Discipline over Motivation

By Manuel Egaña

We’re constantly being told about the wonders of motivation. People sell whole books on it and create courses and weekend experiences on it. Some of these “gurus” are even multimillionaires and have a lot of influence on the public.

However, while I do agree that being motivated is really important to begin a project or to reach a certain goal, I believe that discipline is vastly more important than motivation when it comes to actually reaching our objectives.

Most of us are full of enthusiasm at the beginning of a project. Whether it’s New Year’s, the moment just after an opportunity presented itself or when we’re starting a new job/academic year, we always feel pumped at that moment. We make great plans to climb the corporate ladder, to make it to the Dean’s List all while learning a new language and exercising every day.

That goes well for a week or two. Then we begin to lose interest on our plans, skip the gym or a French class because we had bad day at work, we find other more important goals and give them priority, etc. The problem is that we’ll always have perfectly good and rational explanations for skipping a class or two and eventually for not achieving our goals. We’re extremely good at rationalizing even those actions that go against our best interest.

This is where discipline completely overtakes motivation in importance. If we only rely on motivation to reach our goals, then we’re sure to fail. We’ll only achieve our goals if we can actually get out of bed, force a smile if we have to, go to the classes we don’t like, hit the gym when all we feel like is going home and binge watch our favorite show or doing an extra hour of research for work at home instead of having drinks with friends.

After a while of what feels like swimming against the current, we’ll eventually start to see the results of our hard work. We lose a few pounds and feel healthier, we do great on a test or impress our boss, or even something as small as understanding a little piece of French dialog in a movie.

There’s simply no better feeling than that. Knowing you’re making it even though you’ve felt like throwing in the towel a million times will make you mentally stronger (will power). This is a great thing since you’ll need it as this feeling of achievement and newfound motivation wears off and the whole cycle begins again.

With each cycle our will power becomes stronger, but so does our challenges thoughts of quitting. However, this is only because our goals in life are not fixed, they’re higher each time (I want to be able to run 1K, then 5K, then 10K…).

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