Toby Ng

It’s not what I have done, but what I will do next…

Discipline Over Motivation

It's been a pretty good year/season and I'm moving onto the next one. I find it difficult to use a calendar year from January 1st to December 31st, as many things tend not to operate over that timeline. For example, school is generally September to April (June for secondary school students). Nationally, badminton is September to February (until May for juniors), but internationally, I tend to follow a May to April schedule based on qualifications for World Championships and Olympics. I can only assume that I will likely transition my calendar year to meet the demands of the things I'm doing (school, sport, work). 


Despite what our calendars are like, I have to be honest. I'm not terribly efficient at what I want to do. I can talk a big game (I try not to, but it happens) about what I want to do in the future, but when it comes down to the details, I can be pretty terrible. My go to excuse is pretty much: "Life just seems to always get in the way", and despite how true it is most of the time (conformation bias for the win!), it doesn't help anyone from getting further in accomplishing their goals.


I've spent a long time reflecting on my life and the things that have led me to where I am so far, and it's interesting to contemplate if I would have done anything different if I could do it all over again. The short answer is "yes, of course I would do something different", but the reality of the situation is that I'm stuck with what my choices over the past have taken me. We cannot change the past, and there is always hope for us in the future. Perhaps it's trying to project ourselves into the future, looking back to today, and asking the same questions.


For example, in 10 years, will I look back to today and regret not starting a career earlier? Or would I regret not playing badminton longer? Will I regret continuing to further my education? Will I regret sticking to badminton instead of transferring to another sport? It's hard when we have to ask ourselves these questions because it leads to more questions creating more uncertainty. It is said that people on their deathbed often regret working so much and not spending time with their families more. But I wonder what would happen if they did spend more time with friends and family, instead of working more? Less work tends to equal less money, and less money can cause tremendous problems, although each person will handle that situation in a different way. Maybe working less to spend more time with the family wouldn't work for everyone. It's always contextual.


But perhaps we can agree on some things. I rarely regret putting in the effort to better myself, whether it's toward school, sport, or a future career. I may regret training or studying a certain way, but I find if difficult to regret the act of training or studying. But I do regret watching TV all day, especially if it's a rerun. I regret playing video games over and over again. I regret binge watching YouTube videos. I regret scrolling through 9gag on many nights before I go to bed. And the thing is, many times I procrastinate because I'm trying to look for motivation. Sometimes it comes, but usually it doesn't. The internet has lied to us (well, obviously), and perhaps waiting for the passion to kick in to be motivated is not a good strategy.


One of things I did when I was doing my undergrad was to permanently schedule in my training sessions. Despite having exams the next day, I would block of time for training as if I did for my classes, although to be honest, I might have went to train and skipped a class to study instead. Regardless of what went through my mind at that time, it was discipline that often got me through tough times instead of motivation. It is discipline that makes you do your homework and give yourself ample time to complete assignments; it is discipline that helps you study in scheduled blocks of time (pomodoro's anyone?); and it is discipline that forces you to go train when you're supposed to train. Discipline is what helps you overcome the excuses, the mood swings, the motivation, and even the lack of passion at times. We can all be passionate about things and we often don't quit when we're ahead or when things are easy. It's when things are hard where we get challenged.


So for a while now, I have stepped off the "follow your passion" bandwagon. I am trying to step off that "hype/motivation/inspiration" bandwagon as well, although it is difficult. There's nothing wrong with enjoying yourself and having a good time, but if you want to use that for motivation, reality is often a very good teacher in what works and what doesn't. If it happens to work for you, by all means, teach me because I highly envy those people who can do it all. 


What's the solution to all this? I don't know. This is not meant to be a solution, but rather something to stimulate some self-reflection for all of us. We all have different goals and objectives, so I would challenge you to find out what works best for you and you alone. I know this isn't the sort of stuff you might expect to read from a badminton player's blog, but if I can give you something to think about, it may be more interesting than my tournament highlights (which I'll include anyway at the end). 


I've always been quite motivated to train, although it has really been on the decline this year. One of the main reasons was because of shoulder problems, and when it hurts to smash, you don't want to smash. However, if you need to train and there seems to be an incredible amount of lifting in sparring matches, it gets frustrating and one of two things happen: 1) you get so frustrated that you smash through the pain, 2) you stop trying and throw the game. The third option, which is the disciplined approach, would be to continue to drop and half smash, and practice following up shots and expect long rallies in practice games. Although I was able to achieve that once in a while, I usually ended up with the first two options because I lacked the discipline. In this case, it really didn't have much to do with motivation because I didn't have much to be motivated about. But looking back to the beginning of this year, there were many things I could have done differently. But by practicing more discipline now, it is better to have wasted half a year, than an entire year. I'll check back around Christmas time.


As for my badminton this summer, I've recently competed in the Canada Open and US Open, with the US International Series and World Championships coming up in August really quickly. There were some really strong teams in both events and I still have a long way to go, especially my consistency. Training more would improve that consistency, but I always worry about injury, as any injury would likely be career-ending. However, I've recently come across an interesting concept that will hopefully help me with what I want to do. The concept is simple: "win in your mind first". I read about it in Mark Devine's book, "Unbeatable Mind", from a quote by Sun Tzu:


"Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win."


I realized that for most of the year, I went in with the mindset of "it is what it is" and although it's not necessarily a bad thing, perhaps it's better to confirm my confidence in the team, plan on how to win, then continue with the current stoic mindset despite what happens. That is what I will be practicing for the next two tournaments, including working on improving discipline in as many areas as possible. If I can increase the good habits by 1%, or decrease bad habits by 1%, it will give some interesting long term changes. So perhaps I'm not training for World's next month, but for World's next year, or even something like Tokyo 2020.


And if you want to take it a step further, maybe developing discipline now is not just for the next Olympics, but for the next chapter in life. Maybe 10 years from now I can look back to today and appreciate that I started on improving my discipline over using motivation...


Thank you for reading! Comments can be posted on my Facebook Page, as this blog platform doesn't allow comments (but no ads!).

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