Discipline beats Motivation Every time (A Simple Truth)

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discipline beats motivation

Too often, we make the mistake of confusing motivation and discipline as the same thing. While these two work hand-in-hand in creating change and transformation, discipline is what champions our cause in the long run!

Why is that so? Writer Samuel Thomas couldn’t have defined it better for us-

“Self-discipline is about leaning into resistance, taking action despite how you feel, living life by design, not by default. But, most importantly, it’s acting in accordance with your thoughts, not your feelings.”

Which is better- Motivation or Discipline?

Motivation is our fuel- propelling the human brain with a strong desire to achieve something. Without that desire, we’d never even begin to act on something that we wish to attain.

It’s that initial feeling of hunger and anticipation of the self-confidence and satisfaction we will accomplish once we get something done. However, that feeling runs the risk of fading away sooner or later because it isn’t strong enough to resist external factors that will inevitably get in the way!

Here is where a sense of solid discipline reigns supreme. Self-discipline is what holds us accountable in the long haul, irrespective of how we feel.

○ Why Success requires Self-Discipline over Motivation

Self discipline over motivation

All of us make promises to ourselves, write down goals, make New Year resolution lists, so on and so forth.

Yet why do we time and again fail to keep up? It’s not like we love failing ourselves. Well, the answer is pretty evident- Life gets in the way of things.

Let’s say you’re motivated to work extra hard this year to get that promotion you’ve been yearning for, boast about it to your peers, build healthy habits, watch your self-confidence skyrocket- All that good stuff. But you find yourself in a productivity slump sooner or later!

It could even be a fitness goal you’ve had in mind, and you’re motivated by all these images of what your future body is supposed to look like. You exercise well for weeks with consistent effort, and then a specific event throws you off track completely.

These incidents are called setbacks. In our attempt to succeed at a goal in mind, we completely forget how these inevitable setbacks could negatively affect our emotions and our overall output.

○ What is the difference between Discipline and Motivation?

This brings us to the comparison of how motivation and discipline work. Both are important in pushing us in the right, positive direction- but it is consistent self-discipline that ultimately influences the longevity of consistent effort and good habits.

Motivation is our desire to be successful at something. In contrast, discipline is our willpower and ability to make and keep promises, honor the commitments that we make to ourselves, and get things done as a priority, regardless of our emotions.

In other words- “Self-discipline is the ability to make ourselves do things we know we should do even when we don’t want to do them.”

○ Desire vs Commitment

Our motivation is simply the ‘why’ behind our effort and action. In contrast, it takes discipline to act on the ‘how’ behind actually executing those ideas and thoughts into reality every time.

Our desire wavers sooner than we think because it lacks the strength to persevere when it’s at odds with the circumstance.

However, it takes discipline and commitment to resist temptations that seem easier and convenient at the moment and self-control to acknowledge that every small step in the right direction is a reward and a milestone to lead us to our desired aim or purpose.

No matter how unappealing it may seem right now, it must be dealt with regardless.

Why Self-Motivation isn’t enough for Productivity

Nir Eyal, author of the best-selling book –‘ Indistractable:’ dispels the idea that motivational tools like ‘To-Do Lists’ help us be more productive.

To-do-list-discipline

Confused? Let’s understand the logic behind this. You see, those little boxes we make for ourselves to tick off every time we get an errand done become a measure of our success and self-worth.

Now each time we fail to tick off all the boxes in a given day, we feel like a loser. Imagine how bad this whole cycle could be for our self-esteem!

○ Master Your Triggers

Instead, Nir suggests we self-discipline ourselves by simply holding ourselves accountable for doing a specific task that we said we would do for the amount of time that we decided upon.

Nir also mentions about how studies have shown that people who follow this practice of using their will to remain productive by not avoiding discomforts or giving in to distractions get more done in a day than those who don’t.

The key is to schedule time for your distractions and guilty pleasures so that they do not interrupt your ‘focus time’.

And more importantly, prioritize scheduling a duration of how long you will be solely working on your set goal, not how fast you complete it. Note the difference! We delve into this concept further and examine the notion of ‘Funding our time’ for maximum creative output in our article on Time vs Money.

Adopting this habit of time management gets way more accomplished than what a simple ‘productivity list’ would do for us.

○ Intrinsic Motivation & Extrinsic Motivation

Even motivation works at two levels- extrinsic motivation and intrinsic motivation, the latter being closer to self-discipline in succeeding for the right reasons.

