is something that can help. Write down your goals and then on a weekly planner (or you can create your own week on paper) outline how you spend time on different activities throughout the week. Be as specific as you can. This might include work time as well as your lunch, how you get to and from work or school, or whatever you may be doing. Be honest with your leisure time as well. How much do you spend watching TV, reading, preparing meals, etc?

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Now sit back and take a look at it. Look at your goal(s) and look how much time you spend on working towards that goal. Do you have any ‘free’ time where you are not really doing much of anything? In some cases we all likely have at least one goal in our lives where we devote very little, if any, time to achieve it. If that’s the case with your exercise goal, take a good look at your other activities. Which ones are non-negotiable; ones you must do and have no flexibility in (this may be work), then identify ones that you must do but are not time dependent, then what are the ones that are low priority that you can do without and any other spare time. Can these times be used for your exercise?

The idea is to schedule in your exercise, just like an appointment. Some of us do fine with having an ad hoc schedule that we make up as we go along but many of us can’t work that way. If we wait until we have enough time to do something, the time never comes. It’s sort of like waiting until you have enough money to go on that vacation or buy that new outfit. It is more likely to happen if you plan your savings. The same for your exercise.

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Keep in mind that everyone only has 24 hours in each day, no more and no less. And by the time midnight has come, we have all spent that 24 hours doing something, even if it’s sitting on the couch flipping channels.

Rewrite your week removing those activities that you don’t wish to do and put in your times for exercise. Is it going to be three times a week, or more than that? Be specific, and realistic, with the times you devote to your exercise. Don’t plan a one hour session for exercise if you likely only have 30 minutes. This new week now becomes your weekly schedule complete with time devoted to your exercise.

Having that schedule is a key part to getting started, now you have to implement it. Even the best plans are of no use if they can’t be implemented. Having a mindset where you approach your scheduled exercise the same way as you do work, or other non-negotiable activities is important. That is where the discipline comes in. It may not happen overnight and you may find sometimes you may slip, and that is fine. It takes some getting used to being able to say: This is my time to exercise and I will say ‘No’ to everything else. But with time it will come, and soon it will be part of your regular routine like sleeping and eating.