Why You Should Forget About Motivation and Focus On Discipline

“The undisciplined are slaves to moods, appetites and passion.”  Stephen Covey

If you can’t get out of bed to work out, say no to the pizza that’s been brought in for a lunch meeting, or summons the inspiration to add an extra mile to your routine run, blaming it on a lack of motivation may be part of your problem.  What you may lack is discipline.

I realize that may sound harsh, but unfortunately, it’s true.


“In the confrontation between the rock and the stream, the stream always wins. Not through strength, but through perserverence.” — Buddah

Motivation and Discipline: What’s The Difference?

Motivation:  1. The act or process of motivating.  B: The condition of being motivated.  C: A motivating force, stimulus, or influence

Discipline:  1. Control gained by enforcing obedience or order.  2. Orderly or prescribed conduct or pattern of behavior.  3. Self-control.

When you look at the definitions the difference is pretty clear.  Motivation is something that you wait for to happen as though it’s beyond your control.  It’s elusive.  Sometimes you have it.  Sometimes you don’t.  If you don’t have it you wait for it to arrive.

Self-discipline is the trait of being well behaved.  It means you have willpower, determination, drive.  It doesn’t depend on either an internal or external force to come along to spring you into action.

Motivation is what I wait for when I have a project to do at home that I’m dreading.  Cleaning the large walk-in closet that is a catch-all for holiday decorations, clothes that need to be donated to the Salvation Army, old tennis shoes that someday I could wear to paint in, and old purses that my daughter gave me that I can’t bear to part with, falls into that category.

I never tell myself that next Saturday I’m going to clean out the closet.  I wait for the day to come when I get up on a Saturday morning and know that this is the day.  This is the day that I will clean out that closet.

And that day does come.  But, by the time it does  the closet is a complete disaster, my task is doubly difficult, it takes me twice as long to clean it out, and I end up wishing I hadn’t put it off.

Recognizing the difference between motivation and discipline is the first step in making all of the things we want to accomplish happen.  If you’re waiting for the mood to hit you or someone else to give you a push, precious time is being lost.  The longer you put off tackling your goals the harder it will be.  The junk is piling up in the closet and if you wait too long the task will be so overwhelming you’ll postpone it indefinitely.

For that matter, what if the motivation you’re relying so heavily on never comes?

Get Out Your Clubs

“You can’t wait for inspiration.  You have to go after it with a club.”  — Jack London

Many people either wait for their internal motivational mechanism to kick in or they depend on someone else to inspire them.  In reality, you’re better off getting your club out and going after your inspiration.  That may be easier said than done, but there are ways you can acquire the self-discipline you need.

The good news is, if you’ve read this far, you’ve completed the first step which is recognizing the difference between the two.  The second step is making sure your action plan is based on no longer relying solely on motivation, rather acquiring self-discipline around a specific goal or goals. It’s a paradigm shift that may take time and energy, but will be worth it once you’ve mastered it.

To get started, each week write down the goal that you want to work on and recognize that it may be a challenge.  Let’s say you’ve decided you’re going to go to the gym and work out before you start your day. I’m using this as an example because I know from experience it is one of the hardest things for people to do.

Figure out how many days you are going to go, what time you are going, and how long you plan to be there. Write down the details.  At the end of each week honestly evaluate how you did. Continue to do this every week until you are no longer thinking of reasons not to get up when the alarm goes off.

Remember, there may be mornings when you feel no motivation to go.  It doesn’t matter.  Go anyway. Stay accountable to yourself.  Using the excuse “I’m just not motivated” no longer counts when you’re pursing self-discipline.

When you push yourself to complete a goal – even when you don’t want to you – you move closer to establishing a long-term habit.  You’re on your way to achieving the pattern of behavior you so desire.

Be the stream.

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