Extrinsic motivation refers to external rewards that thrill us and spur us to target a specific goal, e.g. getting a toned summer body with regular exercise or making a million bucks off a business deal.

However, the intrinsic and more profound meaning attached to those goals acts as an intrinsic motivation prompt to stimulate our conscious brain activity; to build healthy habits that will reap long-term goals and gains.

This could be having a healthy nourished mind and body and being able to assist others with our financial resources- examples of intrinsic motivation that run deeper than just superficial reasons or fleeting desires.

○ Motivation waves

A habit expert from Stanford, BJ Fogg, talks about the phenomenon of ‘Motivation Waves’ to demonstrate how motivation can be a great prompt to set short-term goals, but it doesn’t work for long-term endeavors.

This is because motivation is fleeting, unreliable, and inconsistent. It is based on emotions, which we know to be fickle and unpredictable.

Today, you might feel motivated and pumped up with enthusiasm, but you might not feel as high-spirited tomorrow.

What does that do for your self resolve then? Nothing. Discipline, on the other hand, does not only draw energy from feel-good emotions in anticipation of a task, and so it remains more persistent due to this intrinsic motivation.

○ Why Broader Goals require Discipline

Discipline has a longer shelf life in habit formation and success. Granted, it’s human nature to take frequent breaks and succumb to feelings of sluggishness now and then- but strong self-discipline influences our brainpower in a way that it does not let guilt, past mistakes, and negative emotions paralyze us and our progress.

It does take extra effort to get used to focusing entirely, but by repeatedly doing so, it becomes easier to make discipline an unconscious automatic behaviour for us.

Developing Self Discipline

developing self discipline

“Only the disciplined are truly free. The undisciplined are slaves to moods, appetites, and passions.”- Stephen Covey.

Self Discipline is like a muscle; the more one exercises it, the stronger it becomes.

In understanding the dynamic between motivation vs discipline, motivation is what plants the idea of what is suitable for us in our minds. However, the job of gearing all our senses, brain, physical body in the right direction- lies in the forte of consistent self-discipline. So it’s our sense of discipline that is ultimately in the driver’s seat!

There are three practical strategies that one can adopt to develop self-discipline that will change the way we deal with challenges and our overall work routine:

○ Focus on Identity

In the book ‘Atomic Habits’ by James Clear, the author talks about how effective creating behavioral change is when it comes to mastering consistent self-discipline.

More than external motivation and goals, embodying the identity of what we want to be rather than just chasing the idea of it is a psychological switch we can make in our minds that will make us achieve that change faster.

For example, if you’ve decided to give up drinking alcohol- think of yourself as a non-drinker, not as someone trying to quit drinking.

○ Create Reminders and Embrace Discomfort

It’s essential to constantly remember the strong ‘why’ behind all the work that you’re putting in, especially when you feel like you’re losing momentum.

Another tip is to embrace discomfort in order to build resistance. Brush aside the ‘I don’t feel like it right now’ excuse and push yourself to do it anyway. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, take a cold shower instead of a hot one- lean into discomfort.

Your unwillingness to succumb to what’s easy is what will eventually make you stronger and more disciplined.

○ Build New Habits

Building new healthy habits require serious discipline in the initial stages, especially since the behavior isn’t automatic yet. However, succeeding in doing those certain habits on auto-pilot is eventually a gratifying feeling in itself.

Remember, a mindset focused on improvement rather than perfection is crucial to success here.

Motivation vs Discipline in an Outline

While motivation is excellent as an initial boost of energy, discipline is the clear winner in sustaining that energy and success thereafter. It does not crash in its dedication and appetite for success unlike motivation.

Keeping your mind and body nourished, practicing mindfulness, creating structure and routine, and reflecting and reviewing each day is fundamental to developing a disciplined mind.

In doing so, one can overcome failure, move past conditioned behaviors and setbacks, and create transformed thinking and willpower to venture into new, unfamiliar territory outside of their comfort zone. That is real discipline.

“Discipline does not mean suppression and control, nor is it an adjustment to a pattern or ideology. it means a mind that sees what is and learns from what was.” – Jiddu Krishnamurthy

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Suranya is an writer, lifestyle designer, and nature enthusiast. She is passionate about life, and everything it has to offer. She shares musings on philosophical insights, popular psychology, and holistic wellness.
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