High kick
Creative Commons License photo credit: kaibara87


This article follows on from How to Successfully Complete a Complex Undertaking in which I discussed the importance of methodologies, the importance of predetermined structured approaches to successfully solving problems and completing large complex projects. In that article I mentioned self-discipline one of the most important keys to being successful at just about any complex long-term endeavor.

Exercise is a perfect setting for the practice of multilevel planning and self-discipline. First you need an overarching goal. If it is something like “get fit” or “lose some weight” you’re going to fail. You will not actually be able to determine when you’ve achieved such a poorly defined goal or measure progress. You will be unable to focus on exactly what is necessary to produce results and will end up wasting time doing all manner of things that don’t take you in any meaningful direction. Or you’ll end up not doing anything at all.

Your goal may be completely arbitrary. It doesn’t matter. Whatever it is it must be precise and you must have a plan that will carry you towards it and you must exercise self-disciple and stick with the plan – day to day, week to week, month to month. Finish the plan and compare where you’re at to where you would like to be. Learn from the experience so as to devise a new plan and keep going. Given time and self-discipline that gives rise to consistent effort anyone can become uncommonly strong and amazingly conditioned.

“Physical strength is the most important thing in life. This is true whether we want it to be or not. As humanity has developed throughout history, physical strength has become less critical to our daily existence, but no less important to our lives. Our strength, more than any other thing we possess, still determines the quality and the quantity of our time here in these bodies. Whereas previously our physical strength determined how much food we ate and how warm and dry we stayed, it now merely determines how well we function in these new surroundings we have crafted for ourselves as our culture has accumulated. But we are still animals – our physical existence is, in the final analysis, the only one that actually matters. A weak man is not as happy as that same man would be if he were strong. This reality is offensive to some people who would like the intellectual or spiritual to take precedence. It is instructive to see what happens to these very people as their squat strength goes up.”

– Mark Rippetoe, Starting Strength


Using myself as an example I have a goal to deadlift 400lbs at a body weight below 175lbs and to participate in an enticer triathlon both before the end of this year. For the deadlift goal I have a program where I deadlift 5 days a week for 2 sets of 5 reps. The first set is the work set and the second set which I complete about 5 minutes after the first is 90% of the weight of the first set.

During a deadlift cycle lasting 3 weeks I increase the weight every day I lift by 5lbs until I pass my previous 5 rep max by about 10 – 20lbs. Then I enjoy a back-off week and begin a new cycle by dropping the weight back down to 10 – 20lbs heavier than where I began the previous cycle and I work up again.

This program is really dead simple. Follow it as written and you’ll become strong. However there are days when it gets boring. There are days when I just don’t feel like it. I’m tired, busy or disinterested and want to do something else like power cleans or Zercher squats or just sit and meditate or read a book instead. Such days are perfect times to practice self-discipline and just get out there and get it done.

In three cycles of the above deadlift program I now need more weight because I finished off the third cycle using all 325lbs of the Olympic weight set I bought. Previously I had no real deadlifting experience and I haven’t lift weights other than kettlebells for at least 10 years.

I expect that as soon as I get my hands on more weight I’ll quickly hit a double bodyweight 5 rep max (350lbs). My original goal when I first started was to deadlift 300lbs for 5 reps and deadlift double my bodyweight for a single rep. When I realized that I would achieve that goal very quickly I upped the goal. I moved the target. If you find your expectation was too low change your expectations. Don’t settle for mediocrity.

So what we have here is a small example of just what is possible if you set a specifically clear and measurable goal, develop a plan that takes you day by day closer to your goal and then forget it all and just do what the plan calls for each day. One day at a time. With a solid methodology the seemingly impossible becomes possible. If you know you lack self-discipline than start with something simple and relatively easy and use it to practice self-discipline. When you’ve been busy, you’re tired or disinterested do it anyway. Suck it up and use the situation as an opportunity to practice self-discipline.

If you don’t then many meaningful things in life will largely fall outside your reach and you’ll move through life with a potential unfulfilled. Nothing of value is going to be handed to you in life. Don’t blame situations, other people or the world in general for being the way it is. If you don’t achieve what you want to achieve it is your fault. You are the one who is responsible.

Really, just like the deadlift program it is dead simple. However, if you don’t provide yourself with structure the mind will do what it does best and simply leap about like a mad stream of conscious monkey. Momentarily fascinated but never staying still long enough for anything of significance to occur. The monkey is not you. It’s just what happens when you think you are the monkey.


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