January 02, 2024

Discipline Over Motivation: Top Expert Tips to Accomplish Your Goals

photo of Allie Baker

Written By

Allie Baker

photo of Tanya Zucco, PA-C

Medically Reviewed By

Tanya Zucco, PA-C

Lifeforce Physician Assistant

photo of Julia Afridi, DO

Medically Reviewed By

Julia Afridi, DO

Lifeforce Physician

Discipline Over Motivation: Top Expert Tips to Accomplish Your Goals

‘Tis the season for making health goals. ‘Next year, I’ll exercise more. I’ll eat healthier. I’ll lose weight. I’ll finally start meditating.’ Sound familiar?

If so, you’re not the only one wishing for wellness in the new year. A new survey from Forbes Health/OnePoll found that nearly half (48%) of respondents named ‘improved fitness’ as their number one New Year’s resolution for 2024. Thirty-four percent cited weight loss as their top goal, while 32% vowed to make better diet choices. 

But unfortunately, January is usually the season for breaking these resolutions. According to one study, less than 9% of Americans stick to their New Year’s goals. Another study found that 64% give up after just one month. And yet another survey designated January 19th as “Quitter’s Day,” when most resolution makers throw in the towel. 

“There’s a lot of energy around the New Year to create new goals, reignite yourself, and start fresh, but then when it actually comes to doing the things necessary, that’s where people fall short,” says Lifeforce Clinician and functional medicine practitioner Tanya Zucco, PA-C.

So, how can you avoid this familiar pitfall? We asked the experts for their tried-and-true tips on how to follow through and make your 2024 resolutions your reality. 

Why Do We Give Up on Our Goals? 

First, it’s important to understand why many of us fail to follow through. The biggest explanation is that old habits die hard. 

“Change in general is difficult because people are used to doing what they’ve done or not done for a lot longer than they’ve been trying to make a change,” says Yvonne Thomas, PhD, a Los Angeles-based psychologist, whose specialties include self-esteem, motivation, and relationships. “People find ways to talk themselves out of a goal, and it’s so much easier for the old patterns to take over again. People get busy again after the holidays. Life can be so non-stop that it’s easy to get to the end of the day and think, ‘Oh no, I’m not supposed to have gluten, but I haven't had time to go to the store for different foods, so I’ll just eat what I have.’ It’s hard to make time and space to create a new routine.” 

Couple RunningMindset Over Matter

Zucco agrees that many well-intentioned goal setters are derailed because they don’t put systems in place to succeed. “You need not only systems to make time in your schedule, but also systems to keep your mindset sharp and your motivation going,” she says. “Motivation doesn’t just happen. Many people think that successful people just have intrinsic motivation, but that’s so untrue.”

Zucco explains that intrinsic motivation is “an internal flame, a desire originating from within oneself to excel in specific activities. However, intrinsic motivation encounters a challenge when emotions such as fear or indecision cast their shadows.” On the other hand, extrinsic motivation draws its power from external influences, whether it’s the people around us, financial incentives, recognition, or rewards. Yet, relying too much on external circumstances can lead to negative self-talk and demotivation. 

This is where discipline comes in. “Discipline is the ability to act in a specific manner, adhering to standards and guidelines that pave the way for success. It acts as a self-governing force, steering us toward our objectives even when the initial burst of motivation wanes,” Zucco explains. “The silver lining lies in the teachability of discipline. Through the cultivation of self-control and willpower, discipline transforms from a conscious effort into ingrained habits and eventually, a way of life. In essence, motivation serves as an excellent starting point, but it's discipline that sustains productivity until goals are triumphantly achieved.” 

Take Zucco, for example. She is a dedicated Ironman athlete who trains about 25 hours per week, including long swims, bike rides, and treadmill runs. Her motivation sometimes falters, but her discipline keeps her focused. “There are many days when I don’t feel like training, but I just get it done because I’ve created that promise with myself.” 

Whether you’re resolving to crush a big race like Zucco or simply exercise more often, she promises that “it does get easier because you start to feel so strong and powerful, both physically and mentally.” 

Here’s how to build that discipline muscle in 2024 and beyond. 

6 Science-Backed Strategies to Follow Through on Your Goals

Writing Goals1. Create a concrete action plan. 

