“I don’t want to work out, I want to have worked out.”

Michelle Boudreau

There’s something profoundly unsettling about the sight of gym-goers. These are the folks who wake up at ungodly hours to sweat profusely, lifting weights and running on treadmills like hamsters on a mission. It’s as if they’ve discovered some hidden joy in the agony that the rest of us have somehow missed.

Meanwhile, I’m still trying to figure out why my own New Year’s resolution to “get fit” now involves far too many hours spent watching fitness videos while firmly planted on the couch, potato chips in hand. It’s not that I don’t want the benefits of working out—I do. I just don’t want to actually, you know, do it.

Imagine if we could skip to the good part: the sculpted abs, the toned legs, the smug sense of superiority when discussing our workout regimes. Alas, reality dictates that we must endure the grueling, sweaty journey. The universe, in its infinite wisdom, designed progress to be incremental, not instant. This incremental progress is the sneaky, sometimes unwelcome guest that shows up in every aspect of our lives. It’s the houseguest that insists on staying for the whole summer when you only expected them for a weekend.

When I was a kid, my father had a phrase for just about everything. He’d tell me, “Discipline is doing what needs to be done, even when you don’t want to do it.” This came up most frequently when I was trying to weasel my way out of mowing the lawn or cleaning the garage. It seemed unfair then, as it does now, that discipline trumps motivation. Motivation is like the unreliable friend who promises you the world but never shows up when it’s time to move. Discipline, however, is the boring, dependable friend who brings pizza and beer after hauling your furniture up three flights of stairs.

Discipline gets you up at 5 a.m. when the bed is warm and the world is cold. It drags you to the gym when Netflix and a bag of Twizzlers are calling your name. It doesn’t rely on the fickle winds of motivation—it’s the sturdy sailboat that navigates the choppy seas of procrastination and doubt. Motivation is that initial spark that gets you excited about a new project, but discipline is the slow burn that keeps the fire going long after the spark has died out.

It’s easy to look at successful people and think they have some secret potion of motivation that you lack. The truth is, they don’t. They’ve simply mastered the art of discipline. They understand that each small, seemingly insignificant step is a building block toward their goal. It’s the person who decides to walk for 10 minutes a day and gradually increases their time who eventually runs marathons. It’s the writer who commits to writing a single page every day who eventually finishes their novel. These small steps are easy to overlook, but they’re the very essence of progress.

Of course, there are days when the mere thought of lacing up your sneakers is exhausting. On those days, remember that even a half-hearted effort is better than no effort at all. Progress, after all, isn’t about perfection. It’s about consistency. It’s about showing up, day after day, and putting in the work, even when you’d rather be doing anything else.

So the next time you find yourself lamenting the gap between wanting to have worked out and actually working out, remember this: it’s the small, disciplined actions that bridge that gap. Embrace the discomfort, the sweat, and the struggle. Each step, no matter how small, is a step in the right direction. Before you know it, you’ll look back and realize you’ve come a long way. And perhaps, just perhaps, you’ll even start to enjoy the journey. Or, at the very least, you’ll have a new appreciation for how heavy a dumbbell feels compared to a bag of chips.

Stephen Boudreau serves as VP of Brand & Community at Virtuous Software. For over two decades, he has helped nonprofits leverage the digital space to grow their impact. To that end, Stephen co-founded RaiseDonors, a platform that provides nonprofits with technology and experiences that remove barriers to successful online fundraising. He is an avid (but aging) soccer player, audiobook enthusiast, and the heavily-disputed UNO champion of his household.

Copyright ©2024 Stephen Boudreau.