Motivation vs. Discipline

One question that I get all the time is “How do you stay motivated?”. I get this question in all contexts —  when I was at school:  “How are you motivated to get your homework done early?” When it comes to fitness: “How do you stay motivated to workout in the mornings?” Working from home: “How do you stay motivated to stay on schedule?”. The answer to these questions is simple: I don’t stay motivated. I stay disciplined.

The thing about motivation is that it is short lived. It doesn’t last long in anyone’s mind no matter how productive you are. You might be feeling inspired and energetic for a few hours at best, and then that energy wanes and you return to feeling just as you did before your burst of enthusiasm.

Discipline, on the other hand, requires consistency. It’s not that I’m motivated to workout every morning, it’s that the activity has become a habit. There are plenty of days where I don’t particularly want to go to the gym, complete my work to-do list, or really do anything remotely productive. It’s not motivation that keeps me going, it’s sheer willpower.

Willpower, however, is arguably finite. When we wake up in the morning, we have a certain amount of willpower to make healthy decisions for our selves, and as we tire throughout the day it gets more difficult to choose the options that aren’t the easiest. This is why I workout in the morning. I know internally, how great I feel after a workout, and I ALSO know that when I reach the end of my workday, I really don’t feel like going to the gym. Because I know this about myself, I can plan around my own willpower.

The same thing goes for my work. I know myself, and I know that if I wake up without a plan for the day, I will get next to nothing done. However, I religiously make a to-do list for myself the night before, and I also keep a planner with all my work-related tasks up to date. The satisfaction of forcing myself to complete a task so I can check it off my list is so rewarding for me and that is how I stay on track during the day. I even make checklists for myself on weekends so I can make sure I run certain errands or get extra work done.

Working out in the morning, making lists, and a number of other things I do to stay productive are all habits borne out of discipline. Even though they started out as strategies to work with my brand of willpower, they require almost no willpower at all anymore since I’m so used to them. The important thing to remember is that the hardest part of any task or new endeavour is the beginning. Once something becomes a habit, it becomes an after-thought, like brushing your teeth every day.

While motivation can be a powerful tool to get you started on a new undertaking or push you to completion on certain projects, it’s not dependable enough as a way to keep you productive all the time. Use motivation when it comes, but when it goes, remember that it is more important to be consistent. Recognize when you’re naturally the most productive and utilize that time to bang out your most important goals. And if nothing else, do at least one little thing every day to get you closer to where you want to be. Pretty soon, all that consistency will form a habit and motivation will be like the cherry on top of a productivity sundae (wow that sounds like the most boring ice cream creation ever but we could all use some of that, right?).

Let me know what strategies you use to stay on track with your goals!




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