“Don’t just make a goal; make a goal with a plan attached,” Dr. Thomas says. “Create a routine that includes the change you want to make, and commit to it on paper or on your computer or tablet.” If you’re aiming to go to the gym more, ask yourself specific questions like: What days am I going? What times am I going? How long will I be there? How long does it take to drive to the gym and back home? Have I built that into my allotted time? Then, with all that in mind, schedule your workouts in your physical or digital calendar. 

“If you simply say ‘I’ll go to the gym twice a week’ but don’t specify when, suddenly the week is over and you haven’t gone,” Dr. Thomas says. “Don’t leave it to chance. Figure out how you’re going to do it. Then, write it in your phone, on a poster board, or somewhere you’re going to see it.” 

Zucco is also a fan of penciling in your workouts. “Schedule your wellness tasks at a time of day when you feel most energized, and make them non-negotiables in your calendar,” she says.  

2. Take baby steps. 

If a goal feels too lofty or unattainable, you’re much more likely to get discouraged and give up. Research shows that the most effective goals are specific, achievable, and realistic. 

“To ingrain a change and build on it, it’s really important to take baby steps,” Dr. Thomas says. “You have to start somewhere that’s doable and likely to work so that you can build confidence in yourself. That’s how you create the journey to reach your goals, and that journey is as important as the goal itself.”  

For example, if your goal is to eat more organic food, Dr. Thomas suggests starting with a simple Google search. One day, aim to research at least two local organic grocers. The next day, call the stores and make sure they have what you need. Then, make a grocery list and schedule a day to go shopping. “Even if you don’t go anywhere, at least you made a crack,” Dr. Thomas says. “Each step counts. You ingrain each step and then you move on to the next one.” 

3. Hold the vision for success. 

If you can envision it, you can achieve it. “Create a vision of what success will look like,” Zucco advises. “Learn to see it and feel it.” Research shows that the simple act of imagining success can help you perform better on athletic tasks. 

One way to visualize success is surrounding yourself with successful people. “Find others who have done what you want to do,” Zucco says. “The people who are accomplished in fitness and health make it a lifestyle. Find your people. If you don’t know where to start, search on Instagram or Facebook. If you don't have time to meet locally, look for online groups and immerse yourself in them as much as you can.” 

4. Recruit accountability buddies.  

Once you find your people, turn to them for accountability and encouragement. Studies show that having a support system in place makes you much more likely to stick to your New Year’s intentions. 

“If you’re trying to increase your physical activity, do it with someone who is working on the same thing,” Dr. Thomas says. “You can motivate each other, lean on each other, and catch each other if either of you are going off track.” 

5. Dig into the root of your behaviors.  

If you find yourself repeatedly getting off track, ask yourself why that could be. Dr. Thomas says that in her 25 years as a psychologist, she has witnessed many clients subconsciously sabotaging their own progress because of low self-esteem or feelings of unworthiness. 

“People are not saying to themselves, ‘I want to mess something up for myself.’ This is all subconscious,” she says. “But if a person can see where they are getting derailed or stuck, they’ll be able to hopefully do something about it.” 

Dr. Thomas notes that working with a psychologist who specializes in breaking old patterns can be helpful to move past blocks. “You need to understand what makes you get off track and what’s at the root of that,” she says. “That’s where real change happens.” 

6. Aim for progress, not perfection.  

Zucco has a simple motto to reach your goals: Show up. 

“It’s not about perfection. Know that you’re going to wobble and you’re going to feel unmotivated sometimes. That’s part of it. Just keep showing up for yourself,” she says. “If you miss a day on your workout plan, shake it off. And next time you want to miss a day, try just showing up and doing 1/4th of the workout. Start and see how you feel. That habit of showing up will translate to you being consistent, and with consistency comes fitness. With that comes more energy, stamina, and strength — both physically and mentally. And with that will come success. But it all starts with just showing up.”

Ready to show up for yourself and make your goals stick? With the Lifeforce Membership, you’ll have a dedicated wellness team to help you create systems for success and hold you accountable. Learn more about the Membership here

This article was medically reviewed by: 

  • Julia Afridi, DO, ABIHM Board Certified in Family and Osteopathic Medicine

  • Tanya Zucco, PA-C, Certified Functional Medicine Practitioner and Hormone Expert

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